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The stage was set in Dayton, Tennessee. The leading actor in this show was a twenty five-year-old science teacher named John T. Scopes. Scopes was under the direction of advancing America. The playbill read The Scopes “Monkey” Trial. In 1925 John T. Scopes was encouraged to challenge the Butler Law. This law had been passed by a small town in Dayton, Tennessee to prohibit teaching contra to those in the Bible. Teaching from an evolutionary text, Scopes broke the law and gained the attention of the National media. The concentration of the media on the Scopes Trial effectively presented the contrasting ideas of a religious town and an evolving country.
The town in Dayton, Tennessee was both religious and stable. People in this town were seen holding signs marked with the command to “Read Your Bible” (Ginger 93). The inhabitants here had adopted the teachings of the Bible in order to feel secure within a time of change. “In rural areas, particularly in the South and Midwest, Americans turned to their faith for comfort and stability” (Scopes 12). The town would hold on to what they knew. People in Dayton had no desire to travel forward with the roaring twenties. William Jennings Bryan was the leading defender of the Butler Law as well as heading the prosecution.
Bryan was determined to defend as literally true every word of the Bible. In the deepest sense, he had to defend it; he needed reassurance and certainty, and since childhood had learned to rely on the Bible as the source of reassurance and certainty. (Ginger 41). Bryan would be the leader to a people who held on to religion and the past.
In contrast to this small town were the advancing views of America. The twenties continued to roar towards modernism. “Breakthroughs in technology, the increase in material wealth, and the beginning of an empire seemingly heralded the upward march of civilization, with America on the forefront” (Dumenil 6). In all directions, it was clear that America was moving forward. Transportation was a prime example of this advancement. Innovator Henry Ford introduced his “ Ford Miracle” to the public (Dumenil 6). Economies and the social values also began to advance. “Dubious get-rich-quick schemes and fads…contributed to a tone of feverish frivolity” (Dumenil 7). People began to lead fast paced lives with the desire to become rich, quickly.
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The contrasting beliefs of the small town in Dayton and advancing America soon faced one another in The Scopes Monkey Trial. Substitute teacher John Scopes challenged the Butler Law. This trial, according to William Jennings Bryan, was a “contest between evolution and Christianity” (Ginger 43). The side of evolution was to be defended by the well-known Clarence Darrow. Darrow proved to the jury that the Bible was open to interpretation. “Do you think the earth was made in six days?” Bryan responds “Not in six days of twenty four hours…My impression is they were periods” (Allen 150-151). Darrow had led Bryan right into his trap. Bryan’s testimony proved to the jury that the Bible was not as stable and concrete as Dayton had believed it to be. In the end, however, Scopes was found guilty and charged with a fine of one hundred dollars.
The media began to cover the trial just hours after it was first reported in the Chattanooga Times. From the moment that the media got informed, members of the media flocked from all over the United States and as far from Hong Kong to cover the trial. This “Monkey” trial was making headlines in all of the major newspapers across the country. From the moment that the media got involved in this trial, it was evident that the verdict was clearly not the main focus of the people’s attention. (Scopes 23). The debate served great interest to the media because it acted as a microcosm of the separation between city and country during the roaring twenties. “Some people were choosing to cling to the past or jump into the future” (Scopes 78). The conflicting desires of the people brought forth the great media attention. The media was more interested in presenting the two contrasting sides to the public, rather than presenting the verdict.
As the curtain lowered upon this small town, it was clear to the audience that times were changing. Although the verdict found Scopes to be guilty, this event would not go ignored. This trial would act as a catalyst encouraging a push towards modernism. In the battle between small town Dayton and America, it was clear that modernism was victorious.
Allen, Leslie. Bryan and Darrow at Dayton: The Record and Documents of the "Bible Evolution Trial". New York: Arthur Lee and Co., 1925.
De Camp, Sprague. The Great Monkey Trial. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1968.
Dumenil, Lynn. The Modern Temper. New York: Hill and Wang, 1995.
Ginger, Ray. Six Days or Forever?. London: Oxford University Press, 1958.
Scopes, John, and Presley, James. Center of the Storm. New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1967.