The “Monkey Trial” brought two ideologies into a great conflict, and it was very, very hot
On a sunny morning in June, 1925, William Jennings Bryan put his famous appetite on display before a young reporter and two lawyers in the dining room of the old Piedmont Hotel on Peachtree Street in Atlanta. They watched with wide eyes as he showed why knives and forks had been invented.
Bryan did away with a Florida grapefruit, double orders of hot cakes, sausage, eggs, and enough coffee to float a small canoe. Even the waiter showed some concern as the piles of food disappeared. None of us could know that within six weeks Bryan would pay a fatal price for that fabulous appetite.
Nor did we know that his extraordinary hunger went back to childhood, when he stuffed his pockets with bread, and that in these later years he carried radishes with him, either in pockets or in a bag, to have a bite with him when the craving struck. Yet he had been a temperance advocate all his life and did not drink or smoke.
At one time Bryan had worked off calories with campaigns and lectures. By 1925, however, the wear and tear of the years was beginning to show. His stomach muscles sagged, and his midriff bulged. Only a fringe of hair was left around the lower regions of his head, and its dome glistened in the early morning light. A determined chin was thrust forward below thin lips and a mouth so wide that when he was young, friends said he could whisper in his own ear.
On this day Bryan was in good spirits, about to engage in what he regarded as an important event in his life. He had come to Atlanta to confer with lawyers engaged in the prosecution of John Thomas Scopes for teaching evolution in Tennessee public schools. The Dayton trial was only three weeks away, and Bryan was a giant preparing for battle against the forces of evil.
Three times a Presidential candidate, former Secretary of State, noted lecturer, Bryan had turned from politics to become a champion of religion. He had a Bible class in Miami that drew thousands, his religious dissertations were widely published, and he preached the horrors of evolution and the wonders of Florida wherever he went.
When Bryan folded his napkin and settled back, he said the hypothesis that linked man to lower life obscured God and weakened the virtues that depended upon the religious ties between God and man. He believed the Dayton trial would bring a showdown between religion and science. Then he went off to legal conferences after admitting that he had not tried a case in court since 1897.
After the event the Scopes evolution trial would be called many things and depicted in various ways: as a publicity circus for a small town in a peaceful valley, a display of southern ignorance and bigotry, a trial of fundamentalist beliefs, and a legal challenge against restriction of a child’s right to be taught and to learn. It may have been all of these things, but it also was more.
The controversy grew easily out of the same cultural soil that produced the Prohibition amendment. Fundamentalists reasoned that if drinking habits could be controlled by law, so might patterns of thought. The principal front for their drive was the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, founded by a Baptist pastor in Minneapolis in 1918. Bryan became associated with it a few years later and was soon a prime leader in the effort to prevent evolutionary teaching. He urged legislatures to outlaw such teaching in public schools and proposed that non-Christians be barred from instructing in colleges. Under this pressure Florida and Tennessee yielded, Oklahoma deleted evolution from textbooks, and Delaware ordered Bible reading in public schools.
Sensing a lynch-mob mood in a period in which the Ku Klux Klan was thriving in both North and South, intellectuals braced for a fight. Many, like Clarence Darrow, feared the nation was moving toward church domination.
When the Tennessee law became effective at the end of March, 1925, the American Civil Liberties Union began searching for a man and a place to provide a test of the statute. Almost immediately George W. Rappleyea, a transplanted New Yorker with the leaping mind of a Madison Avenue advertising man, came up with a plan for John Thomas Scopes to serve as defendant in such a case at Dayton.
Scopes, athletic coach for Central High School, was never too certain he had taught evolution. After he became involved, he had to bone up on the subject. His field of teaching had been mathematics, chemistry, and physics, but he occasionally presided over a biology class when the regular teacher was ill.
After he agreed to be in the test case, however, there was no backing down. Four days later he was arraigned and held under a thousand-dollar bond for the August meeting of the grand jury.
Almost immediately Bryan announced he would represent the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association in helping to prosecute Scopes. From the other side Clarence Darrow and Dudley Field Malone offered their services without fee to aid in defending Scopes. Darrow was still clothed in publicity from the Loeb-Leopold trial of the year before. Malone, Undersecretary of State under Bryan, was a prominent international divorce lawyer working, mostly, the Paris beat. Within days the ACLU added to the team Arthur Garfield Hays, Malone’s New York partner.
As publicity widened, Chattanooga tried to steal the spotlight with a test case of its own. This effort ended when Daytonites threatened to boycott Chattanooga stores and Judge John T. Raulston called a special session of the grand jury on May 25 to indict Scopes. He set the trial for July 10.
