by Marcet Haldeman-Julius
(excerpts from Clarence Darrow's Two Great Trials, a pamphlet published in 1927)
Arrival in Dayton
It was just a few minutes of three on the morning of the first day of the trial when we rolled into the trim, neatly-paved little town that nestles at the base of Walden's ridge in the Cumberland mountains. Well-lighted and festively bedecked as it was with many banners, not a soul stirred in the streets; a few hounds in front of the stores lay, heads on paws, tails neatly indrawn, eyes closed; for once since he had entered Tennessee the garrulous William Jennings Bryan had ceased to talk. Dayton was sound asleep.
Everywhere signs were posted hit and miss on buildings and fences:
"Read your BIBLE."
"God Is Love."
"Read your BIBLE for a Week."
"You Need God in Your Business."
"Where Will You Spend Eternity?"
Little stands, newly built, with the usual hot-dog and sandwich or soft drinks equipment lined the sidewalks and directly across from the court house stood an anti-evolution book-stand on which large placards announced "Hell and the High Schools," "Mr. Bryan's Books." I felt as if I had stepped by mistake into a Methodist camp-meeting. Evidently the case of the State of Tennessee versus John Thomas Scopes was to be tried in the super-heated, jazzy atmosphere of a Billy Sunday revival.
Aqua Hotel Lobby Scene
In and out of the Aqua lobby come and go continually a galaxy of men whose names, in the newspaper and magazine world, are ones with which to conjure. Practically every journal of importance is represented--from those in the neighboring towns of Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama to the London Daily News, the correspondent of which cables, each afternoon, five hundred words to England. Never but once before--at the Arms Conference in Washington--has there been, in this country, such a concentration of high pressure talent. Even the big prize fights and national conventions have been covered both by a lesser number and by a lesser caliber of writers. All give an impression of having their sleeves rolled up for action. Quite literally, too, many sleeves are rolled to the elbow, light suite of every material predominate, fully two-thirds of the men are coatless, many go without collars, palm leaf fans steadily flutter, handkerchiefs mop, for the bright, lovely tenth of July morning is breezeless and hot.
Mansion House (Defense Headquarters) Scene
And now, with the general scene clearly in you minds, let us drive out--as E. H.-J. and I did immediately after breakfast--to the Mansion House. It is situated about a mile from town and there the Defense is domiciled. An old, faded yellow with brown trim frame house is the Mansion, so-called because it is the largest residence in Rhea (pronounced Ray) County, and has been, in its day, a very proud and hospitable home. In architecture is suggests the early eighties. Set on a little hill, surrounded by the same beautiful mountains that surround Dayton, approached by a gravel driveway and shaded by majestic trees, deserted for all of these ten years past and believed by many of the mountain folks to be "haunted," it stands, at present, stark empty, without screens, without lights, and with a plumbing system so long disused that it refuses to function.
The Mansion was selected by Scopes and Rappleyea for Darrow's headquarters because it was the one place big enough to accommodate including expert witnesses, the entire battle line of the Defense, and also because it appeared to offer to them comparative coolness and moderate seclusion. But, as it turned out, on the eve of an epoch-making battle, Darrow, his associates, Dr. John R. Neal and Dudley Field Malone--a gentleman who looks as if he were accustomed to every luxurious nicety, although, for all I know to the contrary, he may quite genuinely enjoy roughing it--Arthur Garfield Hays (the lawyer sent from New York City by the Civil Liberties Union), the Modernist Unitarian minister, Dr. Charles F. Potter and his wife, not to mention others with whose names I am not familiar--one and all had been obliged to retire by the soft but inadequate light of candles, and had been awakened by the friendly tap-tap of woodpeckers to a choir of song birds and waterless faucets. Shaving and washing were out of the question; food not even remotely on the horizon.
