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Happy Saturday, everybody. We are coming up on the ninety fifth anniversary of the verdict in state of Tennessee versus John Thomas Scopes, also known as the Scopes Monkey Trial. So that seemed like a good time to share our previous episode on the trial, which originally came out on May 24th, 2017. One correction that we got after this episode originally aired is that the drug store owner and school board president who played a big role in all of this was Frank E.


Robinson. We incorrectly said his name was Fred. That is an error that appeared in one of the books Tracy used for research, Edward Larson's book, Summer of the Gods. And it's been reproduced as well in a lot of other places. So thanks to listener Kay for writing to us about that way back in the day so we can fix it here, at least in the intro. Yeah, it was actually the person that that pointed out that that seems to be the origin of that particular widely reproduced error.


We also mentioned at the end of this episode an annual Scope's festival organisers had been planning to do a modified festival this year, focusing just on the outdoor events and including social distancing.


But ultimately, they have had to cancel due to the ongoing covid-19 pandemic.


Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class A production of I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to the podcast, I'm Tracy B. Wilson. And I'm Holly Fratelli. Today, we are going to talk about the Scopes trial, also known as the Monkey Trial, so known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, which played out in Dayton, Tennessee, in the summer of 1925. I learned last night from a dear friend of mine who grew up in Tennessee that they cover this in Tennessee history class.


Oh, cool. So if you grew up in Tennessee or maybe if you've studied law, you might already know a lot of these details. But a lot of what most folks know in quotation marks about this trial really comes from Inherit the Wind, which started as a play in 1955 and was adapted into a film in 1960. And even if you have never personally seen Inherit the Wind, which was conceived more as an allegory for McCarthyism than an actual portrayal of the Scopes trial, it does not even use the same names or location.


A lot of conventional wisdom about the trial and its personalities and how it played out really have much deeper roots inherent in the wind than an actual history.


I won't out them by name, but I have a friend who I mentioned yesterday you're doing this and their reaction was, wait, is that one about slavery?


It's like, oh, no, not so. There's no shame in having, you know, blindspots in your historical knowledge. Chowan tickled me and it's a very smart person.


But we all have those weird blindspots. And Tracy will now clear it up and that person will know all the things about Scopes, monkey trial, anything about slavery at all now.


So the state of Tennessee versus John Thomas Scopes was the United States first major legal battle over the teaching of evolution. Charles Darwin had published on The Origin of Species by means of natural selection or the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life back in 1859. And Darwin did not invent the idea of evolution. The basic idea that species change and shift over time goes back millennia in multiple cultures. But the book itself was hugely influential and very controversial.


By the nineteen teens and 20s, though Darwin's writings were well established and they were generally accepted in the field of biology and as part of a general trend of progressive educational reform, they also started to be incorporated into school curricula in the United States, teachers were beginning to unionize and the National Education Association had recommended that states try to align their standards for education nationally. And with this overall trend in standardization, more and more states were making science a mandatory school requirement, and more and more science textbooks were addressing evolution.


For example, William Hunter's a civic biology presented in Problems, which was published in 1914, was the approved biology textbook in the state of Tennessee in 1925. Like other civic biology texts of the time, it framed biology in terms of its practical applicability to other parts of life, like hygiene and wellness and food safety. Hunter's book included evolution in Chapter fourteen, quote, Division of labor, the various forms of plants and animals. And part of that chapter reads the great English scientist Charles Darwin.


From this and other evidence explains the theory of evolution. This is the belief that simple forms of life on Earth slowly and gradually gave rise to those more complex and that thus ultimately the most complex forms came into existence, running parallel to this progressive shift in educational standards.


And the inclusion of evolution in science textbooks was a rise in religious fundamentalism, particularly Christian fundamentalism. The term fundamentalism itself was coined in the 1920s, signifying a strict adherence to certain fundamental concepts of Christian faith and in some cases, interpreting the Bible literally rather than figuratively.


