Setting the Stage: The Butler Law


Bryan's Show and Darrow's Finale



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Bryan's Show and Darrow's Finale

From the moment of Bryan's arrival in Dayton, the weight of public sentiment was in his favor. The records of the trial indicate that the townspeople came out for the trial in record numbers, packing the small country courthouse. Cries of "Amen" peppered the trial proceedings until the judge had to ask the observers to lower the noise level. Bryan planned to end the trial with a speech consummating his lifetime of preaching, one he had been preparing for seven weeks. Darrow, however, had other plans. Since the intention was to test the constitutionality of the Butler Law, Darrow wanted the jury to find Scopes guilty, so he could then appeal the decision in a higher court. He did not, however, plan to call Scopes to the stand, for if he were to do so, it might surface that Scopes had, in fact, not even been in school on the day mentioned in the indictment. He was meticulous in his effort to keep the trial free of technicalities. Just one could get the case thrown out with the law itself yet untested. Darrow also planned to call expert witnesses to give testimony about evolution. But when the judge ordered that Darrow could not call the scholars as witnesses, he shifted his plans.

After the judge moved the trial outside because of the 100-plus degree heat inside and the instability of the courtroom floor under the weight of so many spectators, Darrow, in a fantastic gesture, called William Jennings Bryan to the stand. The interchange which follows targets the essence of Darrow's argument and signals the turning point in the trial, which brought public sentiment decisively over to Darrow's side:

"You have given considerable study to the Bible, haven't you, Mr. Bryan?"
"Yes, sir; I have tried to ... But, of course, I have studied it more as I have become older than when I was a boy."
"Do you claim then that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?"
"I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there ..."
Darrow continued to question Bryan on the actuality of Jonah and the whale, Joshua's making the sun stand still and the Tower of Babel, as Bryan began to have more difficulty answering.
Q: "Do you think the earth was made in six days?"
A: "Not six days of 24 hours ... My impression is they were periods ..."
Q: "Now, if you call those periods, they may have been a very long time?"
A: "They might have been."
Q: "The creation might have been going on for a very long time?"
A: "It might have continued for millions of years ..."

Darrow had set his trap and Bryan walked right in. Darrow asked for and was granted an immediate direct verdict, thereby blocking Bryan from giving his speech. Within eight minutes of deliberation, the jury returned with a verdict of guilty and the judge ordered Scopes to pay a fine of $100, the minimum the law allowed. In his last words to the court, Scopes, the man who was reluctant from the start, said, "Your Honor, I feel that I have been convicted of violating an unjust statute. I will continue in the future ... to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my idea of academic freedom" (7) .

Reporter's Memo on the Evolutionist-Fundamentalist Conflict <1925-2gi.html>




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