G. W. Rappleyea
Dr. G. W. Rappleyea, as many people now know, is the young chemical and mining engineer who, impatient and disgusted with the anti-evolution law, arranged with what seems to be his characteristic initiative, for the present trial. He is an untidy little person with rather ill-tended teeth, thirty-one years old, short (not more than five feet six at the most) and in complexion olive to the point of swarthiness. His dark brown eyes, behind horn-rimmed spectacles, are fine and alert, his thick, bushy, jet black hair is liberally sprinkled with grey which, with his youthful face, gives a bizarre and striking note to his appearance. He looks Jewish, but is not. On the contrary he is of French descent, although his people have lived for over three centuries in this country, chiefly in and around New York City, where Rappleyea, when a youngster, was a newsboy. He speaks with the accent of Third Avenue.
In charge of six coal and iron mines with four hundred men under his direction, he is, so all agree, thoroughly equal to his really heavy and detailed responsibilities. In point of fact, I find him considerably more interesting in his job than in his philosophical meanderings. His mind is essentially a scientific one, clear, disciplined; his mental integrity and intrinsic sincerity obvious. Lively and friendly, he trots here, trots there, interested in everything, seeing to everyone, obeying one controlling impulse--to be in effective action; ubiquitous, pugnacious, unusual, likeable. He is the impresario--and inordinately proud of his artists. This is his show.
I shall never forget my first impression of Clarence Darrow. As he and Emanuel emerged from the Mansion and came toward me I thought to myself: Taller than I supposed; a noble head; big broad, slightly-stooped shoulders; a kindly face with deep-set blue eyes--they twinkle--a face like creased leather, scarred with the lines of a long and exciting lifetime; long-palmed hands with sensitive fingers; rather thin, not too carefully brushed, only slightly grey hair--it was all as swift as that and then he was in the car with us. An average man meeting Darrow, knowing nothing about him, would be hard put to it to place him. And he would not be very wrong; there is in him so much of all kinds of men, such a vast sympathy with them, such a complete understanding of all their needs and problems.
He loves, not mankind nor humanity, but the individual man. His pity is the disillusioned, cynical, profound pity of Anatole France; his wit the pungent, devastating humor of the man who dares, both in word and in thought, to be fearlessly truthful. Above all, he is everlastingly honest.
"I have never," he said to me in his gruff growly voice, "taken a case in which I did not believe. That is why I don't prosecute. I can't help putting myself in the other fellow's place. I have, of course, taken cases where I knew the man was guilty, but where I believed he should have a lower sentence."
We were in a drug store, Mr. Darrow, his friend Mr. Thompson, Emanuel and myself, having a cold drink. It was directly after the session in which (on Monday, July 13), Darrow had made his great speech urging the judge to quash the indictment. A speech of which Mencken wrote, "It blew up like a wind and finished with a flourish of bugles." Much of Darrow's pugnacity is expressed in those eloquent shoulders of his. I assure you that in one of his great leisurely shrugs--a shrug in which, thumbs in galluses meanwhile, his whole torso participates--he can put more contempt, more combativeness, more sense of reserve power, than anyone else can express in a dozen gestures. A master of crescendo in argument, he punctuates his theme with short, staccato slaps of his right hand on the palm of his left--a movement which, varying with the intensity and importance of his thought, increases in vigor from a mere wrist movement it--to a sweeping swing of his arm.. With his right hand he expresses, his mood and with his index finger emphasizes the high points of his thought. His unction is the unction of a veteran. I can think of only one man who has it to a similar degree--that man is Otis Skinner.
He is not a noisy speaker, Darrow, but he is a forceful one. Beside the white flame of his sincerity, even the eloquence of Malone seems unsubstantial, even a bit theatrical. Never, for instance, would Darrow be betrayed, even by his own eloquence, into saying as did Malone: "There is never a duel with the truth. The truth always wins. The truth does not need the law. The truth does not need the forces of government. The truth is imperishable and immortal and needs no human agency to support it." Never, I submit, even under the greatest pitch of excitement could Darrow be capable of such an obvious mistatement of facts.
He is, to put it squarely, the most debunked person I have ever met. Undoubtedly he has his own illusions. (What human being is entirely free from them?) But utterly unshackled by superstitions, fears or idle hopes, he stands a giant among mental pygmies.
