Celebrated lawyer Clarence Darrow, in suspenders, leaning on the desk in front of his defense team in Dayton, Tennessee, July 1925. The defendant, science teacher John Scopes, is in a white shirt with his elbows on the desk.
IS POSSIBLE THAT THE PLACE IN AMERICA LEAST PREPARED TO welcome journalists of the stamp of Harold Ross and his wearily sophisticated writers was the small mountain town of Dayton, Tennessee, population 1,800. But in the summer of 1925, according to the journalist Joseph Wood Krutch, Dayton was “selected as the site of an Armageddon.” Over two hundred eager reporters, one from as far away as London, moved into this pious, provincial town to chronicle a great clash between the forces of progress and the forces of conservatism.
In the 1920s the Deep South was dominated by evangelical Protestant fundamentalism which taught a literal acceptance of the Scriptures. If one could not believe that Christ actually rose from the dead, ministers argued, then one could not believe a word of what He said. Fundamentalists celebrated ignorance, preaching that simple faith was more important than all the learning in the world. Books, apart from the Bible, were violently mistrusted. If their contents were true, then they should already be in the Bible; if false, then reading them would imperil the soul. One Georgia assemblyman said that a man needed only three books: the Bible, as a guide to behavior; the hymn book, for poetry; and the almanac, to predict the weather.
This return to the source was, like the revival of the Ku Klux Klan (which exploited fundamentalists in its recruiting process), a howl of protest against the forces of modernity sweeping the United States—urbanization, industry, immigration, technology, immorality. Anyone who dissented from their view of the universe was by definition a sinner, a heretic and an enemy. “The modernist juggles the Scripture statements of His deity and denies His virgin birth,” raged one fundamentalist minister, “making Him a Jewish bastard, born out of wedlock, and stained forever with the shame of His Mother’s immorality.” Hearing this at the Algonquin, Dorothy Parker and her friends would have screamed with laughter and called for another cocktail. The chasm between the two groups was unbridgeable.
Perhaps the bloodiest battleground between fundamentalists and modernists was the relatively new science of evolution. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species had been published in 1859. Just over twenty years later, when Darwin was still alive, the presidents of nine leading Eastern colleges were asked by the New York Observer whether their faculties taught evolution; the response was a shocked and unanimous no. Even though the theory of survival of the fittest would be used to promote racism and eugenics during the early twentieth century, at this stage the mere idea that man was descended from apes was unthinkable.
By the 1920s, though, progressive intellectuals had accepted Darwinism (and the concept that science would one day explain everything) so entirely that it had become an article of modernist faith. When a bill prohibiting the teaching of man’s evolution from animals was brought before the Delaware legislature, it was facetiously referred to the Committee on Fish, Game and Oysters.
But pious Southerners still believed that the entire truth about the creation of the universe was contained in Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”
The notion that man was descended from apes was seen as blasphemy. As a French visitor to the United States in the mid-twenties observed, one of the frightening implications of Darwinism, for Southerners who believed implicitly in white supremacy, was its message to black people. “If the monkey can become a man, may the Negro not hope to become white?” The Ku Klux Klan added Darwinists to their list of anti-American conspiracists which included Catholics, blacks, Jews and Bolsheviks. After being ousted from the Klan’s high command in 1924, Edward Clarke became an anti-evolution campaigner.
Throughout the early 1920s the fundamentalist crusade to ban the teaching of evolution in schools gained pace. When the Texas legislature rejected a bill permitting censorship of school books, the state governor, “Ma” Ferguson, declared, “I am a Christian mother, and I am not going to let that kind of rot go into Texas textbooks.” She blacklisted or bowdlerized the offending books to remove any mention of Darwinism.
In early 1925 the state of Tennessee became a particular focus for the anti-evolutionists, headed by William Jennings Bryan. Known as the “Great Commoner,” the charismatic Bryan was a Southern folk hero, a sincere, energetic Jacksonian democrat with an abiding mistrust of education. “The only morality comes from the Bible, all our institutions and our social life are founded on an implicit belief in it, and without that belief there is no ground on which moral teaching may be founded.”