July 4, 1925, was the hottest day on record in Atlanta up to that time. The mercury hit 101.2 degrees. That was the weekend I went to Dayton, which, rimmed by hills, was no whit cooler.
The train paused just long enough for me to get off and hustle over to the Hotel Aqua on Main Street for its seventy-five-cent lunch, a meal consisting of an entrée, nine vegetables —each in a separate dish—pie, cheese, and coffee. As I ate, an overhead fan pawed in futility at the overheated air.
The Aqua was a two-story structure with thirty-five rooms, perhaps two of which had private baths. For those like myself the bath was a long hike down the hall. At 6:30 A.M. a boy rambled through the corridors ringing a cowbell to awaken guests. Those not in the dining room by 7:15 missed breakfast. Lights were supposed to be out by 9:30 P.M., an impossible hour for working newsmen.
People on the street were eager to impart news. The city fathers, expecting thousands of visitors, had ruled that there be no price gouging, an edict that few took literally, however fundamental might be their views about the Bible. Private homes would be opened for five thousand persons.
Aside from the expectant air Dayton could have been any one of a hundred towns in the South of the mid-twenties. Men dressed in shirt-sleeves and lightweight trousers; those from the country often wore blue shirts and overalls with an occasional wide-brimmed, flopping straw hat. There were a few flappers with knee-length dresses and bobbed hair, but most women dressed more sedately. Those from farms often wore sunbonnets.
Unlike cities outside the South, where speakeasies flourished, Dayton was not a town in which alcoholic beverages were an accepted part of social life. Nine churches were well attended, and the favorite drinking spots were two drugstores where the principal demand was for lemon Coke and ice-cream sodas. There was plenty of liquor in the hills, but strangers ventured there at the risk of being mistaken for revenue agents.
Only Main and Market streets were paved. Along the others, as on the highways leading into town, each automobile left a swirling cloud of dust. Most machines were Ford touring cars, selling for $295 f.o.b. Detroit, but Buicks, Dodges, Studebakers, and a few Packards were visible.
Instead of standing on a square in the center of the marketplace as in most southern towns, the county courthouse was about two blocks from Main Street, on a tree-shaded, grassy plot of several acres. It was a three-story red brick structure with a tower and a clock that banged the hours. A hand pump stood beside the door, and out beyond the oak trees privies were being built for visitors. Inside, the courthouse had been freshly painted. The courtroom, sixty-five feet square with a high ceiling, held on one side a low platform on which were the judge’s bench, tables for opposing counsel, and a witness chair. A rail separated this enclosure from spectator seats.
Around the rail a pine board had been nailed into place for the use of reporters with noiseless typewriters who had to write and send their copy as the story of the trial developed. Much of this space had been allotted to the Associated Press, United Press, International News Service, and other important agencies. Their reporters would work beside Morse operators whose silent transmitters would send the words as they were typed.
The town bore many signs of the coming attraction. J. R. Darwin’s drygoods store had a banner proclaiming “Darwin’s Right—Inside.” Others along the street emphasized the monkey theme: “Don’t monkey around when you come to Dayton—come to us” and “We handle every kind of meat except monkey.” There were other signs, too: “Come to Jesus,” “Prepare to meet thy Maker,” “Read your Bible daily,” and “Be sure your sins will find you out.”
Several days before the trial peddlers moved in with novelties manufactured for the occasion: stuffed cotton monkeys, watch fobs, pennants, and a wide assortment of books and pamphlets. In my collection is a watch fob on which is graven the figure of a monkey wearing a straw hat. Strange people, some with live monkeys, roamed the streets. T. T. Martin, white-haired secretary of the Anti-Evolution League, peddled his book, Hell in the High Schools . On the courthouse lawn a tent was set up to serve as a barbecue stand.
There were only driblets of news in these days before the trial began. The telephone company set up a pressroom with typewriters, tables, ice water, and fans. The Chicago Tribune installed equipment in the courtroom for remote-control broadcasts through its radio station, WGN. And reporters collected such bits of information as might justify expense accounts.
Bryan was met by a friendly crowd at the railroad station and escorted to the pleasant home of Richard Rogers. That night he sat beside Scopes at a banquet given by the Dayton Progressive Club and learned that the two had attended the same school in Illinois a generation apart, and that he had been the speaker when Scopes graduated.