He is pessimist in theory--if I understand his position--but if he really were one surely he would not have to come to Dayton to engage in that maddening, discouraging battle against bigotry and ignorance. To my mind only an optimist of sorts could have thought it worth while in the first place, and, in the second place, have found the courage to go through with it. Yet Darrow obviously did think it very worth while, and quite as obviously he was neither beaten nor discouraged. He has a vast patience--a patience not unlike that of a wise mother, who knows her children's shortcomings and faults, but also knows the good that is in them. Knows, too, that they must be punished--and how Darrow can punish with words!--but feels them all the while infinite tenderness. No one speaks in more scathing terms than did Darrow of the ignorance now rampant in Tennessee. Yet no one, I am convinced, understood better than he the reasons for this ignorance or felt a greater pity for the people struggling in its meshes.
Atmosphere and Attitudes in Dayton
This one fact you must understand if you are to grasp the importance of the trial: the ignorance and bigotry against which Darrow and his associates struggled was too real, too armored in widespread public opinion to make the conflict waged in that Dayton court room anything less than high drama. Never, even in its most humorous moments and, fortunately, such moments were many, never was there an element of farce. The convictions involved were too deep-rooted, too passionately held.
Although it probably will stretch your powers of credulity to credit this statement, the majority of men and women in Tennessee think of God as a being who resembles man in appearance. "Doesn't the Bible say," demands the Fundamentalist, "that God created man in His own image? That's plain enough." Furthermore, they are sure, these Southern Baptists, Methodists and Campbellites, that God took up dust from the ground and then and there (apparently much as a boy would roll up a spit-ball) created Adam, from whose ribs he presently proceeded to make Eve. They believe it in precisely the same way and with precisely the same "but there can be no argument about it" feeling that you believe the world is round. In such an atmosphere of simple acceptance of the literal world of the Bible was raised the judge before whom this case was tried.
Perhaps this is proper a moment as any in which to introduce to you his honor, Judge John T. Raulston. Frankly, I have conceived for him such a thorough dislike that I find it difficult to write calmly about him. He is large, florid man; always and forever smiling; six feet tall and broad shouldered; about fifty years old, born and raised in this part of Tennessee--as he himself puts it "jist a reg'lar mountain'eer Jedge." Taken by and large, I imagine that he is, under ordinary circumstances, a decent enough sort of person. Local report has it that he is a devoted husband and father--he has two daughters in their middle teens--is a pillar of his church and is universally liked in this part of the state where he is Judge of a circuit that includes seven countries. I surmise, too, that in this own way among local cases, he probably succeeds fairly well in being just, although even then he must be sub-consciously influenced by his very reactionary prejudices.
"What are your cases, mostly, Judge?" I asked him during our first conversation.
"Well, I hear damage suits, of course, and mudah cases, and cases of crimes against women--the usual run that come up before a crim'nal Jedge. I've only (with a bland smile) sentenced one man to the death penalty. (Another smile.) His case is now pending in a higher court. I only gave his accomplice (still a third smile) thirty years. For mudah."
It is entirely possible that the man was a dangerous character from whom society needed to be protected, but the complacent, almost merry tone in which Judge Raulston tossed off the "thirty years" for all the world as if it had been thirty minutes, made me shiver. . . .
Judge Raulston is a vain man; also he is an ambitious one. There is no doubt at all in my mind but that a bitter conflict was waged in his Methodist soul. Anyone who observed him closely the evening after the great speech in which Malone urged that expert witnesses be permitted to testify, anyone who watched him closely could see that he was undecided, torn.
Isn't it terrible," he said to me, all smilingly, however, be it noted, "to have so much responsibility resting on one poor finite mind?"
"It is," I agreed. Within fifteen minutes, I heard him make exactly the same remark to two other people.
The plain fact was that he sincerely longed to appear before the world as a great and nobly generous judge. But even more than he wished this, he wanted to be re-elected. As the crude phrase has it he well knew on which side his bread was buttered.
W. J. Bryan
Needless to say, I studied Bryan with greater interest than anyone except Darrow, connected with the trial. In their attitude toward him, people divided, roughly, into two groups: to the first he was a hero, a man who dared to speak out boldly for Christ while the world scoffed, a man sent by God to rally the scattered forces of the Protestant churches; to the second group he was a mountebank, a hypocrite, an out-an-out fraud.
