World’s Most Famous Court Trial
by R. M. Cornelius
reprinted from the History of Rhea County
By far the most celebrated court case in Rhea County and perhaps in all of Tennessee history was the case of the State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes, which took place in Dayton’s Rhea County Courthouse 10-21 July 1925. For the most part, the trial has been misreported and misinterpreted by journalists at the time of the trial and ever since, by historians who depended on the journalists more than on the official records and actual participants, and by audiences of the play, film, and television versions of Inherit the Wind, who rarely read the authors’ disclaimer in their preface: “Inherit the Wind is not history” (Lawrence and Lee ix).
The transcript of the trial, however, has been readily available since 1925 in The World’s Most Famous Court Trial, which was originally arranged for publication by William Hilleary and Oren Metzger of Spring City, and is currently obtainable from Bryan College. This book, now in its third edition, contains an accurate version of the official stenographic transcript of Circuit Court document Number 5232, as well as other materials pertaining to the case.
The Scopes Evolution Trial was a world-class event in its day, and it continues to attract inquiries and visitors from all over the United States and many parts of the world. It has become the benchmark for subsequent trials dealing with similar problems which are usually dubbed “Scopes II” by the press. The significance of the trial was officially recognized in 1977, when the 1891 Rhea County Courthouse was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, and in 1979, when a one-million-dollar courthouse restoration and Scopes Trial Museum project was completed.
“Why Dayton – of all places?” This question, asked by many, is answered directly or indirectly in a 28-page booklet of the same title produced in 1925 by F.E. Robinson and W.E. Morgan. In purple prose, the publication addresses “champions of the survival of the fittest” and “followers of the lowly Nazarene” and alludes to the complex religious and philosophical issues involved in the trial. Currently these can be summarized as Darwinian theory vs. Biblical theology, academic freedom of teachers vs. that of students, governmental rights vs. those of parents, and First and Fourteenth Amendments clauses covering freedom of speech, establishment of religion, and personal liberty.
The booklet also evaluates the political genesis of the trial and especially the mixture of politics and religion that occurred when William Jennings Bryan lectured in Nashville on “Is the Bible True?” a year before the legislature discussed the evolution question (Robinson 3, 11). Several hundred copies of Bryan’s lecture were sent on two occasions to the legislators (Russell 183). One of the recipients was Representative John Washington Butler, who originated House Bill 185, which stated, “That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals, and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” The bill was passed in the lower house by a vote of 71 to 5 on 28 January 1925; was approved by the senate 24 to 6 on Friday, 13 March 1925; and was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay on 21 March 1925, becoming Chapter 27 of the Public Acts of Tennessee for 1925. Violation of the act was considered a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of $100-$500 for each offense (Grebstein 1, 3).
In addition to the philosophical, religious, and political facets, the Robinson and Morgan booklet cites two somewhat related reasons for “Why Dayton – of all places?” The first was a response to an American Civil Liberties Union offer to test the new law that was on the part of the Dayton movers and shakers a “half playful, half serious” plan to “start something and maybe it would be interesting.” The second was a serious economic affirmation: “Dayton would be woefully remiss in her duty to herself not to grasp this hour of her lime-light incandescence and make of it an occasion for self-aggrandizement with some incontrovertible facts about her products and natural resources.” Supported by ten pages of pictures, the booklet extols the agricultural advantages of the Dayton area and then states, “Dayton bids for new industries with advantages second to none” (Robinson 14-27).
The above-mentioned two streams of thought converged in the mind of one man: George W. Rappleyea, a metallurgical engineer who had come to Tennessee from New York City, married a Dayton girl, and was managing the ailing Cumberland Coal and Iron Company in Dayton. When Rappleyea read his 4 May 1925 issue of the Chattanooga Daily Times, he saw an article that had the potential of ending Dayton’s economic drought and bringing a rain of economic benefits. Rappleyea took the paper and headed for Robinson’s Drug Store. Frank Earle Robinson, who called himself “the hustling druggist,” was the chairman of the Rhea County School Board and a man of civic vision and activity.
Rappleyea showed Robinson the article, which contained an announcement from the New York headquarters of the ACLU that said, in reference to the new Tennessee anti-evolution law, “We are looking for a Tennessee teacher who is willing to accept our services in testing this law in the courts. Our lawyers think a friendly test can be arranged without costing a teacher his or her job” (Allem 56, 58: “Plan” 5).