And when it came to evolutionary theory, some Christians, particularly fundamentalist Christians, objected to the idea that humans came from monkeys and to the idea that something other than a divine hand could be credited for life on Earth. And if the Bible was the literal word of God, then the writings of Charles Darwin and other evolutionary biologists were directly contradictory to the creation story in the Book of Genesis. Obviously, other religions and other nations had their own views on evolution and whether it should be taught.


But Christianity in the United States is what is relevant to the Scopes trial.


Also, for the sake of clarity, this whole humans came from monkeys idea. It's one that a lot of people took away from the Origin of Species and from all the conversations that followed its publication. But the Origin of Species only. Very briefly and vaguely alludes to the origins of humankind, there is nothing in it saying humans came from monkeys.


Darwin's second book, The Descent of Man, came out in 1871. And it is about theories of human origins. And its basic conclusion is that, quote, man is descended from some less highly organized form. Darwin describes the less organized form as some ancient unknown ancestor that does have some monkey like traits. But it is not a modern monkey. Today, the scientific consensus is that both humans and monkeys descended from an ancestor that lived millions of years ago.


Not that one came from another. Essentially two branches of a tree.


Yes, a very large and very complex tree. Yes, yes. Yes. It's not like they each branch off from one spot. It's their. Yeah, we talked about this in our Piltdown Man episode, if you are looking for a little more of that piece of history.


So in the face of this ongoing conflict between scientific acceptance of evolution and religious rejection of it, multiple states began considering laws to ban its teaching on its face. This was a religious issue. The idea that children might go to school and come home questioning their faith was frightening and infuriating to many parents, especially given that public schools were funded through taxes they were paying. People were basically like, I want my kid to go to the school I'm paying for and then come home and say they don't believe in God anymore.


But it was also a general resistance to the overall trend of establishing state and national education standards. Many parents in rural counties didn't like the idea of faraway legislatures in their state capitals or Washington, D.C., setting rules about what their children would learn while having no idea what their wishes or needs were. Passing laws against the teaching of evolution was a way to gain a sense of control over what children were being taught in the face of all these changes to the educational system.


Although Florida and Oklahoma passed laws that were connected to this basic issue in 1923, it was Tennessee that became the first state to explicitly forbid the teaching of evolution. In 1925, Representative John W. Butler introduced what became known as the Butler Act. On January 21st of that year, he had been interested in introducing similar legislation as far back as nineteen twenty one after hearing a sermon about a young woman who had gone to college and come home believing in evolution but not in God.


Once Butler had introduced the act, there was some legislative back and forth, but ultimately it passed both the Tennessee House and Senate with overwhelming support.


Tennessee's governor, Austin Peay, signed it into law on March 21st after putting it off until the last possible day and at one point telling a senator that he thought the bill was absurd, P, who is in his second term as governor, had already instituted a number of progressive reforms within the state. He was at that point trying to pass a massive school reform bill that would do things like build high schools in rural counties that didn't have them lengthen the school year and make education compulsory.


It's possible that he finally signed the Butler Act in exchange for congressional support for his massive school reform bill, or that he recognized that this bill and the reforms that it was instituting would face some resistance in rural parts of Tennessee. So he felt like the Butler Act would assuage some people's fears over what he was wanting to do.


Even when he signed it, though he said it was mostly symbolic and that he did not expect anyone to be charged with violating it.


The Butler Act made it illegal for any teacher in Tennessee funded schools and universities to, quote, 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. It also established a fine of one hundred to five hundred dollars. And the act didn't really offer insight on what to do about the fact that the state approved biology textbook laid out the basic concepts of evolution in Chapter 14.


This all brings us to the Scopes trial in which Tennessee teacher John Thomas Scopes was charged with teaching evolution in defiance of the Butler Act. He was convicted in a highly publicized trial that played out in a pretty circus like atmosphere, and it had a lot of famous names in the legal teams on both sides.


But the whole thing came about in a way that's significantly different from what people might imagine. And we will have some details after the break.


