by John Thomas Scopes (1965)
If I had been asked the last day of the trial what had been accomplished, I would have been a most embarrassed lad. Another question that would have been hard to answer was why I had been the defendant. For two good reasons I could not have answered either question.
In the first place the general files were kept in New York; the keepers of these files were the only ones who had knowledge of all pretrial conferences and of the work preparatory to the presentation of the case for the defense. I was in Tennessee or Kentucky most of that time; many conferences were held and work was done that I did not know about then and have no knowledge of today. I am certain that the general files would disclose the thinking and the real hopes of the many people who actively worked for the defense. I believe, too, that these files would reveal that the defense had on its side all of the facts, logic, and justice, but these weapons are often ineffective in a battle against bigotry and prejudice.
Secondly, various aspects of the trial changed so completely from what I had anticipated that I could not have given an intelligent answer to anything even as simple as what effect all this had on one John Scopes. The rapidity of events and resulting excitement did not create favorable conditions for critical analysis. It was many years later when Dayton, the trial, and Scopes were almost forgotten and after I had reestablished myself as an ordinary citizen, that I was able to form any conclusion as to the effects of the trial. I could see even then, of course, that my situation was the stranger result of a long series of apparently unrelated events.
It was by pure chance that I had the particular ancestors I had and the good fortune to be born and become a member of my particular family. By the same token, had not a temporary health problem caused me to transfer at the beginning of my second year in college from the university of Illinois to the University of Kentucky, I probably would have become a permanent resident in Illinois and thus would not have been available for participation in the Dayton trial. If the man who had been coach and instructor in algebra and physics had not received a better offer and resigned a few days before Rhea County High school opened for the 1924-25 term, I probably would not ever have heard of Dayton. I was the first applicant with the proper qualifications who came to the attention of the school board, and, due to the emergency, the board offered me the job which I promptly accepted. Then, nine months later and at the age of twenty-four, I was the defendant in a case destined to attract worldwide attention…
Neal and I arrived back in Dayton in time to attend a banquet given in honor of William Jennings Bryan. It had to be something special because the greatest man produced in the United State since the days of Thomas Jefferson was the honored guest. He had secured a house and, with his wife and son, moved in to live among the people of Dayton like any other citizen. He was sympathetic, kind, and understanding; he fraternized with everyone, even the men who spent several months each year in the mountains making moonshine which they sold throughout the year. He was a staunch defender of their type of religion and never passed up an opportunity to occupy a pulpit and deliver a stirring sermon. He understood business—the local people knew a little about his interest in Florida real estate. Anything that was for the good of the common man he favored. He was indeed the Great Commoner.
The majority of the males over fifty years of age were proud to be able to say that on three different occasions their votes had been cast for him for the office of President. Those who had not voted for Bryan rationalized their position by saying that after all he was still a mortal and could not be right and perfect in everything.
I do not remember the location of the banquet hall, but it was spacious, large enough to seat all Daytonian males having the price of admission, the guest of honor, and all nonpaying deadheads, of which I was one. I remember there were windows on two sides of the hall. The people who did not have or would not part with the price of admission gathered outside at the windows so that they could listen to Bryan.
The last time I had seen Bryan was in 1919 when he delivered the commencement address at the Salem, Illinois, high school. I was a member of the graduating class. Bryan had met so many people that I could not believe it possible he would remember me, but as soon as everyone had found a place, Mr. Bryan came directly to me, shook hands, and asked how I was getting along. I responded by saying that I hoped he was enjoying good health. Then Bryan said, “John, we are on opposite side this time. I hope we will not let that interfere in any way with our relationship.” I said, “Mr. Bryan, everyone has the right to think in accordance with the way he sees things and to act accordingly. Believing differently on some issues should not influence the degree of respect and friendship one has for another.” As he was taking his seat, he remarked, “Good, we shall get along fine.”
I do not know if he actually remembered me, but it gave the Daytonians within hearing distance of the conversation something to talk about.
Bryan was a master at using mass psychology, and the wording and ideas of this speech were similar to those he had used on the several occasions I had been in his audience. A sentence out of one speech which I remembered and which he used again at Dayton, illustrates what I mean: “The world is made up of two kinds of people: those who are so busy producing they have no time to collect. And those who are so busy collecting they have no time to produce.” He emphasized this idea at the banquet and sprinkled in a few pleas to get back to the old time religion. That pleased everybody. His delivery and gestures were a combination of a fighting political oration, a sermon, and a homey, fireside chat, with emphasis on the informal chat. As I looked around there was no doubt about the response of the Daytonians to Bryan’s magnetism and ability to lead.
