Scopes Trial

What does the curriculum of the 1920’s tell us about the values of the time?

The 1920’s was not all “roaring” as we shall see today. There were
many, especially those in power who preached conservatism and
moderation. America turned towards the right, we were a religious god
fearing nation. This religious zealotry brought about serious
constitutional questions. Ones that have yet to fully answered.

The Scopes Monkey Trial – 1925 – In 1925 in Dayton
Tennessee a group of teachers decided to test a law called the Butler
Law. The Butler law made it illegal to teach the theory of evolution
and instead mandated the biblical interpretation of creationism. The
teachers felt that academic freedom and integrity as well as
separation of church and state was at stake. Twenty four year old
science teacher and football coach John T. Scopes would teach the
class. Knowing he would be arrested Scopes taught the class and set
into motion one of the most important trials in American history.

Scopes was arrested, as expected, for violating the Butler Law. At
the ensuing trial William Jennings Bryan (Yes, the Populist guy!)
acted as special prosecutor. World famous criminal defense lawyer
Clarence Darrow defended Scopes. The trial raged on for days. The
judge did not allow any of Darrow’s scientists to testify and public
sentiment in the Bible Belt was against Scopes. Bryan portrayed
Darrow as an agnostic and atheist. In desperation Darrow put Bryan
himself on the stand. Darrow brilliantly was able to get Bryan to
admit that the word of the bible is not literal, it was interpreted.
This seemed to destroy the whole case. Darrow asked for immediate
judgment and when the jury came back Darrow was shocked…he had
lost! The judge levied the minimum fine possible ($100) against
Scopes. Later that year the Scopes conviction was overturned on a

What did all this prove? Well for one it showed the religious and
conservative nature of America. It also displayed the vast
differences between the big cities and the small towns. The big city
newspapers covering the trial scoffed at the Butler Law as small
minded and archaic. In the cities Scopes was a hero but in Dayton
Tennessee he was a criminal.

America was left with many questions. Were we to be a modern
nation, the nation of Lindbergh and the roaring twenties or were we
to be the nation of religious right wing conservatives? Only time
would tell.

a more in depth summary of the Scopes Monkey Trial click here.

For a great
site on the 1920’s click here.