Did William Jennings Bryan kill fundamentalism when he took the stand?
The trial was basically over. The prosecution won. John Scopes was moments away from being convicted of teaching evolution in Dayton, Tennessee. The ACLU and the prosecution had what they wanted. But Clarence Darrow did not. He wanted to make a monkey out of William Jennings Bryan, the famous “fundamentalist”. But how?
Clarence Darrow sets a trap for William Jennings Bryan
Darrow knew that if he turned down the chance to make a closing argument that Bryan would not be able to make one either. That meant that Bryan’s carefully crafted words would never get heard. But he had one more trick up his sleeve. He would call Bryan, the lawyer for the prosecution, to the stand. Imagine that! The case was no longer about the defendant. It was about the lawyers trying to flex.
Bryan took the bait. He got on the stand outdoors next to the Rhea County Courthouse in front of an audience of millions. Darrow, in a masterstroke, hit him over and over with the questions of any village atheist. Did Jonah really get swallowed by a large fish? Did the sun really stand still because Joshua prayed that it would? And Bryan… floundered on live radio.
Inherit the Wind gets the story of the Scopes trial all wrong
This event was made even more famous by the long-running play Inherit the Wind on broadway, which was followed up by a movie adaptation. But the play got it all wrong. Edward Larson, professor at Pepperdine University, and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Summer for the Gods, joins Chris to uncover what really happened on that muggy summer day.
- “Summer for the Gods” by Edward Larson
- Rhea County Heritage and Scopes Trial Museum Worth a visit!
- Court Transcript of the Scopes Trial (easy to find online)
- “A Godly Hero” by Michael Kazin
- Bryan believed in majoritarianism. What is that idea? What do you think of it?
- Do you think Bryan should have gotten on the stand? Why or why not?
- How did Bryan do on the stand in your opinion?
- Does this court case matter in your understanding of fundamentalism?
- How and when should Christians make stands for their beliefs? When should we stay quiet?