Intelligent Design

Mencken’s Mendacity at the Scopes Trial

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In my previous post, Six bombshells relating to H. L. Mencken and the Scopes Trial, I exposed six journalist bombshells relating to the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925. I also accused Mencken of lying on nine particular points – a charge for which I shall provide substantiation in today’s post.

Mencken’s Nine Major Misrepresentations – An Executive Summary

What did Mencken lie about, in his reporting on the Scopes trial?

First, Mencken lied about the key point at issue in the Scopes Trial, which was not whether the theory of evolution could be taught in Tennessee’s public high schools, but whether the evolution of man from “lower animals” could be taught as a scientific theory to high school students, in a state where a solid majority of parents in the state of Tennessee opposed the teaching of such a theory to their children, on both moral and religious grounds.

Second, Mencken lied by omission, by failing to mention that Hunter’s Civic Biology, a pro-evolution science textbook that was cited at the trial, and which high school teachers in the state of Tennessee were actually required to use at the time, endorsed both racism and eugenics: it taught the the Caucasoid race was “the highest” races, described people with mental handicaps and genetic deformities as “true parasites“, and highly commended the practice of eugenics.

Third, Mencken mis-represented the religious views of William Jennings Bryan, depicting him as a Biblical literalist and a “fundamentalist pope,” when Bryan’s own writings showed that he was a Presbyterian of fairly liberal views, who believed in an old Earth, and who was open to the possibility that plants and animals had evolved by Darwinian natural selection, making an exception only for man.

Fourth, Mencken mendaciously attributed to Bryan the statement that man is not a mammal, when Bryan said nothing of the sort. What Bryan did object to was the portrayal of man in Hunter’s Civic Biology as an unexceptional mammal, “so indistinguishable among the mammals that they leave him there with thirty-four hundred and ninety-nine other [species of] mammals.”

Fifth, Mencken consistently portrayed Bryan as a petty, hate-filled character when others who were present, including Scopes himself, testified to his magnanimity, affability and pleasant personality.

Sixth, Mencken falsely depicted Bryan as an ignorant man with a “peasant-like suspicion of all book learning,” when in fact, he was the valedictorian of his law class, and had also read Darwin’s Origin of Species and his Descent of Man, twenty years before the Scopes trial was held.

Seventh, Mencken mis-represented the political views of William Jennings Bryan, describing Bryan as a “fundamentalist pope” and a “superstitious old populist,” when in reality, he was a progressive who actively supported causes such as women’s suffrage (which Mencken opposed), the direct election of Senators, and progressive income tax. Mencken also publicly opposed imperialism and anti-Semitism, and in Chapter 9 of his book, In his image, he declared in that “prejudice of any kind, whether it be personal, political, race, or religious, seriously interferes with the progress of truth.” Nevertheless, Bryan’s political career suffered from one great moral failing: fearing to alienate his political supporters, he refused to speak out publicly against the Ku Klux Klan. I’ll say more on Bryan’s views on race relations below; for now, let me note that H. L. Mencken’s own statements on African Americans were far more reprehensible than anything Bryan ever said. According to Mencken, “The vast majority of people of their race are but two or three inches removed from gorillas” (“The Aframerican: New Style“, in The American Mercury, February 1926, pp. 254-255.)

Eighth, Mencken lied about the outcome of the Scopes trial, when he claimed that Bryan was totally and irretrievably crushed in the courtroom by Dudley Malone’s rousing reply to Bryan’s speech on the fifth day of the trial and by Clarence Darrow’s subsequent interrogation of Bryan on the seventh day. However, the trial defendant, John T. Scopes, thought otherwise. In his autobiography, Center of the Storm, he acknowledged that Bryan’s speech, which preceded Malone’s, was mesmerizing, receiving “a long and spirited – but not boisterous – ovation,” and that while Malone’s speech in reply was “unexpectedly moving” and had the people “eating out of his hand,” Bryan was “revitalized” the following day; “his instinct to fight, his courage, and his strong heart would not let him completely surrender.” For their part, the people of Dayton, Tennessee, “considered the Bryan-Malone tilt as one round of the fight,” rather than as a knockout victory for Malone, as Mencken had suggested in his newspaper columns. In his autobiography, Scopes added that “Bryan tried to stage a comeback, but Darrow blocked him completely.” Bryan was denied the opportunity to deliver his closing argument in the Scopes trial, because he was outmaneuvered by Clarence Darrow, who, fearing Bryan’s rhetorical powers, told the judge he was willing to accept a guilty verdict in order to move to appeal, thus obviating the need for closing statements. Darrow had good reason to be afraid, as anyone who has read Bryan’s undelivered closing speech will readily agree: it was a passionate and persuasive piece of writing. As for Darrow’s courtroom cross-examination of Bryan: according to trial historian (and Pulitzer Prize winner) Edward Larson, author of Summer for the Gods (Basic Books, New York, 1997, 2006), the idea that Bryan was soundly defeated in Dayton can be traced back to Mencken’s biased reporting on the trial and, later on, to a highly creative account of the trial written by Harper’s magazine editor Frederick Lewis Allen, in his best-seller, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties, which “presented the trial in cartoon-like simplicity,” “reduced fundamentalism to antievolutionism and antievolutionism to Bryan” (ibid., p. 226) and “perpetuated various misconceptions about events at Dayton” (ibid., p. 228) – for example, Allen claimed that “Bryan affirmed his belief that the world was created in
4004 B.C.,” when in fact Bryan allowed that the creation of the world “might have continued for millions of years.” Years later, the movie, Inherit the Wind would add to the myth, depicting Bryan as having been reduced to a blubbering wreck under Darrow’s cross-examination, when the trial transcript of the interrogation clearly shows that he gave as good as he got and maintained his dignity, right up until the very end.

Ninth and finally, Mencken mis-represented the religious views of the people of Dayton, Tennessee, depicting them as a bunch of fundamentalist yokels who were prone to bouts of religious hysteria. The reality is considerably more complicated: many of the townsfolk belonged to the Masons, who had no religious objections to evolution. If we look at religious denominations, we find that there were a large number of Methodists, as well as a number of Episcopalians, who displayed some latitude on the issue. Finally, the largest church in Dayton was not the Church of God, to which Mencken devoted an entire newspaper column, but the Baptists. The court records also show that speeches by evolutionists during the trial were applauded by the crowd: Dudley Malone’s speech, in particular, was received with prolonged applause, as Mencken himself pointed out.

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Lie Number 1: The Scopes Trial was all about whether evolution could be taught in state high schools in Tennessee

Lie Number 2: The Tennessee high school biology text, Hunter’s Civic Biology, was objective and free of ideology

Lie Number 3: William Jennings Bryan was a Biblical literalist, who believed that the world had been created in six days

Lie Number 4: During the trial, William Jennings Bryan denied that man was a mammal

Lie Number 5: William Jennings Bryan was a petty, vindictive, hate-filled man

Lie Number 6: William Jennings Bryan was an ignorant man

Lie Number 7: William Jennings Bryan’s political views were backwards-looking, representing the worst of American politics

Lie Number 8: Bryan’s speech on Day five was a farce, and Bryan was totally crushed in the courtroom by Dudley Malone and Clarence Darrow, and never recovered from his humiliation

Lie Number 9: The people of Dayton were a bunch of fundamentalist yokels who were prone to religious hysteria and who were totally closed-minded in their religious opinions

Lie Number 1: The Scopes Trial was all about whether evolution could be taught in state high schools in Tennessee

Evolutionary tree showing the divergence of modern species from their common ancestor in the centre. The three domains are colored, with bacteria blue, archaea green and eukaryotes red. Under the Butler Act of 1925, it would have been perfectly legal for a science teacher in Tennessee to teach that plants, animals and other organisms evolved – with the sole exception of man. Image courtesy of Tim Vickers and Wikipedia.

Fact: The Butler Act prohibited only the teaching of human evolution in public schools, and said nothing about plants and animals. William Jennings Bryan was not the author of the Butler Act; moreover, he actually opposed the fine it imposed on teachers breaking the law, believing (correctly) that it would turn them into martyrs. Finally, Bryan was quite willing to tolerate human evolution being discussed in science classrooms, so long as it was presented only as a hypothesis.

The 1925 Tennessee Butler Act, “An Act prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all the Universities, and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof” (Tenn. HB 185, 1925) specifically provided:

That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

The Act additionally outlined that an offending teacher would be guilty of a misdemeanor (not a crime) and fined between $100 and $500 for each offense.

However, William Jennings Bryan thought the fine was a bad idea: he believed (correctly) that it would only serve to create “martyrs” for the cause of evolution. In an article titled, “Darwinism in the Public Schools” (in The Commoner, 23 January 1923, pp. 1-2), Bryan wrote:

A resolution without penalties will be sufficient—a resolution passed by the legislature declaring it unlawful for any teacher, principal, superintendent, trustee, director, member of a school board, or any other person exercising authority in or over a public school, college or university, whether holding office by election or appointment, to teach or permit to be taught in any institution of learning, supported by public taxation, atheism, agnosticism, Darwinism, or any other hypothesis that links man in blood relationship to any other form of life.

We are not dealing with criminals, for whom fine or imprisonment is necessary, but with educated people who have substituted a scientific guess for the Bible, and who are, in the opinion of orthodox Christians, attempting to use public schools for the propagation of doctrines antagonistic to the Bible or to the interpretation of the Bible commonly accepted by professing Christians throughout the United States and the world. Fines and penalties are not only unnecessary, but would, if included in legislative measures, turn attention from the real issue which is the protection of the rights of all in matters of conscience and religious belief.

The right of the tax-payers to decide what shall be taught can hardly be disputed. Someone must decide. The hand that writes the pay-check rules the school; if not, to whom shall the right to decide such important matters be entrusted?”

By the terms of the statute, it could be argued, it was perfectly legal to teach that apes descended from protozoa, to teach the evolutionary mechanisms of variation and natural selection, and to teach the prevailing scientific theories of geology or the age of the Earth. The Act did not even require that the Genesis story be taught. It prohibited only the teaching that man had evolved, or any other theory denying that man was created by God as recorded in Genesis.

What kind of legislation did William Jennings Bryan want to see passed against evolution? Professor Edward Larson answers this question in his book, Summer for the Gods (Basic Books, New York, 1997, 2006):

The legislatures of six different southern and border states actively considered anti-evolution proposals during the spring of 1923, but only two minor measures passed. Oklahoma added a rider to its public school textbook law providing “that no copyright shall be purchased, nor textbook adopted that teaches the ‘Materialistic Conception of History’ (i.e.) the Darwin Theory of Creation versus the Bible Account of Creation.” The Florida legislature chimed in with a non-binding resolution declaring “that it is improper and subversive to the best interest of the people” for public school teachers “to teach as true Darwinism or any other hypothesis that links man in blood relationship to any form of lower life.”

The Florida resolution was important because Bryan suggested its language, and later claimed that it reflected his views on the issue–with one significant exception. “Please note,” he explained, “that the objection is not to teaching the evolutionary hypothesis as a hypothesis, but to the teaching of it as true or as a proven fact.” Bryan agreed with the resolution’s focus on human evolution. In his “Menace of Darwinism” speech, he conceded that “evolution in plant life and animal life up to the highest form of animal might, if there were proof of it, be admitted without raising a presumption that would compel us to give a brute origin to man. Bryan asked Florida legislators to outlaw such teaching, however, rather than simply denounce it as improper. But even on this point, the trusting Commoner added, “I do not think that there should be any penalty attached to the bill. We are not dealing with a criminal class.” Legislators in Bryan’s adopted state compromised by unanimously passing an advisory resolution, rather than a law, thereby avoiding any risk of a lawsuit over their action. Two years later, Tennessee legislators displayed less caution than their Florida counterparts, by opting for a criminal law on the subject, including a penalty provision, and applying it to all teaching about human evolution rather than solely to teaching it as true. This set the stage for the Scopes trial.

In his essay on the Scopes trial, How it all began: The Butler did it!, historical researcher A. C. Bradbury writes:

It has often been claimed that William Jennings Bryan helped to draft the Butler Act, or at least persuaded Butler to putting the Act up for adoption by the Tennessee legislature as part of a wider ant-evolution crusade. Not only is this untrue, however, it also misrepresents Bryan’s view on the teaching of evolution in schools.

For a more accurate picture of the situation we only need to look back to 1923, when Bryan did consult with the Florida legislature on the framing of a non-binding resolution, with no penalty attached, which spoke out against the teaching of evolution as a proven fact.

How Mencken mis-represented the facts:

H. L. Mencken totally mis-represented the legal point at issue in the Scopes trial, from the very beginning. He chose to depict the trial as a fight between ignorant creationists and enlightened evolutionists, ignoring the fact that the Butler Act allowed the evolution of plants and animals (apart from man) to be taught in Tennesse science classrooms. In his first report on the trial for The Baltimore Evening Sun, titled Homo neanderthalensis (June 29, 1925), Mencken wrote:

Such obscenities as the forthcoming trial of the Tennessee evolutionist, if they serve no other purpose, at least call attention dramatically to the fact that enlightenment, among mankind, is very narrowly dispersed…

The so-called religious organizations which now lead the war against the teaching of evolution are nothing more, at bottom, than conspiracies of the inferior man against his betters. They mirror very accurately his congenital hatred of knowledge, his bitter enmity to the man who knows more than he does, and so gets more out of life. Certainly it cannot have gone unnoticed that their membership is recruited, in the overwhelming main, from the lower orders — that no man of any education or other human dignity belongs to them. What they propose to do, at bottom and in brief, is to make the superior man infamous — by mere abuse if it is sufficient, and if it is not, then by law…. The hypothesis of evolution is credited by all men of education; they themselves can’t understand it. Ergo, its teaching must be put down.

This simple fact explains such phenomena as the Tennessee buffoonery. Nothing else can.

Mencken continued his willful mis-characterization of the key issue of the Scopes trial when he arrived in Dayton, Tennessee. In his report, Mencken Finds Daytonians Full of Sickening Doubts About Value of Publicity (July 9, 1925), he described the friendly atmosphere of the town: “the Evolutionists and the Anti-Evolutionists seem to be on the best of terms, and it is hard in a group to distinguish one from another.” The following day, in his report titled, Impossibility of Obtaining Fair Jury Insures Scopes’ Conviction, Says Mencken (July 10, 1925), he seems to have decided that Scopes could not hope to obtain a fair trial, owing to the religious prejudices of the locals: “It has been decided by acclamation, with only a few infidels dissenting, that the hypothesis of evolution is profane, inhumane and against God, and all that remains is to translate that almost unanimous decision into the jargon of the law and so have done.”

In subsequent reports, Mencken continually referred to the Butler Act as “the Anti-Evolution law.” Here, for instance, is an excerpt from his report of July 13, 1925, titled, Yearning Mountaineers’ Souls Need Reconversion Nightly, Mencken Finds:

The Book of Revelation has all the authority, in these theological uplands, of military orders in time of war. The people turn to it for light upon all their problems, spiritual and secular. If a text were found in it denouncing the Anti-Evolution law, then the Anti-Evolution law would become infamous overnight. But so far the exegetes who roar and snuffle in the town have found no such text. Instead they have found only blazing ratifications and reinforcements of Genesis. Darwin is the devil with seven tails and nine horns.

In his report of July 14, 1925, titled Darrow’s Eloquent Appeal Wasted on Ears That Heed Only Bryan, Says Mencken, Mencken used the same loaded term to describe the Butler Act:

In his argument yesterday judge Neal had to admit pathetically that it was hopeless to fight for a repeal of the anti-evolution law. The Legislature of Tennessee, like the Legislature of every other American state, is made up of cheap job-seekers and ignoramuses.

The Governor of the State is a politician ten times cheaper and trashier. It is vain to look for relief from such men. If the State is to be saved at all, it must be saved by the courts. For one, I have little hope of relief in that direction, despite Hays’ logic and Darrow’s eloquence. Constitutions, in America, no longer mean what they say. To mention the Bill of Rights is to be damned as a Red.

The mis-representation persisted in Mencken’s report of July 17, 1925, titled Malone the Victor, Even Though Court Sides with Opponents, Says Mencken:

A typical Tennessee politician is the Governor, Austin Peay. He signed the anti-evolution bill with loud hosannas, and he is now making every effort to turn the excitement of the Scopes trial to his private political uses. The local papers print a telegram that he has sent to Attorney-General A.T. Stewart whooping for prayer. In the North a Governor who indulged in such monkey shines would be rebuked for trying to influence the conduct of a case in court. And he would be derided as a cheap mountebank. But not here.

In his last report before the end of the Scopes trial, titled, Tennessee in the Frying Pan (July 20, 1925), Mencken played the role of Cassandra, and forecast bad tidings for the state of Tennessee, asserting that all its intelligent young men would flee the state and study elsewhere:

With the anti-evolution law enforced, the State university will rapidly go to pot; no intelligent youth will waste his time upon its courses if he can help it. And so, with the young men lost, the struggle against darkness will become almost hopeless.

What we find, then, is a clear pattern of persistent journalistic mis-representation by H. L. Mencken of the key issues at stake in the Scopes trial. There is only one name for this kind of conduct: lying.


How strong was the evidence for human evolution in 1925, anyway?

The reader may be wondering how strong the scientific evidence for human evolution was at the time of the Scopes trial in 1925. The short answer is that it was persuasive but far from compelling.

(a) Fossil evidence

Let’s begin with the fossil evidence. At the time of the Scopes Trial, the fossil evidence for human evolution was exceptionally meager, consisting of nothing more than the following:

(i) assorted Eurasian fossils of Neanderthal man, who is now known to have been a cousin rather than an ancestor of modern man, and somewhat similar-looking fossils of Rhodesian Man (now known as the Kabwe cranium), of uncertain date, which were discovered at a lead and zinc mine in 1921;

(ii) a massive humanlike jaw found in Mauer, near Heidelberg, Germany, in 1907;

(iii) a small, humanlike 850 cc. cranium found in Java in 1891, and a modern-looking thigh bone that was found 50 feet away;

(iv) Piltdown man, who was “discovered” in England in 1912, and later shown to be a fake. Even in the 1920s, there were many scientists who asserted – correctly, as it turned out – that the modern human skull and ape jaw “found” at Piltdown could not have belonged to the same individual.

Most anthropologists at the time did not consider Australopithecus africanus, discovered by Raymond Dart in South Africa in 1924, to be a human ancestor, as its 400 cc. brain was considered to be too small. Even its name (southern ape of Africa) seemed to imply apelike rather than humanlike affinities.

The fossils listed above could hardly be described as convincing evidence for human evolution. There was no proof that the cranium and thigh bone found in Java, which were said to belong to a creature known as Pithecanthropus erectus (now Homo erectus), actually belonged to the same individual, or even the same species of hominid. As for the jaw (known as “Heidelberg man”), no-one knew what the skull looked like, so there was no telling how apelike its owner was. Finally, the dating of the fossils listed above was very uncertain.

(b) Other arguments for human evolution

Back in 1925, most scientists based their belief in human evolution on arguments from comparative anatomy, embryology and vestigial organs, rather than fossils. However, at the time, such arguments were anything but demonstrative, as can be seen by the article in the following article on Evolution (History and Scientific Foundation) by H. Muckermann in The Catholic Encyclopedia (1909, New York: Robert Appleton Company). I shall quote a few brief excerpts from the article, in order to convey the tenor of the argument:

In general, each bone and organ of man could in some sense be styled ape-like, but in no case does this similarity go so far that the form peculiar to man would pass over into the form which is peculiar to the ape. This conclusion is confirmed by the fact that, according to Ranke and Weisbach, all the efforts to discover a series of bodily formations which would lead from the most apelike savages to the least apelike Caucasians have till now resulted in utter failure, since the apelike forms of organs actually found in some individuals are not confined to a single race or nation, but are distributed throughout all of them. Tailed ape-men, in the proper sense of the word, have no existence. If sometimes tail-like appendages occur, they are genuine deformities, pathological remnants of the individual’s embryonic life. Cretins and microcephali are likewise pathological cases. The theory that such were the ancestors of the human species is certainly excluded by the fact that they are unable to procure independently the necessary means of existence…

[T]he blood of man is chemically similar to that of the anthropoids; but it does not follow that this chemical similarity must be attributed to any kinship of race. The mistake arises from the confusion of the ideas “similarity of blood” and “blood-relationship” in the genealogical sense of the term; otherwise it would be at once perceived that the fact of chemical similarity of blood is of no more importance for the theory of evolution than any other fact of comparative morphology or physiology…

The vermiform appendix in man is fully explained by supposing it to have had in antediluvian man a more perfect function of secretion, or even of digestion. Until the paleontological records furnish us with evidence we can only conclude from the occurrence of rudimentary structures that in former ages the whale possessed better developed limbs, that the moles had better eyes, the kiwi wings, etc. In short, rudimentary organs per se do not prove more than that structures may dwindle away by disuse…

In short, there is (1) no evidence that the embryos of mammals and birds have true incipient gill-structures; (2) it is probable that the structures interpreted as such really subserve from the very beginning quite different functions, perhaps only of a temporary nature…

In general it may be said that the biogenetic law of development is as yet scarcely more than a petitio principii. Because (1) the agreement betrween ontogeny and phylogeny has not been proved in a single instance; on the contrary — e.g., the famous pedigree of the horse’s foot begins ontogenetically with a single digit; (2) the ontogenetic similarity which may be observed, for instance, in the larval stages of insects may be explained by the similarity of the environment; (3) the ontogenetic stages of organisms are throughout specifically dissimilar, as is proved by a careful concrete comparison. The same conclusion is indicated by Hertwig’s and Morgan’s modifications of the biogenetic law, which, in turn, are of a merely hypothetical nature.

To be sure, any competent biologist today could point out that humans possess vestigial traits – for instance, inactivated genes for synthesizing vitamin C (but see here) – which were never functional in ancient human beings, but which are still functional in monkeys living today. But the timing of these traits’ loss of functionality was not known in 1925, and it was still possible to argue back then that these traits were functional in prehistoric man. In short, a fair-minded inquirer in 1925 would have had to conclude that the case for human evolution, while highly persuasive, was far from proven. Despite the scientific consensus in its favor, it was certainly not “settled science” by any objective measure.

Conclusion: Mencken willfully misrepresented the Scopes trial as a fight between the forces of enlightenment and religious bigots who wanted to suppress the teaching of evolution. But the reality is that William Jennings Bryan was no bigot: he was willing to allow even the teaching of human evolution in public schools, as long as it was treated purely as a hypothesis – which is all it was, back in 1925.


