This trial was an important educational milestone regarding the teaching of the theory of evolution in public schools. Scopes, who was conned into being the accused teacher (claims he never even taught the theory), pitted two famous barristers of the day—William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow—against each other. The basic argument of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the evolutionists’ was that evolutionary theory should not be censored from the public schools. The defense withdrew before the trial ended because they knew they were going to lose the trial, having just put the beloved Bryan on the stand to humiliate him and Christianity, also bowed out before he could be cross-examined.
1 – MONDAY, MAY 4, 1826
HOW IT BEGAN
George W. Rappleyea was a short thin young metallurgical engineer from New York employed by the Cumberland Coal and Iron Company in Dayton, Tennessee, a sleepy little town 35 miles north of Chattanooga. Money was scarce and the local economy needed a boost. On Monday, May 4, 1925, he picked up a copy of the Chattanooga Times and noticed a paid ad by the *American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). They offered to pay the expenses of a teacher willing to make a test case of the recently-passed Tennessee anti-evolution law. Rappleyea saw in this an opportunity to bring some money, perhaps even new industry, into town. The ACLU was but one arm of a great movement to atheize America. They had been looking for men that would help them bring evolution into the courts. The peaceful citizens of Dayton, Tennessee were soon to learn that their community was the one selected for this purpose. Walking through the town of Dayton that quiet spring morning, Rappleyea went into F. E. Robinson’s drugstore on the main street of town, and began discussing the situation with him. Shortly afterward John Thomas Scopes, 24 (19011970), a young high school athletic coach, and Walter White, superintendent of schools, were called in and the conversation became still more earnest.
The old-fashioned table where they sat that day is still there in the drugstore. It now bears a plaque commemorating the occasion. But as they talked, young Scopes was reluctant to go through with what was suggested, for a surprising reason we will learn about later.
Scopes finally agreed that morning in the drugstore to be arrested, stand trial, and testify that he had taught evolution in Dayton’s Central High School after the date that the state anti-evolution bill became law. This law forbade teaching in tax-supported schools that human beings had evolved from lower forms of life. Scopes later remarked about the origins of the trial: “It was just a drugstore conversation that got past control.“ (Quoted in Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever , p. 20).
“The plan was hatched May 5,1925. the chairman of the Rhea County School Board, Fred E. Robinson, was the owner of Robinson’s Drug Store, the social center for Dayton. Present at the meeting that day were Robinson; Brady, who ran the town’s other drug store; Sue Hicks, the town’s leading lawyer, who supported the Butler law; another attorney; a store clerk; and George Rappeleyea, a vigorous opponent of the Butler law. John Scopes was invited to join the group and was asked whether it was indeed true that he was teaching evolution. He had filled in for the high school principal during the latter’s illness. The high school principal was the regular biology teacher.“John W. Klotz, “Science and Religion,” in Studies in Creation (1985), pp. 47-48.
Summer and the tourist season was close at hand, so the men realized they would have to work fast. Through frequent telephone contacts with the ACLU office, they were instructed at each step what to do next. The alleged reason why the ACLU was anxious to bring this case into court was “because civil liberties were threatened.” Forthcoming events clearly revealed a more sinister objective: to use courtroom ridicule and world-wide press jeering to destroy confidence in the Bible and serve notice of warning on other: who might henceforth oppose evolution, that their reputation would likewise be devastated.
On Tuesday the 5th, young Scopes just happened to saunter into Robinson’s Drug Store, just before lawyers and town officials decided to drop in also, and serve Scopes with a warrant. Immediately Robinson telephoned the Chattanooga News saying, “This is F. E. Robinson in Dayton. I am chairman of the school board here. We’ve just arrested a man for teaching evolution!”Shortly afterward, Rappelyea wired the American Civil Liberties Union and they promised to assist in the defense of Scopes (as advertised).
Immediately, the ACLU sent out invitations to leading figures in the nation to come help defend their side. At the same time, the folk down in Dayton decided to contact another, even more famous American: William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), former U.S. senator, three-time presidential candidate (1896,1900, and 1908), and Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson. Bryan said he would help defend the State law, and head up the prosecution. Bryan had been a capable statesman. While serving as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, Bryan had negotiated 30 treaties with foreign nations, all of which except two had been ratified by the U.S. Senate.