During the next few days Bryan, with a pith helmet to protect him from the sun, became a familiar figure on Dayton streets. He sampled a strawberry soda at Robinson’s Drugstore. He visited the county school board and told its members he had studied Greek and Latin and had nine college degrees, not mentioning that most of them were honorary.
Despite the decree of city fathers prices began to edge up as visitors arrived. The Associated Press staff of six men moved into the Hotel Aqua. Then the hotel raised its rates to eight dollars a day for bed and board. This meant that we were paying $336 a week for meals plus two rooms equipped with two washstands with pitchers and bowls, two double beds, two cots, and a long wait for the bathroom down the hall.
William F. Caldwell, the southern division news editor, who had come for a brief stay, went scouting and found a family that was willing to move into its garage and rent us a three-bedroom house for seventy-five dollars a week. Here, after Caldwell had left, Brian Bell, Plautus I. “Pete” Lipsey, and I could work at all hours.
Because of my meeting with Bryan in Atlanta he fell to my lot in Dayton, and he had not lost his feel for public relations. When word came that he was preparing a preliminary statement, there was a general rush for his office. He answered questions, then looked about the room, his gaze passing over famous correspondents, until he saw the unknown A.P. reporter from Atlanta. “Associated Press,” he said, and passed the top copy to me, unerringly giving it to the agency that could provide the widest distribution.
The statement, long since forgotten, said it would be better for Tennessee to give up its schools than its Bible.
Dudley Field Malone and his wife, Doris Stevens, caused a stir at the Aqua when they registered under separate names but asked for the same accommodations. Malone, like Bryan, had quit the State Department in protest, Bryan against war policies, Malone opposing the Wilson attitude toward suffragettes. After a divorce in France, Malone had married one of them.
For the prosecution the local star was Ben McKenzie. Noted for his rural humor, he bore the honorary title “General.” But the real ball carrier for the prosecution was A. T. “Tom” Stewart, the district attorney, who later would serve in the United States Senate. Studious, conscientious, well schooled in state legal procedures, he worked hard to keep the trial moving and in the end sought to save Bryan from his fatal mistake.
Judge Raulston, who served by election, came a day or so before the trial, bringing his wife and daughters from his home at Winchester. He was paunchy, and a little pompous in his efforts to be homey, addressing all visiting attorneys as “Colonel.”
Darrow arrived the night before the trial. Despite stories of Tennessee’s hatred for evolution and agnostics, he found townsfolk friendly. A banker opened his home to Mr. and Mrs. Darrow, and a neighbor filled the icebox with milk, cream, butter, and a juicy cantaloupe. He shed the airs of the city and was accepted easily by Dayton people.
Court opened on Friday in a room jammed with spectators. Reporters had to protect their seats from invaders, many of them from Rhea County’s farms and hills. Some of these people found their greatest hope for happiness in biblical promises of a hereafter, and Bryan was their hero, defender of the faith. When their champion entered the courtroom, coatless and collarless in the heat, they cheered as if it were the start of a cockfight, an event not altogether unknown in their hills.
Room was made for Mrs. Bryan’s wheelchair outside the rail, and her husband and son, William Jennings, Jr., a Los Angeles lawyer, joined Stewart and the others at the prosecution table. They faced Scopes and the defense attorneys from the opposite sides of the railed enclosure. After much picture taking the gavel banged, and a noisy sort of order settled.
Bryan sat impassively, beating at the hot air with a palm-leaf fan. Across the arena Darrow slumped coatless in his chair and fingered blue suspenders. The heat was oppressive, even with open windows. Perspiration stood on faces, damp spots showed on shirts. The judge and lawyers had stripped off their coats, all except Malone. He sat neat and unruffled, double-breasted coat buttoned, as if he were at a table on a Paris boulevard in spring. Pawing at typewriter keys with damp fingers, press-association men worked in relays to shape a description of the scene.
From the outset the judge and lawyers for the prosecution made it clear to defense attorneys that they must fight in an alien atmosphere. Court opened with a prayer that was not wholly nonpartisan. Then fudge Raulston said: “We are glad to welcome the foreign lawyers for both the state and the defendant.”
After lunch a jury for the trial was selected quickly, only those most open in their prejudice being dismissed. The panel, all white, of course, consisted of six Baptists, four Methodists, one Disciple of Christ, and one who did not belong to a church. There were eleven farmers and one shipping clerk, who previously had taught school.
One white-bearded farmer had been a United States marshal. Three said they had never read any book except the Bible. Another, speaking softly, said he had not read anything; he could not read. He was accepted by both sides.