Accounts compiled over 30-45 years later by various researchers interviewing Robinson, Rappleyea, Scopes, and others disagree so much on specific details that they can be harmonized only on major points. It is at least clear that by May 5 the following met with Doc Robinson at his drug store to discuss a possible test case of the evolution law: Rappleyea, Superintendent of Schools Walter White, lawyer Wallace C. Haggard, city attorneys Herbert B. Hicks and his brother Sue K. Hicks (the original “Boy Named Sue” of the Johnny Cash hit), and John Thomas Scopes. Since the regular biology teacher, W.F. Ferguson, refused to be a part of a test case, Scopes was asked to help even though he was the football, basketball, and baseball coach and taught math, physics, and chemistry. At least he had substituted for a few days in biology class when Ferguson was sick, but Scopes confessed. “I wasn’t sure I had taught evolution.” He agreed, however, to help. A warrant was sworn out, the press and ACLU were notified, and law school dean and Rhea County native Dr. John R Neal made his services available to Scopes (Allem 58-64; de Camp 7-16, 433; Scopes 56-65).
Setting the Stage
Through the efforts of the press, the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, and the Dayton court choreographers, William Jennings Bryan announced on May 12 that he was willing to participate in the trial without remuneration (Larson 60-61; Ginger 23; Allem 63). Because Bryan was a former Secretary of State, three-time presidential candidate, leader of the Democratic Party for some fifteen years, popular silver-tongued orator of the Chautauqua circuit, and famous spokesman for Christian fundamentalist ideas, his arrival on the scene raised the trial to major-league status and broadened the issues.
The day after Bryan’s announcement, Clarence Seward Darrow, America’s most famous criminal lawyer, was urged by journalist H.L Mencken to offer without charge his services to Scopes: “Nobody gives a damn about that yap schoolteacher. The thing to do is to make a fool out of Bryan.” By the end of the week, both Darrow and his friend Dudley Field Malone had wired Dr. Neal of their availability. Neal and Scopes were delighted, but the ACLU was not. Darrow was radical and sensational, and Malone did not have the best public image, being an international divorce lawyer and a divorced, backslidden Catholic (de Camp 74, 78-80, 89-92; Fecher 199; Scopes 71-73).
The next eight weeks were marked by a mixture of serious legal maneuvers and comic interludes. Chattanooga leaders tried unsuccessfully to get the trial. Dayton leaders countered successfully by recalling Scopes from vacation in Kentucky, speeding up the legal process by two months, and arranging for two fake fights to maintain media interest. On July 2 in New York, the defense planned their strategy, which included broadening the argument to pit science against Fundamentalism and sacrificing Scopes’ acquittal for the opportunity to appeal a verdict of guilty to a higher court in the hope that the Monkey Law would be declared unconstitutional (Allem 65-69, Scopes 69, 74-76; de Camp 130-131.
Back in Dayton the population swelled from about 1800 to about 5000 at the height of the trial. There was an increasing carnival atmosphere: refreshment stands, monkey souvenirs, eccentrics such as “John the Baptist the Third,” and oddities such as Joe Mendi, the trained chimpanzee. And then there were the media people: three news services and 120 reporters, whose stories totaled about two million words and whose ranks included H.L. Mencken, Joseph Wood Krutch, and Westbrook Pegler; 65 telegraph operators, who sent more words to Europe and Australia than had ever been cabled about any other American happening; and Quin Ryan and the radio crew from the Chicago Tribune’s WGN, who did the first live national broadcast of an American trial (de Camp 116, 147, 161-164, 171; Ginger 66; Trial 316).
The official chief counsel for the defense was Dr. John R. Neal, and he was ably assisted by Clarence Darrow, Dudley Field Malone, Arthur Garfield Hays (ACLU representative, agnostic, Malone’s partner in international divorce cases), W.O. Thompson (Darrow’s law partner and replacement for Bainbridge Colby, who resigned the day before the trial began), and F.B. McElwee (former student of Neal and replacement for John L. Godsey, who resigned the first day of the trial after being active in the planning and preparations). In addition, the defense had as librarian and Biblical authority Charles Francis Potter (Modernist Unitarian preacher) (Scopes 65,91-92; de Camp 126, 166, 172-173).
In charge of the prosecution was A.T. Stewart (Attorney General for the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit). Serving with him were William Jennings Bryan, William Jennings Bryan Jr. (Bryan’s son from Los Angeles), Ben O. McKenzie (former Assistant Attorney General from Dayton), J. Gordon McKenzie (Ben’s son and a former judge), Sue K. Hicks (from Dayton), Herbert B. Hicks (Sue’s brother), and Wallace C. Haggard (F.E. Robinson’s brother-in-law) (de Camp 124, 125; Allem 59).
