Monkey Business

Today, July 10, is the 85th Anniversary of the beginning of the "Scopes Monkey Trial," the famous Tennessee court case that was ostensibly concerned with the issue of whether John T. Scopes, a 24-year old science teacher, was breaking the law by teaching evolution in a school, but soon (and forever after) became a historical touchstone in American educational history. A good overview (though some of the details are wrong) can be found here.

The facts of the case are probably known to many, but include some interesting historical trivia:


1. Scopes was actually found guilty. He had broken the law against teaching evolution and was fined, though the case was later overturned on a technicality.

2. Much of the trial was held outside, due to the sweltering July heat in Dayton, Tennessee.

3. The entire affair lasted only two weeks.

4. William Jennings Bryan, perhaps America's greatest orator and a powerful force in American politics at the turn of the last century (and the erstwhile Svengali of the anti-evolution claque), died five days after the original verdict in the Scopes case.

5. Clarence Darrow (the lawyer for the defendant, and forever after the American image of the genteel Southern lawyer) saw his final major court case, a murder trial in Hawaii, become a national celebrity case in 1932, with final arguments by the lawyers broadcast over the radio in the United States as the O.J. Simpson trial of its time.

Jim Keane, S.J.


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7 years 10 months ago
If you saw the movie, ''Inherit the Wind'', you saw something that was nothing like the actual trial.  Darrow was an unscrupulous man and the kindly, enlightened portrayal in the movie by Spencer Tracey is a sham and in no way depicted the actual man or the actual event.
Scopes was not found guilty.  Darrow had Scopes plead guilty when it became clear that the PR campaign for the trial was going to change direction.  
It only lasted two weeks because Darrow cut is short.
Bryant probably died because of Darrow's dishonorable and deceitful tactics that were meant for only one thing, to humilate Bryan.
Darrow was not a genteel Southern lawyer.  He was a low life.
Darrow was a hero of mine while in college.  Obviously, I changed that opinion.
7 years 10 months ago
I highly recommend Edward J Larson's Pulitzer-Prize winning history of the trial and its aftermath, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. There's much to learn about the incident there and - for most of us - far more to unlearn.
7 years 10 months ago
''Inherit the Wind'' appeared in 1960, fifty years ago.  A novel about a genteel Southern lawyer also appeared in 1960.  That was ''To Kill a Mocking Bird'' by Harper Lee which is generating some stories recently due to the anniversary of its publishing.  The movie appeared two years later in 1962.  If you never seen either one, make sure you see the latter and forget the former.  Though as I remember, Spencer Tracey  was very good.
Andrew Strada
7 years 10 months ago
In addition to being the "erstwhile Svengali of the anti-evolution claque" (a rather uncharitable characterization of someone with a long and distinguished career in public service), Mr. Bryan was three times the candidate of the Democratic party for President of the United States and a Secretary of State who resigned on principle when he felt Wilson was resolved to enter WWI.
Clarence Darrow, born and raised in Ohio and spending most of his adult life in Illinois, is a strange model for a "genteel Southern lawyer".  Mr. Darrow's obituary in the New York Times stated, 
"A kindly, homely personage who dressed in the certainty that clothes do not make the man, he went through life declaring himself an agnostic. But three years ago he declared he no longer had any doubts. He proclaimed himself a materialist whom it had taken fifty years to find out that there is nothing after death."
So maybe on some things that matter, Bryan was right and Darrow was wrong?  Whether or not there is life after death would be considered by some to be far more important than whether great-grandfather walked on two legs or four.



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