The jury completed, court adjourned until Monday.
Early Saturday afternoon at the Rogers home, where Bryan was taking a nap after lunch, I was talking with his secretary, W. E. Thompson, when a man came up the walk and asked if Mr. Bryan was there. Thompson replied that he was resting.
“Will you give these to him for me?” asked the man and thrust a bunch of homegrown flowers into Thompson’s hands. Thompson assured him that he would and expressed his thanks. The man turned and walked away. He was one of the jurors.
On Monday the defense moved that the indictment against Scopes be quashed because, among other things, the law was unconstitutional. The lawyers argued this motion all day while Bryan sat silent, waving his fan.
When court began on Tuesday, Darrow raised an objection against opening court sessions with prayer. He said a case involving a contest between science and religion should not be subjected to influences that lay outside a court of law. The lawyers wrangled, Bryan listened, and Raulston overruled the objection, then adjourned to prepare his decision on quashing the indictment.
On his way across the courthouse lawn the judge was joined by Bill Hutchinson of INS, who asked if he planned to read the decision that afternoon. Raulston replied that he would. Hutch then asked: “Will you open court tomorrow with prayer?” And the judge replied: “Yes.”
Obviously if the indictment were to be quashed, there would be no court on the next day. Hutch had his story: the indictment would not be quashed. By the time the judge got back to the courtroom from lunch, Hearst papers and other clients of INS were on the streets in many cities proclaiming that the judge would not halt the trial.
Besieged by protesting reporters, the judge declared he would not read his decision until Wednesday and appointed a committee of correspondents to investigate “the leak.” On Wednesday the committee suggested that the judge forget about the incident. When he pressed for an explanation, Raulston learned that he himself had been the source of the leak. He gave Hutchinson a mild lecture on the evils of tricking judges, then read a ruling denying the move to quash the indictment.
At length the prosecution managed to make its opening presentation. Walter White, county school superintendent, and F. E. Robinson, head of the county board of education, testified that Scopes had admitted he had taught evolution. Two high-school students told what they could remember about the teaching, and one admitted under Darrow’s questioning that the teaching had not caused him to quit his church. This was the state’s case.
Finally, with the odor of roasting beef drifting through the windows from the barbecue pit below, Harrow called his first witness. Dr. Maynard M. Metcalf, a zoologist from Johns Hopkins University, had come to give expert testimony on the theory of evolution.
Metcalf had taught at Oberlin before going to Johns Hopkins and, as a Congregationalist deacon, had taught the Bible. He said scientists were fairly well agreed on the theory of evolution, but not on its details.
Arguments over whether such testimony should be admitted finally prevented Metcalf from finishing, and at the outset of Thursday’s session Stewart moved to exclude scientific testimony. He and Darrow wrangled over the motion until noon.
After lunch, which for reporters came from the barbecue stand on the lawn, Bryan took the stage for his major speech. His mind was not as sharp as it once had been, but he had not lost his intuitive sense of handling an audience. At times he forgot he was not in a Chautauqua tent, turning his back upon the judge and facing the applause and “Amens” of his followers. At length he reached the climax of his speech:
“These people come in from outside the state and force upon … this state and upon the children of the taxpayers of this state a doctrine that refutes not only their belief in God but their belief in a Saviour and belief in heaven and takes from them every moral standard that the Bible gives us.”
Although his memory had slipped more than once and he had been discomfited by questions from Darrow, Bryan came back to his seat in the midst of an ovation.
Then Dudley Field Malone, cool and elegant, rose from among the defense attorneys, stood for a moment, and for the first time took off his coat, folded it neatly, and laid it on the counsel table. The day before, referring to Bryan’s earlier “modernist views,” Malone had quoted him as once having written that if God would not force man to accept certain religious views, then man should not use such means.
Now, for a second time, Malone took his attack directly to Bryan.
In twenty minutes, voice ringing with passionate appeal, Malone, a divorce lawyer in a community where solidity of marriage was a creed, a Catholic among Protestants, a liberal among fundamentalists, proceeded to take the audience away from Bryan.
“The difference between the theological mind and the scientific mind is that the theological mind is closed because that is what is revealed and is settled. But the scientist says, ‘No, the Bible is the book of revealed religion with rules of conduct and with aspirations—that is the Bible.’ The scientists say, ‘Take the Bible as an inspiration, as a set of philosophies and preachments in the world of theology.’ ”
Time and again as Malone urged that teachers have the right to teach and children the right to learn, he was interrupted by an audience whose basic sympathies were with Bryan. But at the end there was a roar of applause that spread to people listening over loudspeakers on the courthouse lawn. Even the Chattanooga policeman assigned to keep order joined in the applause, rapping his nightstick against the judge’s bench.
