The Scopes trial or the "Monkey Trial," as it was dubbed by the press, was held in Dayton, Tennessee, between July 10 and 21, 1925. John Thomas Scopes, a biology teacher in the Tennessee school system, was charged with violating the Butler Act, passed in that state on March 31, 1925, forbidding the teaching of "...a certain theory and theories that deny the story of the Divine creation of man as taught in the Bible... [and that] man has descended from a lower order of animals." Similar laws had been passed since 1923 in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Florida, but the Tennessee law was the strongest. Scopes was found guilty, fined $100.00, but the decision was later reversed by the Tennessee Supreme Court on the technicality that only a jury could impose a fine over $50.00.
The controversy over biblically-revealed religion, the human race's creation, and Darwin's teachings had become the focus of conflict between the fundamentalists (so named from a set of volumes called The Fundamentals, 1910-1915) and a liberal trend in Christianity termed modernism. After Scopes was charged, the American Civil Liberties Union supplied him with a trio of eminent lawyers, one of whom was Clarence Darrow, a criminal lawyer. Darrow had been counsel for the defense in the sensational Leopold-Loeb trial that month and was a self-confessed agnostic. Because the issue was seen in fundamentalist religions groups as primarily a contest between belief and science, William Jennings Bryan, spokesman for fundamentalism whose views on evolution were well-known, offered his services to the state of Tennessee. Although Bryan was a lawyer who had not practiced for 28 years, he had a long career as a social reformer and politician, orator and teacher.
Two factors were the cause of intense and widespread interest by the press, both national and international. The presence of two nationally-known men, Bryan and Darrow, as part of the legal staff of a trial in rural Tennessee, and the climate of the fundamentalist-modernist debate caused this trial to be more widely reported than any other previous case. Led by H. L. Mencken, the press was heavily biased toward Darwinism and made extensive use of ridicule. As the trial developed, arguments shifted from the letter of the law and guilt and innocence to tensions of belief versus science, intellectualism versus anti-intellectualism, and even rural versus urban (the Tennessee Court routinely referred to visiting lawyers as "foreign"). Darrow avowedly declared his intention to protect the schools from "bigots and ignoramuses," while Bryan had earlier declared that "it is better to trust the Rock of Ages than to know the age of rocks."
Scopes' defense was built on an assertion that the laws of Tennessee were contradictory of each other, requiring that biology be taught from a particular textbook (Hunter's), in use for many years, which contained a discussion of Darwinism, yet making it a criminal offense to teach this.
Scopes' lawyers further asserted that the State should prove that Scopes' teaching actually denied Divine creation. Further attempts to prove the unconstitutionality of teaching beliefs of the Bible in schools, to allow testimony of scientists outlining what the elements of Darwin's principles were and their general acceptance in the scientific and intellectual world, were ruled out of court. Motions for a new trial were also overruled and the defense agreed to accept a verdict of guilty in order to expedite appeal to a higher court.
The State's case was based on issues which fundamentalist Christians responsible for the law in Tennessee saw as threatening to the religious beliefs of children of Christian parents: fear of faith's being undermined by the teaching of principles of evolution viewed as contradictory to the Genesis account; an outrage at the assumption that man had descended from animal origins; and a belief that Christianity needed to be defended from that current scientific belief was superior to Biblical revelation, which was viewed by fundamentalists as inerrant. The defense was successful in excluding the jury from most of the proceedings. Scopes was charged as guilty of violating the law which prohibited this teaching in Tennessee schools.
Near the conclusion of the trial, Bryan, who was widely accepted as an expert on the Bible, took the stand as champion of the biblical view. Darrow's examination drew out in questioning that Bryan did not believe in a literal six days of creation, undermining one of the major premises of the State's case, an acceptance of the Bible as scientific and true in all its literal statements. Though the verdict went against Scopes, Bryan's death five days after the trial was attributed to the effect of its stresses. The focus of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy moved onto other issues, although evolution remained an important litmus test.
