Scopes Monkey Trial
On January 28th, 1925, the Tennessee Legislature passed the Butler Act prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools. Shortly after the legalization of the act on May 7th, 1925, John Thomas Scopes, a science teacher at Dayton High School, willingly challenged the stance of such a regulation. Consequently, the Tennessee police arrested Scopes and charged him with the violation of the law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appointed Clarence Darrow as the defense attorney for Scopes, while William Jennings Bryan, a well-known presidential nominee, argued on behalf of the prosecution. Formally the case is known as The State of Tennessee v John Thomas Scopes; however, the case is widely recognized as the Scopes Monkey Trial.
During the 1920s, many states throughout the United States experienced difficulty with the word “evolution” and its many connotations. Anti-evolution bills arose in order to prohibit the discussion and teaching of the subject. People began to fear that the acceptance of evolution in schools would interfere with the religious views of the students. The Scopes trial lasted eight agonizing days with the two opposing sides fighting for political gains. According to an article written in 1927 by Ronald M. Harper, “the great drive to banish the teaching of evolution from American schools widely heralded after the Dayton monkey trial” was successful. Scopes most certainly achieved nationwide fame with his experimental trial causing chaos throughout.
Day eight of the trial signaled a verdict of guilt for Scopes. Sheldon Norman Grebstein in his book Monkey Trial declared that the Tennessee court returned a guilty verdict and “convicted [Scopes] for teaching in the public schools a certain theory denying the story of the divine creation of man.” As a punishment, Scopes received a fine of $100, while the two attorneys of the case continued their bitter fight for political popularity. In the article “Creationism in the United States: II. The Aftermath of the Scopes Trial,” Randy Moore states that “as both sides claimed victory editors of newspapers… predicted the creation/evolution controversy would continue unabated.” Ultimately, Scopes lost the most as a consequence of the trial. He decided to resign from Dayton High and eventually left Tennessee to pursue other interests.
For Scopes, the trial signaled an opportunity for change; however, the economic and political gains proved to be greater overshadowing his action. Scopes continued his fight against the Tennessee courts appealing the verdict which yet again proved unsuccessful. In the early 1950s, a final attempt to fight the Butler Act occurred and again the legislature of Tennessee chose to uphold the law.
- Randy Moore, "Creationism in the United States: II. The Aftermath of the Scopes Trial," The American Biology Teacher Volume 60 Number 8 (Oct. 1998): 568-577.
- Sheldon Norman Grebstein, Monkey Trial (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1960), 1-220.
- The Science News-Letter, "Monkey War' Collapse," The Science News-Letter Vol. 11, No. 314 (April 16, 1927): 241-242.