I was young and had not heard the thousands of speeches to which I would be exposed in the years ahead, but as I think back, the Malone speech is one of the few I would like to hear again. H. L. Mencken, however, who stood across the courtroom, eyes atwinkle, lips twisted into a wry smile, pretended to be impressed only by the noise. When Malone came back to the defense table, Mencken told him: “Dudley, that was the loudest speech I ever heard.” But later in the afternoon, after the crowd had gone, Bryan said to Malone:
“Dudley, that was the greatest speech I ever heard.”
“Thank you, Mr. Bryan,” replied Malone. “I am sorry it was I who had to make it.”
Through the rest of the day the lawyers wrangled over precedents and abstractions, but the high spot had been passed and the trial was moving rapidly toward its tragic climax.
On Friday Judge Raulston ruled that it was not up to the court to decide which was true, the story of creation as related in Genesis or that depicted in the theory of evolution. He declined to admit the scientific testimony, provoking an angry dispute among attorneys during which Darrow criticized the court so caustically that the judge said:
“I hope you do not mean to reflect on the integrity of this court.”
Darrow thrust thumbs into his suspenders, glared belligerently at the judge, and replied, slowly and distinctly:
“Well, Your Honor has the right to hope.”
Raulston flushed and observed:
“I have a right to do something else, perhaps.”
“All right, all right,” said Darrow, turning his back defiantly upon the judge and walking back to the defense table.
Every reporter with courtroom experience waited in hushed expectancy, certain that Judge Raulston would send Darrow to jail for contempt. Instead, having ruled that the defense might introduce affidavits of what the experts would have testified if permitted, the judge adjourned court over the weekend so that these affidavits might be prepared.
During the weekend many newsmen, including Mencken, left Dayton believing that the trial was finished except for a wrap-up of details on Monday. They knew the gist of the scientific affidavits would be handled by the press associations.
I remember the three days of July 18–20 as the most arduous and uncomfortable of the trial. Our staff received a pile of lengthy papers in affidavit form from anthropologists, divinity teachers, education experts, geologists, preachers, linguists, psychologists, and zoologists. Their language was technical and abstruse. Each statement had to be reduced in length to a thousand words or so, with language simplified for the average reader.
All through Dayton typewriters clattered as reporters tried to wrench meaning from the complex grammar in which the scientists had clothed their beliefs about evolution and religion. The A.P. team hacked away in the heat for hours on end, moving the finished product over our special wire from the courthouse. Sometime during the weekend there was a night thunderstorm. I remember taking a batch of copy to the courthouse for transmission when the thunder, echoing through the valley, was so loud that the telegraph operator and I could hardly hear each other. Lightning in great, vivid flashes glared in the courtroom and lighted the lawn.
When the abstracts of scientific testimony appeared in newspapers, they filled more than four pages of newsprint.
After the work we sank into double beds on sheets that might have been warmed by a stove and lay as far apart as we could, each man sleeping in a puddle of perspiration. All through that stay in Dayton nothing ever seemed to dry. Fresh shirts were stuck to the body before noon. Pajamas were as moist at night as when removed in the morning. Antiperspirants were not on the market, and talcum quickly became a gooey mess. On long campaign trips a few years later train porters would start burning incense in press cars after the second day; we had no such luxury in Dayton.
When the trial opened again on Monday, the reporters went to the courthouse expecting a dreary day of routine proceedings. None dreamed that the day would produce high drama.
Over the weekend Judge Raulston had thought about Darrow’s behavior of Friday, and His Honor walked into the courtroom with a firm step and a stern face. As the first order of business he cited Darrow for contempt and fixed bail at five thousand dollars. Then he agreed that the affidavits of experts might be read into the record for the use of a higher court, and the defense spent the morning reading them.
During the noon recess defense attorneys talked Darrow into apologizing to the court, and he did this—grudgingly. The judge accepted the gesture, and the two shook hands.
At this point word came to the judge that the weight of the crowd in the courtroom was causing the plaster to fall from the ceiling below. It was feared that the building might collapse. Raulston ordered a recess and said the court would reassemble below on a platform that had been used by an evangelist.