Scope and Content
This collection consists of one reel of microfilm and one file of photographic postcards. The microfilm reel is divided into three separately paginated sections: Volume I, pages 1 to 46; Volume I, Supplemental Transcript (Revised), pages 1 to 63); and Verbatim Text of Proceedings, pages 1 to 833. Each section contains its own index. Volume I of the transcript on the reel of microfilm is labeled as an Appeal from the Circuit Court of Rhea County, Honorable J. T. Raulston, Judge; John Thomas Scopes, Plaintiff in error vs. State of Tennessee, Defendant in error. Attorneys for the State were: T. A. Stewart (Attorney General), William Jennings Bryan, William Bryan, B. G. McKenzie, J. G. McKenzie, S. K. Hicks, H. E. Hicks, and W. C. Haggard. Attorneys for Scopes were John R. Neal, Clarence Darrow, Arthur Garfield Hayes, Dudley Field Malone, William T. Thomas, and Frank Mackelwie.
Volume I includes the text of the indictment, July 13, 1925; text of the motion to quash the indictment; the judge's decision to overrule the motion; the jury's verdict; and the request for a new trial and denial by Judge Raulston.
The second part, Volume I, Supplemental Transcript (Revised), consists of texts of similar legal components.
The third and major portion of the reel contains the verbatim record of the court proceedings and consists of 833 pages. Notable to understanding of the issues involved are the statement of the defense by Dudley Field Malone, p. 464ff; text of the statement of the Governor of Tennessee approving the Butler Act, p. 538ff; texts of offers of scientific proof by Scopes' counsel, p. 568ff; and the examination of Bryan by Darrow, p. 734ff. There is no transcript on this reel of the appeal proceedings in the Tennessee Supreme Court.
The photo file contains seven postcards on which photographs taken during the Scopes trial are reproduced. They include portraits of William Jennings Bryan, counsel for the prosecutor; Clarence Darrow, counsel for the defense; and George W. Rappelyea, protagonist and member of the American Civil Liberties Union. One photograph is of Bryan and Darrow; two are groups including John Thomas Scopes, Darrow, Bryan, General Ben McKenzie (lawyer), and Dr. John R. Neal (lawyer). One postcard shows the interior of Rexall drug store, Robinson's, and the table at which the trial started.
Also included is a print of a photograph of the crowd waiting outside Robinson's to buy daily newspapers from across the country which featured news of the trial. The reverse is printed with information about the play, Inherit the Wind, written and performed on Broadway in 1950. Another paragraph describes the restorations of Rhea County Courthouse, 1977-78, and a Scopes Trial Museum. A paragraph about the fiftieth anniversary of William Jennings Bryan College, 1980, details plans for the celebration.
This material was purchased and received at the Center in January, 1983, and July, 1986. The microfilm was purchased in 1983 by the BGC Museum from Michael Glazier, Inc, 1210A King Street, Wilmington, DE 19801, USA; 302-654-1635Accession #83-10, 86-77
The following items are located in the MICROFORM ROOM as indicated:
Reel #1 - Texts of all legal documents of the Scopes Trial, Dayton, Tennessee, July 10-21, 1925. The texts are in three sections: Volume 1: Appeal from the Circuit Court of Rhea County, Honorable J. T. Raulston, Judge; John Thomas Scopes, Plaintiff in error vs. State of Tennessee, Defendant in error, pages 1 to 46; Volume I, Supplemental Transcript (Revised), text of the indictment, motion to quash indictment, judge's decision to overrule motion, and request for new trial and denial by Judge Raulston, pages 1 to 63; Verbatim Record Text of the Court Proceedings, pages 1 to 833. Each section has its own index.
The following items are located in the PHOTO FILE as indicated:
SCOPES TRIAL Photographic postcards of the Scopes trial participants. William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, George W. Rappelyea, Ben McKenzie, John R. Neal, trial crowd, and interior of F. E. Robinson's drug store; Exterior, crowd outside Robinson's drug store. 8 b&w. N.d..