Those officiating and assisting at the trial were under much pressure because of the significance of the issues, the importance of some of the lawyers, the hot July weather, the presence of the media, and the crowded conditions of the courtroom, which was built to seat about 400 but had about twice that number seated and standing. The presiding judge of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court was John Tate Raulston, who lived in Winchester and was a devout Baptist. Helping to maintain law and order were Sheriff Robert “Bluch” Harris, officer Jim Mansfield, and — on loan from the Chattanooga Police Department — Captain Marion Perkins and four of his men, one of whom, Kelso Rice, Judge Raulston chose to be Bailiff. The court reporter was Mrs. McCloskey of the McCloskey firm; and the boy who chose the jury names was Tommy J. Brewer (de Camp 83-84, 120, 161, 209-210; Gorman 2; Allem 73, 76; Trial 21; Harris).
The trial began on Friday, July 10, 1925, with Judge Raulston calling on the Reverend Lemuel M. Cartright to open in prayer. Because Judge Raulston had been so eager to get the case that he had allowed Scopes to be indicted on May 25th by a grand jury whose term had expired, the judge convened another grand jury to indict Scopes a second time (Ginger 129). Eight prospective jurors were examined and excused for various reasons. In the order of their appearance, the following were selected for the jury: W.F. Roberson (farmer, no church affiliation), J.W. Dagley (farmer, Methodist), James W. Riley (farmer, Baptist), W.G. Taylor (farmer, Southern Methodist), R.L. Gentry (farmer and teacher, Baptist); Jack R. Thompson (jury foreman, former U.S. Marshall, farm owner, Methodist), W.D. Smith (farmer, Baptist), Jess R. Goodrich (shipping clerk, Campbellite Disciples of Christ), John H. Bowman (farmer and cabinet maker, Methodist Episcopal). William G. Day (farmer, Baptist), R. L. West (farmer and carpenter, Baptist), and John S. Wright (farmer, Baptist). (Trial 3-44; de Camp 216).
On the second day, Monday, July 13, the Reverend M.H. Moffett was asked to lead in prayer. The indictment was discussed at length, and a motion by Dr. John R. Neal to quash it failed. Because of legal technicalities regarding the question of the law’s constitutionality, the jury was retired for most of the session. The prominent speakers on this day were Dr. Neal, General Stewart, and Clarence Darrow, the last of whom concluded the day with a speech on freedom that takes up 13 of the 42 pages of the trial record for this day. Ironically, Darrow’s basic point agreed in theory and practice with Bryan and Butler, the author of the evolution bill (Trial 74-87; Olasky 10; Smith 183-184; Levine 263; Davidson 197).
When Judge Raulston called on the Reverend Dr. A.C. Stribling to begin in prayer on the third day, Tuesday, July 14, Clarence Darrow objected to the practice and to the jury being present at the discussion of the matter. After heated discussion on both sides, the judge overruled in favor of opening the court with prayer. Court was then adjourned for much of the day in order to allow the judge to formulate a decision regarding the question raised on day two about the constitutionality of the law and the motion to quash the indictment.
On Wednesday, July 15, the fourth day of the trial was opened in prayer — despite the defense’s objection — by the Reverend Dr. Charles Francis Potter, the Unitarian minister from New York who assisted the defense as an expert on religion. Judge Raulston then read his lengthy and carefully worded decision about the motion to quash the indictment. Finding the indictment adequately clear and the law appropriate in its relation to freedom of thought and expression, Raulston overruled the motion. In the afternoon session, Scopes pleaded not guilty. Next, Dudley Field Malone set forth the defense’s position on the law, evolution, science, the Bible, and religion. “The defense contends that to convict Scopes the prosecution must prove that Scopes not only taught the theory of evolution, but that he also, and at the same time, denied the theory of creation as set forth in the Bible,” Malone stated. Then he asserted, “While the defense thinks there is a conflict between evolution and the Old Testament, we believe there is no conflict between evolution and Christianity” (Trial 113,117).
Then the prosecution called the following witnesses: Superintendent of Schools Walter White; school board chairman F.E. Robinson; and two of Scopes’ students, Howard Morgan and Harry Shelton. Scopes at the time of the May 25th hearing and Darrow at the time of the trial both coached some of the prospective student witnesses on the details of evolution so they would appear to have learned the subject from Scopes. Darrow, in fact, roomed at the home of one witness, Howard Morgan (Allem 66; de Camp 432-433; Scopes 134). In the entire long trial, these were the only witnesses whose testimony was part of the official record. Scopes was not called to the witness stand because, as Darrow explained to Judge Raulston, “Your honor, every single word that was said against this defendant, everything was true” (Trial133). Ironically Scopes could have avoided a criminal trial with its possible conviction and loss of a job by taking advantage of his status as a professional educator, questioning the constitutionality of the anti-evolution law, and asking for a declaratory judgment (Larson 60). For their first witness, the defense team called Johns Hopkins University zoologist Dr. Maynard M. Metcalf (Trial 133-143).