This presented a problem for press-association reporters whose wires were installed in the courtroom. Ray Clapper for United Press, Bill Hutchinson, and I tucked our typewriters under our arms and sprinted down the steps. Along the way I grabbed a box someone had left in the hall; it would make a typewriter stand. Ray and I got seats side by side on a backless wooden bench. Hutch sat a couple of rows in front of us. Other reporters with notebooks or pads of yellow copy paper crowded below along the edge of the platform.
In the middle of the platform a chair had been placed for the judge. At the far end was another for witnesses, and at our end was a confused mixture of defense and prosecution attorneys. I wondered how I would be able to get copy to the wires in the courtroom above. When I looked up, I saw Brian Bell and Pete Lipsey in a window, Brian gesturing for me to keep the story moving.
As court resumed the crowd pressed forward. Some, standing in the sun, fanned themselves with straw hats. There was a little shade on the platform, just enough to cover the judge’s chair. For lesser folk there was only the broiling sun.
It was at this point that Bryan demanded the right to testify. Here was his chance to defend his position against those he regarded as baiters of Christianity. Somewhat ponderously he crossed the platform and sat down, turning to face the spectators rather than the judge. There were cheers from the crowd, and all stretched forward expectantly.
Thus began one of the most famous court confrontations in American history: Darrow the agnostic versus Bryan the fundamentalist.
The two had known each other for years. Indeed, Darrow had been a delegate to that Chicago convention in 1896 when Bryan made his “cross-of-gold” speech. Both had been young men then; in 1925 Darrow was sixty-eight and Bryan sixty-five. Through the intervening years both had often worked the same side of the street, Darrow as lawyer for the poor, Bryan as their politician.
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.”
By this time Bryan had risen from the witness chair, and the two old men were glaring at each other. Raulston banged the gavel and adjourned court until the next day, when Bryan hoped to get Darrow on the stand to put him through a similar examination about his agnosticism and try to recoup his losses.
As we lugged typewriters back upstairs we had no idea that we had passed the finale of the trial. In some way during that hot afternoon, with Brian Bell working from the window above, we had managed to piece together more than four columns of newsprint.
Evolutionists went away saying that Darrow had won. Fundamentalists said Bryan had faced the lion and emerged with a whole skin. He still was their hero but with armor awry, helmet battered, and shield bent. Darrow had driven him to the thin edge of nothingness. He had tried to make Bryan appear a bigot and a fool, and Bryan had charged Darrow with being an enemy of Christianity and the Bible. Neither was right, but those two hours had brought Bryan the greatest humiliation of his life, worse than being beaten three times for the Presidency.
On that Monday night Tom Stewart decided the circus must end and prepared for bringing down the curtain. He moved quickly the next morning.
Judge Raulston expunged the record of Bryan’s testimony and put the case in the hands of the jury with the charge that it not consider whether the theory of evolution ran contrary to Genesis but simply answer one question: had Scopes taught the theory?
Both Stewart and Darrow made it clear to the jury that on that question Scopes was guilty, and proceedings were hurried through so quickly that Bryan had no chance to make a parting speech. The jury voted Scopes guilty, and the judge fined him a hundred dollars.
Bryan sat quietly, face grim, lines deeper; he seemed to have aged years overnight.
This was Tuesday. Reporters hurried through their wrap-up stories of the trial, wires were dismantled, tent stakes pulled up, and the circus left Dayton. The drama seemed finished.
On the following Sunday Bryan ate his usual tremendous meal and went in to take a nap. The afternoon was almost gone when Mrs. Bryan decided he had slept long enough and sent a man to wake him. He was dead.
In Dayton life settled back into its familiar pattern. The principal lasting reminder of the trial was Bryan University, a fundamentalist institution that has some five hundred students fifty years later. The two million words sent around the world under the Dayton dateline in 1925 had done little more than make the name a synonym for narrow-mindedness.
Few persons had taken the trouble to note that most of the kooks came from outside Dayton, that the residents were simple, friendly, hospitable, and rich in common sense and homely wisdom. This was the congressional district that produced Cordell Hull, father of the reciprocal trade plan and for eleven years Secretary of State. Hull had been a judge in that same district, and one wonders how he would have handled the Scopes trial.
Largely ignored in practice, the anti-evolution law remained on the books in Tennessee. Time and again efforts at repeal were rejected by fundamentalists.
Inside many churches the struggle between fundamentalists and modernists continued for two generations, promoting political apathy, driving brilliant young people away, and permitting the thrust of social change to pass by unrecognized.
Perhaps this was an even greater tragedy than the humiliation and death of William Jennings Bryan.