Bryan had three times run as Democratic candidate for president (and twice more as an independent) and served in President Wilson’s Cabinet before resigning when Wilson led the United States into the First World War. Having moved to Florida hoping to improve his wife’s health, Bryan was also a major beneficiary of the Florida property boom, receiving handsome payment for promoting the “Coral Gables Land Association.” His political causes—pacifism, Prohibition and female suffrage, as well as anti-evolutionism—sprang out of his twin convictions: a deep religious faith and a passionate commitment to populism and social justice. He blamed Darwinism for the Great War and the decline of faith in 1920s America, and hoped to prevent schools and “infidel universities” from teaching scientific theories of evolution. “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain all the learning of the schools and lose his faith in God?” Bryan thundered. His audiences cheered as he reached his oratorical crescendo: “You can’t make a monkey of me!” he would cry.
At the start of 1925 Bryan and the evangelist preacher Billy Sunday arrived in Tennessee’s capital, Memphis, to put pressure on the state legislature to pass a bill proposed by John Washington Butler, a local farmer and Primitive Baptist lay leader. Butler had been worried by news “that boys and girls were coming home from school and telling their fathers and mothers that the Bible was all nonsense,” and proposed to make it illegal “to teach any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” Masked Klansmen marched in support of the bill, despite Bryan’s private disapproval of their order. The Butler Act was passed that March. In New York, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) pledged to support anyone who dared defy this ban on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.
It was the manager of Dayton’s coal and iron mine, George Rappleyea, who first had the idea of using Dayton as a test case for the Butler Act. Rappleyea came from New York. He accepted the principles of evolution and, as a member of a modernist Methodist church, did not see it as incompatible with Christianity. Having read about the ACLU’s declaration, he suggested to a group of local men gathered in Frank Robinson’s drugstore and soda fountain (the hub of Dayton life) that they stage a test case of the Butler Act there. Robinson, who was also chairman of the Rhea County school board, liked the idea of generating some publicity for his sleepy town, as did the School Superintendent, Walter White.
Rappleyea persuaded his friend John Scopes, Rhea county’s amiable young math and science teacher and part-time football coach, to continue teaching biology classes from the state-approved textbook, Hunter’s Civic Biology, which contravened the Butler Act. Having secured the ACLU’s support, Rappleyea prosecuted Scopes for violating the law and Robinson notified the Chattanooga Times and the Nashville Banner of his action. Associated Press picked up the story and the next day it was carried by every major newspaper in the country.
The ACLU, which would eventually raise a fund of $11 million for Scopes’s defense appeal, engaged Clarence Darrow to act as his head lawyer. Darrow had spent his long and distinguished career fighting for the rights of the individual, for freedom of speech and the privilege of dissent. Initial fears that he was too radical, and would allow the opposition to present the case as a clash between religion and godlessness, were finally discounted in view of Scopes’s expressed preference for the experienced criminal lawyer.
Darrow himself had hesitated before committing himself to the case until he heard that his adversary would be William Jennings Bryan. Both men were Democrats, old allies in some causes and old sparring partners in others; in the past Darrow had even supported Bryan’s presidential ambitions. Their relationship was cordial but plainspoken. As an evangelizing agnostic and an impassioned advocate for scientific knowledge in general and evolution in particular, Darrow was the perfect focus for the prejudices and fears of the team prosecuting John Scopes. Secular and anticlerical to the core, he denied the primacy that biblical fundamentalists assigned to man above all other creatures and believed that the Christian doctrine of original sin was “silly, impossible and wicked.” He said afterwards that he took up Scopes’s cause because “there was no limit to the mischief that might be accomplished unless the country was roused to the evil at hand.”
William Jennings Bryan arrived in Dayton three days before Scopes’s trial began, declaring that it would be a “duel to the death.” Welcomed as the popular hero he was, Bryan spent his time giving lectures to the school board about teaching evolution, preaching, posing for pictures at Robinson’s drugstore and attending a banquet in his honor at the Progressive Dayton Club. Two ACLU lawyers from New York, Darrow’s associates, arrived two days later, having seen the extensive news coverage of Bryan’s pre-campaigning. “Am I too late for the trial?” asked Dudley Malone, declaring, “The issue is not between science and religion, as some would have us believe. The real issue is between science and Bryanism.”
