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Scopes Trial Essay, Research Paper
As the twentieth century began, the absorption and interpretation of evolutionary concepts within the American intellectual community had been largely completed. Theologians, philosophers, and scientists had examined the new biology theory and its many implications, coming to terms with evolution in a variety of ways. The larger segment of the American public became involved in debates and discussions, which led to the transformation of the evolutionary theory. Religious and political figures led the recognizable movement in an attempt to spread the anti-evolution gospel across the nation. This crusade represented an important aspect of the extensive movement known as Protestant fundamentalism. The fundamentalists protest against the teaching of evolution drew strength and support from questioning by many Americans of contemporary social values and by an increasing anxiety over the rapid social changes that often accompanied new developments in science and technology.
During the early 1900s an anti-evolution movement swept through the United States. Helping ease the commotion was the fact that very few Americans attended high school during the nineteenth century. Almost none attended schools in the southern states. According to a census, Number of pupils enrolled in American high schools lept from about 200,000 in 1890, to nearly two million in 1920 (Summer 24). The anti-evolution crusade lacked a specific political or legal objective until Kentucky s Baptist State Board of Missions passed a resolution calling for a state law against teaching evolution in public schools in 1921. The law fell victim to defeat in the Lower House and no further action was taken.
In 1923 the anti-evolutionists scored their first legislative victories in Oklahoma and Florida. This was the first time in history that a state legislature formally banned the theory of evolution. Following this, many other states tried to produce the same results. Most states compromised and passed an advisory resolution rather than a law to avoid any risk of a lawsuit. The movement against evolution was strongest, clearly, in the South and the border states, and it was far from negligible in Midwest and California (Ginger 65).
A gentleman by the name of John Washington Butler was talking to a preacher at his local church. The preacher mentioned a young woman from the community who had gone away to a university. She returned believing in the theory of evolution and the existence of God. This startled Butler because he had three sons and two daughters at home.
In 1922 John Butler ran for state legislator and was elected. His primary goal was to produce a law to prohibit teaching the theory of evolution in public schools in Tennessee. The basis for this was that scientists claimed the Bible said God created man in his own image, so man could not have evolved from lower animals. The Butler Bill also enacted a maximum fine of five hundred dollars for violations. The Bible is the foundation upon which our American government was built. The evolutionists who denies the Biblical story creation, as well as other Biblical accounts, cannot be Christian. It goes hand in hand with Modernism, makes Jesus Christ a fakir, robs the Christian of his hope and undermines the foundation of our government (Ginger 4). On his forty-ninth birthday Butler composed an anti-evolution bill. Butler wrote four versions of the bill but later returned to his original.
The Butler Bill stated it was an Act prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all Universities, Normals, and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof.
Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, 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.
Section 2. Be it further enacted, That any teacher found guilty of the violation of this Act shall be guilty of a misdemeanor upon conviction, shall be fined not less than One Hundred ($100.00) Dollars nor more than Five Hundred ($500.00) Dollars for each offense. (Ginger 3)
There was very little opposition to the Butler Bill. Evolutionists avoided challenging the bill at all costs due to public opposition. The University of Tennessee turned its back, the State department of education kept silent and leaders of the Tennessee Academy of Science were not heard from. The main newspapers of the state either ignored or approved the bill. The campaign for Jim Crow laws, was strikingly similar in some ways to the later campaign for anti-evolution laws: both were greatly facilitated by the lack of opposition, and both were dependent on a favorable national climate of opinion (Ginger 16). Fundamentalists applauded the Butler bill for being an important step toward securing a purely Christian agenda for public schools.
On January 28, 1925, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed the Butler Bill by a majority of 71 to 5 votes. The bill was then passed to the Senate, where the vote tallied at 24 to 6 in favor of the bill. The bill was then forwarded to Tennessee governor Austin Peay, an old-fashioned Baptist , who once stated, Be loyal to your religion , making it obvious to the public that the bill would not be vetoed. Only eight days later the Butler Bill was signed by Governor Austin Peay with no alterations to the original. Governor Peay stated, Butler Act was intended as gesture rather than as active statute (Ginger 18).