Lie Number 2: The Tennessee high school textbook, Hunter’s Civic Biology, was a textbook which presented the scientific evidence for evolution, free of political ideology

Fact: Civic Biology contained statements which were so morally objectionable that no science teacher living in America today would support using it as a science textbook. Hunter’s 1925 textbook taught that the Caucasians were the highest race of human beings; that the human race could be improved by eugenics; that it should be a crime for mentally handicapped people, people with venereal disease and people with tuberculosis to have children; that families which spread disease, immorality and crime were parasites taking from society and giving nothing in return; and that people belonging to such a low and degenerate race should be forcibly prevented from interbreeding, using remedies that “have been tried successfully in Europe.”

In his reports on the Scopes trial, Mencken never discussed the contents of Hunter’s Civic Biology, a pro-evolution science text that was cited at the trial. The text taught the the Caucasoid race was superior to other races, criticized certain classes of people as “parasites,” and endorsed eugenics.

A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems (commonly referred to as Hunter’s Civic Biology) was a biology textbook authored by George William Hunter, and published in 1914. High school teachers in the state of Tennessee were actually required to use this book, in 1925. It was for teaching from this textbook, in violation of the recently passed Butler Act, that John T. Scopes was brought to trial in Dayton, Tennessee in the Scopes “Monkey” Trial. The views espoused in the book about evolution, race, and eugenics were common to American Progressives at that time. They especially reflect the views of Charles Benedict Davenport, one of the most prominent American biologists of the early 20th century, whom Hunter cites in the book.

The following excerpts are all taken from Hunter’s Civic Biology:

Evolution of Man. — Undoubtedly there once lived upon the earth races of men who were much lower in their mental organization than the present inhabitants. If we follow the early history of man upon the earth, we find that at first he must have been little better than one of the lower animals. He was a nomad, wandering from place to place, feeding upon whatever living things he could kill with his hands. Gradually he must have learned to use weapons, and thus kill his prey, first using rough stone implements for this purpose. As man became more civilized, implements of bronze and of iron were used. About this time the subjugation and domestication of animals began to take place. Man then began to cultivate the fields, and to have a fixed place of abode other than a cave. The beginnings of civilization were long ago, but even to-day the earth is not entirely civilized. (See here.)

The Races of Man. — At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; The American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America. (See here.)

Improvement of Man.If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor of the future generations of men and women on the earth might not be improved by applying to them the laws of selection. This improvement of the future race has a number of factors in which we as individuals may play a part. These are personal hygiene, selection of healthy mates, and the betterment of the environment. (See here.)

Eugenics.When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics. (See here.)

Parasitism and its Cost to Society. — Hundreds of families such as those described above exist today, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites. (See here.)

The Remedy.If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with some success in this country. (See here.)

The reason for Mencken’s silence: his own views were even more bigoted than Hunter’s!

Why, you might ask, did Mencken say nothing about these diabolical statements that were contained in Hunter’s Civic Biology? The answer is that he shared the same views. The following statements are taken from his writings. (Warning: the quotes listed below are extremely offensive and may upset many readers.)

Mencken on black people

In any chance crowd of Southern Negroes one is bound to note individuals who resemble apes quite as much as they resemble Modern Man, and among the inferior tribes of Africa, say the Bushmen, they are predominant. The same thing is true of any chance crowd of Southern poor whites.
(Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1956, Section 379.)

The vast majority of people of their race [the black race – VJT] are but two or three inches removed from gorillas: it will be a sheer impossibility, for a long, long while, to interest them in anything above pork-chops and bootleg gin.
(“The Aframerican: New Style”, in The American Mercury, February 1926, pp. 254-255. These remarks of Mencken’s formed part of a book review in which he praised the literary output of several black intellectuals, who had recently written a book of essays. Mencken’s point was that he believed these individuals to be the exceptions to his rule.)

Mencken on Native Americans

The doctrine that there are actually differences between races is well supported by the case of the American Indians… [T]hey have not produced a single man of any genuine distinction in any field save military leadership, and even in that field, despite the opportunities thrown in their way, they have produced only a few… In brief, it has been found after long and costly experiment that the Indians cannot be brought into the American scheme of things. They apparently lack altogether the necessary potentialities. They differ from whites not only quantitatively but also qualitatively.
(Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1956, Section 378)

Mencken on poor Southern whites

If all the farmers in the Dust Bowl were shot tomorrow, and all the share-croppers in the South burned at the stake, every decent American would be better off, and not a soul would miss a meal.
(Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1956, Section 377)

If all the inhabitants of the Appalachian chain succumbed to some sudden pestilence tomorrow, the effect upon civilization would be but little more than that of the fall of a meteor into the Ross Sea or the jungles of the Amazon.
(Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, Section 50)

The immigration of thousands of Southern hillbillies and lintheads to Baltimore after 1941, set up by the new war plants, had at least one good effect: it convinced native Baltimoreans that the Southern poor white was a good deal worse than the Southern blackamoor… It was really shocking to Baltimore to discover that whites so thoroughly low-down existed in the country. They were filthier than anything the town had ever seen, and more ornery. The women, in particular, amazed it: they were so slatternly, so dirty and so shiftless that they seemed scarcely human.
(Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, Section 385)

Mencken on sterilizing people of inferior races

The great problem ahead of the United States is that of reducing the high differential birthrate of the inferior orders, for example, the hillbillies of Appalachia, the gimme farmers of the Middle West, the lintheads of the South, and the Negroes… The theory that inferior stocks often produce superior individuals is not supported by any known scientific facts. All of them run the other way.
(Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1956, Section 270)

Mencken on sterilizing poor people

Any man, having a child or children he can’t support, who proceeds to have another should be sterilized at once.
(Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1956, Section 321)

Mencken on sterilizing criminals

The objection to sterilizing criminals is mainly theological, and hence irrational.
(Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1956, Section 6)

Mencken on the relative intelligence of Pentecostals and dogs

The belief that man is outfitted with an immortal soul, differing altogether from the engines which operate the lower animals, is ridiculously unjust to them. The difference between the smartest dog and the stupidest man – say a Tennessee Holy Roller – is really very small, and the difference between the decentest dog and the worst man is all in favor of the dog.
(Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1956, Section 414)

Mencken on healing the sick

As for a physician, he is one who spends his whole life trying to prolong the lives of persons whose deaths, in nine cases out of ten, would be a public benefit.
(Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1956, Section 181)

Mencken on the stupidity of the average man

Indeed, it may be said with some confidence that the average man never really thinks from end to end of his life.… My guess is that well over eighty per cent of the human race goes through life without ever having a single original thought. That is to say, they never think anything that has not been thought before and by thousands.
(Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1956, Section 13)

Mencken on why smart people deserve a privileged existence, and why the rest of us are cockroaches

Every contribution to human progress on record has been made by some individual who differed sharply from the general, and was thus, almost ipso facto, superior to the general. Perhaps the palpably insane must be excepted here, but I can think of no others. Such exceptional individuals should be permitted, it seems to me, to enjoy every advantage that goes with their superiority, even when enjoying it deprives the general. They alone are of any significance to history. The rest are as negligible as the race of cockroaches, who have gone unchanged for a million years.
(Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1956, Section 344)

Mencken on American stupidity

The belief that man is immortal is a vestige of the childish egoism which once made him believe that the earth is the center of the solar system. This last is probably still cherished by four Americans out of five.
(Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1956, Section 144)

The defense prosecutor Clarence Darrow, who is usually cast as an advocate for the “weak and poor” – also favored deliberately murdering the weakest members of society – newborn babies – if they failed to meet some arbitrary notion of “fit to live”:

Chloroform unfit children. Show them the same mercy that is shown beasts that are no longer fit to live.”

Conclusion: In his columns, Mencken portrayed the Scopes trial as a battle between scientific progress and religious fundamentalism. But in fact, the pro-evolution science textbook from which Scopes was alleged to have taught (Hunter’s Civic Biology) contained a number of contentious assertions which no progressive society would tolerate today. The book’s racism, coupled with its blatant support of eugenics and sterilization of the handicapped, sent society backwards, rather than forwards. In his reporting on the Scopes trial, Mencken neglected to mention these facts because his own thinking was tainted with the same kind of social philosophy as was contained in the book: indeed, Mencken’s views were even more extreme. By sweeping these awkward facts under the rug, Mencken was guilty of a conspiracy to hide the truth.


Lie Number 3: William Jennings Bryan was a Biblical literalist, who believed that the world had been created in six days

God creating the land animals. From a fresco in Vittskovle Church, in Skane, Sweden, dating from the 1480s. Image courtesy of Gunnar Bach Pedersen and Wikipedia.

Fact: William Jennings Bryan rejected Biblical literalism; he was a fundamentalist who believed in the essential basics of Christianity, but no literalist. For instance, he believed that the Earth was millions of years old; he rejected Archbishop Ussher’s chronology which placed the creation in 4004 B.C. and the Flood in 2348 B.C.; and he was open to the possibility that plants and animals had evolved, although he strongly preferred the Biblical view that each species had been created according to its kind.

In his first report on the Scopes trial for The Baltimore Evening Sun, titled The Tennessee Circus (June 15, 1925), Mencken made it clear that he equated “evangelical Christianity” with belief in a six-day creation. Referring to “the case of the Tennessee pedagogue accused of teaching evolution,” Mencken wrote:

Either Genesis embodies a mathematically accurate statement of what took place during the week of June 3, 4004 B.C. or Genesis is not actually the word of God. If the former alternative be accepted then all of modern science is nonsense; if the latter, then evangelical Christianity is nonsense.

For weal or for woe, they [evangelical Christians] are committed absolutely to the literal accuracy of the Bible; they base their whole theology upon it. Once they admit, even by inference, that there may be a single error in Genesis, they open the way to an almost complete destruction of that theology. So they are forced to take up the present challenge boldly, and prepare for a battle to the death.

In his second report on the trial, titled Homo neanderthalensis (The Baltimore Evening Sun, June 29, 1925), Mencken had written that “the cosmogony of Genesis is so simple that even a yokel can grasp it.” In his report of July 16, 1925, titled, Mencken Declares Strictly Fair Trial Is Beyond Ken of Tennessee Fundamentalists, Mencken depicted Bryan as a “fundamentalist pope,” who “hates and fears” science, because of the “barbaric cosmogony that he believes in.” Given the context of Mencken’s earlier disparaging remarks about Genesis, the term “barbaric cosmogony” in his report of July 16 would certainly have suggested to readers that William Jennings Bryan believed in a literal six-day creation:

Two things ought to be understood clearly by heathen Northerners who follow the great cause of the State of Tennessee against the infidel Scopes. One is that the old mountebank, Bryan, is no longer thought of as a mere politician and jobseeker in these Godly regions, but has become converted into a great sacerdotal figure, half man and half archangel — in brief, a sort of fundamentalist pope. The other is that the fundamentalist mind, running in a single rut for fifty years, is now quite unable to comprehend dissent from its basic superstitions, or to grant any common honesty, or even any decency, to those who reject them…

The high point of yesterday’s proceedings was reached with the appearance of Dr. Maynard M. Metcalfe, of the Johns Hopkins… Then began one of the clearest, most succinct and withal most eloquent presentations of the case for the evolutionists that I have ever heard. The doctor was never at a loss for a word, and his ideas flowed freely and smoothly…

Bryan sat silent throughout the whole scene, his gaze fixed immovably on the witness. Now and then his face darkened and his eyes flashed, but he never uttered a sound. It was, to him, a string of blasphemies out of the devil’s mass — a dreadful series of assaults upon the only true religion. The old gladiator faced his real enemy at last. Here was a sworn agent and attorney of the science he hates and fears — a well-fed, well-mannered spokesman of the knowledge he abominates. Somehow he reminded me pathetically of the old Holy Roller I heard last week — the mountain pastor who damned education as a mocking and a corruption. Bryan, too, is afraid of it, for wherever it spreads his trade begins to fall off, and wherever it flourishes he is only a poor clown.

But not to these fundamentalists of the hills. Not to yokels he now turns to for consolation in his old age, with the scars of defeat and disaster all over him. To these simple folk, as I have said, he is a prophet of the imperial line — a lineal successor to Moses and Abraham. The barbaric cosmogony that he believes in seems as reasonable to them as it does to him. They share his peasant-like suspicion of all book learning that a plow hand cannot grasp. They believe with him that men who know too much should be seized by the secular arm and put down by force. They dream as he does of a world unanimously sure of Heaven and unanimously idiotic on this earth.

In his last report before the end of the Scopes trial, titled, Tennessee in the Frying Pan (July 20, 1925), Mencken was still more disparaging of Bryan’s beliefs, implying that he was a flat-earther:

Dayton, of course, is only a ninth-rate country town, and so its agonies are of relatively little interest to the world. Its pastors, I daresay, will be able to console it, and if they fail there is always the old mountebank, Bryan, to give a hand. Faith cannot only move mountains; it can also soothe the distressed spirits of mountaineers. The Daytonians, unshaken by Darrow’s ribaldries, still believe. They believe that they are not mammals. They believe, on Bryan’s word, that they know more than all the men of science of Christendom. They believe, on the authority of Genesis, that the earth is flat and that witches still infest it. They believe, finally and especially, that all who doubt these great facts of revelation will go to hell. So they are consoled.

What did Bryan really believe?

William Jennings Bryan was a fundamentalist, not a Biblical literalist. Bryan explicitly denied being a literalist during his cross-examination by Clarence Darrow, at the Scopes trial:

Darrow: “Do you claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?”

Bryan: “I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there; some of the Bible is given illustratively. For instance: ‘Ye are the salt of the earth.’ I would not insist that man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God’s people.” (Trial transcript, page 285)

What, then, is a fundamentalist? David Menton answered this question in his online essay, Inherit the Wind: A Hollywood History of the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial:

Who, we might ask, are these maligned fundamentalists, and why should we be so concerned about offending them? Today we hear the news media apply the term “fundamentalist” not only to Christians but to certain Muslim sects as well. The term, “fundamentalist,” now appears to used by the media only in a pejorative sense to label those who are considered to be highly zealous, inflexible and intolerant in their religious or philosophical beliefs. But such an unrestricted definition of “fundamentalism” might even apply to some evolutionists. Historically the term Fundamentalism applied to a loose association of Christians who were influenced by a series of 12 booklets called The Fundamentals which were published beginning in 1909. Fundamentalism was an attempt to get back to the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith which had begun to be eroded in some churches by the growing “modernist” trend around the turn of the century.

The “fundamentals” included five basic doctrines; the inerrancy of scripture, the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ and Christ’s return in Glory. It should be noted that these beliefs are not simply the creed of a fanatic and insignificant minority in Christendom, as some suggest, but are shared by most Bible believing Christians in the world. Although a miraculous divine creation was not one of The Fundamentals, it too is believed by most Christians. A Gallup Poll in 1982 showed that 44% of all Americans believe that “God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” Another 38% believe God actively guided the process of evolution and only 9% believe that God had no active part in the process.

Even in Bryan’s day, many fundamentalists rejected the notion of a six-day creation, as the Website The Monkey Trial explains:

The Fundamentals, a collection of 12 books published in from 1905 to 1915, sets forth the “fundamentals” of the Christian faith (such as the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Christ, etc.). The Fundamentals discuss the creation of the world but present several theories as orthodox, including the view that creation took place over millions of years and that the “days” of Genesis are actually epochs of time. (See Gen. 2:4 where the word “day” is used to mean an indefinite period of time.)

Not all fundamentalists, therefore, held to a 6-day creation and Bryan himself, as it turns out, did not believe in a literal 6-day creation (!).

Here’s what Bryan said when cross-examined by Clarence Darrow on day 7:

Darrow – Would you say that the earth was only 4,000 years old?

Bryan – Oh, no; I think it is much older than that.

Darrow – How much?

Bryan – I couldn’t say.

Darrow – Do you say whether the Bible itself says it is older than that?

Bryan – I don’t think the Bible says itself whether it is older or not.

Darrow – Do you think the earth was made in six days?

Bryan – Not six days of twenty-four hours.

Bryan didn’t claim to know how old the earth was. From the trial transcript (page 296) we read:

Darrow: Mr. Bryan could you tell me how old the earth is?

Bryan: No sir, I couldn’t.

Darrow: Could you come anywhere near it?

Bryan: I wouldn’t attempt to. I could possibly come as near as the scientists do, but I had rather be more accurate before I give a guess.

Moreover, as the Website The Monkey Trial points out, Bryan did not oppose the teaching of evolution in public schools. What he opposed was teaching the evolution of one species (mankind) as a scientific fact. As Bryan himself put it in a letter he wrote to the New York Times (February 26, 1922):

The only part of evolution in which any considerable interest is felt is evolution applied to man. A hypothesis in regard to the rocks and plant life does not affect the philosophy upon which one’s life is built. Evolution applied to fish, birds and beasts would not materially affect man’s view of his own responsibilities except as the acceptance of an unsupported hypothesis as to these would be used to support a similar hypothesis as to man. The evolution that is harmful — distinctly so — is the evolution that destroys man’s family tree as taught by the Bible and makes him a descendant of the lower forms of life. This, as I shall try to show, is a very vital matter.

In His Image by William Jennings Bryan, (Fleming H. Revell Company, New York, 1922) (see also here), Bryan ridiculed the notion that all animals and plants had sprung from a common stock, and argued that it contradicted Genesis, but he acknowledged that belief in plant and animal evolution was perfectly compatible with belief in the special creation of man, which was the all-important issue for him, owing to the demoralizing influence caused by belief in human evolution:

Is it conceivable that the hawk and the hummingbird, the spider and the honey bee, the turkey gobbler and the mocking-bird, the butterfly and the eagle, the ostrich and the wren, the tree toad and the elephant, the giraffe and the kangaroo, the wolf and the lamb should all be the descendants of a common ancestor? Yet these and all other creatures must be blood relatives if man is next of kin to the monkey. (p. 103)

Does it not strain the imagination to the breaking point to believe that the oak, the cedar, the pine and the palm are all the progeny of one ancient seed and that this seed was also the ancestor of wheat and com, potato and tomato, onion and sugar beet, rose and violet, orchid and daisy, mountain flower and magnolia? Is it not more rational to believe in God and explain the varieties of life in terms of divine Power than to waste our lives in ridiculous attempts to explain the unexplainable? (p. 103)

While evolution in plant life and in animal life up to the highest form of animal might, if there were proof of it, be admitted without raising a presumption that would compel us to give a brute origin to man, why should we admit a thing of which there is no proof? Why should we encourage the guesses of these speculators and thus weaken our power to protest when they attempt the leap from the monkey to man? Let the evolutionist furnish his proof.

Although our chief concern is in protecting man from the demoralization involved in accepting a brute ancestry, it is better to put the advocates of evolution upon the defensive and challenge them to produce proof in support of their hypothesis in plant life and in the animal world. They will be kept so busy trying to find support for their hypothesis in the kingdoms below man that they will have little time left to combat the Word of God in respect to man’s origin. Evolution joins issue with the Mosaic account of creation. God’s law, as stated in Genesis, is reproduction according to kind; evolution implies reproduction not according to kind. While the process of change implied in evolution is covered up in endless eons of time it is change nevertheless. The Bible does not say that reproduction shall be nearly according to kind or seemingly according to kind. The statement is positive that it is according to kind, and that does not leave any room for the changes however gradual or imperceptible that are necessary to support the evolutionary hypothesis. (pp. 103-104)

Finally, Bryan’s opposition to the doctrine of human evolution stemmed primarily from the way in which the theory of evolution was being applied on a practical level in his day, rather than from his interpretation of the Bible.

Conclusion: Mencken willfully slandered Bryan by depicting him as a “fundamentalist pope” who “hates and fears” science, and who subscribes to a “barbaric cosmogony.” Bryan was no Biblical literalist, and the only point on which he absolutely refused to concede to Darwinism was the claim that man had evolved.


Lie Number 4: During the trial, William Jennings Bryan denied that man was a mammal

An assortment of mammals. Notice Homo sapiens sitting among them? (That’s Richard Nixon meeting Leonid Brezhnev on June 19, 1973, during the Soviet Leader’s visit to the U.S.) Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fact: William Jennings Bryan, who had read Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and Descent of Man, was well aware that man was a mammal, as were his creationist contemporaries. What he specifically objected to was the view, implied in Hunter’s Civic Biology, that man was an unexceptional mammal, and that he was in no way fundamentally different from the other 3,499 species of mammals.

In a report titled, Malone the Victor, Even Though Court Sides With Opponents, says Mencken (July 17, 1925), Mencken created the popular myth that William Jennings Bryan denied that man was a mammal, in a speech he made at the Scopes trial:

His [Mencken’s] own speech was a grotesque performance and downright touching in its imbecility. Its climax came when he launched into a furious denunciation of the doctrine that man is a mammal. It seemed a sheer impossibility that any literate man should stand up in public and discharge any such nonsense. Yet the poor old fellow did it. Darrow stared incredulous. Malone sat with his mouth wide open. Hays indulged himself one of his sardonic chuckles. Stewart and Bryan fils looked extremely uneasy, but the old mountebank ranted on. To call a man a mammal, it appeared, was to flout the revelation of God. The certain effect of the doctrine would be to destroy morality and promote infidelity. The defense let it pass. The lily needed no gilding.

Mencken repeated this fiction in his final report on the Scopes trial, entitled, Aftermath (September 14, 1925):

Thus he [Bryan] fought his last fight, eager only for blood. It quickly became frenzied and preposterous, and after that pathetic. All sense departed from him. He bit right and left, like a dog with rabies. He descended to demagogy so dreadful that his very associates blushed. His one yearning was to keep his yokels heated up — to lead his forlorn mob against the foe. That foe, alas, refused to be alarmed. It insisted upon seeing the battle as a comedy. Even Darrow, who knew better, occasionally yielded to the prevailing spirit. Finally, he lured poor Bryan into a folly almost incredible.

I allude to his astounding argument against the notion that man is a mammal. I am glad I heard it, for otherwise I’d never believe it. There stood the man who had been thrice a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic — and once, I believe, elected — there he stood in the glare of the world, uttering stuff that a boy of eight would laugh at! The artful Darrow led him on: he repeated it, ranted for it, bellowed it in his cracked voice. A tragedy, indeed! He came into life a hero, a Galahad, in bright and shining armor. Now he was passing out a pathetic fool.

Mencken’s report of July 17 (quoted above) related to the fifth day of the trial (July 16, 1925). But if we look at what Bryan said in court that day, we find that he said no such thing. Far from denying that man is a mammal, Bryan was quite happy to grant that man is a primate – which means that he must also be a mammal. What Bryan objected to was not the notion that man is a mammal, but the notion that man is just another mammal – a notion that was tacitly encouraged by the high school science textbook, Hunter’s Civic Biology, when it listed man as just one of 3,500 species of mammals, without differentiating him from the other 3,499 species. In other words, the notion that Bryan (quite rightly) attacked in court was the notion that man was an unexceptional mammal.