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Everything just. Now it's feeling like one day on a Saturday night, make it up as we go only on the podcast network in association with audio of media created by Scarlett Burke and Jared Goosestep. Although local attorneys were also part of it, the Scopes trial involved a hugely high profile cast of characters from out of town.


There was defense attorney Clarence Darrow, originally from Ohio, who was one of America's most famous attorneys. He had represented Eugene Debs after the massive Pullman strike of 1894. He'd also defended Leopold and Loeb in their highly publicized murder trial. He's usually credited with getting them a life murder sentence instead of being executed. And the team for the defense also included Arthur Garfield Hays of New York, who was the ACLU's general counsel, the man arguing for the prosecution. William Jennings Bryan, the great commoner, was originally from Illinois.


He had run for president three times and served as secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson in the years leading up to the trial. He had also become one of the most prominent evolution figures in the nation, giving speeches with names like the Bible and its enemies and the menace of Darwinism. H.L. Mencken, who wrote some of the most famous and most memorable coverage of the trial, was from Baltimore, Maryland, and his coverage ran in the Baltimore Sun.


Meanwhile, Dayton, Tennessee, originally founded as Smith's Crossroads, was a town of less than 800 people situated roughly between Chattanooga and Knoxville in the Tennessee River Valley. In the late 19th century, it had become home to the Dayton Iron and Coal Company, which, along with the railroad, had become the town's major employer. But by the 19 teens, the blast furnace had shut down, leaving farming as the now struggling town's major industry. So between all the big names and the struggling small town, it's easy to imagine that this was a case of a bunch of highfalutin city folk blustering in uninvited to run roughshod over everybody and basically have a giant public unwonted fight.


But this was not the case at all, as still happens today, when a newly passed law seems to run contrary to the Constitution or civil liberties, the Butler Act immediately caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU publicly offered to defend any teacher charged with this violation. An advertisement announcing that the ACLU was seeking a test case ran in a Chattanooga newspaper on May 4th, 1925.


This advertisement came to the attention of a group of Dayton's community and civic leaders. Fred E.. Robinson's drugstore had become the site of regular meetings that included school superintendent Walter White, attorneys Herbert and Sue Hicks, Cumberland Coal and Iron Company manager George Washington raptly and Robinson himself, who was also the school board president. Some of them did care about the teaching of evolution as a matter of principle, but they were far more interested in the community of Dayton. They thought a great big trial would bring a lot of much needed attention and tourism dollars to the town.


Rabieh, which may also have been rapidly documents, spell his name two different ways. Usually the person who's credited with convincing them all to go along with this plan to get the ball rolling, they just needed a teacher.


And the teacher in question was John Thomas Scope's, who was then twenty four scopes had graduated from the University of Kentucky the year before, and he was working at the newly opened Rea County High School, teaching algebra and physics, coaching football and sometimes substituting in biology Dayton's. The civic leaders thought Scopes would be a good candidate for this scheme because he was well-liked around town. He was not viewed as some kind of radical and he didn't have a family whose livelihood would be threatened if he did lose his job, although they hoped it wouldn't come to that.


Scoop's wasn't particularly eager to be arrested, but he agreed to go along with this. He did not agree with the Butler Act. He did not think it was possible to teach biology without also teaching evolution. And he didn't think that evolution was incompatible with religious faith. Scopes had even already at least supposedly done the necessary teaching of evolution. The prior April, he had done an exam review out of the state approved biology textbook, although he couldn't remember specifically, he thought probably he'd gone over the chapter that included evolution.


According to some accounts, he later said that he had not. But in any case, he was arrested for violating the Butler Act on May 7th, 1925, and he was indicted on May 25th.


The town of Dayton then began to prepare for what it hoped would be an onslaught of visitors. From late May until early July, the town built a tourist camp to provide additional housing. It also added a number of improvements to the courthouse, including an outdoor speakers platform with benches and loudspeakers to handle an overflow crowd to make the courtroom more hospitable to reporters and their work. It also added camera platforms, radio microphones and telephone and telegraph lines.


