Setting the Stage: The Butler Law



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Scopes' Place in Culture

The Scopes trial came at a crossroads in history - as people were choosing to cling to the past or jump into the future. The trial itself was a series of conflicts, the obvious one being evolution vs. religion. But as John Crowe Ransom notes, there were a series of tensions throughout the trial, including questions of collective vs. individual rights and academic vs. parental concerns, which have persisted in American culture since the birth of the nation (8) . At issue in both of these conflicts was who had control of the society. Who controlled the schools - the masses or the teachers? Who determined the law - the people or the leaders of the town? The resolution was even more unsettling because there was none. Scopes lost the case, but won the public's favor, and the Butler Law remained on the books in Tennessee.

For historical scholars, understanding the Scopes trial begins with a cultural framework. To Ransom, the trial was a product of "the modernist-fundamentalist conflict of the period." As R.M.Cornelius wrote in "Their Stage Drew All the World," "This controversy, whose stage was the battle over the nature of the bible, produced a whole cycle of dramatic confrontations, of which the Scopes trial was but one"(9) .

The Scopes trial was not distinct, therefore, so much for its theme as it was for its was for its presentation. Other school districts and other towns, struggling with this very issue, missed the media circus. Dayton, however, came to center-stage, with the lawyers and business men writing the script and the country enthralled with this true American drama.


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