Setting the Stage: The Butler Law

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The Cast and Crew

The Scopes trial met all of Rappelyea's expectations and more. During the twelve hot July days in court, Dayton swarmed with politicians and lawyers, preachers and university scholars, reporters and even circus performers. The streets of Dayton took on the appearance of a small-town fair, with people selling food, souvenirs and religious books. On the side of the courthouse ran a banner blaring "Read Your Bible Daily!" The reporters came from as far away as Hong Kong, and collectively they penned more than two million words during the trial. Chief among the media was H.L. Mencken of the Baltimore Sun, known for his caustic wit and cynical observations.

Into this media circus meets religious revival rolled two of the greatest legal minds of the time, facing off to battle each other. William Jennings Bryan called the trial a "contest between evolution and Christianity ... a duel to the death" (5) . Known as The Great Commoner to the people, Bryan was a three-time presidential candidate and former Secretary of State to Woodrow Wilson. After a few years of retirement, he joined the Chautauqua circuit to rail against Darwin in tent revivals across the country.

Across the courtroom at the defendant's table was Clarence Darrow, with a sharp criminal lawyer's mind and an infamous reputation. To Bryan, he was "the greatest atheist or agnostic in the United States." Darrow himself joined the defense table because "for years," he said, "I've wanted to put Bryan in his pace as a bigot" (6) .

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