The Scopes Monkey Trial

On this page:

Darrow Questions Bryan

Darrow's Summation

Will the Real Clarence Darrow Please Step Forward

"Old Necessity"

Darrow the Myth Maker

Darrow in the Dock

Defender of the Weak?  Not Likely!

Darrow and the Crime Czar

Clarence Darrow for the Defense - Sort of

My Father's Son

A Knee-jerk Reaction?

How Darrow Stole the Show

How Historians Have Re-written History

Clarence Darrow's Religion of Despair

Oh, Pity the Poor Pollywog

Darrow's FBI file


14:   Clarence Darrow:
'Attorney for the Damned' -
or just another Damned Attorney?

Darrow Questions Bryan

The confrontation between Darrow and Bryan did not take place until the last afternoon of the trial, when many of the journalists covering the trial, including H.L. Mencken, had given up hope of any 'fireworks' between the two men and had left Dayton.
It was an important element of the trial primarily because it exposed Darrow as a narrow-minded, ill-informed, religious bigot, and confirmed the impression that Bryan was a man so used to talking at people that he had lost touch with his grass roots constituents.
For a fuller description of the confrontation - especialy what Bryan and Darrow really said to each other about the age of the Earth, Jonah and the Whale, Adam and Eve and the serpent, and so on
click here.  The account on this website is based on the actual trial transcript rather than opinions, and therefore provides a more accurate description of the events than you will find in most other websites, books, etc.

Darrow's Summation (closing speech)

Darrow had found out that after being accepted as an assistant attorney for the prosecution, Bryan had started to prepare a closing speech for the trial which he (Bryan) believed would blow the defense team's case to pieces. In order to stop Bryan delivering this speech Darrow waived the defense team's right to present a closing speech.  Instead he merely asked the judge to instruct the jury to find Scopes guilty (which is not the same thing as entering a plea of "Guilty").
(Note: In Tennessee if the defense chose not to make a closing speech then the prosecution could not make a closing speech either.
For more details click here.)

Will the Real Clarence Darrow Please Step Forward

If you've ever wondered how Clarence Darrow came to be on a par with characters such as Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett in the pantheon of American folk heroes, consider this comment by one senior academic:

Clarence Darrow during the Scopes trial

"For me, and many of my contemporaries, Clarence Darrow was more legend than fact, more myth than man.  He was a composite of actors, like Paul Muni, Spencer Tracy, Orson Welles, and Henry Fonda, all of whom brought him to the screen and stage."

With the exception of Henry Fonda, these actors all starred in fictionalized accounts of trials in which Darrow appeared - Welles in Compulsion, based on the Loeb and Leopold trial of 1924, and Muni and Tracy both appeared in the role of Henry Drummond in Inherit the Wind.  Later in the same article, in American Lawyer, Dec 6th, 1999, the writer goes on to say:

"In the twenties, [Darrow] outwitted William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes trial (thinly fictionalized in Inherit the Wind)."

Since the writer gives no explanation of how he imagines Darrow "outwitted" Bryan it's hard to know what he had in mind.  But what is really worrying about this author's apparent inability to distinguish between reality (the Scopes Trial) and fiction (Inherit the Wind, which is certainly not a "thinly fictionalized" account of the Scopes trial) is the fact that he is Geoffrey Cowan, Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.

And isn't this attitude a little strange, to say the least?  It certainly stands in direct contradiction to Cowan's own book The People vs. Clarence Darrow (1995), in which he strips Darrow's mythic persona to the bone and demonstrates that the charges of corruption against Darrow are almost certainly justified in a number of instances.
And yet - many American academics, and lawyers, still seem to have real problems seeing Darrow the man rather than Darrow the myth.  So much so that they are not averse to simply rewriting the facts in order to make Darrow look good.  And given the facts about Darrow, his reputation needs all the help it can get.

Who Supported Darrow?

A question frequently asked by visitors to this site - and this page in particular - is some version of "Who were Clarence Darrow's supporters?".

A search of the internet suggests that this question was thought up by a teacher, though possibly without sufficient research.  Because the answer is effectively - in the context of the Scopes Trial - no one, except John Scopes.

