Pages and pages of fascinating FACTS about the actual Scopes "Monkey Trial"
PLUS A Closer Look at Hollywood's Inherit the Wind.

The Movie:
Inherit the Wind

The Facts:
Trial of John Scopes

The statements under this column are either contained in or strongly implied by the popular stage play and movie Inherit the Wind (1955 and 1960, respectively).

Because of the influence of this play and movie (see over 35 video clips from the movie below), reading down just this left-hand column will strike most people as a fairly accurate (or at least familiar) synopsis of the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial.” But don't settle for “Hollywood history”!

The statements under this column contain information of a more factual nature relating to the actual trial of the State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes (1925).

To purchase a best-selling, word-for-word copy of the actual trial transcript in electronic (downloadable and searchable) form, click hereIt's a very fun and educational read!! Included is the undelivered closing argument of William Jennings Bryan.

Once upon a time, the State of Tennessee passed a statute prohibiting the teaching of evolution.

In 1925 the Tennessee legislature passed the Butler Act which made it a misdemeanor to teach the evolution of only one species—mankind—in the public schools.  The evolution of 99.9999% of all other plant and animal life (about two million other species), or the evolution of the earth or the solar system, could all be taught as either compelling theory or proven fact without violating the Butler Act.

This fact bears repeating: the Tennessee legislature did not outlaw the teaching of evolution but for one drop in a very large bucket. To suggest, therefore, that entire fields of academic study such as astronomy, botany, anatomy, geology, biology, etc., were dealt a death blow in the Volunteer State is highly inaccurate. Yet this allegation was repeated constantly by the mainstream press in 1925 with Columbia University perhaps going the furthest in suggesting that it might begin to refuse to matriculate any high school students from the State of Tennessee because the Butler Act may now be rendering them unsuitable for further academic study.

The statute was supported by a large majority of Tennessee parents exercising what they believed to be their responsibilities in the oversight of their children’s educations; the Butler Act did not touch upon the teaching of evolution outside of the tax-supported public schools.

The Tennessee statute gave an unfair advantage to fundamentalist Christianity over objective science (evolution) in the classroom.

With respect to human evolution, the intent of the Butler Act was not to favor Christianity over evolution but to put the two prevailing theories on a level playing field of silence.  The supporters of the Butler Act did not advocate teaching the Bible in the public schools (which they believed to be impermissible) and so they naturally felt powerless as a competing theory (Darwinian evolution) could be freely taught in opposition to the silenced story of creation contained in the book of Genesis.  

Violation of the statute (the Butler Act) was punishable by fine and/or imprisonment.

The Butler Act provided only for a fine from $100 to $500 (same as bootlegging) and there was no provision in the Act for any jail time.

At the time that the anti-evolution statute was passed, the biology textbook used in the Tennessee public schools supported the theory of creation as taught in the Bible.

The biology textbook used in Tennessee in 1925 was Prof. George W. Hunter’s Civic Biology, the most popular biology text for secondary schools in the country.  It was 100% pro-evolutionist and had been so for over two decades.  There is no mention in the text of God, creation, Adam, Eve, the book of Genesis, or any other book or person in the Bible.

Therefore, the idea that evolutionists in 1925 were valiantly trying to introduce evolution into the schools—and being censored in the process—is, again, false. Rather than the Christians attempting to deny evolutionists a “seat at the table” (so to speak), it would be far more accurate to say that the Butler Act would continue to permit evolutionists to thoroughly dominate the “table” while forbidding either evolutionists or creationists to occupy just one of the 2,000,000 seats (the seat belonging to the evolution of mankind, that is).

The reason for this proposed truce of silence regarding mankind is discussed below and provides an insight into the curious title of Hunter's text—what does civics have to do with biology, you might wonder. Read on!

John Scopes (“Bertram Cates” in Inherit the Wind), a young and earnest high school biology teacher in Dayton, Tennessee (“Hillsboro” in Inherit the Wind), was arrested by a grim clergyman and heavy-handed town fathers as he was teaching evolution in his classroom.  He was, tragically, the victim of a fundamentalist witch hunt.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

John Scopes, a high school football coach and mathematics teacher who only substituted for Dayton’s regular biology teacher, never taught evolution to anybody.  As he confided to acclaimed newspaper reporter, William K. Hutchinson, “I didn’t violate the law. . .  .  I never taught that evolution lesson.  Those kids they put on the stand couldn’t remember what I taught them three months ago.  They were coached by the lawyers.”

Although not actually guilty of the alleged crime, Scopes cooperated in a clever and friendly plan to test the constitutionality of the Butler Act.  The ACLU in New York City had advertised in Tennessee newspapers for a willing teacher/defendant.  This ad was then answered by Scopes at the encouragement of a few town fathers of Dayton on both sides of the evolution issue.  Their reasoning was that such a case—if held in the local courthouse—would boost the economic prospects of their small and shrinking town.  No clergymen (mean-spirited or otherwise) were involved in the instigation, planning, or hosting of the trial.

Far from being arrested by hostile henchmen, Scopes was arrested by his friend, Sue Hicks, the City Attorney of Dayton (and the original “boy named Sue” of Johnny Cash fame).  In his autobiography, Center of the Storm (1960), John Scopes always put quotation marks around the word “arrest” to highlight its voluntary character.

The trial could not properly be called a witch hunt, one trial historian notes, because “the accused [Scopes] and his defenders—the ‘witches’—were actually the hunters, stalking the law with the intent of overturning it or at least making it unenforceable.”  de Sprague, The Great Monkey Trial (1968), p. 490.

After his arrest, Scopes was put in jail where he was hit in the head by a bottle thrown through the window of his cell, burned in effigy, threatened with being lynched from a “sour apple tree,” and generally made to fear for his life.  This fear was all the more regrettable because it was inspired by the very townspeople Scopes had grown up with all his life.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

In part because he was a quiet, likable person and in part, perhaps, because he was the coach of their winning high school football team, John Scopes was well-liked by the people of Dayton.

Scopes was never jailed for a moment (he violated a misdemeanor statute, recall, not a felony), never faced the prospect of jail, and was welcome in Dayton both before, during, and after the trial.  Further, there were no bottles, no burnings, no lynch threats, and no angry mobs.  Quite to the contrary, the kindness and generosity of the people of Dayton toward Scopes was all the more commendable because he—far from being a lifelong resident—had only lived in Dayton for one year prior to the trial and therefore was a newcomer to town.

Alone and afraid, Scopes was unrepresented by counsel up to the day before his trial.  He had written a newspaper in Baltimore for assistance but had, as yet, heard nothing.  And besides, whomever would be sent by the paper to defend Scopes would have to defend him against the country’s most famous politician/attorney, the fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan (“Matthew Harrison Brady” in Inherit the Wind).  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

From the very onset of the case which he himself helped instigate, John Scopes unquestionably enjoyed the best legal defense team ever assembled for a misdemeanor trial in the history of the United States and quite possibly the best ever assembled for any trial.  In addition to Clarence Darrow (still regarded by many as the greatest criminal trial attorney in American history), Scopes enjoyed the expertise of Dudley Field Malone (who delivered a speech in Dayton that Bryan honestly believed was the finest speech on any subject that he had ever heard), and two other attorneys (one a law professor, one from the ACLU).  The back-up team for Scopes included such names as Bainbridge Colby (preeminent NY attorney and former U.S. Secretary of State), John W. Davis (former US ambassador to Great Britain and Democratic nominee for president), and Charles Evans Hughes (former Republican nominee for president and former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court).

In contrast, the Prosecution made do with local representation of no particular distinction and no national reputation whatsoever.  Bryan, although a very famous politician, had not practiced law in 30 years and was invited into the case by the Prosecution primarily to deliver the closing argument at the end of the trial.

Bryan strenuously opposed the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

Bryan did not oppose the teaching of evolution in public schools.  For a number of reasons noted below he did oppose teaching the evolution of mankind (one species) as scientific fact and especially in the manner in which evolutionary theory was practically being applied in his day.

