Monkey Trial

By Alex Larpenter

Traditionalists/Fundamentalists

Traditionalists and Fundamentalists are similar in the way that they believe things should be done the way that they always have been. Fundamentalism is just a little different because it's more about religion and sticking to the original scripture. They not only believe in the original scripture but also that the Bible's 6 day creation "isn't actually 6 days but the days are more like periods of time".(5) The most popular self-described fundamentalists today are "conservative, Bible Baptist Churches."(4) But the term is used a lot more today than it was back then, with people such as "Hasidic Rabbi or Islamic Jihadist"(4). Back then these fundamentalists were battling the new views of the 1920s. They supported prohibition and imposed "Blue Laws", prohibited certain activities on sundays(4), and of course evolution, and what better way to do so than to get it taken out of school curriculum. Tennessee followed Oklahoma and Florida on laws that legally prevented the teachings of evolution in school.(2) So they followed. They passed Butler Law which would "make it unlawful for teachers working in schools financed wholly or in part by the state to ‘teach any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible. ’ Violation of the statute would constitute a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $100 or more than $500 for each offense.'"(2) The law successfully stops the teaching of evolution, but only in one species, mankind.(5) When the case first came to light William Jennings Bryan joined to defend the law as he had "...studied the Bible for about fifty years."(1) although Bryan hadn't practiced law in 30 years. (5) He was mainly brought in to give the final argument. Bryan is well known as he was a three time presidential candidate and former secretary of state.(3) The twelve man jury for the trial consisted of farmers and eleven out of twelve were regular church goers.(1) This was set up to be a fair trial.

Modernists/Evolutionists

During the 20s everything was changing. Everyone's ideas about traditional life were being challenged. John Scopes was a science teacher in Dayton, Tennessee. Even though he was young and new to the town everyone loved him. Although Scopes had never taught evolution in class, he believed in it.(7) Clarence Darrow joined because "for years I've wanted to put Bryan in his place as a bigot."(3) He was also an atheist "The fact that my father was a heretic always put him on the defensive,... We children thought it was only right and loyal that we should defend his cause."(6) The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) wanted to challenge the new Butler Law so they put an ad in the newspaper saying "...we will defend any teacher who stood up to the law."(8) George W. Rappelyea, an evolutionist, saw this ad in the newspaper and decided it would be a great way to bring publicity to the small town and to challenge the new law, so he talked it over with others from the town and they agreed, so they got Scopes to come down and he agreed to the idea.(3) He had never taught the lesson but he was still "arrested". "The goal of the trial wasn't to acquit Scopes, but to get the case heard at a higher level"(1) so all the laws across the across the states would be proven unconstitutional. People around this time liked to act like the theory of evolution was being introduced for the first time and they didn't like it. But when in reality, "Civic Biology textbook was the most popular biology textbook in the US. It had evolution in it for at least 20 years."(5) But still the Traditionalists didn't want this to be taught in the schools. And so the trial was underway.


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Clarence Darrow on the left and William J. Bryan on the right in the courthouse.

The Trial

The trial began on July 10, 1925. Around a thousand people packed the courthouse for the trial.(1) During the summer, and inside of a courthouse with no air conditioning or fans, the judge decided to move the case outside a couple of days later and 5,000 were now in attendance(1). Each day started with a prayer led by Judge John T. Raulston which Darrow refused.(6) This judge was a challenge for Darrow as he "always carried a bible with him, would pray before each session and wouldn't let any scientists testify."(6) This now a days is unheard of but it was common back then. Scopes hadn't even been in school the day the incident was said to have happened(3) but his lawyer couldn't let them find that out because he wants Scopes to be found guilty so he can take the case to a higher court. "Several students were encouraged to testify against Scopes"(2) and they did, but when they did this they said the same thing. They claimed to have been taught evolution by Scopes but when asked what else he taught them they didn't have an answer. When people in town had asked Scopes about evolution before the trail he said,"...Evolution is explained in Hunter's 'Civic Biology' and that's out textbook."(3) He hadn't even taught the lesson, but even if he did he's only doing his job. That's the book he's given to teach out of by the state to teach to the kids. The trial wasn't really about Scopes and the law, it was more about Bryan and Darrow. "Hard fought contest not just between rival ideas, but between Bryan and Darrow. Former allies whose political differences had turned them into fierce adversaries."(2) They were the ones going at it, Scopes only got to talk once. But both of them also experienced a lot of criticism for what they said.(1) The trial was unfair from the start, and once Bryan was under intense questioning and wasn't answering very well. The next day Judge Raulston wouldn't the questioning continue and asked that "...his testimony be stricken from the record."(1) The trial lasted eight days, "and only 9 minutes for the jury to come back with a verdict."(2) The jury found Scopes guilty and charged him with a $100 fine, the least amount for this type of crime, just what Darrow wanted. A year later the Tennessee Supreme Court overruled the decision on a technicality, not unconstitutionally like he wanted. The reason, "the fine should have been set by the jury, not the judge."(1) After they said that they threw out the case so it could never be heard again. Even after this and a play made about the trial, it took 42 years for Tennessee to overturn the anti-evolution law.