Darrow certainly wasn't wanted by the ACLU, who realised that in all likelihood Darrow would act in a way that would offend a large portion of the population from whom the ACLU was attempting to draw support.
They were right.

At an earlier stage in his career (see below), Darrow could count on the support of several labour unions.  But he had lost that support as a result of his actions in the MacNamara murder case.

It might seem that Darrow was supported by people such as the scientists who were to have been "expert witnesses" for the defense.  But it seems that in the case of the academics associated with the University of Chicago, it was Darrow who had to go recruiting.  There was no unsolicited rush of candidates.

So how about the Press?
In this case the reporters primarily reported the case in whatever fashion they thought their editors wanted, and editors took whatever line would go down well with their readers.  In other words, there was no clear, overall bias in the media in favour of Darrow himself.

Which left John Scopes.  Going by the comments in his co-authored autobiography Center of the Storm (1966), Scopes seems to have idolized Darrow, attributing to him a number of qualities - such as skill as a lawyer (see The Duel in the Shade, for example), and generosity of spirit (see this page).

To repeat an earlier comment:

Who were Clarence Darrow's supporters?  John Scopes.

"Old Necessity"

In the first place, Darrow wasn't really a lawyer in the sense that we use the word today.  For example, his academic credentials were effectively non-existent.  He attended Allegheny College for one year, then dropped out and got a job as a schoolteacher.  But that doesn't seem to have held much interest either, for he soon became a student again himself.  Having decided that the law might suit him as an occupation he signed on for the two year course at University of Michigan's law school - but he showed little talent and again dropped out after just one year.
This time it was not the end of the story, however.  He took a job with a local lawyer and continued his studies.  By 1878 he had made sufficient progress so that, when he appeared before a committee of the bar in Youngstown, Ohio, he was granted admission to the practice of law.  Though as Darrow himself describes the process, not much effort was required on his part:

"A committee of lawyers was appointed to try us out.  The committee did not seem to take it as seriously as examiners do today [1932].  I was not made to feel that the safety of the government or the destiny of the universe was hanging over their verdict.  As I remember it now, the whole class was passed, and I became a member of the Ohio Bar."
(The Story of My Life, Clarence Darrow.  Da Capo Press, New York:1996. p.30)

Which probably explains how one of his associates came to give Darrow the nickname "Old Necessity," based on the saying "necessity knows no law"!
Not that this did much to hamper his career, for Darrow's courtroom successes seldom depended on his knowledge of the law.  Rather it was his steamroller approach (he could "speechify" for hours on end without the benefit of notes), his emotional appeals, and his penchant for verbally rough-housing his opponents, which accounted for the majority of Darrow's triumphs.

Darrow the Myth Maker

Most commentators make a feature of Clarence Darrow's decision, in 1894, to step down from his high-paying position as corporation counsel for the Chicago and North-Western Railway in order to represent Eugene Debs, leader of the railroad union, and the many union workers he defended thereafter.  Which isn't quite what happened.
For once Darrow himself does not contribute to the myth, in his autobiography, but rather helps to set the record straight.

In reality Darrow moved to Chicago and after a slow start became corporation counsel for the city of Chicago.  After 2-3 years he went to work for the Chicago and North-Western Railway Company as general attorney.  When he left this employer it was not simply to defend Eugene Debs, but because he (Darrow) felt uncomfortable working for the employers when he was (according to his own account) wholeheartedly in sympathy with the workers.  Moreover Darrow did not give up his generous salary when he resigned - he only gave up half of his generous salary:

"[The President of the company] agreed that I must do whatever I considered right, but asked me to continue my connection with the road when I went into private practice and take such matters as we agreed upon, at about half the salary I had been receiving.  This connection was thus kept up for a number of years." seemed
(The Story of My Life, Clarence Darrow.  Da Capo Press, New York:1996. p.62)

So he was only losing a part of his salary, and he continued working for the employers he allegedly felt so uncomfortable working for, albeit now on a part-time basis.  It turned out to be a typically Darrowesque compromise.

What the myth makers also tend to conveniently overlook is the seamier side of Darrow's career which doesn't fit so neatly into the carefully nurtured myth of Darrow as "champion of the underdog" and "attorney for the damned."  The Darrow for whom, as one biographer puts it: "Ends matter[ed] more than means."