The Tennessee State Attorney General, A.T. Steward, agreed to help him. Bryan was glad to be of service, for it was a cause he was deeply interested in. Yet at the same time he was somewhat reluctant to serve as chief prosecutor, since he was older now and had not tried any cases in 25 years.
On the other side, the well-known criminal lawyer, *Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), gladly accepted the opportunity to defend evolution. He had been the attorney in several highly publicized trials, and had recently concluded the notorious 1924 Leopold and Loeb trial in Chicago, in which he defended two young University of Chicago students who had been involved in a peculiar “thrill” murder of a young student, Bobby Franks.
In addition, other influential men stepped forward to aid the defense. According to some reports, all offered their services free, but according to others, the ACLU paid the expenses of Darrow, the other defense attorneys, and their counselors. These included *Dudley Field Malone, *Arthur Garfield Hays, and *Dr. John R. Neal.
“As Scopes said later, ‘The American Civil Liberties Union held the purse strings” and therefore controlled policy. He said the ACLU paid his bill of $327.77, but according to a news item in Science, “The $10,000 needed to finance the defense was raised chiefly through an appeal to members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science” [Science, July 1, 1955, p. 23]. Thus, although the affair came into being because the ACLU promised financial support and on this basis determined policy, it did not pay the bill, even though the lawyers offered their services gratis.” Donald W. Patten, “The Scopes Trial, ” in Symposium on Creation III (1971), p. 106.
In a later letter Malone, a New York attorney, wrote to Scopes:
“Mr. Darrow was in New York conferring with me on a law case when we read of Mr. Bryan’s offer to help the prosecution in your case. We felt that . . the issues involved are beyond the boundaries of Tennessee and we thought that assistance from men such as ourselves would be helpful in emphasizing the national interests which are involved.” *Dudley Field Malone, letter to John T. Scopes.
PLANS AND ACTIVITIES
*H.L. Menken, a well-known atheistic journalist, later remarked that he told Darrow to get down there, and he advised him: “Make a fool out of Bryan.”
Not science, not education would be the issue; but to make a fool of Bryan, Tennessee State, the Bible, and Christians in general. From this point onward, the ACLU worked closely to insure success in every way. They were determined to orchestrate this into the biggest summer show in the nation, knowing well it would bring reverberations in favor of evolutionists for decades to come.
Bryan had earlier given his support to the Tennessee law that was now being challenged. According to the wording given to the Tennessee Anti-Evolution Law by Representative J.W. Butler, it was “. . unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals, and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole a 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.”
There is a story behind that law. John W. Butler, one of the Tennessee State legislators, was deeply concerned when his daughters, on their return from study at a university, were found to be irreligious. They had enrolled as earnest Christians; and returned as little better than atheists. Butler was shocked. Conversations with them revealed they had been deeply influenced by evolutionary teachings at the university.
Butler then suggested that the State legislature forbid the teaching of evolution in Tennessee State schools. He and other legislators conferred with Bryan, a Presbyterian, who fully agreed with their concerns, but cautioned them not to include a penalty in the proposed law. But when the law was drawn up, it included a penalty for infringement, although not one that was clearly stated.
Hearing of the forthcoming trial, the local newspapers in and near Dayton gladly got involved, and did everything they could to proclaim the news far and wide. Actually, it was the public press of America, naively or otherwise, cooperating with the objectives of the New York lawyers and the ACLU, that swelled the Scopes Trial to national and international prominence. Men would dream up schemes, work angles, and suggest plots, and the reporters would report them whether or not they were true or actually happened!
DEEPENING THE INTEREST
Learning about the growing excitement up in Rhea County, the city of Chattanooga, 40 miles south of Dayton, attempted to get the trial transferred to their Memorial Auditorium, and when that plan failed they tried to set up an alternate test case with a Chattanooga teacher (because Dayton was full of Christian farmers which made up the jury).