In the days before the trial began, hot dog, sandwich and ice cream sellers catering to the unusual crowds mingled with trained chimps and revivalists, evangelists and holy rollers in Dayton’s town square. Signs everywhere exhorted the faithful to read their Bibles daily and have faith that Jesus is their savior. “The Sweetheart Love of Jesus Christ and Paradise Street is at Hand,” read one. “Be Sure Your Sins Will Find You Out,” warned another. A few bold book-sellers hawked biology texts. Badges reading “Your Old Man’s a Monkey” were sold. A string quartet of black musicians played.
Journalists absorbing the scene reported back to their editors via twenty-two newly installed Western Union telegraph operators. A movie camera platform had been placed in the courtroom and Rhea County’s first airstrip was marked off in a field so that film coverage of the trial could be flown out to be shown on national newsreels. Equipment was installed to transmit proceedings to the nation by live radio; it was the first trial to be broadcast nationally.
Reporters flooded into Dayton, filling the town’s one hotel and several boarding houses and crowding into Robinson’s soda fountain. Inhabitants reveled in the national attention and the chance to boost their hometown. The local policeman’s van bore a sign reading “Monkeyville Police”; a delivery man called himself the “Monkeyville Express”; the regional press declared its delight that the world was “taking note of the South.” As Clarence Darrow said, “Most of the newspapers treated the whole case as a farce instead of a tragedy, but they did give it no end of publicity.”
Perhaps the man most enjoying Dayton was Henry Mencken, covering the trial for the Baltimore Evening Sun, which had stood for John Scopes to the tune of $500. Mencken could be seen everywhere, his relish for the unfolding events apparent on his broadly smiling face. As Scopes put it, his trial was really “Mencken’s show.” Joseph Krutch, a Tennessean journalist working in the North, was in Dayton reporting for The Nation. He said the scene “seemed arranged for [Mencken’s] delight . . . Had he invented the Monkey Trial no one would have believed in it, but he had been spared the necessity of invention.” Krutch admired Mencken, but, sensitive to his scorn for small-town Southern life, disliked how he charmed everyone on both sides and then wrote “brutally contemptuous” accounts of them.
“There was a friar wearing a sandwich sign announcing that he was the Bible champion of the world. There was a Seventh Day Adventist arguing that Clarence Darrow was the beast with seven heads and ten horns described in Revelation XIII, and that the end of the world was at hand,” Mencken recounted. “There was an ancient who maintained that no Catholic could be a Christian. There was the eloquent Dr. T.T. Martin, of Blue Mountain, Miss., come to town with a truck-load of torches and hymn-books to put Darwin in his place. There was a singing brother bellowing apocalyptic hymns. There was William Jennings Bryan, followed everywhere by a gaping crowd. Dayton was having a roaring time. It was better than the circus.”
But Mencken, nostrils twitching for any whiff of hypocrisy, found that even in Dayton “there was a strong smell of antinomianism.” The sweating evangelists preaching Armageddon outside the courthouse were mostly itinerant, hoping to take advantage of the crowds gathered to see evolution dispatched by Bryan once and for all; the townspeople, according to Mencken, did not permit their faith to impede their debaucheries. As a friendly female journalist explained to him, Dayton was, after all, the capital of Rhea County. “That is to say, it was predominantly epicurean and sinful. A country girl from some remote valley of the county, coming into town for her semiannual bottle of Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, shivered on approaching Robinson’s drug-store quite as a country girl from up-State New York might shiver on approaching the Metropolitan Opera House.”
To Clarence Darrow’s surprise, the trial opened on the sweltering morning of Friday 10 July with a long prayer entreating the jury, the accused and the attorneys to be “loyal to God.” Dayton’s courtroom had been freshly painted yellow. It was packed solid by a mixture of journalists and fascinated locals, and loudspeakers conveyed the proceedings to the crowds that had overflowed on to the lawn.
As a concession to the unusual heat, Judge Raulston announced that the trial’s participants would be permitted to remove their coats and ties. Only the defense’s Dudley Malone managed to keep his jacket on for the entire two weeks, admitting the temperature just so far as to dab his damp forehead with a linen handkerchief and earning Dayton’s grudging respect for his stamina. Unusually, smoking was banned from the courtroom, but nicotine addicts (everyone but Bryan) were placated with well-placed spittoons and chewed their tobacco instead of smoking it.
