The Scopes Monkey Trial
By: Blake Holliman
Background of the 1920's
In the early 1920's, social patterns were in chaos and it was a time period in which intellectual experimentation flourished. It was the age of jazz, alcoholic prohibition and abstract artistic theories in response to the new social patterns set in motion by modernism.
The trial took place in Dayton Tennessee courtroom in the summer of 1925. John Scopes, a high school biology teacher was charged with illegally teaching the theory of human evolution. The guilt of John Scopes was traced back to constitutional means in which Tennessee's anti evolution statue was heavily enforced. The meaning of the trial emerged as a conflict of social and intellectual values of the time period, as well as challenging the Catholic church's ideals about the history of humans from Adam and Eve.
Prosecutors and the Case
William Jennings Bryan, a three timed democrat candidate for president and populist of the time period, led a fundamentalist idea to cancel Darwin's theory of evolution from American classrooms. Bryan feared that Darwin's theories were actions of eugenics or the affiliation of more acceptable traits inherited by ancestors. By 1925 William Jennings Bryan and his followers succeeded in getting legislation introduced in 15 states to ban the teaching of evolution. In February, Tennessee enacted a bill introduced by John Butler making it unlawful "to teach any theory that denies the story of divine creation as taught by the Bible and to teach instead that man was descended from a lower order of animals."
The Defendants and the Law
The two defendants that backed up John Scopes in his conviction were John Neal and Clarence Darrow approaching the stand against Dayton. The American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU was thought to have been looking for a teacher who would challenge the law in the courts. In 1924 Clarence Darrow delivered a speech in the Dayton Courtroom and questioned William Jennings Bryan about the truthfulness of the Bible. People thought this case was turning into an attack on religion and even started to question the authenticity of religious teachings in schools.
Under the Butler Act, it was unlawful to teach evolution of one species...mankind, in the public schools. However, the evolution of 99% of all other plant and animal life or evolution of the earth or the solar system could all be taught and was even seen as a compelling theory or proven fact, without violating the Butler Act.
Importance and Connection to The Crucible
The importance of the Scopes trial was mainly for publicity, but it also was important because both sides of the trial's lawyers were picked before John Scopes was ever convicted. The whole trial attracted the media and got the public scratching for an answer of truth. One of the main arguments of the case was if the Butler Act was constitutional and if science was considered to be a religion or not. However it turned out that John Scopes was not able to plead innocence and he was fined one hundred dollars. This conviction was equivalent to a crime of bootlegging during this time period. Some people may think that the trial couldn't have been called a "witch hunt" because as one historian noted... "the accused [scopes] and his defendants- the witches- were actually the hunters, stalking the law with the intent of over turning it or at least making it unenforceable."
WGBH Educational Foundation and Clear Blue Sky