July 21, 2006

INHERIT THE WINDBAGS

Scopes Guilty, Fined $100, Scores Law (The New York Times, July 21, 1925)
The trial of John Thomas Scopes for teaching evolution in Tennessee, which Clarence Darrow characterized today as "the first case of its kind since we stopped trying people for witchcraft," is over. Mr. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, and his counsel will appeal to the Supreme Court of Tennessee for reversal of the verdict. [...]

Dr. John R. Neal of the defense spoke, and then Mr. Bryan rose again and said the people would decide this issue.

"I don't know that there is any special reason why I should add to what has been said, and yet the subject has been presented from so many viewpoints that I hope the Court will pardon me if I mention a viewpoint that has not been referred to," he said. "Dayton is the centre and seat of this trial largely by circumstance. We are told that more words have been sent across the ocean by cable to Europe and Australia about this trial than has ever been sent by cable in regard to anything else doing in the United States. That isn't because the trial is held in Dayton. It isn't because a school teacher has been subjected to the danger of a fine of from $100 to $500, but I think it illustrates how people can be drawn into prominence by attaching themselves to a great cause.

"Causes stir the world, and this cause has stirred the world. It is because it goes deep. It is because it extends wide and because it reaches into the future beyond the power of man to see. Here has been fought out a little case of little consequence as a case, but the world is interested because it raises an issue, and that issue will some day be settled right, whether it is settled on our side or the other side. It is going to be settled right. There can be no settlement of a great cause without discussion, and people will not discuss a cause until their attention is drawn to it, and the value of this trial is not in any incident of the trial, it is not because of anybody who is attached to it, either in any official way or as counsel on either side.

"Human beings are mighty small, your Honor. We are apt to minify the personal element and we sometimes become inflated with our importance, but the world little cares for man as an individual. He is born, he works, he dies, but causes go on forever, and we who have participated in this case may congratulate ourselves that we have attached ourselves to a mighty issue.

"Now, if I were to attempt to define that issue I might find objection from the other side. Their definition of the issue might not be as mine is, and therefore, I will not take advantage of the privilege the Court gives me this morning to make a statement that might be controversial, and nothing that I would say would determine it.

"I have no power to define this issue finally and authoritatively. None of the counsel on our side has this power, and none of the consul on the other side has this power. Even this honorable Court has no such power. The people will determine this issue. They will take sides upon this issue, they will state the questions involved in this issue, they will examine the information -- not so much that which has been brought out here, but this case will stimulate investigation an divestigation will bring out information, and the facts will be known, and upon the facts as ascertained the decision will be rendered, and I think my friends and your Honor, that if we are actuated by the spirit that should actuate every one of us, no matter what our views may be, we ought not only desire but pray that that which is right will prevail, whether it be our way or somebody else's."

His words brought a last retort from Mr. Darrow. He thanked Dayton for its hospitality and courtesy and liberality and thanked the Court for not sending him to jail, which aroused laughter.

"Of course there is much that Mr. Bryan has said that is true," he continued. "And nature- nature. I refer to- does not choose any special setting for mere events. I fancy that the place where the Magna Charta was wrested from the barons in England was a very small place, probably not as big as Dayton. But events come along as they come along.

"I think this case will be remembered because it is the first case of this sort since we stopped trying people in America for witchcraft, because here"- and he thundered out the last words- "we have done our best to turn back the tide that has sought to force itself upon the modern world of testing every fact in science by a religious dictum. That is all I care to say."

The contrast between Mr. Bryant's humility and Mr. Darrow's self-importance pretty much says it all.

MORE:
"THE MONKEY TRIAL": A Reporter's Account (H. L. Mencken) Posted by Orrin Judd at July 21, 2006 12:01 AM
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