Three Weeks In Dayton


Far back in his early days Bryan had made a discovery that had shaped his future. He came home one night and told Mrs. Bryan: “I found that I had power over an audience; I could move them as I chose.”

This power had taken him far and made him a fortune, but it did not prepare him for the contest with Darrow. Bryan knew all the meaningless phrases and crowd-pleasing tricks of the politician, but he had long since closed his mind and quit the search for knowledge.

Darrow had been engaged in turbulent courtroom battles for more than forty years. All through his life he had read avidly, poring through textbooks, sopping up information of all kinds. He engaged regularly in seminars with scholars. His mind was wide open to all knowledge; he was skeptical, probing, undaunted by power or people.

Bryan called Darrow an atheist, but he was no atheist. He was a lawyer seeking proof, and he had not found enough evidence, pro or con, to satisfy his searching mind. Nor was he a true Darwinian; he understood the wide variations of scientific belief. Many ministers who knew him well said his life exemplified the Christianity he denied.

Darrow began his questioning gently and drew from Bryan the information that he had studied the Bible for fifty years and believed events in it should be taken literally except for clearly illustrative parables. As the questions continued he related his belief that a big fish swallowed Jonah; all things were possible with God. He said that although he believed the earth goes around the sun, he accepted the statement that Joshua made the sun stand still.

By this time my shirt was dripping wet. There was no time to wipe sweat from my face; it streamed down my eyebrows, stung my eyes, dropped in beads from my nose and chin. Now and then the typewriter, built for a touch-typist and not a two-fingered driver, stuck and keys had to be disentangled. Periodically Pete Lipsey would thrust his hand over the edge of the platform, seize a sheet of copy as it came out of my typewriter, and force his way through the crowd to the wire.

The crowd responded to Bryan with cheers and loud affirmations, and the old Chautauquan turned in his chair to direct his replies to the people instead of the judge or Darrow.

Darrow came to the story of the Flood. Did Bryan believe it to be interpreted literally? When did it happen? Bryan replied that he had never made a calculation. There was quibbling, language grew stronger and more bitter, and Stewart tried to stop the hassle. The judge said it would not be fair to Bryan to stop at this point.

When Darrow returned to the question of the Flood, Bryan accepted the estimate of Bishop James Ussher, which fixed the date at 2348 B.C., and said all animals and civilizations had developed since then. He said ancient civilizations could not be older than six thousand years because that would antedate the Bible version.

But a few minutes later Bryan shocked his supporters by saying that although God had created the earth in six days, these were not necessarily twenty-four-hour days.

Exchanges grew sharper. Darrow pursued Bryan relentlessly, cruelly, shucking all shreds of pride from the man, pushing, pressing, approaching first from one side, then the other, now in a quiet voice, again in a sharper tone with a barbed question. And still the darting queries came.

Was Eve the first woman? Was she literally made of Adam’s rib? That was what the Bible said, and Bryan accepted it, word for word. How did Cain get his wife? Bryan did not know.

By this time Bryan had lost his audience. There was laughter at some of his replies. He turned upon the crowd with the oratory that had served him so well through the years. But the contest went on and on, and Bryan seemed to crumple, to sag and age in the heat and torture. So sharp were the daggers Darrow threw that some of them drew applause. In their hearts the listeners were for Bryan, but the pinpointed arguments emerging from the questions penetrated their minds.

After almost two hours both men had lost their tempers. Bryan, aiming at the court and the crowd, shouted:

“Your Honor, I think I can shorten this testimony. The only purpose Mr. Darrow has is to slur the Bible. But I will answer his question. I will answer it all at once and I have no objection in the world. I want the world to know that this man who does not believe in a God is trying to use a court in Tennessee …”

Darrow interrupted with an objection.

”… to slur at it and while it will take time, I am willing to take it.”

Darrow repeated his objection and added:

“I am examining you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.”