Several days almost every conversation I overheard or was a participant in hinged upon Bryan. He had the best judgment, was the smartest, the most religious; in short, he was the best in everything.
I began to wonder how Darrow would be received. My own standing in the community was the same before and after the banquet, but I could explain that by the fact that the community considered me as one of its own, and, too, Bryan had been very friendly with me.
To my great relief, Darrow, at least outwardly, was also welcomed with respect and friendship. To show they were impartial, Bryan’s banquet was duplicated for Darrow. I was seated next to Darrow, but everything—toastmaster, the menu, the hall, and the people inside and outside—was the same.
Darrow shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with each person at the speaker’s table, but that was the last time during the banquet that he directed a remark to any one individual. Then, after the meal, people relaxed as Darrow began to speak. They were pleased to hear that their philosophies, ideas, and knowledge of various topics were of interest to him; besides, he asked questions and they had a chance to hear themselves talk—and all of us like to listen to ourselves. If anything developed that Darrow could use later, he remembered it.
Darrow’s talk was entirely different from Bryan’s. He did not tell them what to think, what to believe, nor offer any panaceas by which to lead them to greater glory and prosperity. It was not the speech of a crusader. He gave a short but humorous story of his life. He told of how he first became interested in the legal profession by reading law books to a blacksmith who also wished to become a lawyer. He and the blacksmith went to Indianapolis to take the bar examination. At 4:00 P.M. on the day of the examination, a fresh round of drinks was ordered and downed in one gulp. Then, the chairman of the examining board informed them that they had passed the examination. Darrow told the audience that for two years he had practiced law in a tin shop (the local tinner was the justice of the peace) and played poker on the side. He nearly starved. Then, he started playing poker and practicing law on the side. He made enough money to go to Chicago and get his start. The joke-loving, rugged individualists of eastern Tennessee threw open the doors of hospitality and embraced him with friendship.
The on-the-scene defense personnel prepared for battle. Some of the scientific witnesses and advisors had arrived, and Arthur Garfield Hays had come down from New York.
Once in Dayton, Hays remained until the conclusion of the trial. In all the accounts of the trial I have read, Hays is mentioned but is not given credit for the important role he played. Darrow, and Darrow alone, had charge of developing the testimony of the defense witness; but if there was a master mind developing the overall strategy of the defense, it was Hays. Ever time I was present, he acted as moderator of the small group of legal strategists. If he proposed or endorsed a plan, it became an integral part of the defense procedure. The few times he actively entered into the court proceedings, he demonstrated that he could hold his own on the level of the refined and cultured, but if the fight called for it he could sling mud with the best of the mudslingers. His sympathy, understanding, and the fight he waged for justice were genuine….
The conflict between Darrow and Bryan is famous, but Bryan and Malone also faced one another angrily at least on one occasion. It took place at one of the afternoon sessions in the courtroom proper, before the Judge moved the proceedings to the courthouse lawn under the shade trees. Bryan and Malone monopolized this particular session. The technical point that was being argued was forgotten and was not, to my knowledge, mentioned after the first five minutes of Bryan’s speech. Bryan addressed the Judge, then immediately turned to face the spectators. There was no pretense; this was to be a speech to the people, not merely to the court. It was a general defense of his position in his fight for the cause of fundamentalism. I did not pay much attention to the text of the speech, but it was well received by the audience. I remember being lulled into a feeling that I cannot accurately describe. Since I was not listening to what he was saying, but to how he was saying it, I was letting his oratorical talents hypnotize me. Every gesture and intonation of his voice blended so perfectly that it was like a symphony; and yet, the impression was that it was all extemperaneous. The longer he talked (a little more than an hour), the more complete was the control he had over the crows. As I listened I thought Bryan must have sensed victory as he moved toward the climax of his speech. Indeed, it looked as if he had sparked a force and enthusiasm that might lead to victory for fundamentalism in a number of states of the Union. I thought to myself that if something were not done—and done in a hurry—the forces of enlightenment were in for a severe battle. Bryan received a long and spirited—but not boisterous—ovation. No attempt was made seriously to bring order in the court. A few faces in the audience were blank and expressionless; all others showed reverence and worship.
For many in the courtroom, however, Malone’s reply was unexpectedly moving. He was not an oratorical wizard like Bryan, but those talents which he possessed, he knew how to use effectively. He was a great dramatic actor, a master at playing upon the emotions and at communicating bitter sarcasm and ridicule behind a screen of pretended sympathy and understanding which produced interest and later endorsement of his actual viewpoint. His answer to Bryan combined with a rapid presentation of the defense of the defense case took only twenty-five minutes. But in that brief time, the people were eating pout of his hand and had, for the time being, forgotten Bryan.