Up in Dayton, it was clear they would have to work fast, so they called Scopes home from vacation in Kentucky, and, instead of waiting till August, convened a hurried special meeting of the grand jury. The ACLU could see that Dayton would ultimately be the trial location and, to build the excitement to a fever pitch, an extra promotional help was suggested. Accordingly, the local trial promoters in Dayton called for a protest meeting to heighten public interest.
At that protest meeting, the short little Rappleyea stood up in defense of evolution (who later said he had always been a creationist), and by prearrangement, large Thurlow Reed, whose shop was across the street from Robinson’s Drug Store, was to start a fight when Rappleyea said these words: “There are more monkeys here in Dayton than there are in the Chattanooga zoo!” At those words, Reed rose to his feet and strode toward him, shouting as he went, “You can’t call my ancestors monkeys!” and began a tussle with Rappleyea, that fooled everyone in the audience and caused a sensation in the public press.
2 – Tuesday, JULY 7, 1925
GETTING THE TOWN READY
July was hot that year in Dayton, Tennessee. Sheltered by a mountain range from the westerly winds, the little town felt stifling on Tuesday, July 7, 1925, as shopkeepers put up signs, venders set up booths, and townspeople tried to adjust to the growing excitement and figure out how they should relate to it. The old Rhea County Courthouse, sitting sedately in the middle of the town square, was swept and cleaned thoroughly, while construction work proceeded on grandstands outside. But things were also livening up elsewhere in town. An evangelist, T. T. Martin, walked around lecturing on street corners and selling copies of his books, Hell in the High Schools, and God Or Gorilla. On a nearby corner, a man with Bible verses attached to his body, shouted to passersby. The one hotel in town was quickly sold out, and local folk put up room-for-rent signs on their houses. That Tuesday afternoon the town emptied out and everyone flocked to the railroad station as the train carrying Williams Jennings Bryan arrived in town. Stepping off the train, he shook the hand of young Scopes. At a banquet that evening in his honor, amid cheers Bryan said, “If evolution wins, Christianity loses.”
SAMPLING THE MAIL The post office had to put on extra help to handle the thousands of pieces of mail pouring in addressed to Scopes, Bryan, and Darrow. As you might expect, Scopes got the most. One person wired: “Have found the missing link. Please wire instructions immediately.” Several women wrote Scopes and proposed marriage, and a worker at a Mississippi insane asylum asked him for advice: “I think a dozen monkeys would be splendid entertainment for the inmates here. Which monkeys are the best and where can I get them?”
FINE-TUNING THE STATELY
The Smithsonian Institution offered advice, and in the process revealed its objectives. They told Scopes and his attorneys to avoid the word “theory,” but to call evolution a “fact” or a “law.“
” . . [make sure that] the word ‘theory’ [be] avoided completely and that it be challenged systematically when used by the prosecution. Its continued use by scientific men implies a doubt on their part and is a chief refuge of fundamentalism.” Jack Scopes, “The Man Who Put the Monkey on Dayton’s Back,” in Chattanooga Life and Leisure, July 1989, p. 15. [Article by John Scopes’ grandson]
The *ACLU Executive Planning Committee had done its work well. Its members in 1925 Included future Supreme Court Justice *Felix Frankfurter, socialist *Norman Thomas, Communist Party member *Mrs. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, *Roger Nash Baldwin, and *Arthur Garfield Hays.
The ACLU had a field day with the press. They sent their agents here and there, urging media representatives from all over the nation to be present at the trial. it was considered imperative that this event be given the widest publicity. Radio technicians from the Chicago Tribune arrived in town and began setting up equipment in the old courthouse, in order to broadcast the trial proceedings. This was the first American court trial ever to be aired by radio. It was broadcast nationally, and helped focus worldwide attention on the proceedings that took place in this quiet Tennessee town. No publicity stone was left unturned by the ACLU. At about the same time, sixty-five (65!) telegraph operators arrived in this little town that no one had ever heard of before, and began cabling more words before and during this trial to Europe and Australia than those continents had ever received about any other event in American history!
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