If we examine the court transcript of the fifth day of the trial (p. 174), we find Bryan arguing that even if men and monkeys belong to the same class – or more accurately, order, to use the correct taxonomic term – this does not settle the question of whether men are descended from monkeys (as Charles Darwin had explicitly stated in The Descent of Man) or whether they are cousins. Moreover, even if men and monkeys belonged in different taxonomic categories, that would not prove that they were not related in the distant past, through their common descent from a marine one-celled organism:

I want to remind your honor that if men and monkeys are in the same class, called primates, that doesn’t settle the question, for it is possible that some of those primates are the descendants of other primates, but if it were true that every primate was in a class by itself and was not descended from any other primate, therefore, according to evolution all the primates in that class descended from other animals, evolved from that class, and you go back to the primates, to the one evolved until you get to the one-cell animal in the bottom of the sea.

In other words, Bryan was quite happy to grant that man is a primate. But the primates are just one of many orders of animals belonging to the class of mammals. Hence if Bryan could accept that man is a primate, he must have also accepted the fact that man is a mammal.

On pages 174 to 175 of the transcript, we finally come to Bryan’s denunciation of the high school science textbook, Hunter’s Civic Biology. To bolster his case, Bryan drew the court’s attention to a diagram in the book:

Mr. Bryan – On page 194, we have a diagram, and this diagram purports to give someone’s family tree. Not only his ancestors but his collateral relatives. We are told just how many animal species there are, 518,900. And in this diagram, beginning with protozoa we have the animals classified. We have circles differing in size according to the number of species in them and we have the guess that they give. Of course, it is only a guess, and I don’t suppose it is carried to a one or even to ten. I see they are round numbers, and I don’t think all of these animals breed in round numbers, and so I think it must be a generalization of them.
(Laughter in the courtroom.)

The Court – Let us have order.

Mr. Bryan – 8,000 protozoa, 3,500 sponges. I am satisfied from some I have seen there must be more than 35,000 (sic) sponges. (Laughter in the courtroom.) [Actually, the diagram shows 2,500 species of sponges, not 3,500: at the age of 65, Bryan’s failing eyesight may have let him down. – VJT]

Mr. Bryan – And then we run down to the insects, 360,000 insects.
Two-thirds of all the species of all the animal world are insects. And sometimes, in the summertime we feel that we become intimately acquainted with them – a large percentage of the species are mollusks and fishes. Now, we are getting up near our kinfolks, 13,000 fishes. Then there are the amphibia. I don’t know whether they have not yet decided to come out, or have almost decided to go back. (Laughter in the courtroom.)

But they seem to be somewhat at home in both elements. And then we have the reptiles, 3,500; and then we have 13,000 birds. Strange that this should be exactly the same as the number of fishes, round numbers. And then we have mammals, 3,500, and there is a little circle and man is in the circle, find him, find man.

There is that book! There is the book they were teaching your children that man was a mammal and so indistinguishable among the mammals that they leave him there with thirty-four hundred and ninety-nine other mammals.

(Laughter and applause.)

Including elephants?

Notice that in the passage above, Bryan specifically objects to man being placed in a circle “with thirty-four hundred and ninety-nine other mammals,” making him “so indistinguishable among the mammals that they leave him there” in the circle. Far from indicating that Bryan thought that man is not a mammal, the passage shows the reverse. Bryan objects to man being placed in a circle along with 3,499 species of “other mammals” (italics mine) – which shows that Bryan himself acknowledged that man is a mammal.

Slightly later, on page 176 of the trial transcript, Bryan reads from Darwin’s “Descent of Man” (1871). In the passage below, Darwin declares that man is a member of the class of mammals and that he is descended from Old World monkeys. Bryan takes no exception to the claim that man is a mammal; what he objects to is the claim that man is descended from the monkeys:

“The most ancient progenitors in the kingdom of the Vertebrata, at which we are able to obtain an obscure glance, apparently consisted of a group of marine animals, resembling the larvae of existing Ascidians. These animals probably gave rise to a group of fishes, as lowly organized as the lancelet, and from these the Ganoids, and other fishes like the Lepidosiren must have been developed. From such fish a very small advance would carry us on to the amphibians. We have seen that birds and reptiles were once intimately connected together; and the Monotremata now connect mammals with reptiles in a slight degree. But no one can at present say by what line of descent – the three higher and related classes, namely, mammals, birds and reptiles were derived from the two lower vertebrate classes, namely, amphibians and fishes. In the class of mammals the steps are not difficult to conceive which led from the ancient Monotremata to the ancient Marsupials, and from these to the early progenitors of the placental mammals. We may thus ascend to the Lemuridae, and the interval is not very wide from these to the Simiadae. The Simiadae then branched off into two great stems, the new world and the old world monkeys, and from the latter, at a remote period, man, the wonder and glory of the universe, proceeded.”

Not even from American monkeys, but from old world monkeys. (Laughter.) Now, here we have our glorious pedigree, and each child is expected to copy the family tree and take it home to his family to be submitted for the Bible family tree – that is what Darwin says.

Finally, if we examine page 324 of the speech that Bryan wrote but never delivered, we find him expressing himself carefully. Here, he happily affirms that man is a mammal, but insists that he is an exceptional one:

Evolution- the evolution involved. In this case, and the only evolution that is a matter of controversy anywhere – is the evolution taught, by defendant, set forth in Hunter’s Civic Biology. The author of the books now prohibited by the new state law, and illustrated in the diagram printed on page 194 of estimates the number of species in the animal kingdom at 518,900. These are divided into eighteen classes, and each class is indicated on a diagram by a circle, proportionate in size to the number of species in each class and attached by a stem to the trunk of the tree. It begins with Protozoa and ends with the mammals. Passing over the classes with which the average is unfamiliar, let me call your attention to a few of the larger and better known groups. The insects are numbered at 360,000, over two-thirds of the total number of species in the animal world. The fishes are numbered at 13,000, the amphibians at 1,400, the reptiles at 3,500, and the birds are 13,000, while 3,500 mammals are crowded together in a little circle that is barely higher than the bird circle. No circle is reserved for man alone. He is, according to the diagram, shut up in the little circle entitled “Mammals,” with 3,499 other species of mammals. Does it not seem a little unfair not to distinguish between man and lower forms of life? What shall we say of the intelligence, not to say religion, of those who are so particular to distinguish between fishes and reptiles and birds, but put a man with an immortal soul in the same circle with the wolf, the hyena and the skunk? What must be the impression made upon children by such a degradation of man?

Is there any contemporaneous evidence that Bryan ever uttered the remark attributed to him, that man was not a mammal?

Author and historian Constance Clark, in her article, Evolution for John Doe: Pictures, the Public and the Scopes Trial Debate (Journal of American History, March 2001, Vol. 87 no. 4) writes:

According to Joseph Wood Krutch, the most dramatic event at the Scopes trial of 1925 occurred when William Jennings Bryan announced, incredibly, that he was not a mammal… The trial transcript shows that Bryan did not precisely deny his place within the zoological class Mammalia. He did, however, emphatically object to a diagram that located humans among the mammals or, as he put it, in “a little ring . . . with lions and tigers and everything that is bad!” (See figure 1.)

The diagrammatic balloon that so offended Bryan came from a discussion of evolution in George William Hunter’s Civic Biology, the textbook assigned to John Thomas Scopes’s biology class. Bryan responded viscerally to the image.2

Footnotes
1 Joseph Wood Krutch, More Lives Than One (New York, 1962), 153; Joseph Wood Krutch, “The Monkey Trial,” Commentary, 43 (May 1967), 84.

2 Tennessee Evolution Case: A Complete Stenographic Report of the Famous Court Test of the Tennessee Anti-Evolution Act, at Dayton, July 10 to 21, 1925, Including Speeches and Arguments of Attorneys (Cincinnati, 1925), 174-77; George William Hunter, A Civic Biology Presented in Problems (New York, 1914), 194.

It can be seen from the footnotes that Joseph Wood Krutch’s recollections of the trial were written in 1962 and 1967, more than thirty years after the Scopes trial itself. Human recollections after such a great interval of time are liable to be faulty. In addition, by that time, Krutch had read (and doubtless enjoyed) Mencken’s reports of the trial, which may well have influenced his own recollections.

In Chapter 7 of her book, God or Gorilla – Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age (John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2008), Constance A. Clark mentions an additional witness to back up Mencken’s assertion that Bryan had declared that man was not a mammal: she writes that Scopes trial lawyer “Arthur Garfield Hays recalled that Bryan ‘arose and absolutely and unequivocally refused to be a mammal.'”

Hays’ first book discussing the Scopes trial, Let Freedom Ring, was written three years after it, during which time, Hays’ own recollections may well have been colored by what he read from Mencken’s newspaper reports.

Assuming that Hays’ recollections are genuine, my own guess would be that Hays may have (uncharitably) misinterpreted a dramatic statement uttered by William Jennings Bryan during the fifth day of the Scopes trial: “There is that book! There is the book they were teaching your children that man was a mammal and so indistinguishable among the mammals that they leave him there with thirty-four hundred and ninety-nine other mammals.” Listening to Bryan, Hays, who likely had a low opinion of Bryan’s intellect, may have zeroed in on the phrase, “There is the book they were teaching your children that man was a mammal,” and incorrectly taken it to mean that Bryan was objecting to being called a mammal. Thus Bryan’s dramatic flourish in court may have inadvertently confirmed Hays’ (and Mencken’s) worst suspicions about the stupidity of people opposing the teaching of evolution.

Conclusion: Mencken, who never went to college, and Clarence Darrow, who never graduated from college, were intellectually no match for William Jennings Bryan, who had three college degrees and who had studied Darwin’s writings for many years. (For more details on Bryan’s education, see Lie Number 6 below.) By depicting Bryan as an ignorant fool who denied that man was a mammal – something which no creationist had ever done – Mencken was guilty of wickedly slandering Bryan’s reputation.


Lie Number 5: William Jennings Bryan was a petty, vindictive, hate-filled man

Clarence Darrow (left) and William Jennings Bryan (right) chat in court during the Scopes trial. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fact: Bryan’s magnanimity of spirit was acknowledged even by his opponents, as was his tolerance. In person, Bryan showed himself to be genial, kindly, generous, likable and charming.

As Dr. David Menton points out in his online essay, Inherit the Wind: A Hollywood History of the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial, Bryan’s kindness, sincerity, amiability and magnanimity was acknowledged even by his political foes:

In his book The Great Monkey Trial, Sprague de Camp repudiates Bryan’s conservative Christianity and misses no opportunity to be critical of his scientific views and yet, honesty compelled him to give Bryan credit for at least some of his undeniable virtues:

“As a speaker, Bryan radiated good humored sincerity. Few who heard him could help liking him. In personality he was forceful, energetic, and opinionated but genial, kindly, generous, likable and charming. He showed a praise worthy tolerance towards those who disagreed with him. Bryan was the greatest American orator of his time and perhaps any time.” (de Camp, page 37)

…[D]e Camp’s description of Bryan’s character is entirely consistent with the major biographies of Bryan’s life (see Levine, 1965 and Coletta, 1969).

Doug Linder’s 2004 online essay, John Scopes, also attests to Bryan’s affability in its narration of John Scopes’ meeting with Bryan, shortly before the Scopes trial:

On July 7, William Jennings Bryan arrived by train in Dayton, and that evening the Dayton Progressive Club hosted a dinner in his honor. When John Scopes (as “a non-paying deadhead,” to use his own words) met Bryan at the banquet, the Great Commoner recalled an earlier meeting when he delivered the address at John’s commencement in Salem. “John, we are opposite sides this time. I hope we will not let that interfere in any way with our relationship,” Bryan told Scopes. “Mr. Bryan, everyone has the right to think in accordance with the way he sees things and to act accordingly. Believing differently on some issues should not influence the degree of respect and friendship one has for one another.” As he took his seat, Bryan replied, “Good, we shall get along fine.”


Here’s how Mencken described him in his account of the Scopes trial (Darrow’s Eloquent Appeal Wasted on Ears that Heed only Bryan, July 14, 1925):

During the whole time of its delivery the old mountebank, Bryan, sat tight-lipped and unmoved. There is, of course, no reason why it should have shaken him. He has those hill billies locked up in his pen and he knows it… The real animus of the prosecution centers in Bryan. He is the plaintiff and prosecutor. The local lawyers are simply bottle-holders for him. He will win the case, not by academic appeals to law and precedent, but by direct and powerful appeals to the immemorial fears and superstitions of man… The fellow is full of such bitter, implacable hatreds that they radiate from him like heat from a stove. He hates the learning that he cannot grasp. He hates those who sneer at him. He hates, in general, all who stand apart from his own pathetic commonness. And the yokels hate with him, some of them almost as bitterly as he does himself.

Here’s how Mencken described him in his account of the Scopes trial (Mencken Declares Fair Trial is Beyond Ken of Tennessee Fundamentalists, July 16, 1925):

Bryan sat silent throughout the whole scene, his gaze fixed immovably on the witness. Now and then his face darkened and his eyes flashed, but he never uttered a sound. It was, to him, a string of blasphemies out of the devil’s mass — a dreadful series of assaults upon the only true religion. The old gladiator faced his real enemy at last. Here was a sworn agent and attorney of the science he hates and fears — a well-fed, well-mannered spokesman of the knowledge he abominates. Somehow he reminded me pathetically of the old Holy Roller I heard last week — the mountain pastor who damned education as a mocking and a corruption. Bryan, too, is afraid of it, for wherever it spreads his trade begins to fall off, and wherever it flourishes he is only a poor clown.

But not to these fundamentalists of the hills. Not to yokels he now turns to for consolation in his old age, with the scars of defeat and disaster all over him. To these simple folk, as I have said, he is a prophet of the imperial line — a lineal successor to Moses and Abraham. The barbaric cosmogony that he believes in seems as reasonable to them as it does to him. They share his peasant-like suspicion of all book learning that a plow hand cannot grasp. They believe with him that men who know too much should be seized by the secular arm and put down by force. They dream as he does of a world unanimously sure of Heaven and unanimously idiotic on this earth.

Here’s how Mencken described him in his account of the Scopes trial (Malone the Victor, Even Though Court Sides With Opponents, says Mencken, July 17, 1925):

The whole speech was addressed to Bryan, and he sat through it in his usual posture, with his palm-leaf fan flapping energetically and his hard, cruel mouth shut tight. The old boy grows more and more pathetic. He has aged greatly during the past few years and begins to look elderly and enfeebled. All that remains of his old fire is now in his black eyes. They glitter like dark gems, and in their glitter there is immense and yet futile malignancy. That is all that is left of the Peerless Leader of thirty years ago. Once he had one leg in the White House and the nation trembled under his roars. Now he is a tinpot pope in the coca-cola belt and a brother to the forlorn pastors who belabor half-wits in galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards. His own speech was a grotesque performance and downright touching in its imbecility.

Conclusion: Mencken’s reporting at the Scopes trial was colored by his longstanding animosity, going back over twenty years, towards William Jennings Bryan. The Scopes trial was Mencken’s opportunity to take down the man whom he hated, by portraying him as a vindictive, bitter, hate-filled man. In so doing, Mencken was projecting his own bile and hatred onto the man whom he loathed. In real life, Bryan was an affable and pleasant individual, while Mencken was a misanthrope and curmudgeon.


Lie Number 6: William Jennings Bryan was an ignorant man, who failed to grasp the scientific case for evolution

A photograph of Charles Darwin, taken by Messrs. Maull and Fox in 1854. William Jennings Bryan had read Darwin’s Origin of Species 20 years before the Scopes trial. He had also debated with scientists such as Henry Fairfield Osborn on the subject of evolution. Far from being an ignorant man, as H. L. Mencken maliciously depicted him in his reports for the Baltimore Sun, Bryan was actually a very well-informed man for his day. He also had a law degree, graduating as valedictorian of his class in 1881. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fact: William Jennings Bryan was a well-educated man, with a B.A., an M.A., an LL.B. and at least seven honorary doctorates. By contrast, his leading critic, H. L. Mencken, never obtained a university degree. Neither did the lawyer who aggressively cross-examined Bryan on the stand at the Scopes trial: Clarence Darrow, who attended Allegheny College and the University of Michigan Law School, but did not graduate from either institution. Although Bryan was not a scientist, he had read Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and Descent of Man. He had also debated scientists previously on the subject of evolution – notably Henry Fairfield Osborn, in 1922.

In his reporting on the Scopes trial, Mencken persistently depicted William Jennings Bryan as an ignorant man who hated book learning. For instance, in his report for July 14, 1925, titled, Darrow’s Eloquent Appeal Wasted on Ears that Heed only Bryan, Mencken wrote:

He hates the learning that he cannot grasp. He hates those who sneer at him. He hates, in general, all who stand apart from his own pathetic commonness.

In his report for July 16, 1925, titled, Mencken Declares Fair Trial is Beyond Ken of Tennessee Fundamentalists, Mencken describes Bryan as glaring hatefully at a scientist who was called to the stand as a witness:

Bryan sat silent throughout the whole scene, his gaze fixed immovably on the witness. Now and then his face darkened and his eyes flashed, but he never uttered a sound. It was, to him, a string of blasphemies out of the devil’s mass — a dreadful series of assaults upon the only true religion. The old gladiator faced his real enemy at last. Here was a sworn agent and attorney of the science he hates and fears — a well-fed, well-mannered spokesman of the knowledge he abominates. Somehow he reminded me pathetically of the old Holy Roller I heard last week — the mountain pastor who damned education as a mocking and a corruption. Bryan, too, is afraid of it, for wherever it spreads his trade begins to fall off, and wherever it flourishes he is only a poor clown.

In reality, however, Bryan was a highly educated man. Here is an excerpt from his Wikipedia biography:

Following high school, he entered Illinois College, graduating as valedictorian in 1881. During his time at Illinois College, Bryan was a member of the Sigma Pi literary society. He studied law at Union Law College in Chicago (which later became Northwestern University School of Law)…

Ronald Numbers writes in his book, The Creationists (University of California Press, 1992; paperback edition, 1993):

Like many other nonscientific critics of evolution, Bryan rankled at allegations that he lacked the competence to judge the merits of the case. Thus despite his denial that formal schooling was essential for understanding evolution and his frequent disparaging remarks about the value of higher education, he could not on occasion resist the temptation to parade his own academic qualifications, which included a B.A., an M.A., an LL.B., and at least seven honorary doctorates. If people would not quit calling him an ignoramus, he threatened to print his degrees all over his business cards and then challenge any “son of an ape” to match cards with him. (p. 43)

Mencken inaccurately depicted Bryan as ignorant of science – and in particular, ignorant of the theory of evolution – in his reporting on the Scopes trial. David Menton exposed this nonsensical claim in his online essay, Inherit the Wind: A Hollywood History of the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial:

It was Bryan, not Darrow, who introduced Darwin’s The Descent of Man as evidence in the trial and who quoted from it (transcript, page 176). Bryan proved, for example, that Darwin did in fact claim that man descended from a monkey, a point the defense had tried to deny. Bryan is reported by one of his biographers, Lawrence W. Levine, to have read Darwin’s On The Origin of Species already in 1905 — 20 years before the Scopes trial! Although Bryan’s reservations about the theory of evolution were certainly influenced by his religious beliefs, he had written many well argued articles which were critical of the scientific evidence used in his day to defend the theory of evolution. Bryan had also carried on a long correspondence on the subject of evolution with the famous evolutionist, Henry Fairfield Osborn. Certainly for a layman, Bryan’s knowledge of the scientific evidence both for and against evolution was unusually great.

For more on Bryan’s debate with Henry Fairfield Osborn, the reader is invited to peruse the following articles (here, here and especially here).

In a letter to The New York Times, titled, God and Evolution, (26 February 1922), Bryan made it clear that his objection to the teaching of evolution in high classrooms funded by taxpayers was based (in part) upon its hypothetical nature:

The first objection to Darwinism is that it is only a guess and was never anything more. It is called a “hypothesis,” but the word “hypothesis,” though euphonious, dignified and high-sounding, is merely a scientific synonym for the old-fashioned word “guess.”…

The second objection to Darwin’s guess is that it has not one syllable in the Bible to support it. This ought to make Christians cautious about accepting it without thorough investigation…

Third, neither Darwin nor his supporters have been able to find a fact in the universe to support their hypothesis. With millions of species, the investigators have not been able to find one single instance in which one species has changed into another, although, according to the hypothesis, all species have developed from one or a few germs of life, the development being through the action of “resident forces” and without outside aid…

Fourth, Darwinism is not only without foundation, but it compels its believers to resort to explanations that are more absurd than anything found in the “Arabian Nights.” Darwin explains that man’s mind became superior to woman’s because, among our brute ancestors, the males fought for their females and thus strengthened their minds. If he had lived until now, he would not have felt it necessary to make so ridiculous an explanation, because woman’s mind is not now believed to be inferior to man’s.

Our opponents are not fair. When we find fault with the teaching of Darwin’s unsupported hypothesis, they talk about Copernicus and Galileo and ask whether we shall exclude science and return to the dark ages. Their evasion is a confession of weakness. We do not ask for the exclusion of any scientific truth, but we do protest against an atheist teacher being allowed to blow his guesses in the face of the student.

According to the online educational Web resource, The Monkey Trial:

Because he had taken the time to know both sides of the issues, Bryan had a very good understanding of evolution and publicly debated in the pages of the New York Times with such evolutionary experts as the president of the American Museum of Natural History, Henry Fairfield Osborn.

Conclusion: William Jennings Bryan was a well-educated man by the standards of his day. Although he was not a scientist, he certainly had a decent grasp of the scientific case for evolution, and he had studied Darwin’s writings and debated leading scientists on the subject of evolution. Mencken was perpetrating a deliberate slander against Bryan by depicting him as a scientific ignoramus.


Lie Number 7: William Jennings Bryan’s political views were backwards-looking, representing the worst of American politics

Suffragettes marching in a pre-election parade in New York City, on October 23, 1915. William Jennings Bryan was an enthusiastic supporter of women’s suffrage, unlike his acid-tongued critic, H. L. Mencken. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fact: William Jennings Bryan was a political liberal, who was nominated three times by the Democratic Party to be President of the United States. Bryan championed a host of progressive causes, including women’s suffrage, the direct election of U.S. senators, a graduated income tax, workers’ compensation, a minimum wage, an eight-hour workday, and government regulation of food safety, to name just a few. By contrast, his critic H. L. Mencken opposed women’s suffrage, universal male suffrage, and even the very idea of democracy itself. Mencken also opposed government assistance to the families of struggling farmers during the Depression era. Bryan also actively supported world peace, opposing America’s entry into World War I. Bryan was vehemently opposed to imperialism, criticizing America’s annexation of the Philippines as an unjust act and supporting calls for Filipino independence. Bryan’s record on racial issues is a mixed one: he opposed anti-Semitism, and denounced The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a forgery, but he also supported the segregation of blacks and whites. Although he deplored the policies of the Ku Klux Klan, he stymied efforts from within his own party to condemn the Ku Klux Klan by name in 1924, for purely political reasons: he feared that such a measure would cost the Democratic Party votes.