In number of days but not in dramatic and legal high points, the trial was at the fifth-day halfway mark on Thursday, July 16, when the Reverend Dr. J.A. Allen of Nashville was named to open the court session with prayer. Attorney General Stewart moved “to exclude the testimony of the scientists” because it would be irrelevant since Scopes admitted he taught that “man descended from a lower order of animals.” William Jennings Bryan, Jr., then argued that the motion was crucial, for it could screen out mere opinions from experts, and it agreed with Tennessee law, which held that experts “will not be permitted to state their opinions upon any point the jury has to decide.” Arthur Garfield Hays responded that experts were necessary to determine what kind of evolution Scopes taught and what its relationship was to the Biblical account of creation. Sue Hicks, B.G. McKenzie, Darrow, and Neal joined the heated discussion. After four days of virtual silence, William Jennings Bryan spoke out by turning the pages of Scopes’ alleged textbook, George Hunter’s Civic Biology, noting that it was thick on broad generalizations and thin on supporting evidence. Bryan then turned the tables on Darrow by using against him his argument in the Leopold and Loeb murder case. Darrow had said, “it is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for philosophy that was taught him at the university.” Since the philosophy under discussion was that of Nietzsche, who was greatly influenced by Darwin, Darrow’s reasoning illustrated Bryan’s point about the dangers of evolution being taught to the exclusion of the Bible (Trial 147, 150-152, 154, 170-182).
Following Bryan’s speech, Dudley Field Malone made an address on truth that got a good response from the audience, including Bryan (Scopes 154-155; Ginger 122). But Malone demonstrated “more of emotional appeal than of solid reasoning” (de Camp 343), for he was inconsistent in his definitions, resorted to many fallacies, and presented a one-sided view of evolutionists and creationists (Trial 183-189). Legal technicians Stewart and Hays finished out the day of stirring speeches by debating on principles of interpretation. Stewart pointed out that the intent of the legislature rather than individual words such as and in the Butler Bill was the rule in Tennessee for interpretation (Trial 194).
After calling for Rabbi Jerome Mark and getting no response, the court invited the Reverend Dr. C.G. Eastwood to pray before the sixth and shortest day of the trial, which was on Friday, July 17. Judge John Raulston began by summarizing in clear and careful detail the arguments of the prosecution and the defense on the important matter of the admission of expert testimony presented the day before. Then he sustained the motion of the attorney general to exclude expert testimony. After a lengthy discussion, Raulston agreed to allow the defense to include the expert testimony (but in the absence of the jury), to read it into the record (though the judge and the prosecution preferred that time be saved by simply submitting it in written affidavit form), to protect it from cross-examination (though Bryan requested this privilege), and to give the defense a recess of the rest of the day to prepare documents that the defense lawyers could read into the record (though the judge preferred direct dictation from the witnesses, and the prosecution was unhappy at losing so much time). In spite of these concessions, Darrow was so frustrated at seeing the defense lose “every major point of contention” (English 7) that he insulted Judge Raulston and accused him of bias for the prosecution and against the defense. When the judge said, “I hope you do not mean to reflect upon the court?” Darrow replied, “Well, your honor has the right to hope” (Trial 204-207). The evaluation of trial historian L. Sprague de Camp is that “The record shows Raulston had upheld the defense, if not quite so often as the State, on at least a reasonable number of occasions. But he had ruled for the State on all the really big questions” (de Camp 355). Scopes wrote later that the words and actions of Darrow were such that “everyone expected Raulston to hold him in contempt of court” (Scopes 160). But without comment at 10:30 a.m., the judge dismissed the court until Monday.
Though there had been some dramatic and interesting spots, the trial proceedings up to this point had been long, technical, and uninteresting to the average layman. The worldwide audience coverage continued, but the audience in and about the courtroom began to thin out. On Saturday, July 18, the exodus began: H.L. Mencken left for Baltimore (not too far ahead of a group of men who were considering running him out of town on a rail for his references to Daytonians as “morons” and “gaping primates”); Darrow’s law partner and defense assistant W.O. Thompson headed to Florida, W.J. Bryan, Jr., returned to California, and according to Scopes, “Many of the army of newspapermen had evidently deserted” (de Camp 360-361, 344-345. 440; Ginger 113, 124; Scopes 162).
Monday, July 20, the seventh day of the trial, began hot and was to get hotter both in weather conditions and word confrontations. The opening prayer was delivered by the Reverend Standefer. Attorney General Stewart had brought the significance of Darrow’s remarks on Friday to Judge Raulston’s attention, and the judge announced that he was citing Darrow for contempt of court, setting the bail bond at $5000 (Scopes 162).
