Rhea County Courthouse, Dayton, TN

With J.J. Kwashnak

August 2009

With over forty percent of polled adults question the validity of Evolution, one's thoughts go back to the summer of 1925 when America's attention turned to a small courthouse in Tennessee where the case of Scopes vs. The State of Tennessee was being argued. The so called "Scopes Monkey Trial" pitted two of the preeminent speakers and jurists of the turn of the century against each other: Clarence Darrow for the defense and William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution.

In short, (fuller Wikipedia article) in 1925 the state of Tennessee passed the Butler Act, which forbid public school teaching to deny the biblical origins of man, and forbid the teaching of man's origins through evolution from primates. The ACLU searched for a test case to challenge the act and found it in John T. Scopes, a substitute science teacher in Clarke County. The trial was assigned to the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee.

Scopes Museum

Clarence Darrow was a world famous defense lawyer (and agnostic) who had the previous year been the defense lawyer in the Leopold and Loeb murder trial in Chicago. Across the aisle, he faced William Jennings Bryan, a devout Presbyterian and three time Democratic candidate for President.  A forceful orator he was famous for, among other speeches, delivering his "Cross of Gold" speech at the 1896 party convention.

Rhea County Courthouse

During the course of the trial, Darrow called his opposing counsel to the stand as an expert witness on the Bible, which the Judge later struck from the official record.

Scopes Trial Courtroom

After a week of verbal fireworks the court ruled in favor of the prosecution and Scopes was fined $100.

NOT was decidedly left off the witness list, so he delivered his comments in the courtroom 85 years later.

William Jennings Bryan

William Jennings Bryan

Five days after the trial, Bryan returned to Dayton from Chattanooga for a church picnic where he died in his sleep while taking a nap after the picnic.  He is commemorated with a statue in front of the courthouse.

Five years later, in 1930, Bryan College was opened in Dayton to honor his legacy and to educate in Christina liberal arts.

Scopes Trial Marker

The following year, the case was appealed to the State Supreme Court where the court rejected the arguments of appeal, but overturned the conviction on a technicality - the judge should not have decided upon the file, the jury should have. Judges, under law, could not set fines at that time in excess of $50, and the Butler Act called for a fine of at least $100.  

Despite the turnover, the Attorney General decided not to retry the case.

In 1967, some 42 years later, the state legislature repealed the Butler Act.  In 1968, the United State Supreme Court rules that such acts were unconstitutional on separation of church and state grounds.

After the trial, it seems that Scopes was innocent after all.  He claimed that he actually had skipped the lesson on Evolution in his teaching.

NOT is still not sure what he's descended from.

North American Travel

United States Travel

Tennessee Travel

Photos courtesy of J.J. Kwashnak

Last Updated January 2010