As Bryan wrote in the New York Times:

The only part of evolution in which any considerable interest is felt is evolution applied to man.  A hypothesis in regard to the rocks and plant life does not affect the philosophy upon which one's life is built.  Evolution applied to fish, birds, and beasts would not materially affect man's view of his own responsibilities. . . . The evolution that is harmful . . . is the evolution that makes [man himself] a descendant of lower forms of life. (Feb. 26, 1922)

Specifically—and this is very important to understanding both the Butler Act and the trial—Bryan opposed those applications of Darwinism to mankind that were rapidly gaining popularity and were contained in Prof. Hunter’s Civic Biology.  These teachings included (1) that mankind can be described in terms of five “races” of differing evolutionary status with the Caucasian race being the most advanced, followed by the “yellow” race, etc.—p. 196, (2) that public houses for the poor and asylums for the sick or insane make no sense from an evolutionary perspective and should be at least reconsidered if not dramatically curtailed—p. 263, (3) that certain “parasitic” elements of the human population should not have children (“If such people were lower animals,” Hunter writes, “we would probably kill them off”) and, in some cases, such reproduction should be forcibly prevented (“Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe”)—p. 263, (4) that society’s business classes should be given generous economic latitude (known as “hands off” or “laissez faire” capitalism) to further advance the most successful members of the human species—p. 261ff, and (5) that the gap between the monkeys and the most evolved apes is akin tothe gap between those apes and the lowest human “savages”—p. 195.

The above teachings were favorably referred to as “eugenics”—a term invented by Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton—and generally pertain to the active management of the gene pool of the human species by more evolved experts over a less evolved citizenry. This was scary stuff gaining momentum in the 1920s and, as noted below, was no longer confined to theoretical discussions in Ivory Towers.

Statutes permitting sterilizations by force, laws forbidding marriages between people of different races (miscegenation), immigration quotas favoring Northern Europeans (Caucasians), and economic policies benefiting the most successful capitalists, were all popular policies advanced by elitists (university professors, industrialists, Planned Parenthood, liberal ministers, etc.) who self-consciously and persuasively invoked the “scientific” principles of Darwinism.

Despite vocal opposition primarily from people outside the academic and scientific communities such as Bryan and the popular evangelist Billy Sunday (both of whom regarded all men as created equal by God), eugenics enjoyed steadily increasing currency in the 1920s, especially among liberal academics.  Nazi Germany eventually brought to horrific fruition many of Bryan’s worst fears and put a halt to public support for eugenics and its euphemistic “civic biology” (recall here the weird title of Hunter's biology textbook).  The Soviet Union and, later, the Communist Chinese adopted the practices of eugenics with similar results.

The majority (if not all) of the scientists called by the Defense to testify on behalf of John Scopes in 1925, in fact, belonged to eugenic societies—organizations now regarded as no less (and perhaps more) reprehensible than the dreaded KKK.

In addition to eugenics, Bryan opposed the teaching of evolution as fact because the theory was based more on philosophical presuppositions (a commitment to naturalism) than observed facts (like the fossil record). A good summary of his views are contained in his undelivered closing argument at the trial and an article published after his death in the Reader's Digest.

No intellectual or other person of decency and goodwill could reasonably oppose the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

As noted above, Bryan did not oppose the teaching of evolution in the public schools.  As it related to applying evolutionary principles to mankind (which Bryan and the legislators of Tennessee did oppose), no intellectual or other person of decency and goodwill could reasonably oppose removing Hunter’s Civic Biology from the curriculum of today’s public schools.  Judged with the benefit of hindsight, Bryan, it turns out, was absolutely right about the offensive and unscientific content of evolution as taught and applied to mankind in the textbooks of his day. For this one might imagine he would get some credit from historians but such credit due appears to have been overshadowed by Bryan's act of placing leading American evolutionists and their theories at the crime scene.

Christian fundamentalists like William Jennings Bryan all believed in a literal 6-day creation as described in Genesis 1-3.

The Fundamentals, a collection of 12 books published in from 1905 to 1915, sets forth the “fundamentals” of the Christian faith (such as the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Christ, etc.).  The Fundamentals discuss the creation of the world but present several theories as orthodox, including the view that creation took place over millions of years and that the “days” of Genesis are actually epochs of time.  (See Gen. 2:4 where the word “day” is used to mean an indefinite period of time.)

Not all fundamentalists, therefore, held to a 6-day creation and Bryan himself, as it turns out, did not believe in a literal 6-day creation (!).  (See more discussion of Bryan’s testimony during the trial regarding his view of creation and the age of the earth below.)

Unlike most intellectuals, the people of rural Tennessee were a bigoted bunch, stuck in their ways and intolerant of new ideas.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Of course each person is entitled to his own views on such a proposition, but of considerable relevance to the Scopes trial, at least, we have the perspective of John Scopes himself as he relates in his autobiography, Center of the Storm: “I have often said that there is more intolerance in higher education than in all the mountains of Tennessee.” (p. 276).

Once in town, Bryan turned out to be a political hack and a blustering buffoon.  He was a conservative (we can safely assume) who had captured the hearts of the rubes in rural Tennessee with little real substance but with lots of corny appeal.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

John Scopes himself, to cite again the Defendant as especially relevant to this trial, called Bryan “the greatest man produced in the United States since Thomas Jefferson.”

Bryan was a three-time presidential candidate for the Democratic Party (including being the youngest nominee of any party in US history), a two-time congressman, a Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, a driving force behind four different constitutional amendments (income tax, woman’s suffrage, direct election of senators, and prohibition) as well as an influential proponent for the establishment of the federal department of health, education and welfare.

Too left-leaning politically to be electable (so much for being a conservative!), Bryan was a great supporter of trust busting, labor unions, higher taxes, government schooling, federal regulations of every sort, and strict government control (if not ownership) of many key industries.  He was also a principled pacifist and so he resigned from being Secretary of State when President Wilson determined (prematurely, thought Bryan) that the United States should no longer remain neutral in World War I.

All these political positions made Bryan a favorite of the ACLU and, prior to the Scopes case, he was considered by that organization to be a model statesman of the “progressive” sort.

Bryan is also still regarded as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) orators in American history.  On the famous Chautauqua speaking circuit, he was second in popularity only to Helen Keller.  Even up until his death at the age of 65, his outdoor Sunday School lectures were attended each week by over 5,000 people and he was the editor of a newspaper as well as the author of a popular syndicated column on Bible topics that appeared in over 100 papers each week.

Although certainly no fan of Bryan (quite the opposite, in fact), trial historian L. Sprague de Camp had this to say about the Great Commoner in his book The Great Monkey Trial (1968):

In personality he was forceful, energetic, and opinionated but genial, kindly, generous, likable and charming. . . . Although an intellectual absolutist—a black and white thinker—he showed a praiseworthy tolerance towards those who disagreed with him. (p. 36)

H.L. Mencken (“E.K. Hornbeck” in Inherit the Wind), an editorialist from the Baltimore Evening Sun (the “Baltimore Herald” in Inherit the Wind), was a liberal-minded intellectual—deeply cynical, but a brutally honest man.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Editorialist H.L. Mencken is one of the most fascinating and entertaining characters connected with the Scopes trial.  A small-government, anti-FDR, anti-public-school libertarian (not to be confused with the pro-government, pro-FDR, and pro-public-school liberals of today), he was also intensely anti-Christian and given to exaggeration and lies of the most ridiculous and often hilarious sort.  This ridiculousness and hilarity, however, could be vicious and often was.  Because of both his libertarian politics and antipathy to religion, Mencken genuinely hated the Christian populist Bryan.  Consider how witheringly Mencken describes Bryan in one of Mencken's several reports from Dayton written after the trial:

It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state.  He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things.  He was a peasant come home to the barnyard.  Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not.

Mencken's obituary of Bryan is even more scathing, but the popular reporter seems to have had his own moral shortcomings.  He believed, for instance, that the Jews were “the most unpleasant race ever heard of,” and that their unpleasantness was, in large part, responsible for the mass resentment that put the Nazis in power  (The Skeptic:  A Life of H.L. Mencken by Terry Teachout (2002), p. 268).  Commenting upon the Mencken character in Inherit the Wind, Prof. Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School writes in his book America on Trial, “The real life Mencken was himself a rabid racist as well as an anti-religious bigot.”

Bryan had a poor understanding of evolution.  He even had the annoying habit (whether out of sheer ignorance or on purpose is not clear) of pronouncing “evolution” as “evil-ution.”

Because he had taken the time to know both sides of the issues, Bryan had a very good understanding of evolution and publicly debated in the pages of the New York Times with such evolutionary experts as the president of the American Museum of Natural History, Henry Fairfield Osborn.  For many people, of course, Bryan's opposition to evolution is simply ipso facto proof that he was scientifically illiterate. Osborn, on the other hand, applied his considerable understanding of the theory in such a way as to fall for nearly every evolutionist hoax that came down the pike as well as reach the conclusion that Negros were of a different species than Caucasians.