Several days later the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) published an advertisement for a test case of the Butler Bill. The advertisement stated, We are looking for a Tennessee teacher 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. Distinguished counsel have volunteered their services. All we need now is a willing client (Webb 85). That day, 31 year old George W. Rappleyea read the proposal. He was a very powerful man and knew many people. Rappleyea heard of a teacher by the name of John Thomas Scopes who might fill this occupation so he sent for him.
George was a mining engineer who managed six coal and iron mines for Cumberland Coal Company. He was intellectual and a magnificent negotiator. Upon arrival of Scopes, Rappleyea produced the ACLU advertisement and made a proposal to Scopes. George stated, It s a bad law. Let s get rid of it. [If you accept] I will swear out a warrant and have you arrested (Ginger 20). Due to Rappleyea s persistence, Scopes accepted and was arrested on May 7, 1925. George wired the ACLU in New York and they agreed to support Scopes with financial help, publicity, and legal advice. Rappleyea then wired the media stating, Something has happened that s going to put Dayton on the map (Summer 91).
The next day the local paper headlined, J.T. Scopes, head of science department of the Rhea County High School, was charged with violating the recently enacted law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the public schools of Tennessee (Summer 91). John Thomas Scopes was a twenty-four-year-old graduate of the University of Kentucky. Scopes was the ideal defendant for a test case against a newly enacted Butler Bill. He currently was in his second year of teaching as the head of the science department at a local school. He taught physics, math, and coached football. John was a modest man, making him very popular in the community. Scopes was single and appeared academic with his glasses and his boyish face. He was naturally shy and cooperative. His close friends knew he disapproved of the new law and accepted an evolutionary view of human origins. John believed evolution was easily reconciled with the Bible. Due to Rappleyeas actions, he was now widely disliked for filing the original complaint against Scopes as a legal maneuver. Scope s friends planned to waylay Rappleyea and punish him severely for betraying friendship.
A preliminary hearing was held May 10th with three squires. They charged Scopes for the teaching of evolution from, the best selling text in the field, Civic Biology to his class on April 24th . Bond was set at one thousand dollars. Shortly after, the ACLU announced, We shall take the Scopes case to the United States Supreme Court if necessary to establish that a teacher may tell the truth without being thrown in jail (Ginger 20). All this publicity led the teaching of evolution to become an important political issue. On May 25th the district judge called a special meeting of the grand jury to indict Scopes before another town could steal the show.
The small town of Dayton planned to hold the Trial of the Century . A local newspaper proclaimed, Dayton could not have overlooked such an opportunity to secure front page advertising space throughout the civilized world (Summer 94). The town prepared as main street merchants decorated their shops with pictures of apes and monkeys, billboards featured long tail primates drinking sodas, and a delivery van bore the words Monkeyville Express . The post office hired extra employees and a souvenir coin portrayed a monkey wearing a straw hat was produced. An estimated thirty thousand people were expected to attend the trial. This provided Dayton with a huge problem. Dayton currently had a population of less than one thousand-eighth hundred and only three hotels were in the town. The three hotels combined for a total of two hundred rooms.
Three options were now possible for the court proceedings. One, Place a roof over the baseball park. Two, transfer the case to Chattanooga which could provide more dignified facilities for the event and adequate accommodations for visitors. Three, Fill every inch of the courtroom with seats, place benches on huge lawn, and use loud speakers, and set up Army tents and cots to stay in. Since Dayton had the second largest courtroom in the state the third option prevailed.