But it wasn't just about accommodating lots of visitors or making the courthouse more accessible to the news media. Dayton also essentially turned part of its main road into a festival grounds, complete with vendors and stalls. A Scopes trial entertainment committee was formed. The constables motorcycle got a new label. Monkey Police businesses hung pictures of apes and monkeys in their windows. A clothier who happened to be named George Darwin made the most of it with signs like Darwin is Right Inside and Darwin's Big Sail.


A whole lot of stores suddenly started stocking plush monkeys.


Fred Robinson, whose drugstore had been the site of the first conversation about hatching this plot, Fred Robinson started serving Semion sodas at the drugstore. He strung a giant banner across the street reading Robinson's drugstore with where it started and smaller letters underneath. There were also photo ops at the table where that initial conversation had taken place. A chimpanzee named Joe Mendi, dressed in a plaid suit and bow tie, who was one of multiple chimpanzees brought into town for this, was there to greet his customers when they came into the store.


And in addition to all the business involvement and the overall carnival atmosphere where itinerant evangelists who came to town to preach about the evils of evolution and the rightness of banning it from school, another banner was strung outside the courthouse that read Read your Bible Bible in all caps.


Of course, in theory, all of this big monkey festival was going on because of a trial like in court, which we were going to talk about after another quick sponsor, Rick.


Jury selection in the Scopes trial began on July 10th, 1925, on that same day, the judge, John T. Ralston, took the precaution of impaneling a second grand jury to re indict John Scopes. People had been so worried that some other town was going to have the same idea and hatch the same plan. The first indictment had been rushed through and the judge was worried that it was invalid.


Actual trial proceedings were put off until the following Monday to allow time for the radio hookups that had been installed in the courtroom to actually be connected for broadcast. The Scopes trial would be the first trial to be publicly broadcast nationwide, and it was also filmed for newsreels that were distributed to movie theaters. The defense and the prosecution each had a completely different focus for this trial. From the prosecution's point of view, it was really simple. They would establish that John Thomas Scopes violated the Butler Act, which was state law, by teaching evolution in a public school.


And they would establish that the state of Tennessee had the right to set its own standards for the public school curriculum. The defense's most practical focus was whether the act itself was enforceable, whether its definition of evolution was precise enough, and whether a teacher had to both deny the story of divine creation and teach that man had descended from lower animals to be in violation of the law. But beyond that, it was looking at much broader issues than the defense was like establishing whether the Butler Act was religiously motivated and that evolution was scientifically sound.


Let's focus on religion. And this angle of religion versus science was really coming from Clarence Darrow, who was a very vocal agnostic. The ACLU, which was reluctant to have Darrow involved in this at all, viewed the Butler Act primarily as an act on the freedom of speech, not on the freedom of religion. This was in part because the Supreme Court had previously ruled that the free speech clauses of the First Amendment applied to state governments as well as to the federal government.


It had not yet made such a ruling related to the freedom of religion, and that wouldn't happen for several more decades. So basically, the ACLU is really looking at this as a speech issue. And Clarence Darrow was in his own little world focusing on the religious aspect. Once the trial began, about a thousand people tried to cram into the courtroom, which could hold about 600. And that happened every day. The rest listened from benches outside the courthouse.


The courtroom was incredibly tight and incredibly hot since the giant crush of people locked the courtrooms, windows and at least at the start of the trial, it had no electric fans to circulate air. Apart from reporters representing more than 100 newspapers, most of those trying to watch were locals and not visitors. So even though Dayton had turned the town into a sort of Scopes trial fair, it hadn't had the hoped for rush of tourists.


The trial began with some fairly straightforward questioning of students and other witnesses who testified about Scope's discussions of evolution. But when Darrow started trying to bring in expert witnesses to discuss the science of evolution, Judge Raulston refused to allow it. He said that the matter at hand was not whether evolution was scientifically valid, but whether Scopes had broken the law. Indeed, that would seem to be the point of the trial, purportedly with a key part of his defense strategy effectively torpedoed.