It may be impossible to gauge Bryan's understanding of evolution compared to other participants at the Scopes trial but it seems worth pointing out that several of the Defense attorneys and the only scientist to give verbal testimony at the trial, Prof. Maynard M. Metcalf, all mistake simple “change over time” (which is not disputed by creationists or anyone else)with “evolution” of the sort that can explain the emergence of new and increasingly complicated species from the first single cell by means of natural processes only.

The attorneys and scientists alike even site the development of a fertilized egg into an adult animal as evidence of evolution (which it emphatically is not because, among other things, this development occurs within the life span of the very same animal at issue and, secondly, the fertilized egg already has 100% of the genetic information it needs to mature and thus no new developmental evolution is occurring merely by virtue of this maturation process).  For enlightening quotations in this regard, see pp. 116 (Malone), 136 (Dr. Metcalf), 156 (Hays), and 189 (Darrow) of the trial transcript.  Bryan, suspecting that it may be intentional, complained about this misuse of the word “evolution” in his undelivered closing argument to the jury.

Dr. Metcalf’s single-sentence definition of evolution given from the stand (take a deep breath!) contains the egg-to-adult misdirection common among evolutionists at the trial:

Evolution, I think, means change; in the final analysis I think it means the change of an organism from one character into a different character, and by character I mean its structure, or its behavior, or its function, or its method of development from the egg or anything else—the change of an organism from one set characteristic which characterizes it into a different condition, characterized by a different set of characteristics either structural or functional could be properly called, I think, evolution—to be the evolution of that organism; but the term in general means the whole series of such changes which have taken place during hundreds of millions of years which have produced from lowly beginnings the nature of which is not by any means fully understood to organisms of a much more complex character, whose structure and functions we are still studying, because we haven’t begun to learn what we need to know about them.  (p. 139-140 of the trial transcript)

H.L. Mencken—this time presumably not attempting to be humorous—called Dr. Metcalf’s testimony “one of the clearest, most succinct and withal most eloquent presentations of the case for the evolutionists that I have ever heard . . . .  The doctor was never at a loss for a word, and his ideas flowed freely and smoothly.”

Bryan knew that evolution was not the development of a fertilized egg into an adult. He knew that evolutionists could not account for the first living cell in contradiction of the law of biogenesis. He knew that the fossil record had yielded no convincing transitional forms and suspected that many hominid fossils were probably fraudulent (which turned out to be true). He also knew that the theory (rightly or wrongly) was being widely used to denigrate the veracity of the Bible and justify practices that later became synonymous with the worst evils of Nazi Germany. In sum, Bryan's understanding of evolution was not weak, it simply did not match the consensus views among leading evolutionists of his day.

Bryan was greeted upon his arrival with a big parade led by belligerent, hard-faced Christians singing what might be best described as “hate hymns.”  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

The last-minute arrival of Clarence Darrow (“Henry Drummond” in Inherit the Wind), the world-famous atheist and criminal defense attorney, was ignored.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Bryan arrived to much fanfare at the Dayton train station—as did Darrow—but there was no parade for either.  After their arrivals, both Bryan and Darrow were treated on separate nights to welcoming banquets at Dayton’s finest hotel where every effort was made to avoid any show of partiality between the visiting dignitaries.  At these banquets, the townspeople and visiting press were treated to wonderful and winsome speeches by both Bryan and Darrow. For the organizers of the trial, these were heady days (but without the booze)!

Far from acrimonious, the trial began with excitement, expectation, and mutual good will.  Even the cynical and ever-irreverent Mencken had the following backhanded (and thoroughly racist) “compliments” to give in his first report from Dayton:

The town, I confess, greatly surprised me.  I expected to find a squalid Southern village with darkies snoozing on the horse blocks, pigs rooting under the houses, and the inhabitants full of hookworm and malaria.  What I found was a country town full of charm and even beauty . . . .

Nor is there any evidence in the town of that poisonous spirit which usually shows itself when Christian men gather to defend the great doctrines of their faith.  I have heard absolutely no whisper that Scopes is in the pay of the Jesuits, or that the whisky trust is backing him, or that he is egged on by the Jews who manufacture lascivious moving pictures.  On the contrary, the Evolutionists and the Anti-Evolutionists seem to be on the best of terms, and it is hard in a group to distinguish one from another.

Notwithstanding his dull intellect and simplistic fundamentalism, Bryan was enormously popular in Tennessee and was the hometown's clear favorite in Dayton.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

While Bryan was very popular with common people, he was very unpopular with the most influential voices of his day:  large city newspapers, academics, and the cultural/commercial elite—a powerful triumvirate! It would be only true in one (albeit important) sense, therefore, to say that Bryan was the “favorite” in Dayton.

Also, as was mentioned above, Bryan and the Tennessee attorneys for the Prosecution were clear underdogs compared to the legal talents marshaled on behalf of Scopes.

Finally, it may be worth mentioning that Bryan was a socialist-leaning, pacifist Democrat while Dayton was situated in a solidly Republican-voting county whose favorite son (Sergeant Alvin C. York) was a hero of the first World War.

Clarence Darrow’s goal in Dayton was to secure for all Tennesseans a measure of academic freedom; Bryan’s goal, in contrast, was to further insulate Christianity’s reigning hegemony.

Taking these assertions in reverse order, we have reason to question any claim of Christianity's “reigning hegemony.”It is commonly assumed—mistakenly—that the biology textbooks in Tennessee were solidly rooted in the Bible if not explicitly anti-evolutionist.  Yet as has already been noted above, the truth is the opposite:  the textbooks were thoroughly evolutionist and contained not a single word about creation or the Bible.  Christians in Tennessee, therefore, were the ones fighting for some representation in the public schools, not evolutionists.  So, it can be fairly asked, “How can Bryan be accused of trying to insulate Christianity from Darwinian influences when there was no Christianity in the textbooks to insulate and when the law did not outlaw evolution?”

Taken at his word, the objectives of Bryan at the Scopes trial were “First, to establish the right of taxpayers to control what is taught in their schools.  Second, to draw a line between the teaching of evolution as a fact and teaching it as a theory.”  W.J. and M.B. Bryan in The Memoirs of William Jennings Bryan (1925), p. 485.

Also taken at his word, Darrow plainly stated, “We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States." (p. 299 of trial transcript)  By “bigots and ignoramuses” Darrow meant, of course, Christians—the same people whom he had “spent a lifetime ridiculing.”  (Larson, Summer for the Gods, p. 71). But these were the people whose children filled the schools, who are responsible as parents for their children's educations, and who paid the vast majority of the taxes to support the system. What of their right to the “free exercise of religion” also guaranteed to them by the First Amendment?

It might be most accurate to say that if it were Darrow’s goal in Dayton to secure for all Tennesseans in posterity a measure of academic freedom, and Bryan’s goal to further insulate Christianity’s reigning hegemony, they both failed badly.

The religious community of Dayton was both fervent and of one accord (against evolution) and can be fairly represented as having a single spiritual leader.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

In 1925, only about half of the citizens of Dayton were church members of various (mostly Protestant) denominations.  In a state most heavily populated by the more conservative Baptist denominations, two Methodist (more liberal) congregations were the largest in Dayton, though neither one had as many members as the (secular) Masons.  Of the Christian churches, several were “modernist” and did not hold to a literal 6-day creation or the view that the miracles of the Bible (such as the Resurrection) actually occurred.

The people of Dayton were angry that Darrow was coming to their town and tried to keep him out altogether.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

The people of Dayton were generally delighted that Clarence Darrow volunteered to be a participant in the trial and treated him graciously.  Recalling Dayton’s economic motivations for hosting the trial, one can easily imagine how Darrow was “good for business.” At the start of the trial, especially, Darrow's winsome ways and quick wit made him a favorite among a great many Daytonians.