Dayton was a fairly new town that was fundamentally disconnected from the state and region. Most of Tennessee and the south were Baptist but Dayton was mostly Methodists and a high amount of residence belonged to no denomination. Every major newspaper of the state criticized Dayton for staging the trial with lashings like, Now that the trial has been put in advertising class, monkey has become the most popular word in Dayton s vocabulary (Summer 105). Dayton, as a whole, believed, We do not believe that the right of free speech or religious liberty warrants any man or set of men to teach our children any theory which has its purpose or tendency of discrediting our religion ( Ginger 72). Some of Rappleyea s friends thought about abduction as a possible public stunt but word spread in advance and the hoax was abandoned when half the town, in a different spirit, showed there eagerness to help. Trial promoters worked hard to persuade British evolutionist writer H.G. Wells to defend evolution but he declined since he was not a lawyer. Scopes became embarrassed because he thought it was a public affair not a national one. John s dad reassured him by saying, He had an unusual chance to serve his country (Ginger 45).
It seemed that the Scopes trial was not intended to raise the issue of evolution but to show that Tennessee s 1925 anti-evolution legislation violated the first amendment. The first amendment of the United States Constitution states, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. This trial cultivated more journalistic excitement than a civil celebration or riot. An author observed, The press has made this story. Its spotlight has been turned upon Dayton [Tennessee] as if by a common agreement among all editors everywhere that it was naturally the thing to do … no crowd of visitors has appeared … The expected onrush of tourist and interested on-lookers has not materialized (190 La Follette).
The test case of the Butler Bill was now unstoppable. The plaintiff and defendant would have their day in court. With a test case approaching, candidates to represent both sides and a judge had to be selected. The choices were not easy and time was working against both sides. Judge Neal accepted the case since he was the chief counsel for Scopes. He was a controversial figure because he was kicked out of law school for using a modernist book. Only days later Neal withdrew from the Scopes trial, allowing Judge John T. Raulston to take the lead as judge. Raulston had an eagerness to push the case because he craved publicity and felt a deep sense of purpose in his work. Judge Raulston moved the Scopes trial from late autumn to July 10th on which both parties agreed.
Forming an appropriate defense team was of great concern to the ACLU. The ACLU s primary goal was to avoid unnecessary controversy by employing respected conservative attorneys John W. Davis and Charles Evan Hughes despite offers from Americas top defense attorney, Clarence Darrow and Dudley Field Malone. This plan would fail since John Scopes and his attorney, John R. Neal of Knoxville, informally accepted Darrow and Malone s offer without consulting ACLU officials. The ACLU tried persuading Darrow and Malone that they didn t belong. ACLU counsel Wollcott H. Pitkin wrote, In my belief, a great mistake had been made at the start in accepting the services of Mr. Darrow, thereby allowing fundamentalists to present the issue as a clash between religion and anti-religion (Summer 102). On the other hand, Chief counsel, of the ACLU, Hays wrote, There began my association with Clarence Darrow. Nothing in life do I treasure more than that, nothing has been more inspiring or humanly helpful than his company, his example, his friendship (Summer 69).
Dudley Field Malone was a youngster who was very similar to William Jennings Bryan. At this time, Clarence Darrow was America s greatest criminal defense lawyer at age sixty-eight. Both lawyers volunteered their service without fee and would pay for their own expenses. Darrow was a freethinker who only lost one of the many he defended to an executioner. This led him to believe, No group of men has a right to condemn another man to die (Ginger 51). A writer observed about Darrow, The cases he was called upon to defend were almost invariably criminal prosecutions in bitterly hostile communities (Summer 69). Many of the ACLU members were concerned because of the fact that neither Scopes nor free speech mattered to Darrow.
To add to the drama of the Scopes trial, William Jennings Bryan arrived to serve as a special prosecutor and World s Christian Fundamentals Association attorney in the case. When asked about the case, Bryan stated, The contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death If evolution wins in Dayton Christianity goes not suddenly, of course, but gradually for the two cannot stand together (Webb 86). Bryan was a very powerful man with a charismatic speaking ability and youthful enthusiasm which helped him quickly earn the nicknames: The Boy Orator of the Platte , Great Commoner , and Peerless Leader . Jennings wrote dozens of books and gave hundred of speeches each year in an attempt to defend every word of the Bible literally true. He ran for president three times and lost on narrow margins. To encourage his belief he would often claim, I would rather begin with God and reason down then begin with a piece of dirt and reason up (37 Ginger).