Clarence Darrow took another tack. Instead of calling scientists to the stand to testify as to the validity of the theory of evolution, he took the highly unusual step of calling William Jennings Bryan, the opposing counsel, to the stand on July 20th to act as an expert witness on the validity of the Bible. At this point, the proceedings had been moved outdoors due to the oppressive heat in the courtroom and cracks developing in the ceiling under the weight of the newly installed fans.


I just want to say again, the defense counsel calling to the stand, the prosecutor to answer questions about something really not related to the issue at hand. That's weird.


It feels a little showboating, like it's a big like. Yeah, drama move. Yeah.


So when they're asked if Brian claimed that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted, William Jennings Bryan answered, quote, I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there. Some of the Bible is given illustratively. Following that answer, Thero asked him a bunch of questions about particular passages from the Bible, like Jonah being swallowed by a whale and spit out a hole after three days. And Joshua. Commanding the sun to stand still and the great flood and weather, the six day creation in Genesis was six actual 24 hour days and whether E was literally made from Adam's rib, basically every Internet conversation of people of like atheist people asking people of faith questions about the Bible, Bryant's answers in many cases sounded imprecise or contradictory.


And at the end, he accused of trying to use the court to slur the Bible.


How this was received really depends on who you ask. Many religious faithful felt as though William Jennings Bryan had conducted himself admirably in the face of someone who was clearly trying to humiliate entrap him. Although some biblical literalists were disappointed at his description of the six days of creation as periods, not literal days, others thought the whole exchange was an absurd waste of time unrelated to the case.


But a lot of the news media like said, there were 100 papers represented there, portrayed Bryan, in an incredibly negative light. And The Baltimore Evening Sun, H.L. Mencken wrote, quote, Thus, he fought his last fight, Eger only for blood. It quickly became frenzied and preposterous. And after that pathetic all sense departed from him, he bit right and left like a dog with rabies. He descended to demagogy so dreadful that his very associates blushed.


His one yearning was to keep his yokels heated up to lead his forlorn mob against the foe. That foe, alas, refused to be alarmed. It insisted upon seeing the battle as a comedy. Even Dero, who knew better, occasionally yielded to the prevailing spirit. Finally, he lured poor Brian into a folly. Almost incredible. The next day, July twenty, first, the judge ruled that Brian could not return to the stand. Daro then asked for the jury to begin deliberations, recommending that they find the defendant guilty.


The jury returned with a verdict less than ten minutes later. Scope's, who had never taken the stand himself, was guilty. He was fined one hundred dollars.


The ACLU, whose goal at this point and the reason that Daro, who is the defense attorney, recommend that the jury find his client guilty, was to appeal this verdict, ideally to appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court in a case that would find laws like the Butler Act unconstitutional nationwide. But that did not happen at Scope's Appeal before the Tennessee Supreme Court. The verdict was overturned on a technicality and the original trial judge Raulston had specified that hundred dollar penalty.


But because the penalty was greater than fifty dollars under the Tennessee Constitution, it should have been levied by the jury, not by a judge. With the verdict overturned and the Tennessee Supreme Court also issuing an opinion that the Butler Act was constitutional because it didn't mandate or establish any religious belief or practice, the ACLU had nothing left to pursue related to the Butler Act in Tennessee.


Five days after the end of the Scopes trial, William Jennings Bryan died in his sleep during an afternoon nap. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with the words he kept the faith on his tombstone. And the romanticized version of this story is that he died of humiliation after deros questioning or that he died of heartbreak after being denied the opportunity to give his closing statement at the trial. The two leading candidates for the actual cause of death are untreated diabetes and stroke.


Whatever the cause, it was almost certainly exacerbated by the stress and physically grueling heat in the trial. From that point, Brian was viewed as a martyr within the anti evolution movement. Five years later, Brian College, originally called William Jennings Bryan University, opened in Dayton as a Christian liberal arts college.