Darrow himself said in open court:

[A]nd so far as the people of Tennessee are concerned . . . I don’t know as I was ever in a community in my life where my religious ideas differed as widely from the great mass as I have found them since I have been in Tennessee.  Yet I came here a perfect stranger and I can say what I have said before, that I have not found upon anybody’s part—any citizen here in this town or outside—the slightest discourtesy.  I have been treated better, kindlier and more hospitably than I fancied would have been the case in the North, and that is due largely to the ideas that southern people have and they are, perhaps, more hospitable than we are up North.  (pp. 225-6 of the trial transcript)

Rather than being a disciplined and abstemious Christian (as he presumably preached), Bryan himself was a belching glutton.  Darrow, on the other hand, was moderate and simple in his appetites.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Bryan had a large appetite due, perhaps, to his being a diabetic.  He was considered by observers of the trial, however, to be in good health and, at about 230 lbs. (judging from photographs taken at the trial), was certainly not obese.

Bryan was, for all practical purposes, the lead attorney for the Prosecution at the trial as well as a show-boater and a nonstop talker.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Bryan was invited to participate as an assistant prosecutor, not the lead prosecutor for the State of Tennessee.  Except for a stray comment or two, Bryan literally did not address the Court or the jury at all until late in the fifth day of an eight-day trial.  He never impaneled a potential juror, never cross-examined a witness, never made a motion, and only introduced two documents into evidence:  Hunter’s Civic Biology and Darwin’s Descent of Man.  His final summation to the jury—his raison d’etre for appearing in Dayton—was never delivered due to a clever (if not devious) trial strategy by the Defense which denied both sides any closing arguments.

In re-reading the original trial transcript, one strongly suspects Darrow’s de facto “closing argument” was, by design, delivered at the end of the second day of the trial, p.74 ff. In later writings he admitted that denying Bryan the opportunity to deliver his closing argument was an important part of the defense’s strategy. This strategy is also, of course, an implicit recognition by Darrow that—for whatever reasons, noble or otherwise, creative or cowardly—he did not prefer to go head-to-head with the Great Commoner in a battle of pure oratory on the legality and appropriateness of the Butler Act.

In a gesture politically motivated by the sleazy and groveling Mayor of Dayton, Bryan had been dubbed upon his arrival in Dayton an honorary “Colonel” of the Tennessee State Militia.  This blatant show of favoritism was understandably objected to by Darrow in court.  Darrow was then begrudgingly given the same title of “Colonel” (except that the word “temporary” was clumsily attached).  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

The title “Colonel” was a courtesy title used for all attorneys in Tennessee just as the title “General” was a courtesy title used for all attorneys general.  At the Scopes trial, therefore, the title of “Colonel” is used over 100 times.  The first six times occur when the Judge addresses Darrow as “Colonel” (not Bryan), and the next five times occur when one of Bryan’s fellow assistant prosecutors also refers to Darrow by the same title.

All the attorneys in the trial on both sides were referred to by these courtesy titles as appropriate.  Bryan was not referred to as “Col. Bryan” by anybody for any purpose until the fifth day of the trial when he was first referred to in this manner by Col. Malone of the Defense who, in the same sentence, called Bryan a “great leader.”

But it gets even better: Ironically, Bryan actually was a Colonel in the Spanish American war and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery for this reason!  None of the attorneys for the Defense ever served in the military in any capacity.

At the end of the first day in court, the Judge read an announcement from the bench advertising a prayer meeting to be lead by Dayton’s anti-evolutionist minister, the fundamentalist Rev. Jeremiah Brown.  This announcement, understandably, was hotly objected to by Darrow for its “commercial” content.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

There was no Reverend Jeremiah Brown in Dayton and no prayer meeting announced from the bench.

What actually was objected to by Darrow at the trial was not the announcement of a prayer meeting led by a fundamentalist minister outside of court, but a prayer offered by the Court itself in opening each day’s session much like the Supreme Court and Congress open each day’s session with prayer today.  Darrow in his own defense noted that, by the Court's own admission, this practice had not been consistently applied in the Judge’s courtroom in the past and that, under the circumstances of the present case, it was prejudicial to his client. The Prosecution, in response, noted that since the Defense had been alleging that evolution was perfectly consistent with both the Bible and the religious beliefs of many faithful Christians, why should they now display an antagonism toward prayer?

The Judge finally explained that he had opened court in prayer on numerous instances in the past whenever a minister was available.  In deference to concerns raised by the Defense, however, he did turn the selection of ministers for the opening prayer over to the local Pastor’s Association.  This suggestion was met with some amusement as it was assumed that the Association was thoroughly fundamentalist and would select ministers accordingly.  The next day and thereafter, however, names presented for giving the opening prayer included a Rabbi as well as prominent modernist (non-fundamentalist) ministers.

The ACLU in New York was apparently unaware that Darrow would raise a formal objection to opening prayers in the Tennessee courtroom.  The backlash against them and Darrow was considerable and the bold request was publicly and privately (including by the ACLU itself) denounced as ill-advised and inflammatory. (It is worth keeping in mind as it relates to prayer that in its early days the ACLU was largely supported by Quaker and other Christian denominations of pacifist and liberal traditions.)

Later in the trial, the proceedings were moved outside on the Courthouse lawn.  There the Defense objected to a large sign posted on the Courthouse wall that read, “Read Your Bible!” Again the Prosecution asked what the problem was since the Defense was alleging that evolution is consistent with the bible.  It was Bryan, however, who concluded that “if leaving that [sign] up there during the trial makes our brother to offend, I would take it down during the trial.” (p. 282 of the of the trial transcript) The Judge agreed with Bryan and the sign was removed.

At a dark and menacing prayer meeting led by Jeremiah Brown, the Reverend called upon God to strike down Scopes for his belief in evolution and prayed that his soul be consigned to hell.  When the minister’s own daughter tearfully objected to such a harsh condemnation of her fiancé (Scopes), he (the minister) fanatically invoked the same wrath of God upon his daughter “though she be blood of my blood and flesh of my flesh.”  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

There was no such minister in Dayton, no such prayer meeting, and no such fiancée of Scopes.

There is also no Christian doctrine which equates a belief in evolution with sin.  As noted earlier, even the famous series of books that gave rise to the very term “fundamentalist” accommodates theistic evolution and long “days” of creation (lasting millions of years) as orthodox positions for bible-believing Christians.

Bryan was disingenuous about his faith in God and the Bible.  He privately believed that the common people simply needed “something to believe in” and that, even if not exactly true, Christianity fills that purpose.  Darrow, in contrast, thought that the truth, however discomforting, was better than an opiate lie.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Bryan believed in God and the Bible and it has never been suggested (outside of Inherit the Wind) that this belief was an accommodation to people to whom Bryan was merely patronizing.

Mencken commented to Scopes during the trial that Bryan is the only man he knows who can “strut sitting down.”  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

The description of a man being able to “strut sitting down” was made by a newspaperman about Bainbridge Colby, a prominent New York attorney who was being considered by the ACLU to represent Scopes in Dayton.  The description struck Scopes as funny and he noted it about Colby in this autobiography, Center of the Storm (p. 70).  The remark was never made of Bryan who was known as a decent and agreeable man, even by his enemies.

Bryan called Scopes’s fiancée, Rachel, as a surprise witness to the stand.  She was horrified for, in a moment of great vulnerability the evening before, she had confided in Bryan about personal details relating to Scopes’s views on Christianity.  Bryan betrayed this trust, badgered her to tears on the stand, and ultimately humiliated both her and Scopes by shamelessly twisting their words, all at the risk of sabotaging their intended marriage.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Scopes had no fiancée or even girlfriend in Dayton.  Bryan never elicited any testimony from anyone at the trial since he conducted no direct examinations or cross-examinations.  The only surprise witness in the case was called by the Defense (who called Bryan to the stand), not the Prosecution.

When it came time for the Defense to call its first witness—an eminent scientist—the Prosecution objected, vehemently opposing any expert testimony on the subject of evolution.  But, as Darrow countered, how could the jury fairly convict Scopes for teaching “evolution” if they had no real understanding of the term?

Bryan clearly feared a confrontation with any viewpoint different from his own.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

The testimony of one scientist (Dr. Maynard M. Metcalf) was taken for nearly two hours on the fourth day of the trial.  On the following day, a Motion was made by the Prosecution to deny further scientific testimony as irrelevant.  Thereafter commenced a series of crucial speeches arguing in favor of more scientific testimony (by the Defense) and, in opposition, that scientific testimony was irrelevant to the simple factual question of whether or not Scopes had taught evolution to his students. The likely outcome of the trial depended on the resolution of this dispute.