Darrow in the Dock

In 1912, in Los Angeles, for example, Darrow himself went through two trials where he was both the defense lawyer and the defendant - on two counts of attempting to bribe jurors in the union-related murder case in which he had been, as usual, counsel for the defense.  In response to the first charge Darrow told the jury:

"I have committed one crime: I have stood for the weak and the poor."

And at that first trial the verdict was in Darrow's favour, though it is now generally accepted - even by Darrowphiles - that he was in fact guilty on both counts, plus other similar activities that he was never charged with.  At the second trial Darrow proved less able to "soft soap" his way out of trouble, and the proceedings ended with a hung jury.  But although Darrow escaped being convicted, he certainly didn't escape the consequences of his actions.

Firstly he was made to leave California after undertaking never to practice law again in that state.
Secondly he was dropped by the unions as one of their regular attorneys - which is why he spent the last part of his career practising criminal law.
And thirdly, he reportedly suffered what would nowadays be described as a "nervous breakdown" and became, if it were possible, even more pessimistic and morose than had previously been the case.

Defender of the weak?  Not likely!

Perhaps this explains why, just three years later, Darrow - self-proclaimed advocate for the "weak and poor" - was speaking out in favour of 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."

Incidentally, it should be noted that despite Darrow's self-righteous pose, the trial to which the bribery related involved the bombing of the offices of the Los Angeles Times by James B. MacNamara with the assistance of his brother, John J. MacNamara.  An attack which resulted in the deaths of 20 employees.  According to Cowan (The People vs. Clarence Darrow, 1993) Darrow knew before he accepted the case that his clients were guilty as charged, and that when he had sight of the evidence against the MacNamara brothers he persuaded them to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences rather than the death penalty.
The McNamaras were neither weak, nor poor, and huge sums of money were contributed to their defense fund by various union organizations.  Darrow's fee alone was $50,000 - after expenses - which would be worth well over ten times as much at today's prices.

Nor was this the only occasion when Darrow's client list belied his sanctimonious claim.  In fact the truth is that Darrow frequently appeared on behalf of those who preyed upon "the weak and poor."
He was closely associated with a pair of notorious Chicago politicians, Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna and J.J. "Bath House John" Coughlin - not exactly "weak and poor," but definitely totally corrupt - who controlled the Loop district of the city, and much of the vice that went on in that area.

In 1903, when the Iroquoise Theater in Chicago burnt down during a matinee performance, 596 people, mainly children, were killed, primarily because 29 of the 30 fire exits were closed and locked.  In the aftermath of the fire a number of grand jury indictments were handed down on those responsible for making the carnage possible: the theater owners who had flouted the city fire laws; the fire inspectors who had failed to carry out regular fire checks; and even the mayor - to whom the city's fire chief was accountable.
Yet despite the indictments, not a single person was imprisoned for their part in the disaster - in many cases because Clarence Darrow, defender of "the weak and poor", had been beavering away in the background to get their indictments dismissed.

In April 1911, immediately before accepting the MacNamara case Darrow was involved in a fraud trial in which an elderly Civil War veteran was the plaintiff.
Charles Myerhoff made the mistake of assuming that a statement of assets, properties and revenues issued by the Kankakee Manufacturing Company was a true bill of goods, and consequently invested most of his life's savings in the company.  When the contents of the investment brochure turned out to be a pack of lies, Myerhoff and many other small investors lost everything they had invested.

Clarence Darrow, self-styled defender of "the weak and poor" was acting for - the Kankakee Manufacturing Company; on the grounds that is was the investors' responsibility to check that the contents of the brochure were accurate.

In July 1915, over 840 lives were lost - mainly women and children - when the St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company's pleasure boat Eastland keeled over and partially sank whilst still moored to a wharf on the Chicago River  After a lengthy civil investigation, which took years to reach its conclusions, the chief engineer of the Eastland, Joseph M. Erickson, was held primarily responsible for the disaster due to the way he had mismanaged the operation of the ballast tanks.  By that time, however, Erickson had already been cleared of any responsibility in a criminal trial where he was defended by none other than that self-styled defender of "the weak and poor" - Clarence Darrow.