Bryan’s progressive record as a politician

An article titled, The Great Commoner, written by the William Jennings Bryan Recognition Project (WJBRP) and sponsored by the Agribusiness Council, summarizes Bryan’s contributions to American politics as follows:

Bryan’s contributions to American political and social history far exceed most presidents. For example, Bryan is credited with early championing of the following: (1) graduated income tax (16th Amendment), (2) direct election of U.S. senators (17th Amendment), (3) women’s suffrage (19th Amendment), (4) workmen’s compensation, (5) minimum wage, (6) eight-hour workday, (7) Federal Trade Commission, (8) Federal Farm Loan Act, (9) government regulation of telephone/telegraph and food safety, (10) Department of Health, (11) Department of Labor, and (12) Department of Education.

Th article also provides a brief overview of Bryan’s career as a progressive politician:

William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic nominee for President (1896, 1900, 1908) and one of America’s greatest leaders/orators as the nation came of age at the turn of the 20th century, left an enormous legacy of achievement and public service which has been largely unheralded or forgotten.

A lawyer by training, Bryan hailed from rural Illinois and Nebraska where he rose rapidly as a young legislator (U.S. House of Representatives, 1892-1896) and a populist leader championing the farmer and the worker. Bryan’s famous “Cross of Gold” speech at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1896 propelled him to the nomination as one of the youngest presidential contenders in U.S. history. “Boy Bryan” barely lost to William McKinley, a Republican, in an election which historians have largely agreed was fraudulently manipulated and coerced by monied legions of the robber barons and big business (i.e., J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and others).

Bryan supporters responded by sharpening their attack on monopolies and corruption through the press (Bryan was editor of the Omaha World-Herald) and a series of specific issues/themes which became the platform for the famous Election Campaign of 1900. Among these issues were women’s suffrage, direct election of U.S. senators, monetary/trade (tariff) policy, America’s role in world peacekeeping, direct income tax, civil and worker/s rights. Bryan’s leadership proved a powerful stimulus as nearly all the key themes he championed were adapted/advanced by victorious Republican administrations (McKinley/Roosevelt/Taft) throughout the early 1900s.

Many of Bryan’s efforts in 1900 [had been] focused on campaign finance reform and curbing abuses of business trusts and monopolies… In 1902, Bryan played a important role helping President Teddy Roosevelt rein in business abuses and corruption…

Bryan played a decisive role in brokering the nomination of Woodrow Wilson at the Democratic Convention of 1912 in Baltimore, when he helped swing the choice from favorite Champ Clark of Missouri to underdog Wilson on the fifty-sixth ballot. He then served as Wilson’s first Secretary of State until a disagreement over neutrality and the handling of the Lusitania sinking convinced Bryan that Wilson would not adhere to his pledge to keep the Nation out of World War I. Bryan had advanced some important international peacekeeping concepts and even had begun a framework for dispute arbitration when he resigned in June 1915.

David Menton attests to Bryan’s progressive political views in his online essay, Inherit the Wind: A Hollywood History of the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial:

Bryan was not just a “commoner,” as even he liked to portray himself, but was also an immensely productive and progressive politician who was the recognized leader of the Democratic party for 30 years and was three times nominated by his Party as their candidate for President of the United States. Although Bryan was never elected president, he did serve as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson during which time he devoted most of his attention to negotiating treaties with foreign nations in an effort to prevent the outbreak of World War I. During his political career, Bryan strenuously fought for some of the most progressive legislation of his time, including the popular election of senators, an income tax, the free and unlimited coinage of silver, requirements for the publication of the circulation and ownership of newspapers, the creation of the department of labor, and women suffrage. Bryan appealed to a broad cross section of people including those whose political views were decidedly liberal. Clarence Darrow himself twice campaigned for Bryan when he ran for President of the United States. Many of the “progressives” who supported Bryan, however, came to despise him for his outspoken Christian convictions, particularly when he dared to speak out against Darwinism.

It is an irony of history that today, most people believe that Bryan’s critic, Henry Louis Mencken, was a political liberal, while Bryan is cast as a hide-bound reactionary. Yet as I showed in my previous post, Mencken was a racist and a eugenicist who despised democracy, opposed giving women the vote, opposed the idea that all adult men should be eligible to vote, and even opposed government assistance to the families of struggling farmers during the Depression era.

Bryan’s views on women’s rights

In his book, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan; Random House, First Anchor Books edition, 2007), Michael Kazin documents Bryan’s progressive views on women’s rights:

At the start of the new century he had declared, “The world needs the brain of woman as well as the brain of man, and even more does it need the conscience of woman.” While in Lincoln, Mary [Bryan’s wife – VJT] had presided over a women’s club that endorsed suffrage, and she no doubt encouraged her husband to do the same before any other major Democrat came to his senses.

In 1916, for the first time Bryan made votes for women a central part of his rhetoric…

What is more, Bryan wanted the government to advance the cause of sexual equality. In the spring of 1920, he wrote a remarkable article for Collier’s in which he called for “a single moral standard.” Now that women had the vote, Bryan reasoned, all forms of discrimination based on gender could and should be abolished. This included the most intimate terrain of all. Bryan proposed making the age of sexual consent the same for women and men and for enforcing anti-prostitution laws against male clients as well as against ladies of the night. Champions of women’s rights from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Frances Willard to Emma Goldman had long demanded the same reforms. Now the best-known political evangelist in the land was taking their side… (Chapter 12)

Bryan’s contribution to world peace

William Jennings Bryan also made a lasting contribution to world peace, according to the above-cited article by the William Jennings Bryan Recognition Project (WJBRP), titled, The Great Commoner:

Throughout his life, Bryan crusaded for world peace. By religious conviction, he was a pacifist, although he gained a commission in the Spanish-American War. By 1905, Bryan helped advance a peaceful resolution to the Russo-Japanese War by meeting with leaders and delivering a proposal for arbitration in a speech before the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in London, while on a world tour. Bryan’s ideas were adopted by President Teddy Roosevelt who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his successful mediation of the Russo-Japanese War at the Portsmouth Conference later that same year (1905). (Note: Bryan’s daughter, Ruth Bryan Owen (1885-1954), who later became the first woman from Florida to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, also spoke before the IPU and carried her father’s legacy as a delegate to the San Francisco Conference which established the United Nations after World War II). Bryan’s work as Secretary of State also helped form the conceptual pillars for what later became President Wilson’s crusade for America’s participation in the League of Nations.

Criticizing universal military training and conscription, Bryan argued, “If we become so Europeanised as to desire to mingle our standards with theirs on foreign battlefields, we will fall an easy victim to the disease of militarism. Our people will then be called from the field and factory to the camp, and to the excitements of the game of man-killing.” (Taft and Bryan, World Peace, 114.)

Bryan’s views on imperialism

William Jennings Bryan, “Impreialism” (8 August 1900) by Elizabeth Gardner (Voices of Democracy 5 (2010): 37‐56):

The Treaty of Paris gave Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam to the United States and included the Philippines for $20 million. Many in the United States embraced the expansion of American territory. Others within the Senate voted against the treaty because of the inclusion of the Philippines. A third group, which included Bryan, pushed for the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, with the understanding that the United States would later grant the Filipinos their independence through a new treaty. Bryan, confident that he could persuade the American people to his view, thus initially sided with the imperialists….[T]he treaty gained the two-thirds majority needed to win ratification in the Senate. The debate over the U.S. role in the Philippines, though, was far from resolved.

The contest over the Philippines between internationalists and anti‐imperialists intensified.63 Influenced by Darwinism and theories of evolution, the internationalists developed their case for overseas expansion with arguments regarding commerce, foreign relations, race, and national responsibility.64 Drawing on the theme of manifest destiny, they claimed that it was the duty of the U.S. government to extend the boundaries of democracy.65 The contiguous continental expansion in the United States had come to a halt,66 and internationalists claimed that expansion to the Philippines and similar outlying areas provided the next logical step.67 They reasoned that it was now time for the United States to assume its rightful place as a leader in the world, if not the next great empire…

This debate over imperialism, which was touched off by the Treaty of Paris, fed into the discourse of the 1900 presidential election. At the 1900 Democratic National Convention in Kansas City, Missouri, the Philippine question provoked an animated response from the audience…

As William Jennings Bryan accepted his party’s nomination for the presidency, he faced an overflowing crowd…
Addressing the fifty thousand people assembled to hear his acceptance speech,… [h]e sought to accurately lay the imperialism issue before the American people, squarely aligning his campaign with progressive values from the outset. Throughout the speech, Bryan continued to integrate this progressive approach, using it to marshal public support for his position, to craft his case for the Democratic Party and Philippine independence, and to secure his election as the nation’s 26th president.

The following is a collection of excerpts from William Jennings Bryan’s 1900 acceptance speech Imperialism at the Democratic National Convention of 1900.

[55] What is our title to the Philippine Islands? Do we hold them by treaty or by conquest? Did we buy them or did we take them? Did we purchase the people? If not, how did we secure title to them? Were they thrown in with the land? Will the republicans say that inanimate earth has value but that when that earth is molded by the divine hand and stamped with the likeness of the Creator it becomes a fixture and passes with the soil? If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, it is impossible to secure title to people, either by force or by purchase…

[69] … Once admit that some people are capable of self-government and that others are not and that the capable people have a right to seize upon and govern the incapable, and you make force — brute force — the only foundation of government and invite the reign of a despot. I am not willing to believe that an all-wise and an all-loving God created the Filipinos and then left them thousands of years helpless until the islands attracted the attention of European nations.

[100] If true Christianity consists in carrying out in our daily lives the teachings of Christ, who will say that we are commanded to civilize with dynamite and proselyte with the sword? He who would declare the divine will must prove his authority either by Holy Writ or by evidence of a special dispensation.

[101] The command “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” has no Gatling gun attachment. When Jesus visited a village of Samaria and the people refused to receive him, some of the disciples suggested that fire should be called down from heaven to avenge the insult; but the Master rebuked them and said: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; for the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Suppose he had said “We will thrash them until they understand who we are,” how different would have been the history of Christianity! Compare, if you will, the swaggering, bullying, brutal doctrine of imperialism with the golden rule and the commandment “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

[106] There is an easy, honest, honorable solution of the Philippine question. It is set forth in the democratic platform and it is submitted with confidence to the American people. This plan I unreservedly endorse. If elected, I will convene congress in extraordinary session as soon as I am inaugurated and recommend an immediate declaration of the nation’s purpose, first, to establish a stable form of government in the Philippine islands, just as we are now establishing a stable form of government in Cuba; second, to give independence to the Filipinos, just as we have promised to give independence to the Cubans; third, to protect the Filipinos from outside interference while they work out their destiny, just as we have protected the republics of Central and South America, and are, by the Monroe doctrine, pledged to protect Cuba.

Elizabeth Gardner, in her above-cited essay, describes the powerful effect of Bryan’s speech and how it recast the 1900 campaign:

In crafting a narrative of the nation’s history and aligning himself with the heroes of that narrative, Bryan’s vision for the Philippines became the only moral option for voters. He framed this decision for citizens:

The young man upon reaching his majority can do what he pleases. He can disregard the teachings of his parents; he can trample upon all that he has been taught to consider sacred; he can disobey the laws of the state, the laws of society and the laws of God. He can stamp failure upon his life and make his very existence a curse to his fellow men and he can bring his father and mother in sorrow to the grave; but he cannot annul the sentence, “The wages of sin is death” (72).

For Bryan, the Filipino crisis was not only a question of living up to the nation’s moral inheritance, but also of assuring the future of the republic. Having reached maturity, the nation’s citizens had to choose their future course in the upcoming election.

In the early 1900s, Bryan said, “There are some who say that we must now have the largest navy in the world in order to terrorize other nations, and make them respect us… There is a better, a safer and a less expensive plan. Instead of trying to make our navy the largest in the world, let us try to make our government the best government on earth… A large standing army is not only a pecuniary burden to the people and, if accompanied by compulsory service, a constant source of irritation, but it is ever a menace to a republican form of government.”
(W. J. Bryan, Under Other Flags: Travels, Lectures, Speeches, pp. 242-43, 318.)

Bryan as an opponent of anti-Semitism

In 1922, William Jennings Bryan was one of the signatories to a statement, which was signed by 119 “distinguished American Christians,” deploring anti-Jewish publications “designed to foster distrust and suspicion of our fellow-citizens of Jewish ancestry and faith.” The statement read as follows:

THE PERIL OF RACIAL PREJUDICE
A Statement to the Public

The undersigned citizens of Gentile birth and Christian faith, view with profound regret and disapproval the appearance in this country of what is apparently an organized campaign of anti-Semitism, conducted in close conformity to and co-operation with similar campaigns in Europe. We regret exceedingly the publication of a number of books, pamphlets and newspaper articles designed to foster distrust and suspicion of our fellow-citizens of Jewish ancestry and faith — distrust and suspicion of their loyalty and their patriotism.

These publications, to which wide circulation is being given, are thus introducing into our national political life a new and dangerous spirit, one that is wholly at variance with our traditions and ideals and subversive of our system of government. American citizenship and American democracy are thus challenged and menaced. We protest against this organized campaign of prejudice and hatred not only because of its manifest injustice to those against whom it is directed, but also, and especially, because we are convinced that it is wholly incompatible with loyal and intelligent American citizenship. The logical outcome of the success of such a campaign must necessarily be the division of our citizens along racial and religious lines, and, ultimately, the introduction of religious tests and qualifications to determine citizenship.

The loyalty and patriotism of our fellow citizens of the Jewish faith is equal to that of any part of our people, and requires no defense at our hands. From the foundation of this Republic down to the recent World War, men and women of Jewish ancestry and faith have taken an honorable part in building up this great nation and maintaining its prestige and honor among the nations of the world. There is not the slightest justification, therefore, for a campaign of anti-Semitism in this country.

Anti-Semitism is almost invariably associated with lawlessness and with brutality and injustice.

It is also invariably found closely intertwined with other sinister forces, particularly those which are corrupt, reactionary and oppressive.

We believe it should not be left to men and women of Jewish faith to fight this evil, but that it is in a very special sense the duty of citizens who are not Jews by ancestry or faith. We therefore make earnest protest against this vicious propaganda, and call upon our fellow citizens of Gentile birth and Christian faith to unite their efforts to ours, to the end that it may be crushed. In particular, we call upon all those who are molders of public opinion — the clergy and ministers of all Christian churches, publicists, teachers, editors and statesmen — to strike at this un-American and un-Christian agitation.

The one great blot on Bryan’s political career: Bryan’s views on race relations

The following quote is taken from an article by Willard H. Smith, titled, “William Jennings Bryan and Racism,” in The Journal of Negro History (Vol. 54, No. 2, April, 1969, pp. 127-49):

…[I]t is surprising and ironical to discover a contradiction in his life that certainly did not square with his much-vaunted talk about democracy and rule by the people. This was Bryan’s attitude towards race relations. There is a further paradox and contradiction in his attitude in that he was not a consistent racist. In some respects, as the following pages will indicate, he was generous and broad-minded; and in others, especially as regards the Negroes, his attitude was acceptable to the strict segregationist. (p. 127)

There is a further paradox and contradiction in his attitude in that he was not a consistent racist. In some respects, as the following pages will indicate, he was generous and broad- minded; and in others, especially as regards the Negroes, his attitude was acceptable to the strict segregationist.

The papers of William Jennings Bryan also indicate an absence of anti-Semitism either on his part or on the part of those corresponding with him. Since he was support- ed by the Populists, particularly in 1896, this absence of evidence of anti-Semitism is significant… When in 1920 Henry Ford, on the basis of the alleged Protocols of Zion, caused a furor throughout the country by recklessly charging that the Jews were planning world domination, Bryan scathingly denounced the Protocols. “It is astonishing,” he wrote, “that anyone would build upon an anonymous publication an indictment against one of the greatest races in history.”

As regards Orientals, Bryan was somewhat ambivalent. His personal attitude toward them was friendly, courteous and sympathetic, but in the matter of immigration to this country, he, like many others, was in favor of restriction… The commonly used argument that the exclusion of Oriental workers was necessary to protect American labor was… stressed by Bryan, but the objection was more broadly based and was usually tied to the problem of race and “demoralization to our social ideas.”… The Commoner’s visit to the Orient confirmed his views on exclusion. No American could become acquainted with the Chinese coolie, he said, without recognizing the impossibility of opening our doors to him.

In discussing Bryan and racism one cannot ignore his relationship with the Ku Klux Klan. Here too there was some ambivalence, and it is not easy to say precisely what the relationship was… Though called the “greatest klansman of our time,” this does not necessarily prove that he was ever a member. In fact, he had very little to do with the Klan and, as already indicated, was not in sympathy with its program of racial and religious intolerance toward Jews and Roman Catholics… Bryan nevertheless did not take the forthright position against the Klan that many thought he should have when the organization became an issue again in the 1920’s. Especially was this true of the Democratic convention of 1924 in New York where the issue of condemning the Klan by name became a heated one. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, for example, referring to Bryan as “unequivocally silent,” thought that the Klan could have been stifled at the convention had he been “true to his mettle and not metal.”

[Bryan wrote regarding the KKK:] “This organization combines about all the race prejudices we have in this country. … It is unfortunate that we should have any organization built upon prejudice against any group, and superlatively unfortunate to have an organization built upon all the prejudice combined. The question is how to deal with the situation. I have never been converted to the doctrine of fighting the devil with fire and I do not believe that an appeal to prejudice will prove effective in fighting this organization. Prejudice is a factor that has to be reckoned with and it implies ignorance on the part of those prejudiced. The only remedy for ignorance is enlightenment and I am sure that enlightenment will prove a remedy in this case.”

His attitude toward Negro race relations, however, was much less generous and was quite inconsistent with his emphasis on democracy, equality, and rule by the people.

In 1901, for instance, there appeared in The Commoner a long editorial on “The Negro Question” [regarding] the recent invitation of President Theodore Roosevelt to Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House, which, said Bryan, “was unfortunate, to say the least.”… He went on to say that there were four phases of the race question as regards our Negro population: legal rights, educational opportunities, political privileges, and social status. As to the first, legal rights, [Bryan said] Negroes had the same rights under the federal and state constitutions as the whites. Then, as was so often the case, Bryan felt called upon to defend his position on imperialism and attack the Republican argument that the colored man in the South and the brown man in the Philippines were being similarly treated. In defending southern policy, the Commoner spoke more about the theoretical position of the colored than about their realistic, practical position. In none of the southern states, he unrealistically and naively argued, “has an attempt been made to take from the negro the guarantees enumerated in our constitution and the bill of rights.” But “the Filipino in the orient and the Porto Rican in the West Indies are denied the protection of the constitution.”

In his essay, Above the World: William Jennings Bryan’s View of the American Nation in International Affairs (Nebraska History 61 (1980): 153-171), Arthur Bud Ogle writes:

He assumed that to remain potent the United States must remain pure – in terms of both ideal and racial composition. Bryan expressed alarm at the “Yellow Peril’s” threat to “white supremacy.” The essential homogeneity of the nation would be destroyed by the inclusion of oriental Filipinos in the citizenry. As he reiterated in The Commoner, America must “insist upon the unity and homogeneousness of our nation.” Rather than a return to a mythic past, Bryan’s racism reflected passionate commitment to his concept of a vital nation.(23) (p. 157)

23. The Commoner (Vols. 1 and 2, June 30 and December 6, 1901, and February 21, 1902); Bryan, Speeches, Volume II, 11; Rubin Frands Weston, Racism in U.S. Imperialism (Columbia, South Carolina, 1972).

William Jennings Bryan Redux by Mark Tooley, March 10, 2009.

…Bryan did not critique Darwinism as racist. Although probably not personally racist, Bryan’s populist coalition and the Democratic Party included the segregated South, so blacks were omitted in his appeal to the common man. Sadly, Bryan’s final great political act was urging the 1924 Democratic Convention, successfully, to table an anti-Klan resolution.

In his book, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan; Random House, First Anchor Books edition, 2007), Michael Kazin, a “secular liberal”, addresses the issue of Bryan’s racism fairly and directly:

Yet he almost certainly did not utter an ignorant line about Haitians that an American banker later attributed to him: “Dear me, think of it! N______ers speaking French.”…

In the memoir he began to draft in the early 1920s but never completed, Bryan paid tribute to his “good fortune.” This included “being born in the greatest of all ages” when the “opportunity for large service” was abundant and “as a member of the greatest of all races, the Caucasian race” and “a citizen of the greatest of all lands” instead of among “the most backwards of earth’s peoples.”…

In September 1923 he gave a talk to the Southern Society of Washington D.C., explicitly endorsing segregation and restricting suffrage in any state with large numbers of black residents. Bryan also praised the superiority of laws made by whites, “the advanced race,” to those black Americans might help make for themselves. Ironically, the great foe of Darwinism invoked “the right of self-preservation” to justify what he acknowledged was a departure from his egalitarian principles…

Bryan made it clear in a letter to Senator Thomas Walsh, a Catholic and a dry, that he deplored the Klan’s hostility to other faiths, as well as its secrecy. But he was still a politician. Obeying the instinct of the species, he hated to condemn any group of activists who could further his purposes…

In one of those occasions that history inserts for comic relief, the main speaker at Scopes’ graduation from Salem High School in 1919 was Bryan, the hometown hero. As the great orator began his address, the boy and some friends started giggling from the front row at a whistling sound he was accidentally making. Bryan “stared hard at us,” Scopes recalled, and kept watch on the miscreants “even after he had his speech flowing freely again.”…

In the months before Dayton, he had struggled to present his goal as a broadly ecumenical, even tolerant one. But the drafters of the Tennessee bill rejected his advice that they prohibit only the teaching of Darwinism “as true” and waive any penalty for violating the law…

Mary Bryan would have been happier if her husband had stayed away from this battle altogether. While in Dayton, she despatched “weekly bulletins” to her daughters, Ruth and Grace. Mary’s sharp comments about the proceedings included none of the verbal charity her husband could dispense by the bucketful. The “mountain people” who flocked to Dayton for the spectacle were, she wrote, “both interresting(sic) and pathetic. They do not shave every day and the proper costume is a blue shirt, generally worn open at the neck, and a pair of blue overalls.” The wife of America’s leading foe of Darwinism thought so little of the crowd, most of whom admired her husband, that she scribbled a phrase that any eugenicist could applaud. How, she wondered, could “this mass of people … have no real part in American life; marry and intermarry until the stock is very much weakened.”