In his written opinion, the Judge ruled against the admission of scientific testimony as irrelevant to the basic charge that would go before the jury.  This ruling, while damaging to the prospects of the trial as a source of entertainment and even scientific instruction, was nevertheless considered to be legally sound and was supported not only on appeal but by such pro-Defense editorial voices as the New York Times and the Chattanooga Times. If human evolution were a valid subject for Tennessee schoolchildren, the place to make that argument was in the State Legislature, not in a trial where the only issue at hand was whether or not the statute (however sensible or ill-advised) was violated by the defendant as charged.

Interestingly, upon hearing the Judge’s ruling, Arthur Hays, an attorney for the Defense, then advanced the proposition that their scientists be permitted to verbally testify on the stand without the jury present for the purposes of (a) assisting the appellate court in its review of the Judge’s decision to exclude scientific testimony and/or (b) possibly persuading the Judge that, because evolution is so obviously true (it would be argued), he had earlier made an error in declaring that the statute was a proper exercise of Tennessee’s legislative powers.

Hays’s proposal had its obvious merits (the show could go on, for one!) but it was Darrow who then refused to allow the scientists to testify.  Why?  Because if the scientists were to take the stand, then Bryan insisted on the right to cross-examine those scientists.  The Judge agreed with Bryan’s point, noting that cross-examinations are important for ascertaining the truth.  Darrow exploded.  He argued that cross-examinations were not proper in this context and that any search for the truth had manifestly not been the goal of the trial thus far.  (This brazen, unfounded insult—combined with several others thrown in—resulted in a contempt of court citation against Darrow the next day, after tempers had subsided and the Judge had given himself an opportunity to fully reflect upon the implications of Darrow's conduct.)

As a compromise measure, the Judge permitted written statements of the Defense’s twelve experts to be read into the record in the hearing of the press.  No contrary opinions to their written statements or cross-examinations of the scientists from the Prosecution were permitted under this arrangement.

So, while it is true that scientific experts did not verbally present their views in open court at the Scopes trial (except for Dr. Metcalf), lengthy written statements in support of evolution were entered into the record.  The reasons driving this result from the standpoint of the Prosecution had a perfectly sound basis in law and the rules of evidence: scientific testimony on the latest evolutionary theories was irrelevant as to whether or not Scopes taught the evolution of mankind in his classroom.  The reasons driving this result from the standpoint of the Defense is considerably more mysterious.  Why wouldn’t Darrow put his scientists on the stand and let their views get into the public arena?  He clearly had the opportunity and pulled away on the pretext of a technicality that, even assuming he was correct, he had raised himself and could have easily tossed aside if he had wanted to!

One good reason for Darrow’s course of action may have been the reluctance of the scientists themselves to testify if they would then be cross-examined by the Prosecution.  Why?  First, the scientific evidence supporting evolution sells considerably better among fellow evolutionists than among Bible believers or even skeptics (creationists, for example, were winning serious public debates against evolutionists in New York, San Francisco, and London in 1925).  Second, many of the scientists were eugenicists (racists) and probably preferred to keep this part of their Darwinist ideology out of the papers.  And third, although the scientists called to Dayton by the Defense were all self-proclaimed “Christians,” they were modernists and denied the Virgin Birth, the bodily Resurrection and, in some cases, the Deity of Christ.  These admissions, once elicited by Bryan from the scientists on the stand, would only bolster the allegation that the scientists rounded-up by Darrow might deny the miracle of creation but—no big surprise—they deny all the miracles in the Bible!  As Hays (an attorney for the Defense) later admitted:  “Cross-examination would have shown that the scientists, while religious men—for we chose only that kind—still did not believe in the Virgin Birth and other miracles.”

(In light of the above considerations, it is also worth noting that of the eleven published names of scientists who were originally scheduled to testify in Dayton as of June 26, 1925—just three weeks before the trial—most never showed up.)

The depths of Darrow’s strategies and motivations, of course, are impossible to know.  However, because the lengthy written statements of all the scientists ultimately did go into the trial transcript without contradiction or cross-examination, it appears that Darrow, Scopes, and the theory of evolution got the better end of the bargain.  Perhaps clever lawyering is the best explanation for Darrow’s conduct, but the charge of being afraid to put scientific evidence on the stand cannot be fairly put at Bryan’s feet and it may well belong at Darrow’s feet and/or his scientific witnesses’s feet instead.

In preventing the testimony of scientific experts, Darrow argued that the Prosecution was persecuting established truths as “incontrovertible as geometry.”  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

As noted above, the Court denied the testimony of scientific experts because it ruled that the theory of evolution was not on trial (as the Defense contended), but rather the simple matter of whether Scopes had violated a statute recently passed by the Tennessee legislature.  To strictly confine a trial to the relevant facts may or may not have been a wise trial strategy by the Prosecution (especially from a public relations standpoint) but it was legally correct and is certainly not the same thing as “persecuting” evolution.

On the issue of whether or not evolution is as “incontrovertible as geometry,” it can be fairly stated that the only scientific testimony offered in 1925 which has remained “incontrovertible” until today is the evolutionists' perennial claim that “evolution is absolutely true and beyond any dispute.”  Everything else about the theory has undergone dramatic re-datings, reinterpretations, reformulations, and other significant shifts.

Enduring a gallery of hooting Christians and having been unreasonably denied the opportunity to put any expert witnesses on the stand (the final straw), Darrow asked to be removed from the case.  When the Judge asked why, Darrow swept his arm over the filled courtroom and said he had over 200 reasons.  Then, looking to the bench, he added that he also had “one more reason” (meaning the Judge himself) and stated his belief that the Court was engaged in upholding a statute reminiscent of the sixteenth century when bigots burned men who dared to bring “enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind.”  For the insinuation that the Judge was bigoted, Darrow was cited for contempt on the spot.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Darrow was cited for contempt—not on the spot but the next day, after the Judge had considered the matter overnight—because of critical remarks made to the Judge in rapid succession to the effect that:  (1) the verdict in the Scopes case was a foregone conclusion, (2) the Judge was not genuinely interested in fairness as a part of the proceedings (“Has there been any effort to ascertain the truth in this case?”), (3) the Defense could only hope to get a fair hearing from another court, (4) courts are often a “mockery,” (5) permitting the Prosecution to cross-examine any scientific witnesses put on the stand by the Defense would, in effect, be a show of prejudice by the Court against Scopes, and (6) the Defense’s request to take the whole rest of the day to enable the scientists to prepare their written remarks, when questioned by the Judge as to the length of time requested, was obvious evidence of his further bias (p. 206 of the trial transcript).

Darrow later admitted in court that his string of insults had gotten out of hand and “one thing snapped out after another” (p. 225).

In citing Darrow for contempt of court, the Judge set bond at $2,000 but then vindictively increased it to $4,000 after a flippant remark by Darrow.  The Judge also put Darrow in the custody of the bailiff and was reluctant to accept any arrangement for the payment of Darrow’s bond whereby Darrow could avoid spending the night in jail. Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Bond was set for Darrow at $5,000 (p. 212 of the trial transcript).  It was never raised, never collected, and later forgiven (p. 226).  There was never any discussion by anyone about Darrow being put in the custody of the bailiff, not being able to post a bond, or having to spend time in jail.  

There were no contemporary criticisms of the Judge in any newspaper of which we are aware as to either his demeanor or his actions relating to the citation of Darrow for contempt of court.

The next day Bryan, at the bold and surprise request of opposing counsel, took the stand when called by Darrow to testify as an expert on the Bible.  Bryan’s co-counsel smelled a rat and objected but was powerless to oppose the pompous, egotistic, self-assured politician.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

This much is true—Darrow’s calling of opposing counsel to take the stand was a bold and surprising request, a “first” of its kind in jurisprudential history.  What is left out of the Inherit the Wind account is that Bryan agreed to take the stand on the explicit condition that Darrow take the stand on the following day and answer questions put to him by Bryan.  The Judge agreed to the arrangement. 

Although never explicitly agreeing to do so, Darrow gave every impression that he and his co-counsel would be willing to take the stand to explain their views (see trial transcript, p. 284).  This impression was reinforced at various points during the cross-examination (see two instances on p. 288 of the trial transcript).

It is not known whether Darrow and his co-counsel would have actually taken the stand as Darrow implied they would.  The Judge decided against this course of action (that is, permitting the attorneys to cross-examine each other) at the beginning of the next day’s session.

At the onset of his cross-examination of Bryan, Darrow referred to Darwin’s Theory of the Evolution and the Descent of Man and asked Bryan, “Have you ever read it?”