After lengthy discussion taking up ten pages of the court record and similar to that on day six, Arthur Garfield Hays was finally permitted to summarize and read verbatim into the record twelve written testimonials of the scientific and Biblical experts the defense had congregated. The reading took the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon. In order of presentation, statements from the following were inserted in the record but not as an official part of the trial as far as the jury and cross-examination were concerned but as indications of what the defense proof would have been, should the case go to a higher court in the appeal process:
- Rev. Walter C. Whitaker, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Knoxville
- Dr. Shailer Matthews, Dean of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago
- Dr. Fay Cooper Cole, professor of anthropology, University of Chicago
- Dr. Kirtley F. Mather, chairman of the Department of Geology of Harvard University
- Dr. Winterton C. Curtis, chairman of the Department of Zoology of the University of Missouri
- Dr. Herman Rosenwasser, rabbi linguist from San Francisco
- Dr. H.E. Murkett, pastor of First Methodist Church in Chattanooga
- Dr. Maynard M. Metcalf, zoologist from Johns Hopkins University
- Wilbur A. Nelson, state geologist of Tennessee
- Dr. Jacob Lipman, Dean of the College of Agriculture at Rutgers
- Dr. Charles Hubbard Judd, Director of the School of Education at the University of Chicago
- Dr. Horatio Hackett Newman, Dean of the College of Science at the University of Chicago
The documents ranged from one to eighteen pages. Each expert gave detailed “proofs” of evolution in his area of expertise and then concluded with a statement so similar in its outlook that it could have been composed in the same law office. Dr. Charles H. Judd’s version of the motif is as follows: “In my judgment it will be quite impossible to carry on the work in most of the departments in the higher institutions of the state of Tennessee without teaching the doctrine of evolution as the fundamental basis for the understanding of all human institutions.” Three scientists cited such “proofs” of evolution as the Java man (now questionable evidence) and the Piltdown man (now exposed as a hoax). Dr. Newman concluded the testimony by saying, “The evolution principle is thus a great unifying and integrating scientific conception” (Trial 238, 251, 232, 280).
In between the statements by Dr. Curtis and Dr. Rosenwasser, the court recessed for lunch. Judge Raulston inspected cracks in the first-floor ceiling caused by the weight of the crowd upstairs. Stewart conferred with the defense and arranged for Darrow to apologize to the court. After the recess, Darrow apologized grudgingly but sufficiently to satisfy the big-hearted judge, who quoted Scripture and forgave Darrow. Because of the building stress, the heat, and the crowd, Judge Raulston reconvened the court on a platform in the courtyard below.
The heat, the boredom of the expert testimonials being read by Hays, and the dim prospects of anything important or exciting happening from this point on tempted all but a half dozen of the more than one hundred reporters either to go back home or seek cooler, more inviting surroundings that afternoon. As a result they missed not only the cooler court setup of being out under the trees but also one of the hottest exchanges of the entire trial. When one reporter was asked by his Dayton hosts why he never attended trial sessions, he replied, “Oh, I don’t have to know what’s going on; I know what my paper wants me to write” (Allem 92). Because so few reporters were present when Bryan took the stand to be interrogated by Darrow, Scopes was conscripted to write covering news stories for the delinquent newsmen (Scopes 183-184).
Much of the Scopes Trial news coverage in 1925 and ever since leaves a great deal to be desired. Even when allowance is made for the pressures of deadlines, the demands of diverse events reporters have to describe with discernment, and the shadow of every publication’s editorial bias, most accounts of the trial are found wanting when weighed in the balances of truth, accuracy, fair play, and thoroughness.
On the lowest level there was character assassination. H.L. Mencken, for example, referred to Bryan as “a charlatan, a mountebank, a zany without shame or dignity” (Mencken 68). On a level not much higher was the one-sided, biased reporting which presented the remarks of Darrow, Malone, and Hays as virtually flawless but described the utterances of Bryan as vividly faulty. In addition to the inexcusable bias, the press also did a poor job on the level of the trial issues. Reporters emphasized the important issue of faculty freedom of speech but confused it with freedom of belief and disregarded the equally important issue of students’ academic freedom to learn by being exposed to all the major options of a controversial matter.
The prosecution’s main proposition that the state, which represents the tax-paying parents through the legislature, has the right to control its schools by prescribing or proscribing the content of the curriculum tended to be ignored by the press. Also largely ignored was the fact that Bryan was not against the teaching of evolution — if it were taught as a theory rather than as a true fact — and if equal time were given to other major options, such as creationism. Another overlooked point was that Bryan did not ask that religion be taught in the public schools. What he objected to was religion being attacked in the public schools (Smith 183-184; Levine 263, 278-279, 285-286).