Conclusion: Bryan was one of the most progressive politicians of his day, as his views on women’s rights, workers’ rights, democracy, imperialism and anti-Semitism show. The only issue on which his views can be described as backward was racial segregation, which he supported. Mencken’s views on women, black people, workers’ rights and democracy could (without too much exaggeration) be described as “somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun.”


Lie Number 8: Bryan’s speech on Day Five was a farce, and Bryan was totally crushed in the courtroom by Dudley Malone and Clarence Darrow, and never recovered from his humiliation

John Thomas Scopes, the teacher at the center of the Scopes trial. According to Scopes’ recollections, Bryan was “knocked down” by the rousing speech delivered by Dudley Malone for the defense, but he recovered the following day. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fact: Bryan’s speech on Day Five of the Scopes Trial was described by John T. Scopes himself as “hypnotic” in its effect on listeners: “Every gesture and intonation of his voice blended so perfectly that it was like a symphony; and yet, the impression was that it was all extemporaneous.” Bryan’s speech “received a long and spirited — but not boisterous — ovation.” It was, however, eclipsed by the movingly dramatic speech delivered by Dudley Malone, on behalf of the defense, which received a deafening applause from the audience. After the speech, a subdued Bryan magnanimously congratulated Malone: “Dudley, that was the greatest speech I have ever heard.” Bryan’s fighting spirit had returned by the following day.

The courtroom confrontation between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan on Day Seven (at which Mencken was not even present) was actually perceived at the time as a fairly even match: many contemporary accounts claimed that Bryan had won, or at least, held his own. Only after many years had passed was the cross-examination mythologized into a resounding victory for Darrow, which is how it is depicted in Inherit the Wind..

Mencken’s myth: Bryan’s speech on Day Five fizzled, and Malone’s rousing reply left Bryan totally crushed

In his report on Day Five of the Scopes trial, H. L. Mencken depicted William Jennings Bryan as delivering a fumbling, inept performance in his speech on Day Five. Mencken goes on to relate that the fiery reply speech delivered by defense lawyer Dudley Malone left Bryan feeling crushed and humiliated:

His [Bryan’s] own speech was a grotesque performance and downright touching in its imbecility. Its climax came when he launched into a furious denunciation of the doctrine that man is a mammal. [We have already seen that Mencken was simply lying here, and that Bryan said no such thing. See Lie Number 4 above – VJT.] It seemed a sheer impossibility that any literate man should stand up in public and discharge any such nonsense. Yet the poor old fellow did it. Darrow stared incredulous. Malone sat with his mouth wide open. Hays indulged himself one of his sardonic chuckles. Stewart and Bryan fils looked extremely uneasy, but the old mountebank ranted on. To call a man a mammal, it appeared, was to flout the revelation of God. The certain effect of the doctrine would be to destroy morality and promote infidelity. The defense let it pass. The lily needed no gilding.

The effect of the whole harangue was extremely depressing. It quickly ceased to be an argument addressed to the court — Bryan, in fact, constantly said “My friends” instead of “Your Honor” — and became a sermon at the camp-meeting. All the familiar contentions of the Dayton divines appeared in it — that learning is dangerous, that nothing is true that is not in the Bible, that a yokel who goes to church regularly knows more than any scientist ever heard of. The thing went to fantastic lengths. It became a farrago of puerilities without coherence or sense. I don’t think the old man did himself justice. He was in poor voice and his mind seemed to wander. There was far too much hatred in him for him to be persuasive…

Malone was put up to follow and dispose of Bryan, and he achieved the business magnificently. I doubt that any louder speech has ever been heard in a court of law since the days of Gog and Magog… In brief, Malone was in good voice. It was a great day for Ireland. And for the defense. For Malone not only out-yelled Bryan, he also plainly out-generaled and out-argued him. His speech, indeed, was one of the best presentations of the case against the fundamentalist rubbish that I have ever heard.

It was simple in structure, it was clear in reasoning, and at its high points it was overwhelmingly eloquent. It was not long, but it covered the whole ground and it let off many a gaudy skyrocket, and so it conquered even the fundamentalists…

The whole speech was addressed to Bryan, and he sat through it in his usual posture, with his palm-leaf fan flapping energetically and his hard, cruel mouth shut tight. The old boy grows more and more pathetic. He has aged greatly during the past few years and begins to look elderly and enfeebled. All that remains of his old fire is now in his black eyes. They glitter like dark gems, and in their glitter there is immense and yet futile malignancy. That is all that is left of the Peerless Leader of thirty years ago. Once he had one leg in the White House and the nation trembled under his roars. Now he is a tinpot pope in the coca-cola belt and a brother to the forlorn pastors who belabor half-wits in galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards.

John Scopes tells what really happened on Day Five

The reality, as one might suspect by now, was somewhat different. According to the written recollections of the teacher at the center of the trial, John Thomas Scopes (Reflections on the Scopes Trial – Forty Years After, 1965), Bryan gave a mesmerizing speech and received a long and spirited ovation. Malone’s speech in reply to Bryan was indeed a magnificent one, which outclassed Bryan’s. Bryan acknowledged that it was the greatest speech he’d ever heard. However, the speech’s crushing effect on Bryan was temporary. Bryan, fighter that he was, was back to form the following day. Here is how Scopes recalls Bryan’s speech, Malone’s reply, and the aftermath:

Bryan addressed the Judge, then immediately turned to face the spectators. There was no pretense; this was to be a speech to the people, not merely to the court. It was a general defense of his position in his fight for the cause of fundamentalism. I did not pay much attention to the text of the speech, but it was well received by the audience. I remember being lulled into a feeling that I cannot accurately describe. Since I was not listening to what he was saying, but to how he was saying it, I was letting his oratorical talents hypnotize me. Every gesture and intonation of his voice blended so perfectly that it was like a symphony; and yet, the impression was that it was all extemporaneous. The longer he talked (a little more than an hour), the more complete was the control he had over the crows. As I listened I thought Bryan must have sensed victory as he moved toward the climax of his speech. Indeed, it looked as if he had sparked a force and enthusiasm that might lead to victory for fundamentalism in a number of states of the Union. I thought to myself that if something were not done – and done in a hurry – the forces of enlightenment were in for a severe battle. Bryan received a long and spirited – but not boisterous – ovation. No attempt was made seriously to bring order in the court. A few faces in the audience were blank and expressionless; all others showed reverence and worship.

For many in the courtroom, however, Malone’s reply was unexpectedly moving. He was not an oratorical wizard like Bryan, but those talents which he possessed, he knew how to use effectively. He was a great dramatic actor, a master at playing upon the emotions and at communicating bitter sarcasm and ridicule behind a screen of pretended sympathy and understanding which produced interest and later endorsement of his actual viewpoint. His answer to Bryan combined with a rapid presentation of the defense of the defense case took only twenty-five minutes. But in that brief time, the people were eating pout of his hand and had, for the time being, forgotten Bryan.

At the conclusion of the speech bedlam broke loose in the form of loud applause.

An Irish policeman from Chattanooga was acting bailiff of the court. He was using his night stick to pound on a table near ours. Another officer who had been stationed among the spectators rushed to the bailiff and offered to help restore order. The Irishman replied, “I’m not trying to restore order. Hell, I’m cheering.” That night stick must have been spiked with a generous shot of lead, for he split the table top in half and sent splinters of wood flying all over that section of the courtroom. The Judge knew that order could not be restored; accordingly he adjourned the court and ordered the room cleared. After some time and much difficulty, the room was cleared.

Bryan, Malone, and I were the only ones that remained. Bryan, seated in his comfortable chair, had his legs stretched out and was staring at a spot on the floor two or three feet beyond his feet. Malone was partially seated on the defense attorney’s table intently looking at Bryan. I was at the table waiting for one or the other to make the first move. Bryan heaved a big sigh and looked up at Malone. In a subdued, slightly quivering voice, he said, “Dudley, that was the greatest speech I have ever heard.” Malone, who had served as Undersecretary of State during Bryan’s appointment as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, spoke quietly to his old chief, “Thank you, Mr. Bryan; I am terribly sorry that I was the one that had to do it.” It all seemed so plain to me; I thought anyone could have seen what was transpiring. Bryan was crushed.

But after a night’s rest was revitalized; his instinct to fight, his courage, and his strong heart would not let him completely surrender.

All of his actions and everything he said throughout the remainder of the trial were efforts to mend the damage, reestablish himself with the public, and above all, regain his old spirit and self-confidence….

The people sitting out in the courtroom still considered him their leader. They considered the Bryan-Malone tilt as one round of the fight. Bryan had been knocked down, but he would win in the end.

Scopes goes on to say that Darrow’s interrogation of Bryan made him look bad in the eyes of the people:

Bryan tried to stage a comeback, but Darrow blocked him completely. This time, the people who heard and saw the event lost their confidence in Bryan; he would never regain the confidence of many of them.

That was Scopes’ personal view; however, if we look at other records of Darrow’s cross-examination of Bryan on Day Seven of the trial, a very different picture emerges.

Darrow’s cross-examination of Bryan: a victory for Darrow or Bryan?

In his article, Bringing Trials to Big Screens (in Law Studies (Bar-Ilan University), 2005), lawyer Alan Dershowitz argues that if anything, Bryan got the better of Darrow in the crossexamination:

The actual William Jennings Bryan was no simple-minded literalist, and he certainly was not the bigot portrayed in the film. He was a great populist who cared deeply about equality and about the downtrodden.

Indeed, one of his reasons for becoming so deeply involved in the campaign against evolution was that Darwin’s theories were being used – misused, it turns out – by racists, militarists, and nationalists to further some pretty horrible programs…

Indeed, the very book – Hunter’s Civic Biology – from which John T. Scopes taught Darwin’s theory of evolution to high school students in Dayton, Tennessee, contained dangerous misapplications of that theory…

It should not be surprising, therefore, that William Jennings Bryan, who was a populist and an egalitarian, would be outraged – both morally and religiously – at what he believed was a direct attack on the morality and religion that had formed the basis of his entire political career.

Nor was Bryan the know-nothing biblical literalist of Inherit the Wind. For the most part, he actually seems to have gotten the better of Clarence Darrow in the argument over the Bible (though not in the argument over banning the teaching of evolution). To Darrow’s question, “Do you think the earth was made in six days?” Bryan’s actual answer was: “Not six days of twenty-four hours.” He then proceeded to suggest that these “days” were really “periods,” and that the creation may have taken “6,000,000 years or … 600,000,000 years.”

When Darrow questioned Bryan about the Biblical story of Joshua ordering the sun to stand still, he obviously expected Bryan to claim that the sun orbited around the earth, as the Bible implies. But Bryan disappointed him by testifying that he believed that “the earth goes around the sun.” He then proceeded to explain why the divinely inspired author of the Joshua story “may have used language that could be understood at that time.” All in all, a reading of the transcript shows Bryan doing quite well defending himself, while it is Darrow who comes off quite poorly, in fact, as something of an antireligious cynic.

Bryan, of course, won the case at trial, although the judgment of history ? and eventually the Supreme Court?would eventually be in Darrow’s favor. Still, a close reading of the transcript in this case discloses more complex lessons than the easy ones available in the stylized version of events in Inherit the Wind.

Professor Douglas O. Linder, in his essay, State v. John Scopes: A Final Word, argues that both sides felt that they had won, at the end of the Scopes trial:

Each side came away feeling their cause had been advanced in Dayton. Russel D. Owen, writing in the New York Times, reported, “Each side withdrew at the end of the struggle satisfied it had unmasked the absurd pretensions of the other.” (Edward Larson, Summer for the Gods, p 201.)

In his article, William Jennings Bryan and the Scopes trial: A Fundamentalist Perspective (Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 4 (Fall 1999): 51-83), Professor Gerald L. Priest presents eyewitness evidence that Darrow’s blistering crossexamination of Bryan on the sixth day of the trial did not result in a humiliation for Bryan, as Mencken had claimed in his reports:

When an eye-witness of the trial, H. J. Shelton, was asked if Bryan did an adequate job of defending the fundamentalist position, he replied,

Bryan did hold his own, so to speak, against the probing questions of Darrow, who did bring up some of the age-old biblical questions having no pat answer. Darrow tried in every way to confuse Bryan by twisting questions… but…Darrow, who was badgering him, [asked]…what this narrator considers many foolish questions that could only be answered in the way that Bryan did respond. The prosecution [Tennessee Attorney General A. T. Stewart] did object many times to Darrow’s line of questioning. (1999, p. 69)

Bryan had prepared a final speech, which he intended to deliver at the end of the trial, but Darrow prevented him from delivering it through a devious legal maneuver, according to an article by Professor Carol Ianonne titled, The Truth About Inherit the Wind in First Things (February 1997):

It is true that Bryan was not able to deliver the lengthy closing statement he considered his life’s “mountain peak,” but not because the judge cut short the trial. Rather, after the cross-examination of Bryan (which was stricken from the record the following day), Darrow stated his willingness to accept a guilty verdict in order to move to appeal. This obviated the need for closing statements. Darrow later admitted that the defense had purposely wanted to deprive Bryan of his closing statement for fear of his legendary oratorical powers.

After being denied the opportunity to deliver his final speech against evolution at the Scopes trial, Bryan was not crushed and embittered, as is commonly alleged in popular accounts of the trial; on the contrary, he remained quite upbeat. To quote Professor Priest again:

The trial must have taken a heavy toll on Bryan. He was not a well man to begin with. After the lengthy and intense interchange with Darrow, he learned that he would not be allowed to question him in court. This had to be a great disappointment to him, and perhaps contributed to his death five days after the trial. Yet during those final days he was a bustle of activity: speaking to large groups of people nearly every day, traveling over two hundred miles, issuing statements to the press, and finally, editing what he considered “the mountain peak of my life’s efforts,” the last speech he had intended to give in court. It was a composite of all the earlier arguments he had given against evolution. He wrote Norris what the Texas preacher considered his last letter:

Well, we won our case. It woke up the community if I can judge from letters and telegrams. Am just having my speech (prepared but not delivered) put into pamphlet form. Will send you a copy. I think it is the strongest indictment of evolution I have made. Much obliged to you for your part in getting me into the case. Much obliged too for [L. H.] Evridge [licensed court stenographer sent by Norris to cover the trial]. He is a delightful [man] and very efficient. I wish you would let me correct my part in the trial before you publish it. Sorry you were not there.

Yours, Bryan

How did the myth of Darrow’s victory over Bryan on Day Seven come to be accepted?

In his article, William Jennings Bryan and the Scopes trial: A Fundamentalist Perspective (Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 4 (Fall 1999): 51-83), Professor Priest goes on to explain that it was not until several years after the Scopes trial that the myth that Bryan had been mauled in his encounter with Darrow gained widespread acceptance, largely thanks to propagandizing by best-selling author Frederick Allen:

Many commentators, both liberals and conservatives, have suggested that the trial was a turning point in fundamentalist fortunes, a “historical watershed; worse still, a rout, fundamentalism’s ‘Waterloo.'”(88) However, careful examination of the facts indicate that this stereotype is undeserving of both Bryan and the fundamentalist movement. In his masterful evaluation of the trial, Paul Waggoner documents the fact that during the first few years following Dayton (1925-1931), “critical observers did not regard the Scopes trial as a turning point in the fundamentalist controversy.”(89) It was not until what he calls the “second phase,” running from 1931 to about 1965, that the critical view, or “new consensus” view as he calls it, came into vogue. This view was precipitated by Frederick Allen’s satire of the 1920s in which he climaxes the work by virtually lampooning Bryan, and refers to the trial as a travesty of intellectualism.

It was a savage encounter, and a tragic one for the ex-Secretary of State…he died scarcely a week later. And he was being covered with humiliation. The sort of religious faith which he represented could not take the witness stand and face reason as a prosecutor…. Theoretically, Fundamentalism has won, for the law stood. Yet really Fundamentalism has lost. Legislators might go on passing antievolution laws…but civilized opinion everywhere had regarded the Dayton trial with amazement and amusement, and the slow drift away from Fundamentalism certainly continued.(90)

Waggoner remarks that “it was not so much the passage of time as it was the popularity of Allen that enshrined Dayton, Tennessee, as the bottomless pit into which fundamentalism stumbled in the summer of 1925.”(91) It is this warped image of the trial and Bryan that a number of writers have parroted and have thus perpetuated the negative image indelibly imprinted on the minds of those willing to uncritically accept it.(92)

The trial and even the death of Bryan, far from defeating fundamentalism and its anti-evolutionary crusade, only served to advance them.(93) (1999, pp. 72-73)

Footnotes
89 Paul M. Waggoner, “The Historiography of the Scopes Trial: A Critical Re-Evaluation,” Trinity Journal 5 (Autumn 1984), p. 156.

90 Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920’s (reprint of 1931 ed., New York: Harper and Row, 1957), pp. 205?6.

91 Waggoner, “Historiography,” p. 164.

92 Most notably, those who followed Allen’s interpretation were: Gaius Glen Atkins, Religion in Our Times (New York: Round Table Press, 1932); Mark Sullivan, Our Times: The United States, 1900?1925 The Twenties, 6 vols. (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1935), 6:568, 644?5; and a popular history textbook in the 1940s and 50s, William W. Sweet, The Story of Religion in America (2nd ed., New York: Harper & Brothers, 1939), p. 572….

93 Willard Gatewood writes, “To assert, as the liberal Christian Century [“Vanishing Fundamentalism,” 43 (June 24, 1926): 797?99] did, that fundamentalism was a ‘vanishing’ phenomenon was as naive as the widely held view that anti-evolution sentiment somehow dissipated in the wake of the Scopes trial” (“From Scopes to Creation Science: The Decline and Revival of the Evolution Controversy,” South Atlantic Quarterly 83 [Autumn 1984]: 366).

In his online essay, Scopes Trial (1925), Michael Hannon, Associate Director for Library & Educational Technology at the University of Minnesota Law Library, offers a similar assessment:

Darrow v. Bryan – Who Won?

Much has been written about the courtroom confrontation between Darrow and Bryan. It has been described as “the most famous, and one of the most misrepresented, episodes in the Scopes trial and one of the most legendary episodes in American legal history.” The accounts vary greatly in describing which side won. The further one moves from Dayton, Tennessee in 1925, both in terms of time and geographic distance, the more the accounts generally favor Darrow. Contemporary accounts are much more favorable to Bryan, with some claiming that Bryan won or at least held his own. Accounts written later claim that Darrow won and succeeded in making Bryan look bad on the stand. However, even the contemporary accounts differed somewhat depending on whether they came from national newspapers or from Tennessee papers. (p. 82)

Bryan did not rest after the trial, but continued his crusade.. Just hours after the trial ended, he released questions directed at the defense attorneys asking their views on God, the Bible, immortality and miracles. Darrow immediately replied with his agnostic viewpoints. (p. 78)

Bryan was not able to deliver his prepared address during the trial. But just hours before he died, he had made arrangements to have the address published. It was titled Bryan’s Last Speech: Undelivered Speech to the Jury in the Scopes Trial. In this speech, Bryan sought to clarify what he saw as the real issues and debunk the arguments of the evolutionists. (p. 79)

According to the Website, The MonkeyTrial.com, which compares scenes from the “Inherit the Wind” movie with factual information from actual Scopes Trial, a strong case can be made that Bryan was the winner at the Scopes trial:

The evidence for Bryan’s victory in Dayton is actually quite compelling.

First, Bryan was believed to have won the cross-examination conducted by Darrow in the judgment of a large majority of people who observed it – a lucky crowd that did not include the vast majority of reporters who were otherwise in Dayton to cover the trial. This odd circumstance is the result of the suffocating heat that summer and Darrow calling Bryan to the stand at the end of Malone’s reading long and boring scientific statements into the trial record. Because these statements were going to be provided later in written form, nearly every reporter in Dayton took off swimming at a local pond. When they returned, the cross-examination was over and they were forced to report on the trial’s most dramatic event second-hand from a biased source. We suspect the editors of these reporters were never aprised of this humorous incident, and the biased source kept it under his hat until he wrote his autobiography, Center of the Storm by . . . John Scopes!

An analysis of the trial transcript, further, reveals that Bryan’s answers were reasonable, intelligent, and often very witty. Darrow, on the other hand, lost his temper, insulted Bryan repeatedly, and asked questions for which there were obviously no known answers. (For example, Darrow asked Bryan, “Do you know anything about how many people there were in Egypt 3,500 years ago, or how many people there were in China 5,000 years ago?” When Bryan simply answered as any honest person would, “No,” Darrow then rolled his eyes and asked, “Well, have you ever tried to find out?”). Alan Dershowitz concurs with this assessment when he writes, “For the most part, [Bryan] actually seems to have gotten the better of Clarence Darrow in the argument over the Bible.”

Second, as noted by Prof. Cornelius (cited earlier), after the trial there was a quick and enthusiastic effort to found a new college in Dayton in honor of Bryan. (Bryan College stands today. Click here for more information.) This effort is hard to reconcile with the portrayal of Bryan as badly beaten, shamed, and practically deranged. To suggest that such support for Bryan can be attributed to the lunacy of Dayton’s leading citizens and thousands of financial supporters, of course, further complicates the more limited assertion that just Bryan was the lunatic. (There is, incidentally, no Clarence Darrow College.)

Third, after Dayton the ACLU tried strenuously to remove Darrow from the Scopes case because his blatantly anti-Christian and otherwise offensive conduct at the trial hindered the cause for academic freedom rather than advanced it. If Darrow was so brilliant in Dayton, then why did the ACLU attempt to fire him after the case – and not once, but several times, using almost every means of influence available to them? (See Larson, Summer for the Gods, pp. 197 ff.) So much for the feisty but honorable secular saint portrayed in Inherit the Wind and elsewhere. He was a pariah to those in a position to judge: the ACLU.

Fourth, the political movement to pass statutes preventing the teaching that mankind evolved grew for several years after the trial in Dayton. (Like the Butler Act, those statutes similarly only pertained to teaching as fact the evolution of mankind in the public schools.) If Bryan were crushed in Dayton, the movement he backed would likely have died with him rather than continue on for many years thereafter.