John Scope s alleged crime bore the same penalty as the most minor liquor law violations that Raulston heard but he did not want to set a time limit for the trial. In my estimation the trial is of such intellectual interest and importance that I believe it fair to give both sides ample time to present their cases (Summer 109). Shortly after indictment, Scopes left town for Kentucky to visit with friends and family. Anticipation mounted across the country as the parties spent the next six weeks preparing for the Trial of the Century .
At the time of intermission, most Americans simply understood the theory of the human to mean that people came from apes. William Jennings Bryan encouraged this by offering this question, How can teachers tell students that they came from monkeys and not expect them to act like monkeys (Summer 116). Evolutionist articles filled the newspapers and proclaimed the author of the anti-evolution bill was obviously nearer in mental development to the nomads of early Biblical times than he is to the intelligence of the young man who is under trial. April 1925, ACLU releasing a survey of restrictions on teaching in schools and colleges, said that more restrictive laws had been passed in the preceding six months than at anytime in the country s history. The various statutes banned the teaching of evolution, or required daily Bible reading in the schools, or forbade the employment of radical or pacifist teachers (Ginger 66).
William Jennings Bryan arrived three days before the trial. The temperature was twenty degrees above normal and half the town population was waiting at the train station for him. Upon arrival Bryan arrogantly stated, In this controversy, I have a larger majority on my side than in any previous controversy (Summer 45). Since he was arguing for popular control over public education, it gave Bryan the legal and logical upper hand in the Scopes trial. The next day only a few people were present for the arrival of John Thomas Scopes. It seemed that everyone had forgotten about the defendant including the defense. Clarence Darrow arrived on the last train to Dayton. Almost no media attended. Governor Austin Peay refused to attend the trial, despite the request from public officials.
The courtroom received a facelift and all the walls were repainted. The courthouse lawn was crisscrossed by newly installed water pipes and privies had been hastily built to comfort the expected crowds. The outside of the courthouse had been covered with signs from fundamentalists. The judge s bench was newly stained with a dark cherry color.
The crowd gathered early Friday, July tenth for the beginning of the Scopes trial. People started filing into the Dayton courthouse two hours early. One hour later all the seats were full. Those attending were the local Tennesians with overalls, not the big spending tourists Dayton hoped to attract. Out of the estimated thirty thousand visitors, only five hundred stayed in Dayton. The majority of them were media, making the trial quickly become more of a media event than a spectator show.
At nine in the morning, case number 5232, Tennessee versus John Thomas Scopes was called to order. A local newspaper predicted, The people of Tennessee, the south, even of the world, will become more familiar with the theory of evolution than they ever were before (Ginger 100). Judge Raulston opened each day s proceedings with prayer, usually led by a fundamentalist minister. The defense argued that such activity established a mood in court that worked to their disadvantage. The defenses objection was logical but remained ignored. The first few days of the trial itself provided further evidence of the clash between opposing evolutionary and religious views.
Darrow s persuasive nature and talent for drama frequently guided the trial away from the careful examination of legal issues. Darrow remarked early in the trial, Here we find today, [the statute] as brazen and as a bold attempt to destroy learning as was ever made in the Middle Ages. The only difference is we have not provided that they shall be burned at the stake. But, there is time for that, Your Honor; we have to approach these things gradually (Webb 87). The Butler Bill remained the primary issue for the defense. By the opening of the trial, the defense had three arguments supporting that the Butler Bill was unconstitutional. The defense argued the bill violated the separation of church and state by attempting to combine Protestant fundamentalism and state funded education. In an informal survey conducted during the trial, 85% of the persons attending Dayton churches professed to believe the Bible literally (Summer 93).
