May 25, 2011

Anniversary of the Scopes Indictment

May 25, 1925, a grand jury indicted John T. Scopes for violating a Tennessee law (passed only two months before) against the teaching of evolution (the Butler Act; repealed in 1967).  Clarence Darrow undertook Mr. Scopes' defense, while the prosecution enlisted William Jennings Bryan to direct its case. While the jury hearing the case ultimately convicted Scopes, Tennessee's Supreme Court overturned the conviction on the grounds that the judge, rather than the jury, had imposed the penalty.

John T. Scopes
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee dramatized the trial, somewhat disguising the principals as Henry Drummond (Darrow), Matthew Harrison Brady (Bryan), Bertram T. Cates (Scopes), and E. K. Hornbeck (H. L. Mencken, the famed journalist who covered the trial). The playwrights noted that while their work took the Scopes trial as its departure point it was also an indictment of the McCarthyism that swept the country in the early and mid-1950s. The play made its debut on Broadway in 1955 and was first filmed in 1960.  It has been made for television three times, in 1965, 1988, and 1999, and is a staple for repertory companies and local theater groups.


Copy of the original New York Times story discussing Scopes indictment here
Mencken's article discussing likelihood of Scopes' conviction
Professor Doug Linder's excellent Famous Trials website with more information on the trial here

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