The most notable incident in the Scopes Trial that evidenced bias by journalists at the time and by historians ever since occurred right after Darrow objected to a large sign “Read Your Bible” and successfully moved to have it taken down. Arthur Garfield Hays then announced: “The defense desires to call Mr. Bryan as a witness.” This tactic had been carefully planned for several days and even rehearsed, using Dr. Kirtley Mather, the Harvard geologist and Baptist Bible school teacher, to play Bryan. The highly irregular procedure of calling an opposition lawyer as a witness was objected to by Attorney General Stewart but permitted by Judge Raulston and agreed to by Bryan — with the understanding that he would be allowed to put Darrow, Malone, and Hays on the stand (Trial 264, 241, 284; de Camp 346, 36.
Reactions by reporters and subsequently by historians ranged the gamut. A few were positive. The Arkansas Gazette affirmed that Bryan “emerges as a hero.” But most were negative. The New York Times, for example, considered Bryan’s testimony “an absurdly pathetic performance”(Olasky 17). The first historian to write a book-length account of the Scopes Trial, Ray Ginger of Brandeis University, summed up the Darrow/Bryan confrontation by saying, “Darrow’s manhandling of Bryan had a shattering impact” (Ginger 152). Other commentators tended to hum Ginger’s dirge.
The above-mentioned conflicting evaluations necessitate an examination of the trial transcript. Darrow’s approach was in one sense “masterly trial tactics” (Ginger 152), but it seemed to heed Mencken’s admonition “to make a fool out of Bryan” rather than defend Scopes or seek for truth (Fecher 199). Some of Darrow’s questions were impossible to answer with certainty: “Do you know about how many people there were on this earth 3,000 years ago?” Bryan responded, “You ought not to ask me a question when you don’t know the answer to it.” Again, Darrow: “Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?” Bryan’s rejoinder: “No, sir; I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.” When Darrow asked a question with a definite answer, he attempted to detract from Bryan’s remarks with inane, scene-stealing questions. Bryan referred to a Buddhist he had met, and Darrow asked, “What did he look like, how tall was he?” Bryan quipped, “I think he was about as tall as you but not so crooked.” Then there were reversals of quotations and jousting with semantics, in which Darrow tried to get Bryan to use his opponent’s terminology (Trial 292-295, 284-285).
And so it went for almost two hours, ranging over some fifty topics with several related questions each. Bryan was careful to define terms, adhere to known facts, distinguish between literal and figurative language, and frankly admit when he did not know the answer. From time to time Stewart questioned the legality of the proceedings, especially when Darrow cross-examined his own witness. “He is an hostile witness,” Darrow complained. In approximately 70% of the questions and answers, Bryan bested Darrow, in about 20% Darrow outshone Bryan, and in about 10% it was a draw. The 20% that Bryan lost to Darrow tended to portray Bryan as a student of the Scripture but not of science or ancient civilizations. And they disclosed that Bryan was flexible enough to allow for the days of creation being longer than twenty-four hours each and perhaps as long as millions of years. This opened the door for Hays to jump a step in reasoning and exclaim, “These things are not to be taken literally, but that each man is entitled to his own interpretation.” After Darrow told Bryan, “I am examining you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes,” Judge Raulston adjourned court for the day (Trial 288, 299, 302-304).
The eighth and final day of the trial, Tuesday, July 21, was opened in prayer by the Reverend Dr. R.C. Camper of Chattanooga. Rainy weather moved the trial back into the courtroom. Judge Raulston began by expunging the testimony of Bryan from the previous day, stating that it “can shed no light upon any issues that will be pending before the higher courts” (Trial 305; Ginger 152). Another reason for this move may have been a secret visit by Sheriff Harris and other officials to the judge, urging him to bring the trial to a conclusion as soon as possible in order to avoid injury, for emotions were running high, and both Darrow and Bryan had received threats (de Camp 415; Harris). Then Darrow said, “I think to save time we will ask the court to bring in the jury and instruct the jury to find the defendant guilty” (Trial 306).
This move prepared the way for an appeal to a higher court, spared Darrow from having to be questioned by Bryan, and circumvented the summation arguments and the threat posed by the concluding address that Bryan had been working on (Scopes 186). Since there were indications that some of the jury were getting feisty over being excluded from so much of the trial, and others were showing sympathy for Scopes, there was reason to suspect that the jury might find Scopes innocent. Stewart, Raulston, and Darrow consulted together.
After Raulston gave a lengthy charge to the jury, Darrow was permitted to explain to the jury that they should not worry about their verdict, for it could enable the defense to take the matter to a higher court. A discussion of who should set the fine resulted in Stewart stating correctly it should be the jury, Raulston overruling him, and Darrow promising, “We will not take an exception, either way you want it, because we want the case passed on by the higher court.” The jury retired, deliberated for nine minutes, returned, and found Scopes guilty. The judge fined him $100 and then, after being prompted by Dr. Neal, asked Scopes if he had anything to say (de Camp 418; Trial 309-313).