To emphasize this, the defense planned to have several carefully selected scientists testify that Genesis and evolution do not contend with each other. The prosecution planned to counter act with the defense by producing a group of prestigious reverends. This idea was marred since numerous reverends declined William Jennings Bryan s offer. Due to many reverends withdrawing, Bryan and the prosecution argued forcefully against admitting expert testimonies. Judge Raulston decided to exclude the expert testimony on July sixteenth since only the teaching of human descent was the issue not the lack of conflict between evolution and Genesis. Furthermore, Human descent had been defined in the Butler bill straightforward and understandable to all.
The Scopes trial lasted only eight days. Less than half a day was allocated to the witnesses. Darrow manhandled Bryan throughout the trial. Bryan felt humiliated but he knew it was solely legal reasoning at its best. This would allow for a stronghold to appeal to the higher courts. Several days into the trial Bryan was an exhausted and broken man. Towards the end of the trial, Darrow commented, This case can only be settled by higher courts, and it cannot get to a higher court unless you bring in a verdict (Ginger 177). Darrow and the defense did not want a split decision because that would slow down the appeal process.
Despite the constitutional soundness of the Butler bill, the conviction of John Thomas Scopes was inevitable. Judge Raulston imposed a minimum fine of one hundred dollars. Scopes spoke briefly at the time of sentencing by claiming the anti-evolution statute was unjust and he pledged to continue fighting it in the name of academic freedom. Following, the counsel took turns thanking the court and the community. The prosecution and Judge Raulston were satisfied with the trial but Darrow was unsettled. Darrow blamed everything on the religious nature of the prosecution. A local minister then gave the benediction and the Scopes trial was adjourned.
In the trials immediate aftermath, both the prosecution and the defense found reasons to celebrate. The prosecution claimed a legal victory while the defense claimed a moral one. The media wrote, We saw an attempted duel between science and religion at Dayton but both sides lost ground (Summer 202). Dayton returned too normal. Every indication is that Dayton is back where it was before the trial began, a sleepy little town among the hills (Summer 200). Darrow found great pleasure debating with the ideas of Bryan so he pursued a life of debate. William Jennings Bryan died five days after the trial, due to apoplexy. Some assumed that the stress of the case caused the attack while many blamed Darrow personally. Governor Peay made Bryan s death official by proclaiming it a holiday.
Elder, Gregory P. Chronic Vigour. Lanham: University 1966.
English clergymen have first encounters with the ideas of Charles Darwin. These ideas challenged their faith and traditional teachings of the churches they served. The question of evolution remained wide open as clergy and scientists rallied on both sides of the issue.
Ginger, Ray. Six Days or Forever? London: Oxford 1958.
Tennessee legislator, John Washington Butler imposed a law to prohibit the teaching of evolution in public schools. John Thomas Scopes challenges the state of Tennessee over the teaching of Darwinism. This conflict leads to a great division between both parties.
La Follette, Marcel C. Creationism, Science, and the Law. Cambridege: MIT Press 1983.Represents many of the attorneys and witnesses on the Mclean versus Arkansas trial. Also compares and contrasts with the Scopes trial which occurred many years before.
Larson, Edward J. Summer for the Gods. New York: BasicBooks 1997.
Edward Larson examines the many views the Scopes trial and shows how its enduring legacy has crossed religious, cultural, educational, and political lines. The Scopes trial helped shape the development of both popular religion and constitutional law in America.
Larson, Edward J. Trial and Error. New York: Oxford University 1985.
Raises questions about the legal rights and restrictions that have been applied to the teaching of evolution and creation in public schools. Outlines the anti-evolution crusade during the 1920s. Also presents a possible idea in which evolution and religion can co-exist.
National Academy of Sciences. Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science.Washington D.C. 1998.
The teaching of science in the nation s public schools is often marred because many students receive little or no exposure to biological evolution. This has contributed to widespread misconceptions about creationism and biological understanding.
Webb, George Ernest. The Evolution Controversy in America. University Press of
Kentucky 1994.Focuses on the public campaigns of the anti-evolution movement. Also shows Americans lack of knowledge of the meaning of evolution during the 1920 s. Makes a strong attempt to help us understand modern science.
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