Fifth, Darrow was caught in a very fundamental contradiction in court and it was he (rather than Bryan) who arguably took the soundest drubbing of the two in Dayton. This incident is almost never mentioned in trial accounts and the circumstances were as follows: After Darrow had repeatedly trumpeted the benefits and necessity of teaching Darwinian evolution to high schoolers in the Tennessee schools, Bryan quoted from the trial transcript of a first-degree murder case that had occurred one year earlier in Illinois, the famous case of Leopold and Loeb. In this earlier case, Darrow said that his client (Loeb) should not be given the death penalty because it was the teachers and the universities that had filled the young murderer’s mind with Darwinian ideas – ideas that more evolved humans should be able to kill and destroy lesser humans with impunity. Darrow, in other words, had just defended a teen-aged murderer the year before who was a dedicated follower of Darwin and Nietzsche and who had become so enthralled with the “survival of the fittest” cult that he had killed another boy in cold blood just to demonstrate his superiority. Darrow, in Loeb’s defense, blamed the teachers of the dangerous (not the ideas themselves) and so naturally, in the Scopes trial, he attempted to backtrack from the implication that what those teachers had taught Loeb was – literally! – deadly. But the attempt was futile and Darrow abandoned it with the empty assertion that his words in that earlier case spoke for themselves and needed no defense. (pp. 178ff of the trial transcript)…

Sixth, the lead Prosecutor for the State of Tennessee (Tom Stewart) went on to run for U.S. Senate and won twice. It is unlikely that if he was widely perceived to have participated in a bungled trial of such size and importance that he would then go on to win two important state-wide elections.

Seventh, according to trial historian (and Pulitzer Prize winner) Edward Larson, the idea that Bryan was badly defeated in Dayton can be traced back most directly to the highly-biased accounts of the trial by Mencken and, just as importantly, to a popular historian (as opposed to an academic historian) who wrote a “creative” account of the trial in the 1930s, years after the actual events. (See Larson, Summer for the Gods, p. 225.) Inherit the Wind, however, has easily been the most influential sculptor of the public’s impression of what happened in 1925.

Eighth, after the cross-examination, it was Darrow who chickened out from a head-to-head delivery of each sides’ closing arguments to the jury, not Bryan.

For more information on Darrow’s cross-examination, the reader is invited to peruse The Trial (Part 2): The Duel in the Shade at the Monkey Trial Website.

A little-known fact: most of the scientists at the Scopes Trial were eugenicists

Finally, Dr. David Menton’s online essay, Inherit the Wind: A Hollywood History of the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial, reveals an awkward, little-known fact about the scientists testifying in the Scopes trial:

The majority (if not all) of the scientists called by the Defense to testify on behalf of John Scopes in 1925, in fact, belonged to eugenic societies – organizations now regarded as no less (and perhaps more) reprehensible than the dreaded KKK.

Conclusion: Mencken’s colorful depiction of the courtroom battle at the Scopes trial contains more myth than fact. The account given by John T. Scopes is far more balanced – and Scopes, unlike Mencken, had the advantage of actually being in the courtroom for the duration of the trial!


Lie Number 9: The people of Dayton were a bunch of fundamentalist yokels who were prone to religious hysteria and who were totally closed-minded in their religious opinions

Fact: Although there were some conservative Baptists living in Dayton, the two largest congregations in the town were both Methodist and more liberal in their views. The Masons, who were officially secular, were even more numerous. Of the Christian churches in Dayton, there were several which did not hold to a literal six-day creation. The Assemblies of God, whom Mencken derided as “Holy Rollers” in his reports, lived up in the mountains, outside Dayton.
What were the religious beliefs of the residents of Dayton?

According to The Monkey Trial.com, the people of Dayton were quite liberal in their religious opinions:

In 1925, only about half of the citizens of Dayton were church members of various (mostly Protestant) denominations. In a state most heavily populated by the more conservative Baptist denominations, two Methodist (more liberal) congregations were the largest in Dayton, though neither one had as many members as the (secular) Masons. Of the Christian churches, several were “modernist” and did not hold to a literal 6-day creation or the view that the miracles of the Bible (such as the Resurrection) actually occurred.

This is an important fact, for as Ronald Numbers points out in his book, The Creationists (University of California Press, 1992; paperback edition, 1993), there was a considerable diversity of views among the various denominations as to how literally the book of Genesis should be interpreted:

The relative strength of Bryan’s following within the churches is difficult to determine, because not all fundamentalists were creationists and many creationists refused to participate in the crusade against evolution. However a 1929 survey of the theological beliefs of some seven hundred Protestant ministers provides some valuable clues. The question “Do you believe that the creation of the world occurred in the manner and time recorded in Genesis?” elicited the following positive responses:

Lutheran 89%
Baptist 63%
Evangelical 62%
Presbyterian 35%
Methodist 24%
Congregational 12%
Episcopalian 11%
Other 60%

Unfortunately, these statistics tell us nothing about the various ways respondents may have interpreted the phrase “in the manner and time recorded in Genesis.” Some perhaps believed that Genesis taught a special creation in six twenty-four hour days, although William Bell Riley (1861-1947), the influential Fundamentalist pastor of the First Baptist Church in Minneapolis, insisted that “there was not an intelligent fundamentalist who taught that the earth was made six thousand years ago; and the Bible never taught any such thing.” Like Bryan, Riley followed Dana and John William Dawson in subscribing to the day-age view. (pp. 59-60)

Michael Lienesch vividly portrays the division among and within religious denominations on the anti-evolution issue during the 1920s, in his book, “In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, the Scopes Trial, and the Making of the Antievolution Movement” (The University of North Carolina Press, 2007):

With the introduction of the anti-evolution issue, positions became further polarized. Throughout the early 1920s supporters and opponents staked out sides, determined to define the debate in the most dualistic and uncompromising terms… Religious denominations were divided along the same lines, with Southern Baptists and Presbyterians tending to support anti-evolution efforts, while Northern Baptists, Congregationalists, Episcopalians and Methodists often went on record to express their opposition. But within the churches there were deep differences, as conservative and liberal factions engaged in pitched battle for the control of several of the largest Protestant denominations during the time. Even the most conservative denominations were split; among Southern Baptists, for example, where antievolution foes found many of their firmest friends, there were also powerful foes, that included college presidents, seminary professors, and many editors of the denomination’s statewide newspapers. Roman Catholics were divided as well. Some were sympathetic to the movement, sensing that evolution posed a threat to Catholic theology; others opposed it, not least out of an awareness of the anti-Catholicism that ran rampant among so many fundamentalists in the movement. But most Catholics avoided the issue altogether, assuming that it would have no effect on either church doctrine or parochial education. (p. 132)

It would be unfair to conclude, then, that the people of Dayton uniformly supported Bryan.

Reporters at the Scopes trial testify to the hospitality shown by the people of Dayton to visitors

The people of Dayton were also very tolerant, even of people whose views differed completely from their own. As Dr. David Menton points out in his online essay, Inherit the Wind: A Hollywood History of the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial, the transcript of the Scopes trial shows that they treated the openly agnostic attorney Clarence Darrow with great courtesy, as Darrow himself admitted during the trial:

“I don’t know as I was ever in a community in my life where my religious ideas differed as widely from the great mass as I have found them since I have been in Tennessee. Yet I came here a perfect stranger and I can say what I have said before that I have not found upon anybody’s part — any citizen here in this town or outside the slightest discourtesy. I have been treated better, kindlier and more hospitably than I fancied would have been the case in the north.” (Trial transcript, pages 225-226, quoted by Menton).

A newspaperman from Toronto was similarly effusive in his praise for the people of Dayton, declaring:

I would like to “express my great appreciation of the extreme courtesy which has been accorded me and my brethren of the press by the court and the citizens of Dayton. I shall take back with me a deeper appreciation of the great republic for which we have felt so kindly, and whose institutions we so magnify and admire.” (Trial transcript, page 315, quoted by Menton.)

Indeed, H. L. Mencken himself acknowledged in his early reports that Dayton was anything but a hotbed of fundamentalism, and praised the courtesy of the people who lived there. But as the trial wore on, Mencken gradually transformed the Daytonians in his newspaper columns from fair-minded, tolerant people to fundamentalist fanatics. The transformation took place in four stages.

How Mencken’s depiction of the people of Dayton changed over the course of the Scopes trial

(a) Mencken’s arrival in Dayton: his favorable impressions of the town

Mencken’s four-stage transformation of the residents of Dayton from tolerant people to closed-minded “flat-earthers” (yes, he really he did call them that) begins with his arrival in Dayton. In his first report (Mencken Finds Daytonians Full of Sickening Doubts about Value of Publicity, July 9, 1925), Mencken paid tribute to the people of Dayton:

The town, I confess, greatly surprised me. I expected to find a squalid Southern village, with darkies (sic) snoozing on the horse-blocks, pigs rooting under the houses and the inhabitants full of hookworm and malaria. What I found was a country town full of charm and even beauty — a somewhat smallish but nevertheless very attractive Westminster or Belair.

The houses are surrounded by pretty gardens, with cool green lawns and stately trees. The two chief streets are paved from curb to curb. The stores carry good stocks and have a metropolitan air, especially the drug, book, magazine, sporting goods and soda-water emporium of the estimable Robinson. A few of the town ancients still affect galluses and string ties, but the younger bucks are very nattily turned out. Scopes himself, even in his shirt sleeves, would fit into any college campus in America save that of Harvard alone.

Nor is there any evidence in the town of that poisonous spirit which usually shows itself when Christian men gather to defend the great doctrine of their faith. I have heard absolutely no whisper that Scopes is in the pay of the Jesuits, or that the whisky trust is backing him, or that he is egged on by the Jews who manufacture lascivious moving pictures. On the contrary, the Evolutionists and the Anti-Evolutionists seem to be on the best of terms, and it is hard in a group to distinguish one from another.

Rhea county, in fact, is proud of its tolerance, and apparently with good reason. The klan has never got a foothold here, though it rages everywhere else in Tennessee. When the first kleagles came in they got the cold shoulder, and pretty soon they gave up the county as hopeless. It is run today not by anonymous daredevils in white nightshirts, but by well-heeled Free-masons in decorous white aprons. In Dayton alone there are sixty thirty-second-degree Masons — an immense quota for so small a town…

The trial of Scopes is possible here simply because it can be carried on here without heat — because no one will lose any sleep even if the devil comes to the aid of Darrow and Malone, and Bryan gets a mauling…

We are not in the South here, but hanging on to the North. Very little cotton is grown in the valley. The people in politics are Republicans and put Coolidge next to Lincoln and John Wesley. The fences are in good repair. The roads are smooth and hard. The scene is set for a high-toned and even somewhat swagger combat. When it is over all the participants save Bryan will shake hands.

(b) The second stage: Mencken focuses on the town’s fundamentalists

In the second stage, Mencken started changing his tune, focusing on the alleged fundamentalism of the locals. Here is an excerpt from his report for July 11, 1925 (Mencken likens Trial to a Religious Orgy, with Defendant as Beelzebub):

The courthouse is surrounded by a large lawn, and it is peppered day and night with evangelists. One and all they are fundamentalists and their yells and bawlings fill the air with orthodoxy. I have listened to twenty of them and had private discourse with a dozen, and I have yet to find one who doubted so much as the typographical errors in Holy Writ. They dispute raucously and far into the night, but they begin and end on the common ground of complete faith…

Dr. Kelly [a fundamentalist scientist from Boston whom Mencken knew very well – VJT] should come down here and see his dreams made real. He will find a people who not only accept the Bible as an infallible handbook of history, geology, biology and celestial physics, but who also practice its moral precepts — at all events, up to the limit of human capacity. It would be hard to imagine a more moral town than Dayton. If it has any bootleggers, no visitor has heard of them. Ten minutes after I arrived a leading citizen offered me a drink made up half of white mule and half of coca cola, but he seems to have been simply indulging himself in a naughty gesture. No fancy woman has been seen in the town since the end of the McKinley administration. There is no gambling. There is no place to dance. The relatively wicked, when they would indulge themselves, go to Robinson’s drug store and debate theology…

In a word, the new Jerusalem, the ideal of all soul savers and sin exterminators. Nine churches are scarcely enough for the 1,800 inhabitants: many of them go into the hills to shout and roll.

In this report, Mencken depicts the people of Dayton as fundamentalists. But what Mencken writes here is in total contradiction to his report two days previously, in which he noted the large number of Masons living in the town. Mencken’s final paragraph is also very misleading, as it implies that many of the locals were “Holy Rollers.”

What are the facts? According to the Website The Monkey Trial, most of the people of Dayton were neither fundamentalists nor believers in a six-day creation:

In 1925, only about half of the citizens of Dayton were church members of various (mostly Protestant) denominations. In a state most heavily populated by the more conservative Baptist denominations, two Methodist (more liberal) congregations were the largest in Dayton, though neither one had as many members as the (secular) Masons. Of the Christian churches, several were “modernist” and did not hold to a literal 6-day creation or the view that the miracles of the Bible (such as the Resurrection) actually occurred.

(c) The third stage: Mencken takes to the hills in his search for religious eccentricities in and around Dayton

The third stage of Mencken’s transformation of the people of Dayton into fundamentalist yokels came in his report of July 13, 1925, in which Mencken cleverly shifted his focus to the bizarre religious practices of some people who lived up in the mountains of Tennessee. The reason for this change of focus can be seen in Mencken’s report of July 11, which concluded with this sentence: “Nine churches are scarcely enough for the 1,800 inhabitants: many of them go into the hills to shout and roll.” Readers’ appetites had been carefully whetted, and now Mencken adopted a new persona: he managed to sneak into a religious service up in the hills and observe it without being noticed. He then regaled his readers with a hilarious account of the bizarre practices he had seen, insinuating in his report that a large portion of Dayton’s inhabitants had recently adopted these practices, and were regularly attending religious services conducted by the “Holy Rollers” up in the hills.

Mencken’s report for July 13, 1925 (Yearning Mountaineers’ Souls need Reconversion Nightly, Mencken Finds) begins with his assertion that Episcopalians and even Methodists were regarded as oddities in the town of Dayton:

I have hitherto hinted an Episcopalian down here in the coca-cola belt is regarded as an atheist. It sounds like one of the lies that journalists tell, but it is really an understatement of the facts. Even a Methodist, by Rhea county standards, is one a bit debauched by pride of intellect. It is the four Methodists on the jury who are expected to hold out for giving Scopes Christian burial after he is hanged…

Mencken’s claim that Episcopalians in Dayton were regarded as atheists is easily refuted by the fact that in 1925, there was a church standing in Dayton, called the Methodist Episcopal Church North. Furthermore, the fact that four of the twelve jurors were Methodists would suggest that a large proportion of the town locals were anything but six-day literalists. In the interests of accuracy, I should point out that the Methodists in the town of Dayton, while not six-day literalists, were for the most part, creationists, although their pastor, Rev. Howard Gale Byrd, seems to have held more liberal views. On July 19, 1925, Rev. Byrd resigned as pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church North in Dayton, after members of his congregation objected because a visiting minister, Rev. Charles Francis Potter of the West Side Unitarian Church in New York City, had proposed to preach on the topic of evolution.

But let us continue with Mencken’s account. In his report of July 13, Mencken suggests that even the Baptists were proving too liberal for the mountain folk of Dayton, who felt compelled to seek God in the “Holy Roller” services in the hills:

Even the Baptists no longer brew a medicine that is strong enough for the mountaineers. The sacrament of baptism by total immersion is over too quickly for them, and what follows offers nothing that they can get their teeth into. What they crave is a continuous experience of the divine power, an endless series of evidence that the true believer is a marked man, ever under the eye of God…

This craving is satisfied brilliantly by the gaudy practices of the Holy Rollers, and so the mountaineers are gradually gravitating toward the Holy Roller communion, or, as they prefer to call it, the Church of God. Gradually, perhaps, is not the word. They are actually going in by whole villages and townships. At the last count of noses there were 20,000 Holy Rollers in these hills…

The preacher stopped at last and there arose out of the darkness a woman with her hair pulled back into a little tight knot. She began so quietly that we couldn’t hear what she said, but soon her voice rose resonantly and we could follow her. She was denouncing the reading of books. Some wandering book agent, it appeared, had come to her cabin and tried to sell her a specimen of his wares. She refused to touch it. Why, indeed, read a book? If what was in it was true then everything in it was already in the Bible. If it was false then reading it would imperil the soul. Her syllogism complete, she sat down.

There followed a hymn, led by a somewhat fat brother wearing silver-rimmed country spectacles. It droned on for half a dozen stanzas, and then the first speaker resumed the floor. He argued that the gift of tongues was real and that education was a snare. Once his children could read the Bible, he said, they had enough. Beyond lay only infidelity and damnation. Sin stalked the cities. Dayton itself was a Sodom. Even Morgantown had begun to forget God. He sat down, and the female aurochs in gingham got up.

However, as Mencken biographer Marion Elizabeth Rodgers acknowledges in her book, Mencken: The American Iconoclast (Oxford University Press, 2005; paperback, 2007), John Scopes, who lived in Dayton, had very different recollections of the local people. Scopes was none too impressed with the way in which Mencken depicted the residents of Dayton:

John Scopes said it was an embarrassment to the townspeople of Dayton that “every Bible-shouting psalm-singing orator poured out of the hills,” but to Mencken the spectacle was a source of sheer joy. He delighted in the presence of such characters as “John the Baptist the Third” and one who called himself “The Absolute Ruler of the Entire World, Without Military, Naval, or Other Physical Force.”
(p. 274)

(d) Mencken’s last report depicts the people of Dayton as “yokels” and flat-earthers

Remarkably, by the end of the trial, Mencken seems to have completely reversed his opinion of Dayton. In his last report before the end of the Scopes trial, titled, Tennessee in the Frying Pan (July 20, 1925), Mencken wrote:

Dayton, of course, is only a ninth-rate country town, and so its agonies are of relatively little interest to the world. Its pastors, I daresay, will be able to console it, and if they fail there is always the old mountebank, Bryan, to give a hand. Faith cannot only move mountains; it can also soothe the distressed spirits of mountaineers. The Daytonians, unshaken by Darrow’s ribaldries, still believe. They believe that they are not mammals. They believe, on Bryan’s word, that they know more than all the men of science of Christendom. They believe, on the authority of Genesis, that the earth is flat and that witches still infest it. They believe, finally and especially, that all who doubt these great facts of revelation will go to hell. So they are consoled…

That the rising town of Dayton, when it put the infidel Scopes on trial, bit off far more than it has been able to chew — this melancholy fact must now be evident to everyone… But when the main guard of Eastern and Northern journalists swarmed down, and their dispatches began to show the country and the world exactly how the obscene buffoonery appeared to realistic city men, then the yokels began to sweat coldly, and in a few days they were full of terror and indignation… When people recall it hereafter they will think of it as they think of Herrin, Ill., and Homestead, Pa. It will be a joke town at best, and infamous at worst.

Conclusion: Mencken’s initially favorable impressions of Dayton were colored by his discovery of religious eccentrics who had come into town for the trial. Mencken changed tack mid-course and decided to depict Dayton was a hotbed of fundamentalism. A careful examination of the facts shows that the residents of the town held a wide range of religious views. Mencken slandered the people of Dayton, and to this day, they have never forgiven him for it. Nor should they.


What else did Mencken distort or omit?

Mencken neglected to mention the relation between Darwin’s theory of evolution and the development of Nietzsche’s views. That was because Mencken was himself an avowed Nietzschean.

Christopher Hitchens drew attention to Mencken’s frankly Nietzschean views back in 2002, in a review entitled
A Smart Set of One (New York Times, November 17, 2002). Hitchens perceived Mencken for what he really was: a disciple of Friedrich Nietzsche who eagerly espoused the philosopher’s social Darwinism. To quote Hitchens:

…Mencken was a German nationalist, an insecure small-town petit bourgeois, a childless hypochondriac with what seems on the evidence of these pages to have been a room-temperature libido, an antihumanist as much as an atheist, a man prone to the hyperbole and sensationalism he distrusted in others and not as easy with the modern world and its many temptations and diversions as he liked it to be supposed…

Nietzsche despised both Christianity and democracy, as did Mencken…. But for Mencken, the German savant played approximately the same role as does Ayn Rand for some rancorous individualists of our own day. In the celebrated confrontation with William Jennings Bryan, for example, where the superstitious old populist feared that scientific Darwinism would open the door to social Darwinism, Mencken shared the same opinion but with more gusto. He truly believed that it was a waste of time and energy for the fit to succor the unfit. When he had written about Kaiser Wilhelm in 1914 and entitled the essay ‘The Mailed Fist and Its Prophet,’ he had not attempted to be ironic or critical.

“Social Darwinism” is a pretty strong perjorative term, coming from a man like Hitchens, whose affection for Charles Darwin the man (who would have been appalled by Nietzsche’s philosophy) is so well-known. So what did Mencken write about Kaiser Wilhelm, shortly after the beginning of World War I, in 1914? On an impulse, I decided to check out The Mailed Fist and Its Prophet. And this is what I found. The italics are Mencken’s:

I come to the war: the supreme manifestation of the new Germany, at last the great test of the gospel of strength, of great daring, of efficiency. But here, alas, the business of the expositor must suddenly cease. The streams of parallel ideas coalesce. Germany becomes Nietzsche; Nietzsche becomes Germany. Turn away from all the fruitless debates over the responsibility of this man or that, the witless straw-splitting over non-essentials. Go back to Zarathustra: ‘I do not advise you to compromise and make peace, but to conquer. Let your labor be fighting, and your peace victory…. What is good? All that increases the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases, that resistance is being overcome…. Not contentment, but more power! Not peace at any price, but war! Not virtue, but efficiency! … The weak and the botched must perish: that is the first principle of our humanity. And they should be helped to perish! … I am writing for the lords of the earth. You say that a good cause hallows even war? … I tell you that a good war hallows every cause!’

Barbarous? Ruthless? Unchristian? No doubt. But so is life itself. So is all progress worthy the name. Here at least is honesty to match the barbarity, and, what is more, courage, the willingness to face great hazards, the acceptance of defeat as well as victory.

Let’s look at those words again: “Germany becomes Nietzsche; Nietzsche becomes Germany.” “I do not advise you to compromise and make peace, but to conquer.” “The weak and the botched must perish…And they should be helped to perish!” This was Mencken’s personal credo.

What about Clarence Darrow? Darrow was a dyed-in-the-wool fatalist, as is shown by his final summation in the Loeb/Leopold murder shows:

“Nature is strong and she is pitiless. She works in her own mysterious way, and we are her victims. We have not much to do with it ourselves. Nature takes this job in hand, and we play our parts. In the words of old Omar Khayyam, we are only:

Impotent pieces in the game He plays
Upon this checkerboard of nights and days,
Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,
And one by one back in the closet lays.

What had this boy to do with it? He was not his own father; he was not his own mother; he was not his own grandparents. All of this was handed to him. He did not surround himself with governesses and wealth. He did not make himself. And yet he is to be compelled to pay.