While his defense team were relaxed and eagerly anticipating the upcoming debate, John Scopes, looking like a college student in his slacks and open-necked shirt, was nervous. He had been happy enough to allow Rappleyea to bring him to court—he did not come from Dayton, and had no intention of remaining there; he was unattached and easy-going, with liberal views but no very strong opinions—but once there he found that all the hullabaloo made him uncomfortable. He spent as much of the next two weeks as he could hiding out down at the local swimming hole, escaping public attention. His presence wasn’t really necessary, anyway: on leaving for Dayton, Clarence Darrow had declared, “Scopes is not on trial. Civilization is on trial.” The defense had decided that their client need not testify. As Scopes put it later, he was nothing more than a “ringside observer at my own trial.”
Bryan sat confidently in court with his stiff collar removed and his sleeves rolled up, fanning himself against the heat and flies with a huge palm leaf. He hadn’t prosecuted a case for nearly forty years, but, as the mouthpiece of God, he was unintimidated. Bryan knew “he represented religion,” said Darrow, adding in a damning phrase worthy of Mencken, “and in this he was the idol of all Morondom.” Behind him, in a wheelchair, sat his invalid wife Mary, who suffered from severe arthritis with quiet dignity.
The judge, John Raulston, an acknowledged supporter of the law Scopes had violated, gave off an air that said, “Rest assured, we shall assassinate you gently.” For, as Joseph Krutch observed, Raulston “had probably never in his life heard anyone question in other than timidly apologetic terms the combination of ignorance, superstition, and (sometimes) hypocrisy for which he stood; and he was confident that, so far at least as his world was concerned, the debate as well as the legal verdict would be in his and his community’s favor.”
That afternoon twelve jurors were selected. They were representative of Dayton’s population—mostly regular churchgoers, simple, middle-aged farmers with little formal education. According to custom, no women were included among their number. An informal poll conducted during the trial showed that 85 percent of churchgoing Daytonians professed to believe the Bible literally, though they were more usually moderate Methodists than fervently fundamentalist Baptists.
Clarence Darrow’s two-hour opening speech the following Monday was one of the most electrifying of his career, an impassioned defense of tolerance and secularism against fundamentalism. “Coatless and conspicuously suspendered as if to assure Dayton that he was as plain a man as any of its own citizens,” according to Krutch, Darrow burst into a fierce attack on “what he called the ignorance, intolerance, arrogance and bigotry” of Dayton.
Having decided that there was no point saving his punches until his closing speech, on the basis that Bryan would be the final speaker, Darrow rebutted the prosecution’s populist opening argument that the people paying teachers’ salaries should be allowed to dictate their curriculum. For years this had been Byran’s argument against the teaching of evolution in public schools: a simple defense of majority rule. “The right of the people speaking through the legislature, to control the schools which they create and support, is the real issue,” Bryan had written before the case opened.
Darrow countered that the people of Tennessee had adopted a constitution which granted every single one of them “religious freedom in its broadest terms.” Violating that freedom by limiting what people were able to teach or learn was thus a breach of their individual liberty. The state of Tennessee, Darrow argued, had no more right to insist in schools that the Bible is a holy book than it had to present as sacred the Koran, the Book of Confucius, or the essays of Emerson. In this way Darrow hoped to show that Bryan was not a defender of democracy but a threat to it. He concluded with a solemn warning: “We are marching backwards to the glorious age of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn men who dared bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.”
As Joseph Krutch reported, Darrow’s eloquence and passion made even Dayton stop to think. Riveted, the town’s inhabitants forgot which side they were on, even bursting into applause for a particularly good strike by either side—but still placed their faith in Bryan as their champion to prove that, as Joseph Wood Krutch put it, “Learning is useless . . . Faith alone counts.”
The next day, while electrical storms thundered outside the courthouse, Darrow formally objected to the prayers that initiated each day’s proceedings. A Supreme Court decision permitted prayer in courtrooms, but it was not mandatory. “When it is claimed by the state that there is a conflict between science and religion there should be no . . . attempt by means of prayer . . . to influence the deliberations,” he argued. Prayer, he said, was a personal matter, to be conducted in private. The prosecution team protested but later a compromise was reached allowing modernist ministers to alternate with fundamentalists so that a broader spectrum of faith was represented.
