The Word, the Book and Mister Bryan


mr. bryan

"With flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious age of the sixteenth century, when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind."

CLARENCE DARROW on the Monkey Trial

scopesbryanTennessee had a brand new law first in the nation making it a crime to "teach any theory that denies the Devine creation of man as taught in the Bible." The drowsy town of Dayton would be the center of the Monkey Trial and freckled-face John T. Scopes, 24, a science teacher, would be the man in the middle. Scopes knew he would be arrested. He had talked it over with three lawyers at Robinson's Drugstore on Main Street. So a special Grand Jury quickly indicted the upstart teacher for his assault on the beliefs and dignity of the State. William Jennings Bryan, long-time Defender of the Word, sped to the Volunteer State as the volunteer prosecutor. When old Clarence Darrow heard this, he made tracks for the Cumberland Country too. Protestant Dayton, population 1,500, rallied to stand four-square against the arriving infidel horde. That summer it was a carnival atmosphere near the courthouse with evangelists and hot-dog vendors competing with Bible salesmen and purveyors of "ice cold" lemonade (you could get corn likker too, if you knew the right vendor). It was the battle of Fundamentalism vs. Evolution.

darrow & juryDarrow and his co-counselors were in for a tough fight. The Bible-bred Judge John T. Raulston had a ten-foot banner hung behind his head. It said, READ YOUR BIBLE! He opened court with a prayer. DarrowDarrow objected and was overruled. Darrow wasn't allowed to produce scientific evidence that human species had its beginning some 600,000 years ago. Darrow said it was pertinent. The Judge said no, everybody knew, or should know, that God created man 6,000 years ago; it was in the Bible. The exchanges between the Judge and Darrow grew heated and resulted in a citation for contempt of court. Darrow got off with an apology, the "Judge" observing that the Book taught him that "it was godly to forgive." With his learned witnesses declared null, void and irrelevant, Darrow surprised everyone and called William Jennings Bryan for the defense as an expert on the Bible. Now the stage was set for high drama. The courtroom could not safely hold the throng that wanted to see the Plumed Knight of Fundamentalism take up the sword against the Infidel Darrow, so the judge moved the trial to the lawn. There, on a platform built under the maple trees, the temperature wouldn't go over 100 degrees except under the Bryan collar on July 20, 1925.

judge raulstonThe Drama on the Lawn
"The Bible states it. It must be so."
                   WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN

Bryan was put on the stand and Darrow questioned him about the literal meaning of the Bible. On the lawn at Dayton, with the whole world watching, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan acted out the classic Science vs. Religion conflict of the century. Darrow was using Bryan's own words to ridicule his beliefs. By the end of the day Bryan was wearied by his last-ditched defense of the True Faith against "the greatest infidel of the age." The next morning Judge Raulston mercifully called a halt to the unequal encounter. He said no purpose was being served by it because all the jury had to decide was whether man was made by God or descended from "a lower order of animals." The case went to the jury. There could only be one verdict. The pagan Scopes was guilty as charged. Genesis had triumphed over Darwin in Dayton, Tennessee. The monkey was on the run.

menkenThe Aftermath
"He came into life a hero, a Galahad; in bright and shining armor. He was passing out a poor mountebank."

 H.L. MENCKEN, on Bryan

The Judge, earlier in the trial, had told the jury that if Scopes was found guilty he would be fined $100 (later revoked on a technicality without a High Court test of the real issues). Scopes felt that he was convicted of an unfair statute and would continue to oppose the law in any way he could. Darrow went to the mountains for some fresh air. The victor, Bryan, sixty-five and tired, stayed at a friend's home in Dayton. On July 26, five days after the trial, six days after his ordeal on the stand, he died of apoplexy. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with the nation's best.

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