Eyewitness Reports in History Scopes Monkey Trial Part 1

An eyewitness account of the famous Scopes Monkey trial in American history that pitted evolution versus creation.

The Scopes Trial

When: July, 1925

How: Because it focused on the rights and wrongs of Darwin's theory of evolution rather than on the guilt or innocence of the defendant, the trial of John Thomas Scopes in Dayton, Tenn., during 11 sweltering July days in 1925 became known as the Monkey Trial.

After Scopes, a mild-mannered young biology teacher, volunteered to be arrested for violating an act of the state legislature which prohibited the teaching of evolution in publicly supported schools, representatives of both sides of the controversial issue descended upon the small country town. the most famous criminal lawyer in America, Clarence Darrow, headed Scopes's defense team without a fee. Leading the prosecution was three-time-defeated candidate for president William Jennings Bryan, a former secretary of state known as the golden-tongued orator.

Immediately the town of 1,500 took on a circus atmosphere. Wagonloads of farmers came in from the hills to hear the shouting. More than 100 newsmen poured in, setting up extra teletype equipment to send out an estimated 2 million words during the next two weeks, and the Chicago Tribune installed radio transmitters for the first broadcast of a trial in American history.

When the trial opened on Friday, July 10, Judge John T. Raulston bowed his head and began to pray. Darrow objected to the prayer, but he was overruled. He also objected to a sign proclaiming, "Read Your Bible," and it was removed.

The selected jury included one admitted illiterate. With the help of the teacher defendant, three schoolboys who had been Scopes's pupils were found to testify that he had taught evolution in his classes. Afterward, the prosecution rested.

Scientists, professors, and intellectuals from all over the country traveled to Dayton. However, when the first expert witness was called by the defense, District Attorney A. T. Stewart, assisting in the prosecution, objected on the grounds that any interpretation of evolution or the Bible would be personal opinion and not admissible. After excusing the jury and warning them not to stand around the courtyard, where the trial was being broadcast through a public-address system for the crowd outside, the judge listened to the arguments for and against admitting scientific testimony. Stewart lifted his hands high, looked ceilingward, and cried out, "Would they have me believe that I was once a worm and writhed in the dust? I want to go beyond this world to where there is eternal happiness for me and others." The following day Judge Raulson refused to hear the testimony of the scientists, which the defense had hoped would prove the truthfulness of evolution.

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