The Scopes trial had a somewhat contradictory aftermath. Tennessee in general and Dayton specifically were roundly laughed at in the news media, which was also particularly unkind to both religious fundamentalism and to laws forbidding the teaching of evolution. And yet similar laws were introduced, although unsuccessfully, in the legislatures of California, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia. In the years following the Scopes trial, Arkansas and Mississippi each passed laws banning the teaching of evolution.


Not long after, even though only three states explicitly outlawed the teaching of evolution, many textbook publishers quietly removed references to it from their biology textbooks. This included a new civic biology whose 1927 edition never specifically references evolution and tiptoes around the basic concepts.


At the same time, the coverage of the trial and of William Jennings. Brian's death helped coalesce the anti evolution movement from sort of a scattered collection of various denominations to a solid social movement and deros relentless framing of evolution and religion as this either or proposition cemented the standard for how the issue would be discussed for years to come. Attempts to repeal the Butler Act began in 1935, but failed stayed on the books until 1967. Governor Austin Peay died in 1927, and his signature on The Butler Act largely overshadowed the rest of his legacy for decades.


It would also take decades for a case relating to the teaching of evolution to make it all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1968, the Supreme Court heard the case of Susan Aposhian, an Arkansas zoology teacher who had been found guilty of breaking that state's law prohibiting the teaching of evolution. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Espersen vs. Arkansas that laws prohibiting the teaching of evolution violated the First Amendment. And in this case, Epperson faced the same dilemma that Scopes did back in 1925.


Arkansas law had made it illegal to teach the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals, end quote. But the textbook that the state had adopted in 1965 had a chapter on that very thing after Espersen vs. Arkansas.


Most states that had previously banned the teaching of evolution instead mandated that equal time be spent on teaching creationism. This includes Tennessee, which passed the nation's first law requiring equal time for the biblical account of creation in 1973. A federal appeals court ruled this law unconstitutional two years later.


That ruling applied only to Tennessee. But in 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that a Louisiana law entitled, quote, The balanced treatment for creation, science and Evolution, Science and Public School Instruction Act was unconstitutional.


That case, known as Edward vs. Aguillard, applied nationally from their most states that had passed equal time laws, instead began to frame the conversation as one of intelligent design or began mandating disclaimers that evolution is just a theory. In 2005, a U.S. district court found that teaching intelligent design in public schools was unconstitutional in a case known as Kitzmiller vs. Dover because intelligent design, quote, cannot uncouple itself from its creationist and thus religious antecedents.


The same year in Selman vs. Cobb County School District, a federal judge examined the question of whether stickers reading, quote, Evolution is a theory, not a fact, concerning the origin of living things, end quote, which the school was putting on to textbooks that had information about evolution, whether that violated the Constitution. And after going back and forth through several levels of the courts, that case was ultimately settled out of court in favor of the plaintiffs who were the ones who had objected to the use of the stickers so clearly.


States find new ways to work around this issue. It's probably one that will continue to come up in the courts.


And in the meantime, Dayton, Tennessee, actually holds an annual Scopes Trial Festival. You want to get in on that if you want. Yeah, it's it's an interesting phenomenon because it's partially because I mean, Dayton was really lampooned a lot after this. And Tennessee also got a lot of just terrible press afterward. So some of the Scopes Festival is meant to try to reclaim some like the less like let's make complete fun of you sides of more like own.


This is the thing that happened in our town that was historically important. Right. And not like. The way that the media portrayed us was totally accurate, like not like that at all, but it's definitely like there's the play and there's a festival happens every year. Are there both monkeys and chimpanzees? I do not know. Thanks so much for joining us on this Saturday. Since this episode is out of the archive, if you heard an email address or a Facebook you or something similar over the course of the show, that could be obsolete.


Now, our current email address is History podcast and I heart radio dotcom. Our old HowStuffWorks email address no longer works. And you can find us all over social media at MTT in history. And you can subscribe to our show on Apple podcast, Google podcast, the I Heart Radio app, and wherever else you listen to podcasts.


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