As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it. No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan's can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell. At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends. It is anything but a weak face--Bryan's. But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity. My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion. Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught--that a lie told for the glory of God is justified. . . .
The man doesn't read. As he himself put it, "I don't think about what I don't think about." (Even so!) The question is what does he think about? There are many who answer promptly: himself; and what he can get out of this Fundamentalist movement; how far he can project it into politics and there capitalize it.
Myself, I think that while there is more than a little truth in this judgement, on the whole it is too harsh. Human motives are seldom so clean-cut, so simple. His is the slowly accumulated bitterness, the bleak tragedy of the man who never has quite achieved what he has set out to do. Failure seldom sweetens character. To William Jennings Bryan's it has added gall. He is full of malice toward all who are his superiors. His love for the ignorant man, for the masses is, I am convinced, utterly genuine and as instinctive as is Mencken's admiration for the mental aristocrat. It is the scholar whom Bryan dislikes. He knows only too well how thoroughly intellectual people have come to despise him as, slowly but as inevitably as in one of the old Greek dramas, he has lost prestige of real leadership, he must content himself with a following limited even within the church. Broken, he is on his way to a last defeat.
Opening Day Scene
One was hard put to it on the tenth of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and twenty-five, to know whether Dayton was holding a camp meeting, a Chautauqua, a street fair, a carnival, or a belated Fourth of July celebration. Literally, it was drunk on religious excitement.
"Be a sweet angel," was the beginning of a long exhortation printed on a large signboard posted at the entrance of the court house door. Evangelists' shouts mingled with those of vendors; the mournful notes of the hymns of a blind singer who accompanied himself on a little portable organ, stentorian tones shouting, "For I say unto you, except ye repent and be baptized," "Ice cream and hot dogs here!"--all poured into one's ear in a conglomerate stream. The entire courthouse yard literally was given over to preachers who peddled their creeds as if they were so many barbecue sandwiches. Against the north wall of the courthouse a platform, surrounded by benches, had been arranged for their greater convenience.
On the second floor of the old brick court house one entered a wide, spacious, freshly-painted court room with a normal seating capacity of about four or five hundred. I felt as if I had stepped into pandemonium. Men and women jostled each other; a battalion of newspaper photographers and movie men literally wrestled for advantageous positions; just outside the bar enclosure muffled telegraph instruments ticked and reporters for the big dailies, Associated Press, and similar services, sat dripping with sweat, writing in pencil or on typewriters as if for their very lives; people stood in aisles and three deep against the back walls; in spite of the big open windows the air was stifling. . . .
Interview with John Butler, Author of Anti-Evolution Act
Boiling with the particular rage which only unfairness can arouse in me--in this case an unfairness so flagrant, so brazen, so pleased with itself that even to contemplate it was maddening--I rose from my seat and started, with the surging throng, to leave the court house. Directly in front of me stood a broad-shouldered, six-foot man who had been pointed out to me as "the author of the law"--Mr. Butler.
I knew, of course, that you would want to hear about him, so, drawing a long breath, I took myself in hand, so to speak, smoothed down my ruffled temper, and addressed him: "Are you Mr. Butler?"
"I should like to interview you."
A smile, so good-humored that one could not refuse one in return, broke over his kindly face. Aggravatingly enough, I began to like him. "All right," he agreed, "I suppose you think I ought to be hung."
"I want to know how you came to think of this law in the first place--why you decided it was needed."
"All right. Let's go out in the shade where it is cool and then we can talk easy."
I agreed and followed cheerfully in the wake of his huge form as, in the midst of the press, we leisurely descended the stairs. On the courthouse lawn, under the wide-spreading branches of a hard maple, we sat down. Mr. Butler hailed a passing boy and bought two ice-cold bottles of Coca Cola. And thus, in sociable mood, we begun to chat.
He is a type of man with whom I am thoroughly familiar and for whom long experience has taught me to have a genuine regard. I have dozens of farmer neighbors--and so, I am sure, have many of you--cut off precisely the same piece of cloth. As he sat before me, this big Indian-brown six-footer, with his keen gray eyes and good, even teeth, so frequently revealed by his pleasant smile, I felt that the man was sincere and straight-forward through and through. . . .
