Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
It was a clash of legal titans: famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow representing John Thomas Scopes -- on trial for violating Tennessee law by teaching evolution -- facing William Jennings Bryan, a three-time candidate for president who assisted the prosecution with his literal interpretation of the Bible. At one point, Bryan accepted Darrow's challenge to become a witness in what became known as the "monkey trial" and was outsmarted and humiliated by Darrow on cross-examination. Bryan died five days after the trial ended. Scopes's conviction was later overturned on a technicality, but the Tennessee law that made the teaching of evolution illegal remained in effect until 1967. An excerpt from The Post of July 22, 1925:
In a swift succession of dramatic incidents, sad, humorous, and thoughtful, the Tennessee evolution trial came to an end today with the conviction of John Thomas Scopes and his fine of $100 for having taught that man descended from a lower form of life.
As great events flowed from Bethlehem long ago, and from Runnymede, and from the fate of one poor colored man in the Dred Scott case, so the chief actors in this spectacle, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, leaders of the opposing sides, predicted new currents of world thought spreading out from Dayton to unknown shores of human action.
Two indestructible forces met here, Judge John T. Raulston pointed out in his closing address in the court room. These are the "passion for truth" and the "word of God." He said that the word of God as revealed in the Bible would never perish, showing how little the impact of scientific facts, the shafts of Darrow, the revelations of the defense, have touched his humble, praying soul. Mr. Bryan's remains intact, though narrowed, perhaps.
Despite all efforts, science has been allied with agnosticism, as an attack on the Bible, an effort to destroy the Christian church.
The tremendous struggle over the fundamentals of human thought and search will now be transferred to the higher courts and to the scientific and theological forums of the world.
Mr. Darrow today almost pleaded with the jury to convict his client. They assented and returned a verdict of guilty within five minutes after Judge Raulston had instructed them. There were no final arguments. The clash between Mr. Darrow and Mr. Bryan yesterday was wiped from the record of the court, though not from the memory of those who heard it, and the case was sent on its way to the higher courts. It is expected that a decision in the Tennessee supreme court will be handed down within 60 days.
Balked of his desire to get Clarence Darrow to deny the chief points of fundamentalism, the virgin birth, the miracles, the resurrection and the atonement, and to admit that he and all the scientists in the world could never explain the origin of life except in terms of God, Mr. Bryan announced that he would have to take his case to the press of the nation, and that he was preparing a series of questions for his opponent. The trial was merely adjourned to a wider field.
Smarting under the memory of his own cross-examination by Mr. Darrow, when Darrow, before the world, termed him an ignorant bigot, at least by implication, Mr. Bryan did not protest when he was barred from the stand for further examination as to the Bible which he has accepted so literally. He had cast his scorn and his defiance aside and appeared in the mantle of Christian forgiveness, willing to forgive even Darrow, taking the case away from personal struggles to a decision beyond the power of man.
The lawyers more particularly saw to it that the records prepared the way for the Tennessee courts and for the United States Supreme court.
Mr. Darrow went into defeat with the words "witch burners" on his lips, defying Bryan to turn back the tide of thought and science.
This series is available at www.washingtonpost.com