Do you mean to tell me that Dickie Loeb had any more to do with his making than any other product of heredity that is born upon the earth?…

Your Honor, I am almost ashamed to talk about it. I can hardly imagine that we are in the 20th century. And yet there are men who seriously say that for what Nature has done, for what life has done, for what training has done, you should hang these boys.”

Darrow’s views on “defectives”

Quote from http://www.bradburyac.mistral.co.uk/tennes14.html

See also http://highschoolbioethics.georgetown.edu/units/cases/unit1_1.html

“In 1915, just before Thanksgiving, a baby was born without a neck, with only one ear, with a misshapen chest and misshapen shoulders, and with serious internal malformations. The doctor who delivered the baby at Chicago’s German-American Hospital called in Dr. Harry Haiselden, a surgeon, to examine the baby. Haiselden concluded that this “defective” baby’s life would not be worth saving. He convinced the parents, Anna and Allen Bollinger, to let their son die rather than embark on a series of operations to repair some of the baby’s physical deformities.”

http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0E15FD355C13738DDDAC0994DA415B858DF1D3 (“Medical Society’s Committee Against Bollinger Baby’s Physician”. New York Times. December 15, 1915.)

“Dr. Harry J. Haiselden, who refused to perform an operation on the Bollinger baby because he believed the child would be a hopeless defective, will be expelled from membership in the Chicago Medical Society if the council of that body approves the findings of the Ethical Relations Committee.”

Here’s a paragraph from pages 73-74 of A Concise History of Euthanasia: Life, Death, God, and Medicine by Ian Dowbiggin.

One thing the Baby Bollinger story proved was that Haiselden’s views about euthanasia were not unique. The well-known American lawyer Clarence Darrow, future defense attorney during the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925, agreed wholeheartedly with Haiselden. When asked his opinion of the Baby Bollinger controversy, Darrow answered acerbically: “Chloroform unfit children. Show them the same mercy that is shown beasts that are no longer fit to live.” Blind and deaf advocate Helen Keller added: “Our puny sentimentalism has caused us to forget that a human life is sacred only when it may be of some use to itself and to the world.”

USEFUL LINKS RELATING TO THE SCOPES TRIAL

Mencken’s reporting on the Scopes Trial
The Tennessee Circus (June 15, 1925). Mencken’s first (and little-known) report for The Baltimore Evening Sun, in which he says the strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution should be taught in schools.

In Tennessee. An article for The Nation (July 1, 1925), in which Mencken defends the right of States to set their own school curriculums and to demand that teachers adhere to them.

Mencken’s articles in The Baltimore Evening Sun on the Scopes trial, from June 29 to September 14, 1925. For another Website which links to the same articles, see here (scroll down to the bottom to view the links).

To Expose a Fool. Mencken’s savage obituary of Bryan, published in The American Mercury, October 1925, pp. 158-160.

Scopes Trial: Myths and Facts
The MonkeyTrial.com. Website dedicated to comparing scenes from the “Inherit the Wind” movie with factual information from actual Scopes Trial.

Inherit the Wind:
A Hollywood History of the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial
by Dr. David N. Menton. Exposes the numerous errors in the Hollywood moview “Inherit the Wind”, and gives the facts about the Scopes Trial.

The Scopes “Monkey” Trial Site by author and former history tutor A. C. Bradbury. See especially his article, A Cult of Misinformation for a list of myths about the Scopes trial.

Scopes Trial: Best Online Resources
Scopes Trial Home Page by Professor Douglas O. Linder. Lots of excellent articles and biographical sketches. Also has a Scopes Trial quiz game.

The Scopes Trial (1925). University of Minnesota home page. Excellent links.

First Day’s Proceedings (July 10, 1925).
Second Day’s Proceedings (July 13, 1925).

Third Day’s Proceedings (July 14, 1925) and Fourth Day’s Proceedings (July 15, 1925).
Fifth Day’s Proceedings (July 16, 1925).

Sixth and Seventh Day’s Proceedings (July 17 and 20, 1925).

Eighth Day’s Proceedings (July 21, 1925) plus Bryan’s last speech.

William Jennings Bryan’s last speech. This was to have been the Closing Statement of William Jennings Bryan at the trial of John Scopes, Dayton, Tennessee, 1925, but he was prevented from giving it through some clever maneuvering on Clarence Darrow’s part.

Essays on the Scopes Trial

Scopes trial by Michael Hannon, Associate Director for Library and Educational Technology, University of Minnesota Law Library.

William Jennings Bryan and the Scopes trial: A Fundamentalist Perspective by Professor Gerald L. Priest. In Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 4 (Fall 1999): 51–83. Dr. Priest is Professor of Historical Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, MI.

William Jennings Bryan’s writings

Online works of William Jennings Bryan.
The Commoner Condensed (The Abbey Press, 1902).
The Prince Of Peace, a speech given by William Jennings Bryan in 1904, in which he criticizes Darwinism for the first time.

Headquarters Nights: A Record of Conversations and Experiences at the Headquarters of the German Army in France and Belgium by Vernon Kellogg (The Atlantic Monthly Press, Boston, 1917). The book that convinced Bryan of the menace of Darwinism.
The Science of Power by Benjamin Kidd (Methuen & Co., London, 1918). The second book that convinced Bryan of the menace of Darwinism.

The Bible or Evolution? by William Jennings Bryan (Moody Press, 1921).

The menace of Darwinism, a pamphlet by William Jennings Bryan. 1921.

In His Image by William Jennings Bryan, (Fleming H. Revell Company, New York, 1922). See also here.
God and Evolution by William Jennings Bryan. Letter toThe New York Times, 26 February 1922, Section 7, 1: 6–9, 11: 1.

“Darwinism in the Public Schools” by William Jennings Bryan. In The Commoner, 23 (January 1923), 1-2.

Seven Questions in Dispute by William Jennings Bryan. Fleming H. Revell Company, 1924.

“The Earth Speaks to Bryan” by Henry Fairfield Osborn, in The Forum, June 1925, pp. 796-803.

“Mr. Bryan Speaks to Darwin”, by William Jennings Bryan, in The Forum, July 1925, pp. 156-159.

Memoirs of Willian Jennings Bryan. Willian Jennings Bryan and Mary Baird Ryan. Kessinger Publishing, 1925.

Reflections on the Scopes Trial
Reflections–Forty Years After – by John T. Scopes (1965).
Impressions of the Scopes Trial by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius. (Excerpt from Clarence Darrow’s Two Great Trials, a pamphlet published in 1927.)

A Defense Expert’s Impressions of the Scopes Trial by Winterton C. Curtis. From D-Days at Dayton: Fundamentalism vs Evolution at Dayton, Tennessee (1956).

Links and Bibliography
Links and Bibliography page by Professor Douglas O. Linder.

http://www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-in-action/bria-22-2-a-the-scopes-trial-who-decides-what-gets-taught-in-the-classroom

William Jennings Bryan’s last speech. This is the text of what was to have been the Closing Statement of William Jennings Bryan at the trial of John Scopes, Dayton, Tennessee, 1925. Bryan was prevented from giving his speech through some clever out-maneuvering on Clarence Darrow’s part. The speech was printed off shortly before Bryan’s death, but Bryan died before he ever had the chance to deliver it in public.

Darrow’s lack of racism: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/trialheroes/Darrowmelting.html

Impressions of the Scopes Trial by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius. (Excerpt from Clarence Darrow’s Two Great Trials, a pamphlet published in 1927.)

Election of 1896.

The Great Commoner. Article on Bryan’s public service and contributions to international peacekeeping, by the William Jennings Bryan Recognition Project.

William Jennings Bryan on the Subject of Evolution from his pamphlet, “The Menace of Evolution”.

God and Evolution by William Jennings Bryan. Letter toThe New York Times, 26 February 1922, Section 7, 1: 6–9, 11: 1. Good article.

Douglas Linder on Bryan

William Jennings Bryan by Professor Doug Linder. 2004 essay.
William Jennings Bryan on the Subject of Evolution from his pamphlet, “The Menace of Evolution”.

Bryan’s last speech:

Bryan’s last speech

It need hardly be added that this law did not have its origin in bigotry. It is not trying to force any ‘form of religion on anybody. The majority is not’ trying to establish a religion or to teach it – it is trying to protect itself from the effort of an insolent minority to force irreligion upon the children under the guise of teaching science. What right has a little irresponsible oligarchy of self styled “intellectuals” to demand control of the schools of the United States; in which twenty-five millions of children are being educated at an annual expense of nearly two billions of dollars?…

It must be remembered that the law under consideration in this case does not prohibit the teaching of evolution up to the line that separates man from the lower form of animal life. The law might well have gone further than it does and prohibit ‘the teaching of evolution in lower forms of life; the law is a very conservative statement of the people’s opposition to an anti-Biblical hypothesis…

Evolution is not truth; it is merely a hypothesis – it is millions of guesses strung together. It had not been proven in the days of Darwin – he expressed astonishment that with two or three million species it had been impossible to trace any species to any other species – it had not been proven in the days of Huxley, and it has not been proven up to today. It is less than four years ago that Professor Bateson came all the way from London to Canada to tell the American scientists that every effort to trace one species to another had failed – every one. He said he still had faith in evolution but had doubts about the origin of species. But of what value is evolution if it cannot explain the origin of species? While many scientists accept evolution as if it were a fact, they all admit, when questioned, that no explanation has been found as to how one species developed into another…

Evolution – the evolution in this case, and the only evolution that is a matter of controversy anywhere – is the evolution taught by defendant, set forth in the books now prohibited by the new State law, and illustrated in the diagram printed on page 194 of Hunter’s “Civic Biology”. The author estimates the number of species in the animal kingdom at 518,900. These are divided into eighteen classes and each class is indicated on the diagram by a circle, proportionate in size to the number of species in each class and attached by a stem to the trunk of the tree. It begins with protozoa and ends with the mammals. Passing over the classes with which the average man is unfamiliar, let me call your attention to a few of the larger and better known groups. The insects are numbered at three hundred and sixty thousand, over two-thirds of the total number of species in the animal world. The fishes are numbered at thirteen thousand, the amphibians at fourteen hundred, the reptiles at thirty-five hundred, and the birds at thirteen thousand, while thirty-five hundred mammals are crowded together in a little circle that is barely higher than the bird circle. No circle is reserved for man alone. He is, according to the diagram, shut up in the little circle entitled “mammals,” with 3,499 other species of mammals. Does it not seem a little unfair not to distinguish between that and lower forms of life? What shall we say of the intelligence, not to say religion, of those who are so particular to distinguish between fishes and reptiles and birds but put a man with an immortal soul in the same circle with the wolf, the hyena and the skunk? What must be the impression made upon children by such a degradation of man?

Mr. Bryan on Evolution Excerpts from Bryan’s last speech on evolution.

William Jennings Bryan and the Scopes trial: A Fundamentalist Perspective by Professor Gerald L. Priest. In Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 4 (Fall 1999): 51–83. Dr. Priest is Professor of Historical Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, MI.

pp. 58-59

In his lectures and writings we find Bryan opposing evolution for several reasons. His two most famous speeches, “The Menace of Darwinism” (1921) and “The Origin of Man” (1922), and the book, In His Image (1922), listed them, including ones he would draw upon during the Scopes trial. In addition to standard fundamentalist arguments against evolution already mentioned, he added that evolution is only a guess at best and, more importantly, it was eliminating man’s accountability to God…

Because Bryan believed that the philosophy of evolution was contributing to the dissolution of morals in the nation’s youth, he directed his offensive against the teaching of evolution in the public schools.(27) As a populist Democrat, he advocated the right of free speech: it is “guaranteed in this country and should never be weakened.” But this freedom entails personal responsibility. “The moment one takes on a representative character, he becomes obligated to represent faithfully… those who have commissioned him.” The majority rules—in this case, the taxpayers—and no minority opinion that contradicts or undermines their wishes should be tolerated. He never tired of repeating, “The hand that writes the pay check rules the school.”(28)

27 W. J. Bryan, In His Image (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1922), pp. 123–35.
28 Bryan, Seven Questions, pp. 152, 154. The reference is to tax-paying parents who should have the final say about what their children are being taught in the public school.

Scopes trial by Michael Hannon.

p. 16

Although the anti-evolution bill was popular, it was not supported by everyone in Tennessee. The most interesting criticism after the House vote came from an unexpected source. The pastor of the First Methodist Church in Columbia, Dr. Richard Owenby, sharply criticized the Tennessee legislators. Owenby would have made Darrow proud with the scorn he heaped on them. In a sermon, Owenby told his congregation that the legislators were “making monkeys of themselves at the rate of 71 to 5.”(51)

Footnote
15 Kenneth K. Bailey, The Enactment of Tennessee’s Anti-Evolution Law 9 (June 13, 1949) (unpublished M.A. thesis, Vanderbilt University) (on file with author), p. 89

p. 35

Women played an important role in the evolution controversy. Although the leaders of the anti-evolution movement were all men, women as a group were strongly against evolution, with one estimate asserting that women represented seventy percent of the anti-evolutionists.(143) Women were prominent in contacting Tennessee House members to voice their support for the Butler Act. During the legislative process leading up to the enactment of Tennessee’s anti-evolution law, nearly all the letters to the newspapers in support of the bill came from women, while most of the letters against the law came from men.(144)

Why would women be so prominent in the anti-evolution movement? It appears many believed evolution instruction interfered with their role as mothers and protectors of their children. Like the prohibition movement, the anti-evolution movement “was a female-dominated reform movement that invoked a mother’s duty to protect her children and make the state an extension of maternal moral influence.”(145)

Footnotes
143 Jeffrey P. Moran, The Scopes Trial: A Brief History With Documents, p. 70 (2002). (citing Rollin Lynde Hartt, “What Lies Beyond Dayton”, The Nation, July 22, 1925, p. 111)
144 Id. at 71.
145 Id.

State v. John Scopes (“The Monkey Trial”) by Douglas Linder.

Disinherting the Wind by Professor Robert George, Touchstone magazine, March 2000.

When Bryan stepped forward to accept the role of special prosecutor in the case, the famous defense lawyers Clarence Darrow and Dudley Field Malone volunteered to argue for the defense. As a defender of labor militants and others in sensational prosecutions, Darrow’s stature and reputation were a match for Bryan’s. Interestingly, like Bryan, Darrow was a supporter of workers’ rights and an active Democrat. Indeed, he had supported Bryan for President more than once. On religion, though, they were radically opposed. Darrow saw the argument between agnosticism and atheism as a close call. He scoffed at Christianity, and was certain of the truth of purely materialistic evolution. (Malone, incidentally, was a lapsed Catholic and secularized liberal, who made his reputation in big money divorce cases. He, too, had supported Bryan’s presidential campaigns.)

God – or Gorilla: How the Monkey Theory of Evolution Exposes Its Own Methods, Refutes Its Own Principles, Denies Its Own Inferences, Disproves Its Own Case by Alfred Watterson McCann (New York, The Devin-Adair Company, 1922). (McCann was a Catholic opponent of evolution who nonetheless conceded that the Church had no opposition to evolution as such.)

Headquarters Nights: A Record of Conversations and Experiences at the Headquarters of the German Army in France and Belgium by Vernon Kellogg (The Atlantic Monthly Press, Boston, 1917).

Professor von Flussen is Neo-Darwinian, as are most German biologists and natural philosophers. The creed of the Allmacht of a natural selection based on violent and fatal competitive struggle is the gospel of the German intellectuals; all else is illusion and anathema…. [A]s with the different ant species, struggle — bitter, ruthless struggle — is the rule among the different human groups.

This struggle not only must go on, for that is the natural law, but it should go on, so that this natural law may work out in its cruel, inevitable way the salvation of the human species. By its salvation is meant its desirable natural evolution. That human group which is in the most advanced evolutionary stage as regards internal organization and form of social relationship is best, and should, for the sake of the species, be preserved at the expense of the less advanced, the less effective. It should win in the struggle for existence, and this struggle should occur precisely that the various types may be tested, and the best not only preserved, but put in position to impose its kind of social organization — its Kultur — on the others, or, alternatively to destroy and replace them.

This is the disheartening kind of argument that I faced at Headquarters; argument logically constructed on premises chosen by the other fellow. Add to these assumed premises of the Allmacht of struggle and selection based on it, and the contemplation of mankind as a congeries of different, mutually irreconcilable kinds, like the different ant species, the additional assumption that the Germans are the chosen race, and German social and political organization the chosen type of human community life, and you have a wall of logic and conviction that you can break your head against but can never shatter — by headwork. (Chapter I, pp. 28-30)

The danger from Germany is, I have said, that the Germans believe what they say. And they act on this belief. Professor von Flussen says that this war is necessary as a test of the German position and claim. If Germany is beaten, it will prove that she has moved along the wrong evolutionary line, and should be beaten. If she wins, it will prove that she is on the right way, and that the rest of the world, at least that part which we and the Allies represent, is on the wrong way and should, for the sake of the right evolution of the human race, be stopped and put on the right way — or else be destroyed as unfit. (Chapter II, p. 31)

In His Image by William Jennings Bryan, (Fleming H. Revell Company, New York, 1922). See also here.

Some evolutionists reject Darwin’s line of descent and believe that man, instead of coming from the ape, branched off from a common ancestor farther back, but” cousin” ape is as objectionable as “grandpa” ape. (p. 102)

Those who accept Darwin’s views are in the habit of saying that it need not lessen their reverence for God to believe that the Creator fashioned a germ of life and endowed it with power to develop into what we see today. It is true that a God who could make man as he is, could have made him by the long-drawn-out process suggested by Darwin. To do either would require infinite power, beyond the ability of man to comprehend. But what is the natural tendency of Darwin’s doctrine?

Will man’s attitude toward Darwin’s God be the same as it would be toward the God of Moses? Will the believer in Darwin’s God be as conscious of God’s presence in his daily life? Will he be as sensitive to God’s will and as anxious to find out what God wants him to do? (p. 110)

Is any other proof needed to show the irreligious influence exerted by Darwinism applied to man? At the University of Wisconsin (so a Methodist preacher told me) a teacher told his class that the Bible was a collection of myths. When I brought the matter to the attention of the President of the University, he criticized me but avoided all reference to the professor. At Ann Arbor a professor argued with students against religion and asserted that no thinking man could believe in God or the Bible. At Columbia (I learned this from a Baptist preacher) a professor began his course in geology by telling his class to throw away all that they had learned in the Sunday school. There is a professor in Yale of whom it is said that no one leaves his class a believer in God. (This came from a young man who told me that his brother was being led away from the Christian faith by this professor.) A father (a Congressman) tells me that a daughter on her return from WeHesley told him that nobody believed in the Bible stories now. Another father (a Congressman) tells me of a son whose faith was undermined by this doctripe in a Divinity School. (p. 120)

It is not sufficient to say that some believers in Darwinism retain their belief in Christianity; some survive smallpox. As we avoid smallpox because many die of it, so we should avoid Darwinism because it leads many astray. (p. 122)

Did the Human Body Evolve Naturally? A Forgotten Papal Declaration by Brian Harrison (Living Tradition, Organ of the Roman Theological Forum, no. 73-74, January-March 1998.

The Problem of Man’s Origin: E.C Messenger’s conclusions at the end of “Evolution and Theology”

We now come to the question of the partial co-operation of created secondary causes in the production of the human body.

This is a difficult and delicate subject, but we very tentatively make the suggestion that it could be discussed under the three heads comprising the famous Scotist argument for the Immaculate Conception — “potuit, decuit, ergo fecit.” [God could have done it, and He would have done it, therefore He did it. – VJT)

1. Potuit. [God could have done it.] God could have made use of secondary causes as instruments, in the formation of the human body. The abstract possibility is allowed, we think, by practically all responsible theologians, and so we need not develop this point.

2. Decuit. [God would have done it.] This may be thought to be the most debatable point of the three, but we think it is the easiest to answer, in virtue of what we have called the “Principle of Christian Naturalism.” This principle may be expressed as follows: “God makes use of secondary causes wherever possible.” This principle runs counter completely to the ideas of those theologians who argue that because God must have immediately created the human soul, He must also have formed immediately the human body. The principle is such an important one the we must develop in a little.

As St. Thomas points out in his masterly treatment in Contra Gentes, Book III, c. 69, if God has given being to created things, He must also endowed them with activities, and further, if He did not makes use of these activities so far as possible, He would be acting against His own Divine Wisdom.

This theory of God’s use of secondary causes becomes all the more luminous when we remember that all secondary causes must be regarded ultimately as His instruments. He is the great First Cause, and from Him comes all that has being. Created things would not exist if He did not give them being; they could not produce any effect if He did not concur with their activities and powers. Created agents, then, are instruments in the hands of the Deity…

3. Fecit? [God did it?] We put a mark of interrogation here deliberately. We ourselves are inclined to conclude, on the theological grounds just outlined, that nature did co-operate in the formation of Adam’s body. There are two reasons, however, which counsel prudence in this matter.

The first is the attitude of Ecclesiastical Authority… Should the Church decide that Adam’s body was formed immediately and exclusively by God from inanimate matter, a Catholic author, who had hitherto held the contrary would at once wholeheartedly admit that his own interpretation of Scripture had been incorrect, and that those Fathers whose ideas he adopted and developed were not safe guides in the matter…

Secondly, we have the hostile attitude adopted by so many modern theologians. We ourselves think that this attitude is a mistaken one, and cherish the hope that a reconsideration of the matter may lead them to take a wider view, as has happened in the case of the evolution of species in general. But so long as theological opinion remains what it is, a Catholic would do well to hesitate before adopting definitely a view to which so many authors are opposed.

Accordingly we think it on the whole preferable for a Catholic to suspend his judgment on the matter at the present moment, or at least not to give any unqualified assent to the evolutionary hypothesis. And so we end on a note of interrogation: “Fecit”?

Book review of ‘A Religious Orgy at Tennessee: A Reporter’s Account of the Scopes Monkey Trial’ by Dietrich Kessler.

40 Replies to “Mencken’s Mendacity at the Scopes Trial

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT, rich food for thought as usual. KF

  2. 2
    markf says:

    VJ – only 33,000 words – you’re getting lazy – it used to be closer to 50,000. Carry on like this and people will start reading the entire OP.

  3. 3
    keith s says:

    markf,

    VJ – only 33,000 words – you’re getting lazy…

    🙂

  4. 4
    humbled says:

    Should we draw pictures for you both instead? 😉

  5. 5
    markf says:

    #4 humbled

    Are you saying the only alternative to 33,000 words is some pictures? I am currently working on a paper on open data and transparency which I will submit to a quite prestigious conference. The conference rules (which are not unusual) stipulate the font size and the maximum number of pages (12). The result is 5,130 words long including abstract, bibliography, everything. This is the result of several weeks work – quite a lot of the effort going in to making it concise. All the papers at the conference will be of similar length or shorter. Does VJ really need six times as many words to describe Mencken’s mendacity?