At the conclusion of the speech bedlam broke loose in the form of loud applause. An Irish policeman from Chattanooga was acting bailiff of the court. He was using his night stick to pound on a table near ours. Another officer who had been stationed among the spectators rushed to the bailiff and offered to help restore order. The Irishman replied, “I’m not trying to restore order. Hell, I’m cheering.” That night stick must have been spiked with a generous shot of lead, for he split the table top in half and sent splinters of wood flying all over that section of the courtroom. The Judge knew that order could not be restored; accordingly he adjourned the court and ordered the room cleared. After some time and much difficulty, the room was cleared.
Bryan, Malone, and I were the only ones that remained. Bryan, seated in his comfortable chair, had his legs stretched out and was staring at a spot on the floor two or three feet beyond his feet. Malone was partially seated on the defense attorney’s table intently looking at Bryan. I was at the table waiting for one or the other to make the first move. Bryan heaved a big sigh and looked up at Malone. In a subdued, slightly quivering voice, he said, “Dudley, that was the greatest speech I have ever heard.” Malone, who had served as Undersecretary of State during Bryan’s appointment as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, spoke quietly to his old chief, “Thank you, Mr. Bryan; I am terribly sorry that I was the one that had to do it.” It all seemed so plain to me; I thought anyone could have seen what was transpiring. Bryan was crushed.
But after a night’s rest was revitalized; his instinct to fight, his courage, and his strong heart would not let him completely surrender. All of his actions and everything he said throughout the remainder of the trial were efforts to mend the damage, reestablish himself with the public, and above all, regain his old spirit and self-confidence.
As to events that took place on the afternoon of the famous examination of Bryan by Darrow, the transcript clearly outlines what happened, but does not include all that occurred. A court reporter cannot record what two people are saying at the same time, much less what six or seven screaming individuals are saying simultaneously. As soon as Bryan was called to be the defense’s expert witness on the Bible, the Judge, Tom Stewart, the Hickses, and the other members of the prosecution team present were waving their arms and shouting objections. Bryan was up and talking but, unlike the others, he was trying to restore order. It was obvious that the Judge did not intend to permit Bryan to take the stand; when Bryan had restored order, however, he pleaded to be allowed to testify.
The people sitting out in the courtroom still considered him their leader. They considered the Bryan-Malone tilt as one round of the fight. Bryan had been knocked down, but he would win in the end. One might think that Bryan had had enough experience in political chicanery to see that it was a mistake to take the stand, but he was fighting himself. He had to have a personal victory and he believed that he was more than a match for Darrow on the subject of the Bible. The transcript tells the story of this encounter—the most dramatic event of the trial. Bryan tried to stage a comeback, but Darrow blocked him completely. This time, the people who heard and saw the event lost their confidence in Bryan; he would never regain the confidence of many of them.
On the eighth day of the trial, I was convicted of the crime of teaching the Darwinian concept of evolution, for which I was fined $100. H. L. Mencken, acting in behalf of the Baltimore Evening Sun, either paid or guaranteed the payment of my fine. I could now go any place I wished without violating the law; and being free for a few days I went to Lexington, Kentucky, to visit some of my former professors.
I do not remember now why, but I was due to be in Dayton on Monday of the following week. On Sunday I was on my way back to Tennessee. Somewhere along the way I ran into Paul Y. Anderson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and learned about Mr. Bryan’s death. Paul had been told at a ticket office that in order to Dayton, he would have to go through Chattanooga, arriving in Dayton the next morning at nine o’clock. This was quite unsatisfactory, and he asked if I knew of any way to get to Dayton by five o’clock that afternoon. I said that I did—if he had the price of a taxi fare. He obtained a refund for me on my ticket, purchased two more for Athens and we were on our way. In Athens we took a taxi to Dayton.
In going from Athens to Dayton, the traveler crosses the Tennessee River by means of a ferry at a hamlet called Washington. The ferry happened to be on the west side of the river when we arrived; consequently we were in a good location for observing who came across from the Dayton side. Judge Raulston was one of the passengers, and as he passed us he nodded us but the nod was so slight we did not recognize it as a greeting. The driver said, “You know who that was? That was Judge Raulston who was the Judge in that ‘Monkey Trial.’ I wish I was in his place; I would have seen that Scopes, Darrow and all of the rest of those d--- atheists got tarred and feathered and railed out of the State.” He talked the rest of the way to Dayton. I found out, in no uncertain words, what some people thought of my colleagues and me. Paul got out at the hotel and the driver took me to the Bailey residence where I roomed. I leaned against the car with my head in the window opposite the driver: “I want to thank you for a very pleasant trip. It was more than a pleasure because it helps me maintain my confidence in humanity when I encounter a fellow who has positive convictions and is not afraid to stand up for those convictions. I would consider it an honor if you give me your name and permit me to introduce myself. My name is John Scopes.” If I had not moved quickly, I might have been killed, he made his getaway so fast.