“I am not the least interested in the pagan hypothesis of that book,” shot back the answer.

“Never read it?” Darrow asked again, only a little surprised.

“And I never will,” Bryan proudly retorted.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Bryan was thoroughly aware of the scientific arguments both for and against evolution and had read Darwin’s Descent of Man in its entirety in 1905—20 years before the trial.  Further, it was Bryan who introduced Darwin’s The Descent of Man at the trial, not Darrow.  This introduction, when proposed, was objected to by the Defense although the objection appears to have been made in humor (see p. 177 of the trial transcript).

Incidentally, Bryan introduced Darwin’s book to prove that Darwin had, in fact, taught that man had evolved directly from monkeys, a view that had become outdated by 1925 but that the Defense had erroneously insisted was not taught by Darwin.  (See p. 176 of the trial transcript.)

On the stand, the literalist Bryan stated his view that “everything in the Bible should be accepted exactly as it is given there.”  Further questioning showed Bryan even willing to affirm that the sun rotates around the earth since the Bible literally“teaches” that it was the sun which “stopped in the sky” during a miraculously prolonged battle involving the Israelites back in Joshua’s day.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Of course Bryan did not believe that the sun circles the earth.  The statement that the sun “stopped” or “stood still,” said Bryan on the stand, was a figure of speech.

On the more serious topic of Biblical interpretation, Bryan’s complete statement on the stand omits the word “exactly” and clearly shows that he was not the literalist straw man depicted in Inherit the Wind:

Darrow—Do you claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?

Bryan—I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there; some of the Bible is given illustratively.  For instance: “Ye are the salt of the earth.” I would not insist that man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God’s people.

Bryan did testify as to his belief that Jonah was literally swallowed by a great fish and that the earth may have literally stopped rotating on its axis (giving a viewer the impression of the sun “standing still”), as described by Joshua.

To summarize Bryan’s position, he did not believe in a wooden literalism.  He did, however, believe in miracles and did not, like the modernists, seek ways to recast all Biblical miracles as literary metaphors or purely naturalistic events.

When asked by Darrow about all the “begats” in the Bible (“Arphaxad begat Salah,” and so forth), Bryan was caught admitting that sex is the “original sin” of the Bible—a strange and ironic confession under the circumstances, given how basic procreation is to mankind’s biological survival.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

This portion of the movie is entirely invented.  The topic of sex never came up in the actual trial.  Sex, moreover, is not the original sin in the Bible and no one even semi-literate in theology would concur with this schoolboy's assumption.  Neither procreation nor marital sex is identified as sinful in the Bible.

Bryan testified in court that the world was created in six 24-hour days but then went even farther.  Based on calculations made by Bishop Usher in the seventeenth century, Bryan testified that the earth was created “exactly” in 4004 B.C. on October 23 at 9:00 a.m.—“a literal fact,” he added, “not my opinion.”  When he was then asked how such a date and time could be ascertained given that the sun was not yet created until the fourth day, Bryan wilted: “The Bible says it’s so.”

Darrow then drove home the point:  without a sun to tell time, “Isn’t it possible that [the first day] could have been 25 hours?”  Bryan waffled and Mencken’s eyes brightened as he saw the ingenious trap that Darrow then expertly closed:  “It could have been 30 hours, could have been a week, could have been a month, could have been a year, could have been 100 years, or it could have been ten million years!”  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Far from naming a date (much less an hour of the day!), Bryan testified on two different occasions during his cross-examination that he could not say how long ago the earth was created.  His own view was that the “days” in Genesis were long periods of time (see Gen. 2:4) but, graciously, he was also quick to add that he “would not attempt to argue as against anybody who wanted to believe in literal days.”  According to Bryan, “I think it would be just as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the earth in 6 days as in 6 years or in 6 million years or in 600 million years.”  (p. 302 of trial transcript)

Thus, the “day-age” (or “old earth”) theory of Genesis was already favored by Bryan and not sprung upon him by Darrow as an ingeniously clever trap.  It was Bryan, not Darrow, who testified, in effect, “It could have been 30 hours, could have been a week, could have been a month, could have been a year, could have been 100 years, or it could have been ten million years!”—except that Bryan was willing to go much farther back in time than his counterpart in Inherit the Wind.

Incidentally, it is often assumed that the existence of our sun is required to properly demarcate the length of time we call a “day” so that the first three days of Genesis could not have been 24-hour days. This assumption is faulty, however, insofar as all that is required for a 24-hour day is (1) a spherical earth and (2) a source of light, both of which Genesis says were created on the first day (which day is also described as having an “evening” and a “morning” just like the days after the sun was created on the fourth day).

As the cross-examination progressed and Bryan conceded that even a sponge has the right to think (if it can think at all, and notwithstanding Bryan's denial of mankind's right to think a la the Butler Act), the tide of sentiment in the courtroom gallery slowly but surely turned against the Great Commoner.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

There was no discussion in the trial of sponges or their abilities or rights to think.  As for the audience switching alliances from Bryan to Darrow during the trial, there is no evidence of this.  The audience laughed and applauded both the Prosecution and the Defense attorneys as appropriate from the beginning of the trial to the end.

Quite unlike the dark and sinister tone to the trial depicted by Inherit the Wind, the actual trial transcript (which noted the audience’s laughter and applause when it occurred) seems to communicate a battle of intellect and wit in an atmosphere of excitement and, for the most part, good-natured humor.  Darrow does, however, inject a nasty tone into the trial on several occasions.

Finally, the Butler Act did not hinder Scopes’s freedom to think, only his freedom as an employee to teach a doctrine that was not hired to teach.  The Butler Act did not extend outside of the public schools, as was pointed out by the Prosecution at the trial:

Mr. Scopes might have taken his stand on the street corners and expounded until he became hoarse as a result of his effort and we could not interfere with him; but he cannot go into a school house, which is controlled by the legislature and supported by the public funds of the state, and teach this theory. (p. 67-68 of the trial transcript)

Unable to answer any of Darrow’s questions, Bryan fell back on the questionable claim that God had given him special revelation to oppose the evil teachings of Darwin just as He (God) had previously revealed various directives to the prophets of the Old Testament.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Bryan never made any such claim on the stand or anywhere else.

Near the end of the cross-examination, Darrow shouted, “Supposing Mr. [Scopes] had the influence and the lung power to railroad through the State legislature a law saying that only Darwin could be taught in the schools!”

“Ridiculous!  Ridiculous!” answered Bryan.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

As “ridiculous” as such a proposition may have seemed 50+ years ago when Inherit the Wind was written, this turns out to be the most accurate line of the movie: only Darwinism can be taught in the public schools today.

Reduced to a mindless babbler, Bryan began defensively reciting the books of the Bible like a determined schoolboy, “Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers . . ..” 

From a gallery of stunned and embarrassed onlookers, Mrs. Bryan approached the bench and, later, comforted her pathetic husband in her arms, rocking and consoling him, “Baby, baby.”  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Nothing remotely approaching this scene ever happened at the actual Scopes trial.

In court the next day, Darrow, Mencken, and their client, Scopes, nervously awaited the verdict of the jury.

There was no nervous awaiting for the jury’s verdict. After the Darrow/Bryan cross-examination of the prior day, the Court reversed its previously stated intentions and decided that the testimony of Bryan (and the prospective testimony of Darrow being cross-examined) was not relevant to whether or not John Scopes taught his students that mankind descended from a lower order of animals.  Normally at this point, therefore, with all the witnesses having been heard, the Judge would have heard the closing arguments from both the Prosecution and the Defense.  Only then would the jurors be asked to retire and deliberate their verdict while both sides, presumably, nervously awaited.

Darrow, however, had a different plan—one omitted in Inherit the Wind.  After it was determined that there would be no more witnesses, he cleverly asked the Court to find his client guilty—another “first” in jurisprudential history—thus taking away any opportunity for Bryan to deliver his highly-anticipated closing address to the jury.  In Darrow’s words:

We have all been here quite a while and I say it in perfectly good faith, we have no witnesses to offer, no proof to offer on the issues that the Court has laid down here, that Mr. Scopes did teach what the children said he taught, that man descended from a lower order of animals—we do not mean to contradict that, and I think to save time we will ask the Court to bring in the jury and instruct the jury to find the defendant guilty.  We make no objection to that and it will save a lot of time and I think that should be done. (p. 306 of the trial transcript)

With this highly unorthodox request having been advanced by the defendant’s own attorneys, the Prosecution could hardly insist upon a closing argument from its side only.  Bryan, the great orator, was thus finagled out of his closing argument and Darrow proved to be clever if not cowardly.