Darrow and the Crime Czar

And in the years that followed it was Clarence Darrow who regularly graced courtrooms as the legal representative of choice for not so "weak and poor" mobsters such as the Chicago-based "czar of racetrack gambling" - Jacob "Mont" Tennes (at the 1916 federal investigation into the "Race Wire Service") - and Second Ward alderman "King Oscar" De Priest.
In his autobiography Darrow made only one mention of De Priest, in a passage where, in the context of the trial of Ossian Sweet, he was describing how, "It is always hard for a colored man to find a decent living place in America...":

"The home of Oscar De Priest, a colored congressman of Chicago, has been bombed a number of times."

What he somehow forgot to mention in this offhand coupling of Sweet's name with that of De Priest, is the fact that De Priest's 1917 trial, where he was defended by Darrow:

"... clearly demonstrated that an African-American vice syndicate existed in Chicago and that payoffs from vice entrepreneurs to public officials were just as common in the black community as they were in other parts of Chicago,"
The Black Mafia: African-American organized crime in Chicago 1890-1960, Robert M. Lombardo.

Unlike the genuinely racist attack on Mr Sweet's home and family, attacks on Mr. De Priest were more likely to be due to conflict with rival criminals than to simple racial prejudice.

And in what sense was Darrow "[standing] for the weak and poor" in 1924 when he defended Leopold and Loeb, the sons of two of the richest families in Chicago, when they gratuitously murdered 14 year old Bobby Franks, just to see what it would be like to take a human life?

The truth of the matter is that Darrow enjoyed a very comfortable living throughout his career, so much so that one biographer described him as an out and out hedonist.  And he could afford to be.  Whilst it may be true that he took a number of cases on a pro bono (no fee) basis in the course of his career, by the 1920s it is reckoned that Darrow's fees were anything up to $250,000 per case.  Yet despite that, as he emphasises in his book The Story of My Life, he never volunteered his services in single case in the whole of that life of "[standing] for the weak and poor" - apart from his defense of John Scopes.

In Part 9:  Bryan and Darrow you will find a detailed study of the confrontation between Darrow and Bryan which, to be blunt, shows that favourable claims about Darrow's cross-examination of Bryan, especially the allegation that Darrow manouevred Bryan into making damaging admissions, are based on fantasy rather than fact.  In this next section we will examine Darrow's behaviour, beliefs and motives, specifically insofar as they dictated the course of the Scopes "Monkey" Trial.

Darrow for the Defense - Sort of

The trial of John Scopes would, without any doubt at all, have been a very different affair if it had not included Clarence Darrow as a member of the defense team.  Not because his brilliant skills as a lawyer added any value to the proceedings, but because of his news value, and because of the way he took over and ran the defense entirely for his own ends.

As we saw in Part 11: Was Scopes Guilty? John Scopes was almost certainly innocent of the charge laid against him - yet Darrow just as certainly acted in such a way as to ensure that he was found guilty, not just on the last day but at crucial points during the first week of the trial as well.

Nor did Darrow achieve the original aim that had motivated the ACLU to support Scopes in the first place.  Firstly because he failed to run the defense case in the correct way to challenge the constitutionality of the Butler Act, and secondly because he failed to make the case for the invalidity of the law when the case went to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
All of which seems to have been of no consequence at all for Darrow who, in his own mind at least, believed that he had achieved the sole aim that had motivated him to take part in the trial.  And to understand where that motivation came from we need to take a brief detour.

My Father's Son

Born in Farmdale, Ohio on April 18th, 1857 to Amirus and Emily Darrow, Clarence was raised in nearby Kinsman until 1873 when, at the age of 16, he left home to study at Allegheny College.  But, just like his father, Darrow only stayed for a year.  Indeed, in every important respect Clarence Seward Darrow was forever his father's son, and it is arguable that Darrow's attack on Bryan merely demonstrates that Darrow's own thinking on religion and morals never emerged from the shadow of the emotive but ill thought through atheistic opinions of his father - something even Darrow seemed to acknowledge when he attributed his controversial views more to his genes than to his own imagination or experience:

"I, like all the rest of the boys, inherited my politics and my religion."