Darrow had not expected Raulston to agree with his opening argument that Scopes’s constitutional rights had been violated by the Butler Act, and on Wednesday the judge confirmed this opinion. Furthermore he would not permit the defense’s scientific experts to take the stand and try to prove the facts of evolution. Once the parameters of the trial had been set, the proceedings could begin in earnest.
The prosecution called as witnesses some of Scopes’s students, hoping their testimony would demonstrate how Scopes’s use of the theory of evolution had undermined their faith in God. In response to Darrow’s cross-examination, they said that they did not think science had done them any harm. After the trial, Darrow was delighted to overhear one saying to another, “Don’t you think Mr. Bryan is a little narrow-minded?” He did not, perhaps, hear another Dayton teenager, also after the trial, comment, “I like him [Scopes], but I don’t believe I came from a monkey.”
When drugstore owner Frank Robinson took the stand he testified that Scopes had said to him that any teacher using Hunter’s Biology was violating the Butler Act. Darrow, cross-examining, asked first if Robinson sold Hunter’s Biology in his shop—he did—and then, as the audience began to laugh, asked him if it were true that he was a member of the school board.
Dudley Malone rose for the defense after Bryan spoke. He questioned Bryan’s right to speak for all Christians and stated the defense’s conviction that no conflict existed between Christianity and evolution. The newspaper headlines summarized their arguments. Bryan raged, “They call us bigots when we refuse to throw away our Bibles.” Malone responded, “We say ‘Keep your Bible,’ but keep it where it belongs, in the world of your conscience . . . and do not try to tell an intelligent world and the intelligence of this country that these books written by men who knew none of the accepted facts of science can be put into a course of science.”
Most journalists, including Henry Mencken and Joseph Krutch, went home during the first week. They had seen enough. After hearing that no scientific evidence was to be admitted, Mencken gave victory to the prosecution: “The main battle is over, with Genesis completely triumphant.”
Krutch, however, thought that Bryan had failed his devotees. “Any passionate revivalist from the hills could have been more effective. He would have believed. Bryan merely refused to doubt . . . [retreating] further and further into boastful ignorance.” On one occasion, when asked if he denied that man was a mammal, Bryan had answered, “I do”—because he was unsure of its meaning, Krutch thought—and an incredulous Mencken fell with a loud crash from the table on to which he had climbed to get a better view.
None of them had predicted Darrow’s masterstroke. At the beginning of the second week Bryan agreed to stand as witness in the role of biblical expert, facing Darrow’s questioning; it was understood that Darrow would in turn submit to Bryan’s examination. By this time the heat was so unrelenting and the crowds so immense that court proceedings had been moved out on to the lawn in front of the courthouse amid rumors that the floor was about to collapse.
Darrow, thumbs in his lavender braces, coolly declared that his intention in questioning Bryan was, “to show up fundamentalism . . . to prevent bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education system of the United States.” Bryan leapt from his seat, purple with rage. Pounding his fist on the table in front of him, he shouted, “I am simply trying to protect the word of God against the greatest atheist or agnostic in the United States. I want the papers to know I am not afraid to get on the stand in front of him and let him do his worst!” Although he remained defiant in the face of Darrow’s attack, Bryan’s willful ignorance made him seem a fool; he simply lacked the wit that would have helped him counter Darrow’s arguments. As Darrow said, “He did not think. He knew.”
When Darrow asked Bryan what he thought about biblical miracles like Adam’s rib, the Flood and Jonah and the whale, he replied, “One miracle is just as easy to believe as another.” Pressed further about how he could believe in such improbabilities, he responded, “I do not think about things I don’t think about.” “Do you think about things you do think about?” queried Darrow. “Well, sometimes.”
Darrow asked him how old he thought the universe might be—when God had made it and how long the seven days had lasted —and Bryan thundered, “I am more interested in the Rock of Ages than in the age of rocks.” The triumphant Darrow looked on his opponent with pity: he had “made himself ridiculous” and still worse, “contradicted his own faith.” For his part Bryan accused Darrow of insulting the people Bryan called “yokels” by trying to weaken their faith by making them admit that it was necessary to interpret the Bible. Darrow replied, “You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does not believe in your fool religion.” Eventually Raulston adjourned court for the day.
The next day Raulston ruled that Bryan’s testimony was irrelevant and struck it from the record, forbidding any cross-examination of Darrow. “Mr. Bryan and his associates forgot to look surprised,” commented Darrow, evidently suspecting collaboration. The two teams were invited to make their closing remarks. Since Scopes had clearly broken the law, Darrow urged the jury to find Scopes guilty so that the case could be appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court where the constitutionality of the law itself could be assessed.