Scopes was convicted by a reluctant jury wearied by their deliberations over the difficult issues presented in the case. The verdict, alas, was “guilty.”

In his one statement made at the conclusion of his trial, Scopes explained that he is not a public speaker, “just a school teacher.”

“Not any more, you ain’t!” shouted an angry Christian woman.

The clear implication is that Scopes not only lost the trial, but that he lost his job for teaching evolution.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Boiled down to the only factual issue presented by the case (whether or not Scopes taught that mankind evolved from a lower order of animals), the jury took one vote and returned a guilty verdict in a matter of nine minutes.

Scopes was never fired; he was extended an offer to continue on as a coach and teacher in the fall at Dayton High School.  He elected, however, to attend graduate school on a scholarship from monies raised at the trial from the Baltimore Evening Sun and the scientific witnesses.

When the Judge, under political pressure to go lightly on Scopes because of the bad press the trial was generating, sentenced Scopes to pay a fine of only $100, Bryan was indignant.  He vindictively insisted upon a larger fine, a “more drastic” punishment because of the gravity of the offense and to “make an example of this transgressor.”  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

As is clear from reading the trial transcript, there was never an issue in anyone’s mind that this case involved anything other than the minimum fine of $100 provided for in the Butler Act.  

Far from being one who would insist on a larger fine, Bryan opposed the inclusion of any fine in the Butler Act.  Prior to the passage of the Tennessee statute (which Bryan did not draft), Bryan was consulted on the wording and recommended striking the fine.  Bryan was directly responsible for a similar Florida statute which contained no fine for being violated.

Before the Scopes trial even began, Bryan had publicly offered to pay any fine that may be levied against Scopes.

After the verdict, Bryan pathetically attempted to deliver a 60-page speech (“just a few remarks, your Honor”) before the trial was officially declared to be over.  Darrow objected and the Court, for the first time in the trial, agreed with him.  After the gavel had fallen, no one paid the slightest attention to Bryan’s shouted pronouncements as he vainly addressed the departing crowd.  In mid-speech (his second mindless babble of the trial), Bryan fell in a mortal heap, presumably struck dead by God Himself.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Once the Defense waived their right to make a closing argument on behalf of their own client, Bryan never attempted to deliver his on behalf of the State. This scene in Inherit the Wind, therefore, is ficticious.

Bryan did, in fact, die in Dayton but not until five days after the trial due to complications most likely relating to his diabetic condition or his having been struck rather forcefully by a car while he was crossing a street in Dayton (the accident knocked him down but did not hospitalize Bryan).

Far from defeated and despairing, trial historian Prof. Richard Cornelius describes Bryan’s last days as follows:

In the five days following the trial, Bryan [edited] a 15,000 word speech he had hoped to give at the trial before the proceedings were cut short, inspected sites for a school the people of Dayton were interested in building, traveled several hundred miles to deliver speeches in various cities and speak to crowds totaling 50,000, was hit by a car, consulted with doctors about his diabetic condition, and conferred with printers about his last message.  On Sunday, July 26, he drove from Chattanooga to Dayton, participated in a church service, ate a light noon meal, and died quietly in his sleep that afternoon.

After learning of Bryan’s death, Darrow explained to the cynic Mencken that “there was much greatness in the man,” and “A giant once lived in that body.”

In contrast to Darrow, Mencken refused to sentimentally mourn the death of the Bible-thumping boob and surmised, “He died of a busted belly.”   Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Upon first hearing of Bryan’s death five days after the trial, Darrow (not Mencken) surmised “He died of a busted belly.”  Mencken, sharing a similar sentiment, is said to have remarked, “We killed the son-of-a-bitch.”

In the final scene of Inherit the Wind, the ACLU's Clarence Darrow claps together the Bible and Darwin’s Origin of Species, figuratively embracing the best of both.  He then leaves the courtroom striding forward with a tolerant, informed, generous and optimistic eye to the future.  Click here for a video clip from ITW.

Certainly today’s ACLU does not see a place in the public school classrooms for both the Origin of Species and any serious critique of or alternative to Darwinian theory.

Perhaps even clasping both books together as Darrow does is not the most fitting ending from the standpoint of fairness and tolerance.  Only where there is a separation of school and state can there be a peaceful accommodation of all viewpoints without coercing any one citizen to subsidize the viewpoints of others.  As Thomas Jefferson properly observed, “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”  (Click here for a web site providing this separation-of-school-and-state perspective.)

As for optimism, Darrow’s materialistic worldview pushed him toward a bleak determinism, much like Darwin and Nietzsche, and he is quoted at the end of his life to have said, “Life is like a ship on the sea, tossed by every wave and by every wind; a ship headed for no port and no harbor, with no rudder, no compass, no pilot; simply floating for a time, then lost in the waves.”

Apart from losing the trial in Dayton and having now to appeal from a $100 fine, Darrow crushed Bryan, plain and simple.

Largely due to the influence of Inherit the Wind, it seems an unquestioned fact of history that Darrow crushed Bryan, even if Scopes was technically found guilty for teaching evolution.  This “fact,” as suggested below, may be simplistic. The evidence for Bryan’s victory in Dayton is actually quite compelling.

First, Bryan was believed to have won the cross-examination conducted by Darrow in the judgment of a large majority of people who observed it—a lucky crowd that did not include the vast majority of reporters who were otherwise in Dayton to cover the trial. This odd circumstance is the result of the suffocating heat that summer and Darrow calling Bryan to the stand at the end of Malone's reading long and boring scientific statements into the trial record. Because these statements were going to be provided later in written form, nearly every reporter in Dayton took off swimming at a local pond. When they returned, the cross-examination was over and they were forced to report on the trial's most dramatic event second-hand from a biased source. We suspect the editors of these reporters were never aprised of this humerous incident, and the biased source kept it under his hat until he wrote his autobiography Center of the Storm by . . . John Scopes!

An analysis of the trial transcript, further, eveals that Bryan’s answers were reasonable, intelligent, and often very witty.  Darrow, on the other hand, lost his temper, insulted Bryan repeatedly, and asked questions for which there were obviously no known answers.  (For example, Darrow asked Bryan, “Do you know anything about how many people there were in Egypt 3,500 years ago, or how many people there were in China 5,000 years ago?”  When Bryan simply answered as any honest person would, “No,” Darrow then rolled his eyes and asked, “Well, have you ever tried to find out?”).  Alan Dershowitz concurs with this assessment when he writes, “For the most part, [Bryan] actually seems to have gotten the better of Clarence Darrow in the argument over the Bible.”

Second, as noted by Prof. Cornelius (cited earlier), after the trial there was a quick and enthusiastic effort to found a new college in Dayton in honor of Bryan.  (Bryan College stands today.  Click here for more information.)  This effort is hard to reconcile with the portrayal of Bryan as badly beaten, shamed, and practically deranged.  To suggest that such support for Bryan can be attributed to the lunacy of Dayton’s leading citizens and thousands of financial supporters, of course, further complicates the more limited assertion that just Bryan was the lunatic. (There is, incidentally, no Clarence Darrow College.)

Third, after Dayton the ACLU tried strenuously to remove Darrow from the Scopes case because his blatantly anti-Christian and otherwise offensive conduct at the trial hindered the cause for academic freedom rather than advanced it.  If Darrow was so brilliant in Dayton, then why did the ACLU attempt to fire him after the case—and not once, but several times, using almost every means of influence available to them?  (See Larson, Summer for the Gods, pp. 197 ff.)  So much for the feisty but honorable secular saint portrayed in Inherit the Wind and elsewhere. He was a pariah to those in a position to judge: the ACLU.

Fourth, the political movement to pass statutes preventing the teaching that mankind evolved grew for several years after the trial in Dayton.  (Like the Butler Act, those statutes similarly only pertained to teaching as fact the evolution of mankind in the public schools.) If Bryan were crushed in Dayton, the movement he backed would likely have died with him rather than continue on for many years thereafter.

