Why was William Jennings Bryan against evolution

July 21, 2010 - 85 years ago: Judgment in the Dayton "Monkey Trial"

The devil's broken loose in Dayton, Tennessee. More than 5,000 onlookers, as well as hordes of hawkers and reporters from all over the world, have transformed the 1,800-soul nest in the biblical south of the USA into a fairground. You have come to witness a trial that will go down in American judicial history as the "monkey trial". A month earlier, in May 1925, the 24-year-old biology teacher John Thomas Scopes was arrested. He taught his students Charles Darwin's theory of the origin of species, which has been banned by law in fundamentalist Tennessee since the beginning of the year. "We in Europe cannot believe that a process like the one in Dayton is even possible," commented the Berliner Tageblatt observer.

The court lets pray

When the main hearing begins on July 10, the teacher no longer plays a role. In the spotlight of the first trial, broadcast live on the radio, are the two most famous lawyers in the USA. The indictment is represented by ex-foreign minister and presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, a missionary fighter against the "pernicious" doctrine that humans are descended from apes. His opponent is Clarence Darrow, the most famous civil rights activist and criminal defense attorney in the country. All over the overcrowded courthouse there are banners that read "Read your Bible daily!" Judge John T. Raulston makes no secret of his biblical disposition and supports the prosecution as best he can. He initiates each day of negotiations with a prayer.

Guilty as charged

Nevertheless, Raulston cannot prevent the shrewd and eloquent Darrow from defending science against faith in an outstanding way in a duel. In the final cross-examination he entangles his adversary Bryan in contradictions to such an extent that the judge abruptly breaks off the interrogation the next day and deletes all of Bryan's statements from the record. On July 21, 1925, the jury withdrew to deliberate. After nine minutes your line is clear: Guilty. Judge Raulston sentenced the accused biology teacher to a minimum fine of 100 dollars. The clear winners of the "monkey trial" are the Dayton businessmen. They had hired the teacher Scopes - in agreement with the court - as a "martyr" in order to make their provincial town famous with a staged show trial. In January 1927, the state Supreme Court overturned the judgment of John Thomas Scopes for a formal error. Further attempts by the civil rights movement to overturn Tennessee's anti-evolution law remain unsuccessful. The last attempt failed in 1951.

Status: 07/21/10