Scopes then gave his first and last official statement in his trial: “Your honor, I feel that I have been convicted of violating an unjust statute. I will continue in the future, as I have in the past, to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my ideal of academic freedom — that is, to teach the truth as guaranteed in our constitution, of personal and religious freedom. I think that the fine is unjust.” The Baltimore Evening Sun took care of Scopes’ bond. In the closing round of comments, Bryan declared that this case was one of those great causes that “stir the world,” and Darrow remarked that “here we have done our best to turn back the tide that has sought to force itself upon this. . .modern world, of testing every fact in science by a religious dictum.” Judge Raulston called on the Rev. Dr. Jones to pronounce the benediction, and the World’s Most Famous Court Trial ended at 12:04 p.m. (Trial 313-319; de Camp 425).
For five days following the trial, Bryan stayed in Tennessee. Not heeding doctors’ warnings about his weak heart and diabetic condition, he prepared for publication the 15,000-word summary address he had not been allowed to deliver when the trial ended quickly, traveled several hundred miles to speak to large crowds for up to two hours at a time in the hot sun, and tramped around Dayton with a local committee looking at possible sites for a school that Bryan had suggested be built. On Sunday, July 26th, Bryan drove from Chattanooga to Dayton, was called upon to deliver the morning prayer at the First Southern Methodist Church, and that afternoon died in his sleep. Five days later he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery underneath the inscription “He kept the Faith.” Within a year and a half, F.E. Robinson, Judge Raulston, Attorney General Stewart, and prosecution attorneys W.C. Haggard and B.G. and J.G. McKenzie joined with others in forming a memorial association and had Governor Austin Peay officiate in breaking ground for a university to honor Bryan’s life and ideals.
John Thomas Scopes rejected F.E. Robinson’s offer of his old teaching and coaching job, went to the University of Chicago graduate school, and worked for an oil company in Venezuela and a gas company in Louisiana. He died in 1970, three years after George Rappleyea, who had left Dayton for industrial ventures in Cuba, Canada, Mobile, and Miami.
For six months after the trial, the defense was mired in confused communications, failure to meet deadlines for filing documents, and especially infighting regarding Darrow’s role. The press and even liberal supporters of the ACLU criticized Darrow’s agnostic, brutal, and sensational ways (Ginger 171-174; de Camp 445-450). On 31 May 1926, the appeal hearing finally began. Joining the continuing team of Darrow, Neal, Malone, Hays, and McElwee were Frank Spurlock of Chattanooga, Robert Keebler of Memphis, Walter H. Pollack, and Samuel Rosensohn of the ACLU (Ginger 171; de Camp 462). Scopes did not attend any of the legal sessions after the Dayton trial (Scopes 236). The prosecution was represented by E.T. Seay. K.T. McConnico, and William Jennings Bryan, Jr. (who mailed in his argument). And the spirit of William Jennings Bryan was there in the form of quotations from his undelivered Last Message, which the State used (Ginger 177).
Finally on January 15, 1927, Tennessee Supreme Court justices announced the court’s split decision. Greene and Cook agreed that the Butler Act was constitutional and violated by Scopes, but because the judge and not the jury set Scopes’ fine, the judgment of the circuit court was reversed, and the case was subject to a retrial. Observing, however, that Scopes was no longer in the employ of the State of Tennessee, the court declared: “We see nothing to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case. On the contrary we think the peace and dignity of the State . . . will be better conserved by the entry of anolle prosequi herein. Such a course is suggested to the Attorney-General.” And so the case returned to Attorney General Stewart, who obeyed the wishes of the Supreme Court and thus concluded the matter, firmly closing Darrow’s hoped-for door to the U. S. Supreme Court (de Camp 469-472).
In 1926, Governor Austin Peay, who had signed the Butler Bill into law, was reelected, but Judge John Raulston was not. The next year, George W. Hunter published A New Civic Biology, updating the 1914 textbook Scopes supposedly used and presenting a very cautious treatment of evolution that did not even name the term. Arthur Garfield Hays resumed his law practice, continuing to champion the underdog, and he died in 1954. Dudley Field Malone returned to his divorce law office, got divorced himself, remarried, and when his practice declined, became a Hollywood bit-part actor for about ten years, dying in 1950.
Sue Hicks went on in law, got elected to the state legislature, and later became a judge. F.E. Robinson continued to hustle as a druggist, opened up a second store in Spring City, and before his death in 1957, aided in the development at Bryan College, serving as a founder, incorporator, and chairman of the Board of Trustees. Clarence Darrow took on two more cases and then retired to write, lecture, and travel. Returning to Dayton before his death in 1938, he saw a new Cumberland Presbyterian Church built across the street from Robinson’s Drug Store. Darrow quipped, “I guess I didn’t do much good here after all.” Attorney General Tom Stewart was elected to the U. S. Senate in 1942.