Fifth, Darrow was caught in a very fundamental contradiction in court and it was he (rather than Bryan) who arguably took the soundest drubbing of the two in Dayton. This incident is almost never mentioned in trial accounts and the circumstances were as follows: After Darrow had repeatedly trumpeted the benefits and necessity of teaching Darwinian evolution to high schoolers in the Tennessee schools, Bryan quoted from the trial transcript of a first-degree murder case that had occurred one year earlier in Illinois, the famous case of Leopold and Loeb.  In this earlier case, Darrow said that his client (Loeb) should not be given the death penalty because it was the teachers and the universities that had filled the young murderer’s mind with Darwinian ideas—ideas that more evolved humans should be able to kill and destroy lesser humans with impunity.  Darrow, in other words, had just defended a teen-aged murderer the year before who was a dedicated follower of Darwin and Nietzsche and who had become so enthralled with the “survival of the fittest” cult that he had killed another boy in cold blood just to demonstrate his superiority. Darrow, in Loeb's defense, blamed the teachers of the dangerous (not the ideas themselves) and so naturally, in the Scopes trial, he attempted to backtrack from the implication that what those teachers had taught Loeb wasliterally!deadly. But the attempt was futile and Darrow abandoned it with the empty assertion that his words in that earlier case spoke for themselves and needed no defense.  (pp. 178ff of the trial transcript)

During the trial Darrow asked one of Scopes' students whether the teaching that he (the student) had evolved from a single cell had “hurt” him any. The boy responded "No" and the question got a few laughs. The question was put into a more sober light by Bryan later in the trial when, in the context of the Leopold and Loeb discussion, Bryan recalled Darrow's question to the student and asked, “Why didn't he ask the boy's mother?” (pp. 128 and 180 of the trial transcript) Indeed, one wonders if Darrow ever asked Loeb if the doctrine ever hurt him . . . or his murder victim.

Sixth, the lead Prosecutor for the State of Tennessee (Tom Stewart) went on to run for U.S. Senate and won twice. It is unlikely that if he was widely perceived to have participated in a bungled trial of such size and importance that he would then go on to win two important state-wide elections.

Seventh, according to trial historian (and Pulitzer Prize winner) Edward Larson, the idea that Bryan was badly defeated in Dayton can be traced back most directly to the highly-biased accounts of the trial by Mencken and, just as importantly, to a popular historian (as opposed to an academic historian) who wrote a “creative” account of the trial in the 1930s, years after the actual events.   (See Larson, Summer for the Gods, p. 225.)  Inherit the Wind, however, has easily been the most influential sculptor of the public’s impression of what happened in 1925.

Eighth, after the cross-examination, it was Darrow who chickened out from a head-to-head delivery of each sides' closing arguments to the jury, not Bryan.

On the other hand, in the sense that evolution is the only explanation for life on earth that can be taught in public schools today, victory for the Defense in the Scopes trial cannot be denied.  In fact, it can be described as total.  An explanation for this result, however, might better be found outside the limited circumstances of the Scopes trial in 1925 given the compelling evidence suggested above for Bryan’s victory in Dayton.

The lower court got it wrong in the Scopes case.  When cooler heads prevailed (we can assume), the Defense team won on appeal and the Dayton decision was reversed.

The lower court was upheld on appeal against every legal attack levied against its rulings and against lengthy arguments that the Butler Act was unconstitutional.  Only a technical matter pertaining to the Judge setting the dollar amount of the fine (rather than the jury)—a legal infirmity, ironically, that was not pointed out and argued by the Defense on appeal—caused the case to be remanded to the lower court to try Scopes again (which they strongly recommended against). Remanding a case is not the same as reversing it.

The message of Inherit the Wind is that it is best to be fair, open-minded, and tolerant.

If fairness, open-mindedness, and tolerance of all viewpoints is the message of Inherit the Wind, then why are the film’s constant departures from the facts of the actual trial slanted to reinforce a consistent bias:  that Christianity is a dangerous, backward, prudish, and intolerant belief system embraced by ignorant bigots?  As Carol Iannone writes in her article, “The Truth about Inherit the Wind,”

The [movie] reveals a great deal about a mentality that demands open-mindedness and excoriates dogmatism, only to advance its own certainties more insistently.  [Inherit the Wind] promotes tolerance and intellectual integrity but stoops to vilifying the opposition, falsifying reality, and distorting history in the service of its agenda. 

(Click here for the complete article.)

Inherit the Wind never claims to be true, so why do certain (thin-skinned) people bother showing that it’s false in one little particular or another?  To make it clear that the story is fictional, even the names of the participants are changed!  Moreover, the play version of Inherit the Wind clearly states in the prologue that “This is not history.”

But, (1) the movie makes no similar disclaimer that what viewers are about to see is a fictionalized account, (2) at least 115 precise, specific, and accurate historical facts of the Scopes trial and its participants are seemlessly intertwined with the fictional elements and thereby give the entire movie a highly misleading veneer of historically reliability, and (3) advocates of the Inherit-the-Wind-is-just-fiction-so-stop-complaining position can rarely identify those instances where Inherit the Wind is inaccurate so, in effect, ITW stands more or less as truth in the minds of even these advocates.

If one rents the DVD of Inherit the Wind and watches the theatrical trailer, the director (Stanley Kramer) talks about refereeing a great fight between two giants battling over issues of monumental significace. This sort of introduction makes considerably more sense if he viewed the movie as historical, of course, as opposed to fictional.

Finally, many schools continue to show Inherit the Wind in history, social studies, and even science classes as a reference work for better understanding the 1920s, the fundamentalist movement, or the differences between science and religion. No less a reporter than Edward R. Murrow of CBS News saw no problem with narrating a brief historical documentary on the Scopes Trial that freely integrates words and images from the actual trial with the semi-fictional movie, ITW. Clearly it is not easy for either Edward Murrow or the average observer to differentiate where the Scopes Trial history ends and the ITW fiction begins.

If Inherit the Wind is a metaphore, it is a bigoted metaphore. One cannot claim the shield of metaphore while bearing the sword of bigotry. The effects of libelously portraying the Christians in Dayton as goons and idiots can be seen in numerous student films as this one, the main point of which is to score points by smearing Christians.

The play Inherit the Wind is less about the Scopes “Monkey Trial” than it is about McCarthyism and opposing those people who attempt to suppress the viewpoints of others.

It is said that the person who adapted the stage script by Lawrence and Lee for the silver screen was a blacklisted member of the communist party (Nedrick Young). If true, Mr. Young could not find employment among the major Hollywood studios or in the US State Department on the basis of his political beliefs. Similarly, evolutionists who insisted on teaching that mankind evolved from lower order of animals could not teach in the public schools in Tenessee until the Butler Act was repealed.

The common denominator in these cases is employees who are in a political minority and who are not free to hold or espouse certain viewpoints by virture of what their employers think is appropriate.

While one can sympathize with communists and evolutionists in these cases, it can be surprisingly difficult to imagine an alternative paradigm. In the area of biology, for instance, one can imagine a law giving legal protection (academic freedom) to public school teachers who wish to challenge any aspect of the theory of evolution on scientific (rather than religious) grounds. Such a law was, in fact, overwhelmingly passed by the Tennesee General Assembly on April 7, 2011. Readers of Mother Jones magazine, at least, are almost unanimously appaled based on published comments.

Academic freedom is critically important and any state-sponsored restriction upon it is unacceptable, especially if religiously motivated.

As a practical matter, carefully ascertaining who should determine the content of public education is important too.  Many people in 1925 believed that the those who pay the teachers’ salaries had both the political authority (through their state legislatures) and moral responsibility as parents to ultimately control what their children were taught.  As for the purist who insists on unfettered academic freedom, such a position has the institutional disadvantage of employees effectively having more authority than their employers. While sounding noble at first blush, a teacher who refuses to teach what he or she has been hired to teach (or insists on teaching what he or she is prohibited from teaching) should be removed for the benefit of the institution and the customers (or students) it serves. That teacher may then start his or her own institution where, one suspects, different guidelines will of necessity have to be enforced in order to preserve the new character and serve the new customers of the start-up institution.

The Tennessee Act did not infringe upon the larger principle of academic freedom insofar as any teacher, group of teachers, student, or group of students could still receive instruction in a private school that desired to teach the evolution of mankind as a doctrinal distinctive.  This, of course, is what is required of all private, denominational schools (such as Jewish, Lutheran, and Catholic schools) which also adhere to particular doctrinal distinctives.

The Scopes trial was the greatest trial in United States history.

No quarrel with that one! Click here for a concurring opinion.