I had heard many and various tales of Mr. Butler before I met him and, as I have said, I was in anything but a sympathetic mood when the meeting took place. But as he talked in his pleasant voice with its strong southern accent, I summed him up to myself in something like this fashion: Uncultivated, but very far from illiterate; uneducated in the narrower sense, but in the broader one anything but an ignorant man; simple-hearted, obviously country-bred and provincial, but full of an innate courtesy and kindliness; unsophisticated, but not uncouth.
"You like fair play, I gather," I smiled.
"Yes, I do," he returned firmly. "I used to be a great baseball player--not in any of the big leagues, of course, but in our own part of the country here. Anyone who has played baseball likes to see things done fair. And I think the 'Jedge' should have let those experts testify if Darrow wanted 'em. I am not afraid of expert testimony." (This was said convincingly and without the slightest touch of braggadocio.) "Darrow could have put 'em on and made his points and then Bryan could have cross-questioned 'em and brought on expert Bible witnesses too and made his points. That would have been fair to everybody."
"When did you first think of this law--or did something suggest it to you?"
"I'll tell you," he said, and this, condensed is the gist of his story:
About four years ago a preacher who came around once a month to Butler's church alluded, though not by name, to the fact that a young women whom the community knew had, after a university course, returned believing in evolution and disbelieving in God. This set Butler to thinking. What might happen to his own boys? (He has three; his two daughters are married.) To his neighbor's children? Come to that, they didn't need to go as far away as universities. Evolution was taught in the high schools. It was not right that they should raise up their children to be God-fearing and then have the schools teach them something that took that faith away. Thus Butler mediated long and earnestly upon the preacher's comments.
In 1922 he was urged to run for Representative of his district. There are three counties in it: Macon, Sumner and Trousdale. Sumner County, thanks to a good creamery trade, does dairying and in the lower end of it Southdown sheep are raised, as also in Trousdale County. Butler agreed to run, and in his circulars stated the necessity of a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the schools. "Ninety-nine people out of a hundred in my district thought just like I did, too," he explained. "I say ninety-nine out of a hundred because there may be some hold different from what I think they do, but so far as I know there isn't a one in the whole district that thinks evolution--of man, that is--can be the way the scientists tell it."
"Do you mean," I questioned, "that they believe evolution and the Bible conflict?"
"Do you know that lots of good Baptists believe in both--that they think that to God ages are but a day?"
"Mr. Butler considered this. "Yes," he answered. "I know they do." Then, after a pause, "I reckon it's a good deal like politics, the way you've been raised."
Darrow in Contempt
To begin with, the court room was crowded as on no other morning. It was almost literally impossible to get through the jam on the stairs. In the hallway I found the policeman firmly blocking the door, his usually smiling face quite taciturn. I ducked under his arm and through the packed aisle saw E. H.-J. valiantly holding my seat. "What's all the excitement?" I demanded. "Why is everybody so nervous?" At that moment the Judge stalked into the court room. There was no smile on his face either. On the contrary, his expression was grim and determined.
"He looks mad," declared E. H.-J. "The rumor is that he is going to cite Darrow for contempt." One could positively feel the tension tighten. Suddenly there was a sputter and smoke rose from one of the electric wires. "Shut off that switch outside," shouted someone. Panic hovered in the air. The thought of what might happen if that throng tried to get through the one door made my tongue feel dry.
The short circuit was soon remedied, however, but the human currents continued. The rap that brought the court to order had a peremptory sound and after a mild prayer by an oldish clergyman, the bailiff , to his usual chant of "Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, this Honorable Circuit Court is now open pursuant to adjournment," and his equally usual "Set down," now added in a surly tone, "This ain't no circus."
