Monday, July 16, 2007


Of Lions and Arenas

Thursday, July 16, 1925

After lunch, William Jennings Bryan made his first speech of the trial. He said that he had not felt competent to speak in the early stages, when the disputes concerned Tennessee law and Tennessee procedure. But there were other matters at stake; in the next hour, he ran the full roster.

Referring to a recent New York law that had repealed the state enforcement of prohibition, Bryan asked what the newspapers would have said if Tennessee had sent experts to New York to testify that prohibition was really a good thing. But New Yorkers had not hesitated to impose their views on Tennessee.

And what doctrine were these invaders teaching? What was the issue? It was simple: "the Christian believes that man came from above; but the evolutionist believes he must have come from below." (Bryan mistakenly thought the loud laughter was all with him.) He took up the evolutionary tree on page 194 of Hunter's book, which showed the number of species in each class of animals: 518,000 species in all -- 8,000 of protozoa, Bryan pointed out, 360,000 of insects, 13,000 of fishes, 3,500 of reptiles, 13,000 of birds. "And then we have mammals, 3,500, and there is a little circle and man is in the circle." Bryan challenged his audience: "Find him. Find him."

He was enraged. "Talk about putting Daniel in the lion's den. How dared those scientists put man in a little ring like that with lions and tigers and everything that is bad!"

- Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever?

Malone responded with a moving, half-hour plea for freedom that had all the more impact because the audience did not see it coming. "As he rose to answer Bryan he performed the most effective act anyone could have thought of to get the audience's undivided attention: He took off his coat," Scopes later recalled. "Every eye was on him before he said a single word." Malone started off quietly, half-seated on the defense table -- as if humbled to follow the Great Commoner. "I defy anybody, after Mr. Bryan's speech, to believe that this is not a religious question," Malone commented near the beginning. "Oh, no, the issue is as broad as Mr. Bryan himself makes it." The volume rose as Malone recalled the Commoner's pretrial threats. "We have come here for this duel," Malone declared, "but does the opposition mean by duel that one defendant shall be strapped to a board and that they alone shall carry the sword? Is our only weapon -- the witnesses who shall testify to the accuracy of our theory -- is our only weapon to be taken from us?" By now he stood tall and shouted his defiance. "We feel we stand with science. We feel we stand with intelligence. We feel we stand with fundamental freedom in America. We are not afraid," Malone concluded. "We ask your honor to admit the evidence as a matter of correct law, as a matter of sound procedure and as a matter of justice to the defendant."

- Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods


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