Dr. John R. Neal, eccentric until his death in 1959, ran unsuccessfully for senator or governor and one year for both in the same primary. H.L. Mencken lived to see his American Mercury magazine taken over by ultra-conservative Christian Fundamentalists. After a stroke in 1948, which made him unable to read or write, he died in 1956. In 1967, the 1925 Butler Act was repealed (de Camp 454, 481-487, 492). Then in 1973, Tennessee became the first state to pass an equal-time law which stipulated that evolution should be labeled as a theory and not a scientific fact and provided that alongside of evolution other theories, including the Genesis account, should be taught. Ironically, in the fiftieth anniversary year of the Scopes Trial this so-called Genesis Bill was declared unconstitutional.
The entrepreneurship spirit of Dayton which initiated the Scopes Trial has survived the unfittest of situations and sparkles periodically. When Hollywood made the play Inherit the Wind into a movie, Dayton agreed to host the world premiere in 1960. A Scopes Trial Day was sponsored. John T. Scopes returned and was given the key to the city. Twelve years later the city played host to another film premiere: The Darwin Adventure, with Francis Darwin, a descendant of Charles, as special guest. In 1974, on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the trial, a Symposium on Tennessee’s Evolution Laws was held in the courtroom where Scopes was tried. Participating on the panel were professors of law, history, and biology.
Several times Inherit the Wind has been dramatized at the courthouse. Since 1988, Bryan College and the Dayton community have cooperated in organizing a four-day Scopes Trial Festival whose main feature is a documentary drama based almost entirely on the transcript of the trial and performed in the Scopes Trial courtroom. Interest in the play and the festival has been good, and most performances have been sold out, illustrating again that because of its issues, personalities, promotion techniques, and extensive media and historical coverage, the Scopes Trial continues to be “The World’s Most Famous Court Trial.”
Allem, Warren. “Backgrounds of the Scopes Trial at Dayton. Tennessee.” Thesis. U. of Tennessee, 1959.
Davidson, Donald. The Tennessee. Vol. 2. New York: Rinehart, 1946. 2 vols.
de Camp, L. Sprague. The Great Monkey Trial. Garden City: Doubleday, 1966.
English. Fenwick W., and Perry A. Zirkel. “The Great Monkey Trial: Scopes in Perspective.” National Forum of Applied Educational Research Journal 2.2 (1989-90): 4-17.
Fecher, Charles A. Mencken: A Study of His Thought. New York: Knopf, 1978.
Ginger, Ray. Six Days or Forever? Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes. New York: New American Library. 1958.
Gorman, Laurel, and Kate Staiger. “The Scopes Monkey Trial? An American Frontier.” National History Day Project, 1988: Appendix 8.2.
Grebstein, Sheldon Norman, ed. Monkey Trial: the State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960.
Harris, Robert C. Telephone interviews. 9, 24 July 1990.
Larson, Edward J. Trial and Error: The American Controversy Over Creation and Evolution. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985.
Lawrence, Jerome, and Robert E. Lee. Inherit the Wind. New York: Bantam Books, 1955.
Levine. Lawrence W. Defender of the Faith: William Jennings Bryan: The Last Decade, 1915-1925. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1965.
Mencken, H. L. Prejudices: Fifth Series. New York: Knopf, 1926.
Olasky, Marvin N. “When World Views Collide: Journalists and the Great Monkey Trial.” Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Norman, Oklahoma, 6 Aug. 1986.
“Plan Assault on State Law on Evolution.” Chattanooga Daily Times 4 May 1925: 5.
Robinson, F. E., and W. S. Morgan. Why Dayton? of all places? Chattanooga: Andrews Printery, 1925.
Russell, C. Allyn. Voice of American Fundamentalism: Seven Biographical Studies. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976.
Scopes. John T., and James Presley. Center of the Storm: Memoirs of John T. Scopes. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1967.
Smith, Willard H. The Social and Religious Thought of William Jennings Bryan. Lawrence: Coronado Press, 1975.
[Trial Transcript]. The World’s Most Famous Court Trial: Tennessee Evolution Case. 1925. Dayton, Tenn.: Bryan College, 1990.
This article is an updated version of the chapter on the Scopes Trial in the History of Rhea County, Tennessee, compiled by Bettye J. Broyles and published by the Rhea County Historical and Genealogical Society (Dayton, 1991). It was written by the late Dr. Richard M. Cornelius, professor of English and Scopes Trial specialist for many years at Bryan College. Dr. Cornelius was the author or editor of more than 20 articles about William Jennings Bryan and the Scopes Trial, was a consultant for numerous books, articles, museum exhibits and radio and television programs in the United States and Europe, and was a founder of the Scopes Festival.