"Immediately the Judge began to read in a singsong voice his lengthy reasons for citing Darrow, the first of them being that in his--the Judge's--person, a great and noble state had been insulted. Slowly he intoned the whole conversation that had occurred the preceding Friday between himself and Darrow. The latter, he announced, was to appear before the court on Tuesday morning and meanwhile his bail was fixed at $5,000. Some expressed their opinion of this absurd amount in a low, derisive ripple of laughter, but returned quickly to a grim silence. Grim was the Judge too, and grim was Darrow. For perhaps the first time the entire atmosphere became hostile; the bar enclosure had become two battle camps when Hays rose to read the statements of Bible and Science experts. Stewart was at once on his feet. "Is this court," he demanded, "to be turned into a Chautauqua, a Summer normal course?" Hays insisted that he might persuade the court to reverse his opinion. "I will sit here," Raulston announced naively enough, "and, of course, I will hear what's read and, of course, I never hesitate to reverse myself. But I have already ruled on this matter."
Trial Moved to Lawn
Exciting as the morning session had been, however, the one in the afternoon was to be more so. Even as we came out of the court room at twelve o'clock people who had been unable to get standing room in the forenoon had eaten early lunches and were now pushing their way to seats. Others, seeing this, decided to go dinnerless and promptly turned back to join those who, foreseeing, had come supplied with sandwiches and thermos bottles. I found the hotel packed as never before, and although I went back directly to hold our seats, the court house was already jammed. There must have been well over 1,000 people in the room. This time the Judge was convincing in his exhortations. "The floor may give way," he insisted. "The plaster is cracking downstairs. This floor was never intended to hold so many people. I told you that yesterday. When we begin to argue we will go out on the lawn. You better get your seats now." This warning was well timed. The crowd, that had been waiting so patiently for over an hour, arose, and, annoyed and petulant, joined the jubilant incoming one; together they began surging and pushing out of the door.
Darrow Apologizes to Judge
Darrow arose and made an apology, simple, complete and convincing The moment was obviously not one in which to cloud the issue and no one realized this better than Darrow, ever the wise and cautious general. Moreover, his flash of biting truth and his sarcasm, unpremeditated as they had been, had neatly served their purpose. Now, with a master hand, he cleared the deck of trifles as he prepared for the victory that was to be his, literally within the hour. The crowd wet out to him.
Majestic was his apology; amusing was the Judge's answer. Here was a man who had been rude and was admitting it in plain language. To him His Honor replied with a long and touching sermon on the beauty of forgiveness. Those of us who stayed to listen lost all hope of a decent seat out of doors, but we counted the ten minutes of his harangue quite worth the ensuing discomfort.
Darrow Examines Bryan
Instead, Darrow put Bryan on the stand as a witness. In view of the trouncing he was to receive, there was something pathetically humorous in Bryan's easy, almost gleeful acquiescence to the request. Even so has many an unsuspecting child climbed into the dentist's chair to descend from it later sadder and wiser. Not that Bryan realized fully at the time, even as Darrow's questioning quite what was being done to him. The frequent and enthusiastic applause--not to mention fervent amens--from the Tennessee portion of the audience acted as an anesthetic. Perhaps to a cynical eye one of the most deliciously amusing spectacles of the whole Dayton drama was the delighted, purring expressions of the Judge as he watched the duel which, in his abysmal ignorance, he, like the other Bryanites, believed their hero was winning.
A duel the meeting of those two men was, Darrow, the apostle of knowledge and tolerance, and Bryan, the arch advocate of ignorance and bigotry, had engaged at last in single-handed combat. This was what the crowd had been hoping for; for this it had patiently waited through long sweltering hours of technical discussions. Now it gave a long sigh of delighted expectation. It was satisfied. And no wonder! Few who witnessed that dramatic moment in the history of this country's thought ever will forget it. Even the physical aspects of the scene carved themselves on one's memory.
Picture to yourself that vast throng. Imagine yourself to be a part of it. Before you the branches of two great maples, intertwining, form a natural proscenium arch, and behind it, in the ring, the two antagonists meet--Bryan, assured, pompous, his face half turned to the audience which, rather than the Judge, he frankly addresses, and Darrow, standing a few feet away, his eyes on his opponent, his mind concentrated on the task before him, vigilant, relentless.
So easily he began! Almost as if he were questioning a child. . . .