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    markf, Dr. Torley has helpfully provided a summary of points for those who do not have time to read the entire post,,,

    MAIN MENU

    Lie Number 1: The Scopes Trial was all about whether evolution could be taught in state high schools in Tennessee

    Lie Number 2: The Tennessee high school biology text, Hunter’s Civic Biology, was objective and free of ideology

    Lie Number 3: William Jennings Bryan was a Biblical literalist, who believed that the world had been created in six days

    Lie Number 4: During the trial, William Jennings Bryan denied that man was a mammal

    Lie Number 5: William Jennings Bryan was a petty, vindictive, hate-filled man

    Lie Number 6: William Jennings Bryan was an ignorant man

    Lie Number 7: William Jennings Bryan’s political views were backwards-looking, representing the worst of American politics

    Lie Number 8: Bryan’s speech on Day five was a farce, and Bryan was totally crushed in the courtroom by Dudley Malone and Clarence Darrow, and never recovered from his humiliation

    Lie Number 9: The people of Dayton were a bunch of fundamentalist yokels who were prone to religious hysteria and who were totally closed-minded in their religious opinions

    My question is why do we consistently find so much deception and ad hominem in Darwinian claims? And why on earth are Darwinists so committed to defending something that is so false that it must be defended with lies and ad hominem in the first place?

  7. 7
    News says:

    Vince, the problem is, Darwinism, especially as it seized top people’s imaginations in the 1920s, was bound to be believed no matter what the evidence.

    It promised answers to so many problems. Like, for the elite, why do the people who obstruct our rule seem so stupid? Why can’t our iron fist smash them into anything of value? For them, Darwin (at least in their view) had answers: Those people were “naturally selected” to be inferior.

    We see variants of this in every election, where pundits claim to be able to “read the minds” of that inferior class of voters that votes persistently against progressive authoritarians – as Mencken himself was.

    It should be a warning to us that Mencken was not exposed long ago, and dropped from consideration, instead of routinely feted as a hero of some kind.

  8. 8
    News says:

    humbled, don’t bother drawing pictures for keiths and markf. They hang around here to detract historical or science facts that don’t support materialism. We could do it with pictures for grade school, not for these types.

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT: Careful documentation rooted in solid research, beyond even the reach of selective hyperskepticism is a service, and an important one. Deeply appreciated. Never mind complaints against length, that only means they have nothing to say to the substance at its core. And that core on rhetorical tactics and manipulations in disregard to the truth and fairness is something that was relevant 90 years past and is highly relevant today still. Those who refuse or neglect the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it and pay the same price again. KF

    PS: I trust PC woes are long since resolved!

  10. 10
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Notice, how the root of the circularised Tree of Life portrayed in the OP has no label? The Smithsonian image speaks more fully: OOL. KF

  11. 11
    kairosfocus says:

    BA77: We do need to focus on what has been done, and the outline you give — noting the amplification and details in the OP — is telling. And, sadly familiar. KF

    PS: It should be recalled that within about a week, Bryan died of complications of Diabetes it seems. So, what he intended to do with the closing argument that was never given because of the tactics used in the trial, was stopped.

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:

    Humbled & News, On track record of too many objectors, pictures (especially infographics) will be brushed aside too. KF

  13. 13
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N 2: In my IOSE, I note from Bryan’s book, The Menace of Darwinism:

    >> The question in dispute is whether atheists and agnostics have a right to teach irreligion in public schools — whether teachers drawing salaries from the public treasury shall be permitted to undermine belief in God, the Bible, and Christ by teaching not scientific truth but unproven and unsupported guesses which cannot be true unless the Bible is false [[pp. 5 – 6] . . . .

    On page 180 of ”Descent of Man” (Hurst & Company, Edition 1874), Darwin says: “Our most ancient progenitors in the kingdom of the Vertebrata, at which we are able to obtain an obscure glance, apparently consisted of a group of marine animals, resembling the larvae of the existing Ascidians.” Then he suggests a line of de-scent leading to the monkey . . . His second sentence (fol-lowing the sentence quoted) turns upon the word “probably” . . . His works are full of words indicating uncertainty. The phrase “we may well suppose,” occurs over eight hundred times in his two principal works. (See Herald & Presbyter, November 22, 1914.) The eminent scientist is guess-ing . . . .

    Darwin does not use facts ; he uses conclusions drawn from similarities. He builds upon presumptions, probabilities and infer-ences, and asks the acceptance of his hypothesis “not-withstanding the fact that connecting links have not hitherto been discovered” (page 162). He advances an hypothesis which, if true, would find support on every foot of the earth’s surface, but which, as a mat-ter of fact finds support nowhere . . . .

    Science has rendered invaluable service to society; her achievements are innumerable—and the hypotheses of scientists should be considered with an open mind. Their theories should be carefully examined and their arguments fairly weighed, but the scientist cannot compel acceptance of any argument he advances, ex-cept as, judged upon its merits, it is convincing. Man is infinitely more than science; science, as well as the Sabbath, was made for man . . . [[pp. 19 – 22; emphases added.] >>

    KF

  14. 14
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N 3: It is relevant also to note:

    I: From Darrow’s closing argument in the then recent Loeb-Leopold nihilism murder case of a young boy by seriously misguided young men in College [or recently graduated?] infatuated with ideas taken from Nietzsche:

    >> . . . They [[Loeb and Leopold] wanted to commit a perfect crime . . . . Do you mean to tell me that Dickie Loeb had any more to do with his making than any other product of heredity that is born upon the earth? . . . .

    He grew up in this way. He became enamored of the philosophy of Nietzsche. Your Honor, I have read almost everything that Nietzsche ever wrote. He was a man of a wonderful intellect; the most original philosopher of the last century. Nietzsche believed that some time the superman would be born, that evolution was working toward the superman. He wrote one book, Beyond Good and Evil, which was a criticism of all moral codes as the world understands them; a treatise holding that the intelligent man is beyond good and evil, that the laws for good and the laws for evil do not apply to those who approach the superman. [[Shades of Plato’s critique . . . ] He wrote on the will to power. Nathan Leopold is not the only boy who has read Nietzsche. He may be the only one who was influenced in the way that he was influenced . . . >>

    II: But in fact in the book The Menace of Darwinism, Bryan had long since clearly warned, underscoring a subtext that lurks when we discuss evolutionary materialist philosophy, science and society issues:

    >> Darwinism leads to a denial of God. Nietzsche carried Darwinism to its logical conclusion and it made him the most extreme of anti-Christians . . . . As the [[First World] war [[of 1914 – 1918] progressed I [[Bryan was from 1913 – 1915 the 41st US Secretary of State, under President Wilson] became more and more impressed with the conviction that the German propa-ganda rested upon a materialistic foundation. I se-cured the writings of Nietzsche and found in them a defense, made in advance, of all the cruelties and atrocities practiced by the militarists of Germany. [[It didn’t start with the Nazis!] Nietzsche tried to substitute the worship of the “Su-perman” for the worship of God. He not only re-jected the Creator, but he rejected all moral standards. He praised war and eulogized hatred because it led to war. He denounced sympathy and pity as attributes unworthy of man. He believed that the teachings of Christ made degenerates and, logical to the end, he regarded Democracy as the refuge of weaklings. He saw in man nothing but an animal and in that animal the highest virtue he recognized was “The Will to Power”—a will which should know no let or hin-drance, no restraint or limitation . . . . His philosophy, if it is worthy the name of philos-ophy, is the ripened fruit of Darwinism — and a tree is known by its fruit . . . .

    The corroding influence of Darwinism has spread as the doctrine has been increasingly accepted. In the American preface to “The Glass of Fashion” these words are to be found: “Darwinism not only justifies the sensualist at the trough and Fashion at her glass; it justifies Prussianism at the cannon’s mouth and Bol-shevism at the prison-door. If Darwinism be true, if Mind is to be driven out of the universe and accident accepted as a sufficient cause for all the majesty and glory of physical nature, then there is no crime or vio-lence, however abominable in its circumstances and however cruel in its execution, which cannot be justi-fied by success, and no triviality, no absurdity of Fash-ion which deserves a censure: more — there is no act of disinterested love and tenderness, no deed of self- sac-rifice and mercy, no aspiration after beauty and excel-lence, for which a single reason can be adduced in logic.” [[pp. 52 – 54. Explanatory parentheses added.] >>

    III: The unspoken closing argument composed by Bryan for the Scopes trial therefore had in it:

    >> A criminal is not relieved from responsibility merely because he found Nietzsche’s philosophy in a library which ought not to contain it. Neither is the university guiltless if it permits such corrupting nourishment to be fed to the souls that are entrusted to its care . . . . [[Again, strongly echoing Plato’s analysis; and also his recommendations.]

    Mr. Darrow said: “I say to you seriously that the parents of Dicky Loeb are more responsible than he, and yet few boys had better parents.” Again he says: “I know that one of two things happened to this boy; that this terrible crime was inherent in his organism and came from some ancestor, or that it came through his education and his training after he was born.” . . . . He says “I do not know what remote ancestor may have sent down the seed that corrupted him, and I do not know through how many ancestors it may have passed until it reached Dicky Loeb. All I know is, it is true, and there is not a biologist in the world who will not say I am right.”

    Psychologists who build upon the evolutionary hypothesis teach that man is nothing but a bundle of characteristics inherited from brute ancestors. That is the philosophy which Mr. Darrow applied in this celebrated criminal case. “Some remote ancestor” – he does not know how remote – “sent down the seed that corrupted him.” You cannot punish the ancestor – he is not only dead but, according to the evolutionists, he was a brute and may have lived a million years ago. And he says that all the biologists agree with him. No wonder so small a percentage of the biologists, according to Leuba, believe in a personal God.

    This is the quintessence of evolution, distilled for us by one who follows that doctrine to its logical conclusion.>>

    IV: all of this brings to mind the warning long since given in Plato’s The Laws, Bk X, a warning that is usually studiously avoided by evolutionary materialism advocates:

    >> Ath. . . .[The avant garde philosophers and poets, c. 360 BC] say that fire and water, and earth and air [i.e the classical “material” elements of the cosmos], all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art . . . [such that] all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only [ –> that is, evolutionary materialism is ancient and would trace all things to blind chance and mechanical necessity] . . . .

    [Thus, they hold] that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.- [ –> Relativism, too, is not new; complete with its radical amorality rooted in a worldview that has no foundational IS that can ground OUGHT.] These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might [ –> Evolutionary materialism — having no IS that can properly ground OUGHT — leads to the promotion of amorality on which the only basis for “OUGHT” is seen to be might (and manipulation: might in “spin”)], and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions [ –> Evolutionary materialism-motivated amorality “naturally” leads to continual contentions and power struggles influenced by that amorality], these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is,to live in real dominion over others [ –> such amoral factions, if they gain power, “naturally” tend towards ruthless abuse], and not in legal subjection to them. >>

    We need to pause and reflect on where we are going, and how we will deal with the moral hazards at stake.

  15. 15
    Silver Asiatic says:

    markf

    VJ – only 33,000 words

    Ok, there’s another alternative instead of pictures. Perhaps you could do word counts for us on each OP. That way you won’t have to read the essays but you could still post something in the comment thread.

  16. 16
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Excellent work, VJT. Unfortunately, it takes that much effort to unravel the lies that evolutionists have supported and protected for so many years. I’ll guess that there’s very little, if anything, like your expose on the truth of this famous case, which still today, affects the culture has shaped the public attitude towards evolution.

    Thank you.

  17. 17
    Learned Hand says:

    I am currently working on a paper on open data and transparency which I will submit to a quite prestigious conference. The conference rules (which are not unusual) stipulate the font size and the maximum number of pages (12). The result is 5,130 words long including abstract, bibliography, everything. This is the result of several weeks work – quite a lot of the effort going in to making it concise.

    Courts enforce similar limits. The appellate court in the jurisdiction where I did most of my litigation was notorious for disregarding anything over the limit–literally ripping the excess out of the brief and throwing it away.

    Writing up an accurate factual summary and comprehensive legal argument is relatively easy. Compressing it down to a manageable size is maddeningly hard.

    But I think in almost every case, it improved the final product. Often hugely. Brevity is simply more interesting, more memorable, and more persuasive.

  18. 18
    markf says:

    #25 SA – my comment was fairly light hearted. I respect VJ very much but his OPs are not just a bit larger than usual they are quite extraordinary – some of them are longer than books. They are one of the wonders of the Internet. But I fear hardly anyone reads them from start to finish.

  19. 19
    Adapa says:

    IDers must be getting tired of whining about their Kitmiller v. Dover debacle. Time to whine about another trial even though the Creationists technically won.

    ID-Creationism – almost 90 years of being the poor persecuted victims and still going strong! 🙂

  20. 20
    Barry Arrington says:

    Thank you VJT. Your hard work has paid off. The result is a masterful, exhaustively researched and rigorously argued paper that leaves no doubt that you have supported your thesis.

    In the comments above your detractors are left speechless on substance. Sadly, that does not mean they refrained from speaking. Their comments put me in mind of a scene in the film Amadeus. Emperor Joseph has just listened to Mozart’s new opera. A mediocre musician, he presumes to criticize the greatest composer of all time:

    Emperor Joseph II: My dear young man, don’t take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It’s quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that’s all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.

    Mozart: Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?

    “Too many words” say Mark, Keith and ‘Learned;’ just cut a few and it will be better.” The anti-intellectualism on display in their comments is astonishing.

  21. 21
    Joe says:

    LoL! @ Adapa- the debacle was that the judge listened to the anti-ID people who have an agenda and discarded what the ID experts said.

    Evolutionism- more than 150 years of nonsense and bloviating.

  22. 22
    markf says:

    #20 BA

    If Mozart’s Opera had been six times as long as most others (i.e. 18 hours) then the Emperor’s comment would have been justified. However brilliant it might have been, only a few dedicated fantatics would have listened to it.(Quite a few more might have praised it without listening to it). I don’t think those who objected could have been fairly accused of being anti-music.

  23. 23
    Eric Anderson says:

    vjtorley, thanks for the post.

    One typo (I think) that jumped out at me:

    “Mencken also publicly opposed imperialism and anti-Semitism . . .”

    Presumably, you meant “Bryan”, not Mencken.

  24. 24
    Silver Asiatic says:

    markf

    I respect VJ very much but his OPs are not just a bit larger than usual they are quite extraordinary – some of them are longer than books. They are one of the wonders of the Internet. But I fear hardly anyone reads them from start to finish.

    Fair enough. It’s good that you’re concerned that people won’t read his texts. But it’s also good to remember that anything shorter than an exhaustive study of the topic would be criticized for being too shallow. We’ve heard enough about quote mining and supposedly out-of-context references to know that going against the majority opinion requires considerable effort.

    People who are barely interested in the topic won’t read the long text. But for someone like myself, who views the Scopes trial as one of the most culturally-significant moments in modern history, this analysis is ground-breaking and essential.

    I read the book “Summer for the Gods” about the trial some years ago, and I find VJT’s analysis to be far superior to that.

    Ok, I’ll submit that a professional editor would sharpen some edges, but we’re getting a book-length treatment for the price of … nothing.

    I’ll be disappointed if VJT doesn’t finally begin to submit manuscripts to major publishers (who usually provide editors) very soon. He has the original research and style to start getting contracts. He’s far better than a number of published authors I’ve read.

    … I hope you’re reading this VJT and I hope you follow up on the suggestion. 🙂

  25. 25
    Barry Arrington says:

    Re Markf @ 22.

    “They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’” Jesus of Nazareth

    When we have brief OPs with quotations we get “Quote mining! Out of context!” When we have exhaustively researched and documented OPs we get “Too long! Too much detail!”

  26. 26
    markf says:

    #25 BA

    You are assuming “exhaustively researched and documented” = lots of words. It is quite possible to quote something which is not out of context without supplying several thousand words of context.

  27. 27
    Barry Arrington says:

    It’s OK markf @ 26. You seem content to play the Emperor Joseph “too many notes” scold. No need to overdo it.

  28. 28
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Pardon but I think the following, though unpleasant, needs to be brought up. Notice, that the key lessons of history regarding just how — under false colours of Science and Progress — willing people in the media and those who should have corrected them have been to manipulate the public in defiance of truth, fairness and more, and the linked correction of a longstanding smear are being studiously side stepped? KF

  29. 29
    keith s says:

    Barry,

    “Too many words” say Mark, Keith and ‘Learned;’ just cut a few and it will be better.” The anti-intellectualism on display in their comments is astonishing.

    Writers are routinely urged by their editors to cut out unnecessary content. It is hardly evidence of “anti-intellectualism”, your histrionics notwithstanding.

    Like Mark, I respect Vincent Torley. In fact, I think he is the smartest pro-ID commenter at UD, and by a significant margin. I also appreciate his skill and effort at fairly representing my arguments, even when he disagrees with me.

    Like Mark and Learned Hand, however, I think Vincent could serve his own purposes better by being more concise.

    Vincent’s instinct to thoroughly research his topics is a good one, but he doesn’t need to cram all of that information into the OPs he writes. His point can be made more concisely, and additional facts can be introduced if the subsequent discussion requires them.

  30. 30
    bornagain77 says:

    keith s, as to: “I think he is the smartest pro-ID commenter at UD, and by a significant margin.”

    Now I immensely respect the work that Dr. Torley does, and his the heads above intelligence that he displays in his work, but what I seriously question is YOUR, and other Darwinists, intelligence. For example, when you guys are shown stuff like the following,,,

    Human brain has more switches than all computers on Earth – November 2010
    Excerpt: They found that the brain’s complexity is beyond anything they’d imagined, almost to the point of being beyond belief, says Stephen Smith, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology and senior author of the paper describing the study: …One synapse, by itself, is more like a microprocessor–with both memory-storage and information-processing elements–than a mere on/off switch. In fact, one synapse may contain on the order of 1,000 molecular-scale switches. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth.
    http://news.cnet.com/8301-2708.....2-247.html

    or are shown this,,,

    Component placement optimization in the brain – 1994
    As he comments [106], “To current limits of accuracy … the actual placement appears to be the best of all possible layouts; this constitutes strong evidence of perfect optimization.,, among about 40,000,000 alternative layout orderings, the actual ganglion placement in fact requires the least total connection length.
    http://www.jneurosci.org/conte.....8.abstract

    or are shown this,

    “Complexity Brake” Defies Evolution – August 8, 2012
    Excerpt: Consider a neuronal synapse — the presynaptic terminal has an estimated 1000 distinct proteins. Fully analyzing their possible interactions would take about 2000 years. Or consider the task of fully characterizing the visual cortex of the mouse — about 2 million neurons. Under the extreme assumption that the neurons in these systems can all interact with each other, analyzing the various combinations will take about 10 million years…, even though it is assumed that the underlying technology speeds up by an order of magnitude each year.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....62961.html

    or are shown etc.. etc…, you guys, i.e. Neo-Darwinists, even though you guys cannot demonstrate the origination of a single molecular machine by Darwinian processes, act as if believing unguided processes built all that ‘beyond belief’ complexity in the brain is the most intelligent thing a person can believe! I hate to burst your bubble, but I, and many others in America, don’t find you, nor your PhD. Darwinists buddies, intelligent in the least for believing as such!

    Verse:

    Romans 1:18-23
    The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

    For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

  31. 31
    Adapa says:

    ba77

    Now I immensely respect the work that Dr. Torley does, and his the heads above intelligence that he displays in his work, but what I seriously question is YOUR, and other Darwinists, intelligence.

    We’re all smart enough to scroll right by your spam filled copypasta-fests. 🙂

  32. 32
    StephenB says:

    Too many words? How sour can grapes get?

  33. 33
    Learned Hand says:

    It seems like even the UD regulars haven’t read this piece; Barry Arrington’s compliments are a polite way of acknowledging that the article is extremely long, and Eric Anderson identified a typo from the introductory paragraphs.

    I could stand to be more constructive with my criticism, though. This piece is already subdivided into eight component parts. Why not post each one as a separate OP over a couple of weeks? You’re much more likely to get readers and engagement that way.

  34. 34
    bb says:

    Dr. Torley,

    Thank you for the essay. Every student should read this along with a viewing of Inherit the Wind. I converted it into an e-book fit for Amazon Kindle but can also convert it into whatever format you like. If you’re interested, I can upload the e-book to a site and provide you with a link to download and review.

  35. 35
    vjtorley says:

    Hi bb,

    I’d be delighted if you converted my essay into an e-book, along with my earlier essays on Mencken: H. L. Mencken: Is this your hero, New Atheists? and Six bombshells relating to H. L. Mencken and the Scopes trial. I look forward to seeing the new Website link. Thank you.

  36. 36
    vjtorley says:

    MarkF and Learned Hand,

    Thank you for your posts. In reply to your queries and comments: I didn’t post this essay in eight parts because I didn’t want to clutter up Uncommon Descent with an interminably long series of posts which nobody would have the patience to read. I thought it better to post my findings on Mencken (and the Scopes trial) in three installments (see my post above for the other two).

    For people who don’t like reading long posts, I provided an executive summary of my findings at the beginning of this post. I also provided a main menu, allowing people to navigate easily from one topic to another. Finally, I commenced each section with a “Myth” which I sought to refute and a one-paragraph summary (“Fact”) of why it was wrong. I don’t know how much more accommodating I could possibly have been, to people who dislike reading long posts.

    You complain about the length of this piece. But if you’ll observe carefully, over 80% of it is taken up with quotes from essays, online articles and books. I wanted to back up my claims, as I was making a very serious charge: I was accusing Mencken of mendacity. A charge like that requires substantiation.

    I hope that helps you understand why I wrote this post in the way I did. Cheers.

  37. 37
    bb says:

    Dr. Torley,

    I created a temporary website and page for you to download your e-book at http://www.download.snobotics.org/

  38. 38
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT (HT bb), hint, hint, hint! KF

  39. 39
    Querius says:

    Wonderfully done! I read it all, and a few of the references as well. Fascinating.

    As we can see, the eugenicists who were behind this were able to see their murderous progeny emerge a decade later. What was taught in the class room, battled in the court room, misrepresented in the press room, was then planned out in the war room, resulting in an estimated 70 to 100 million military and civilian casualties.

    Nevertheless,eugenics is alive and well.

    -Q

  40. 40
    bb says:

    Dr. Torley,

    I just created and uploaded some e-book files for your essay titled: “H. L. Mencken: Is this your hero, New Atheists?” You can download it at http://download.snobotics.org . Once again, please contact me via my UD account email when you have downloaded your book. Maybe one of the site admins (Barry?, Sal?, KF?) here can help him.

    I consider this second book a little rough, especially the cover image, and expect you may want some changes. Don’t hesitate to let me know.

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