Many of the jurors were keen for the trial to end so they could start harvesting their peach crop; it took them nine minutes to reach a guilty verdict. The trial had lasted two weeks. John Scopes, who had not once taken the stand, was fined $100. Although Bryan offered to pay his fine in the spirit of goodwill, Mencken’s Baltimore Evening Sun took care of it.
Both sides claimed victory, although in fact they were both diminished by the trial and the hard glare of national attention that they had endured. Moderate onlookers resented the stark choice they had been offered between atheism and fundamentalism. Most people thought the case had exposed Bryan as a fool and Darrow as a know-it-all, without resolving the issue it had sought to address. And as Joseph Krutch observed, future generations who saw the Scopes case as a witch hunt and compared it to post-war McCarthyism missed “the fact that it was also a circus”—“a jape elaborately staged for their own amusement by typical intellectual playboys of the exuberant Twenties, and the real villains were . . . the responsible citizens and officials of Tennessee who should never have allowed it to happen.”
Immediately after the trial ended, a still defiant William Jennings Bryan began making plans for a national anti-evolution lecture tour to capitalize on the publicity the Scopes case had created for his cause. Undeterred by Darrow’s devastating examination, he planned to argue four points: that the theory of evolution contradicted the biblical account of creation; that the theory of survival of the fittest destroyed man’s faith in God and love for one another; that studying evolution was spiritually and socially useless; and that a deterministic view of life as propounded by evolutionists undermined efforts to reform and improve society.
Bryan may have been undaunted by Darrow’s arguments, but others saw him as a spent force. Krutch felt almost sorry for him. “Driven from politics and journalism because of obvious intellectual incompetence, become ballyhoo for boom-town real estate in his search for lucrative employment, and forced into religion as the only quasi-intellectual field in which mental backwardness and complete insensibility to ideas could be used as an advantage, he already knew that he was compelled to seek in the most remote rural regions for the applause so necessary for his contentment,” he wrote. “Yet even in Dayton, as choice a strong-hold of ignorance and bigotry as one could hope to find, he went down in defeat in the only contest where he had met his antagonists face to face. Dayton itself was ashamed for him.”
But Bryan would never get the chance to resurrect his reputation by touring the nation. After a few days spent lecturing locally he returned to Dayton where he died in his sleep during an afternoon nap, five days after the end of the trial. A reporter told Darrow, vacationing in the Smoky Mountains, that people were saying Bryan had died of a broken heart because of his cross-examination. “Broken heart nothing,” said Darrow. “He died of a busted belly.” In Baltimore, Henry Mencken hooted, “God aimed at Darrow, missed, and hit Bryan instead.” In private he said to a friend, “We killed the son-of-a-bitch!”
Gloating such as Mencken’s helped turn Bryan into a martyr and Darrow into a villain. As the tributes to him after his death showed, Bryan was still a hugely popular national figure despite his limitations. Even the New York Herald Tribune congratulated him for trying “to do the right thing as he saw it.”
Although modernists claimed their nominal defeat as a triumph, calling the trial “the last significant attempt to discredit Darwin’s theory” as if no further attempts to challenge it would ever be made, two years later thirteen states, both Northern and Southern, were still considering instituting anti-evolution laws. In Mississippi and Arkansas they passed into statute. Even where no changes to the law were made, local school boards increasingly presented science as theory rather than dogma, restricting the teaching of evolution and biology throughout the 1930s. In 1927 when the appeal on the Scopes case reached the Tennessee Supreme Court, it upheld the Butler Act but reversed the original and uncontested judgment of a fine on technical grounds, preventing the case’s being appealed to the federal courts. The Butler Act was not repealed until 1967, when a teacher successfully claimed that it violated his right to free speech.
Scopes’s trial, and the predominantly Northern, urban coverage of it, exemplified the rift in society between the “old” and “new” Americas—one traditional, rural, pious, slow-moving, the other fast-paced, industrial, go-getting, high-living. Throughout the 1920s America’s population was shifting from predominantly rural to predominantly urban—but defenders of the threatened “old” values were not prepared to lie down and accept defeat.