John Scopes, an unassuming high school biology teacher and part-time football coach, is found guilty of teaching evolution in schools, in violation of Tennessee law.
Scopes agreed, after some persuading by the American Civil Liberties Union and others, to serve as the guinea pig in an attempt to challenge the law on constitutional grounds.
Famed attorney Clarence Darrow led Scopes’ defense team in what the press quickly dubbed the Monkey Trial
. William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic nominee for president and a paradoxical blend of progressive conservatism, represented both the state and the fundamentalists who opposed Darwin’s theories.
The trial took eight days in the sweltering Tennessee summer. National newspapers covered it in detail, including dramatic confrontations between Darrow and Bryan both in and out of the courtroom.
Whether Scopes actually taught evolution to his biology class remains unclear. Although he told the court he had done it and would do it again, he later admitted to a newspaper reporter that while he used a textbook that included a chapter on evolution, he skipped the chapter.
Darrow expected a guilty verdict and stood ready to appeal the decision to a higher court. The jury did not disappoint him. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100 (about $1,200 in today's money). The Tennessee Supreme Court later upheld the constitutionality of the statute but overturned Scopes’ conviction on a technicality.
Bryan, meanwhile, died only five days after the conclusion of the Monkey Trial.
The Butler Act, as the anti-evolution law was known, remained on the books in Tennessee until its repeal by the state legislature in 1967.
Source: University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
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