The next day some of my friends from Washington, Tennessee, were in town. They said the driver had stopped in front of the post office after returning to Washington and said in an excited voice to a group of loafers, “I’ve had those s.o.b.’s, scopes and Darrow, in my car all afternoon and did not know it!” Darrow, I am sure, would have considered it a compliment.
I had wanted to get back as soon as possible to express my sympathy to the Bryan family and offer my services; but by the time I arrived there, so many people were trying to be of assistance that I would have only added to the confusion. The most Christian thing I could do was to keep out of the way and hope that Mrs. Bryan would learn from others of my sympathy for her and her family.
In a few days, I had finished my business, packed my belongings, and left for Dayton to spend the rest of the summer with my family in Paducah. I fully intended to be a regular visitor to Dayton since that year had been one of the most pleasant years of my life. I had met many people I liked and wanted to continue to call friends. But the realities of a career alter the course for many of us. I have been able to visit Dayton only twice in forty years.
I cannot help wondering what would have been the outcome of the whole issue if we could have gotten our case into the federal courts. To be sure everyone connected with the defense was positive that the U.S. Supreme Court, before whom we hoped the case would ultimately go, would render a decision in favor of the defense. How could the court do otherwise when the law infringed on academic freedom and the freedom of speech? Those two infringements on our liberties were grounds enough to condemn the law.
I am sure that the Supreme Court, as it was the constituted, would have recognized a second violation of our personal liberties, for the Butler Act was an effort on the part of a religious group, the fundamentalists, to impose by law their religious beliefs on the rest of society.
Our Founding Fathers, acquainted with the bloody religious wars in Europe, had written into the Constitution the right of religious freedom and had further provided, by means of the doctrine of the separation of church and state, that no religious group should control or unduly influence any arm of secular government. I believe that had we reached the Supreme Court we would have been victorious on this issue.
We did not in fact, get to the federal courts. What, then, did we actually accomplish?
The defense had hoped to call a number of scientists as witnesses. They were to testify in regard to the erroneous belief that there was an irreconcilable conflict between the theory of evolution and the Genesis account. One scientist made it to the stand, but Judge Raulston shortly ruled that scientific testimony was not admissible. I think that was a defeat for us, but only in the terms of our legal goals. The material sent out from Dayton through the news media included the interviews and the affidavits of the scientific witnesses; these made a tremendous impact on the science education of the country and the world.
A second accomplishment was the limiting of the passing of anti-evolution bills in other states. This was achieved through the activities of six groups of people; the defense team and their aids who organized and presented our case; scientists; theologians; educators who worked then and are continuing to work for a better concept of education and the freedom of inquiry; the large numbers of ordinary citizens who thought or were capable of learning to think by the simple process of reasoning from cause to effect; and last, buy by no means least, the news media. The efforts of these groups, I think were responsible for limiting the passing of anti-evolution bills to only two additional states, Mississippi and Arkansas.
The trial created a better climate for understanding divergent points of view. The intermingling of a great number of people from all over our country (where did they find accommodations?) and the news gathered and sent out by reporters from the North, East, South, and West lowered to some extent the barriers of misunderstanding that separated the different sections of our country. By no means were these barriers demolished but the top rails were removed or splintered.
The trial marked a beginning of the development of a national consciousness of the roles played by religion, science, and education. I think the importance of communicating the thinking of the professionals in these fields to the general public was first generally appreciated during and immediately after the trial.
I believe that the Dayton trial marked the beginning of the decline of fundamentalism. Each year—as the result of someone’s efforts to better interpret what the defense was trying to do—more and more people are reached. This, in conjunction with the labor of scientists, educators, ministers and with the dissemination of the results of their efforts through books and news media, has retarded the spread of fundamentalism.
But most importantly, I feel that restrictive legislation on academic freedom is forever a thing of the past, that religion and science may now address one another in an atmosphere of mutual respect and of a common quest for truth. I like to think that the Dayton trial had some part in bringing to birth this new era.
I have had a continuing interest in the issues of the trial but never as a participant. Many times I have been asked why I have had no further role to play relative to the issues—even why I did not at least capitalize on my publicity and reap the monetary harvest that was close at hand. Perhaps my best answer is to paraphrase Calvin Coolidge’s “I do not choose to run”, for me it would be, “I did not choose to do so.”