Which is quite an interesting comment from someone who claimed to be an agnostic.  But then again, Darrow didn't really "inherit" his views on religion in the first place.  Rather he learned his views on Christianity from Frederick Nietzsche, via his father, and his atheism directly from his father, who had once trained as a Unitarian minister but then lost his faith, ending up as a furniture and coffin-maker and "town infidel" (i.e. town atheist) in Kinsman.
But being an atheist in those days, in a rural community, had its consequences.

A Knee-jerk Reaction?

When Darrow volunteered his services to John Scopes (not, it should be noted, to the ACLU - who regarded him as an unmitigated liability from start to finish) it was only after William Jennings Bryan had volunteered himself to the defense team.
The notion that Darrow went to Dayton to defend education in America, or the teaching of evolution in particular, simply doesn't hold water.  If these factors had been important to Darrow then why didn't he volunteer his services when the trial first became public knowledge?

In all likelihood, having recently announced his retirement, Darrow's initial thoughts about the case were comparable with those of the journalist H.L. Mencken, who is said to have been rebuffed by Darrow when he originally suggested that Darrow take a hand in the trial.  It was Mencken who wrote in his column for The Nation, only a week or so before the trial:

"No principle is at stake at Dayton save the principle that school teachers, like plumbers, should stick to the job that is set before them, and not go roving around the house, breaking windows, raiding the cellar, and demoralizing children.
"When a pedagogue takes his oath of office, he renounces his right to free speech quite as certainly as a bishop does, or a colonel in the army, or an editorial writer of a newspaper.  He becomes a paid propagandist of certain definite doctrines, and every time he departs from them deliberately he deliberately swindles his employers."

Mencken also argued - whilst it still suited him - that the State was entirely justified in setting out what should or should not be included in the curriculum of public schools, so long as this was done on the basis of what was likely to have the greatest "utility" for students.

"What could be of greater utility to the son of a Tennessee mountaineer, than an education making him a good Tennesseean, content with his father, at peace with his neighbors, dutiful to the local religion, and docile under the local mores?"

But then William Jennings Bryan announced that he wished to offer his services to the prosecution - and everything changed.  For Darrow this turned the Scopes trial into a chance to attack Bryan, his religious beliefs, and Christians and Christianity in general,  Just one more skirmish in a running battle Darrow had been waging most of his life.  A battle that almost certainly had its genesis many decades earlier, as indicated in this comment by Darrow reflecting on his boyhood years:

"The fact that my father was a heretic always put him on the defensive,  And we children thought it was only right and loyal that we should defend his cause."

The wording in the second sentence is surely an important clue to Darrow's thinking.  It does not suggest that the children supported the father's ideas because they viewed them as being right; only that they had a duty of blind, unquestioning loyalty - "My father, right or wrong."
There is a tragic implication behind these words - that Darrow had spent his entire adult career nurturing his mythical status as "champion of the underdog," when in fact all he was striving vainly to do was expunge the pity and hurt - and quite possibly the shame - he felt, both because of his father's situation and because of his own inability to do anything about it.
Was this why, according to one of his biographers, Darrow had what amounted to a nervous breakdown when his reputation was severely compromised by the bribery scandal of 1912 and the subsequent decision of the union movement to stop using his services?
Was this why his career was such a model of ambiguity.  On the one hand there is Darrow's version of Darrow - the legal equivalent of a white knight on his charger, come, so he claimed, to defend "the weak and poor."  The Darrow who rode into Dayton in July, 1925 (admittedly only on an "iron horse"), with the typically over-blown and self-deluding declaration:

"Scopes isn’t on trial; civilization is on trial."

On the other hand there is Darrow as he really was, the lawyer for whom "the ends justified the means."  The "defender of the weak and poor" who supported the deliberate murder of "unfit" babies, whilst living what one biographer described as the lifestyle of a "hedonist," funded by those massive fees.
It would certainly help to explain why Darrow imagined himself to be well-read and intelligent with a good grasp of scientific matters, yet according to his biographers "[accepted] too unqualifiedly the impartiality of science and the soundness of its conclusions,"  As Professor Martin Pernick (University of Michigan) put it:

"Progressive Americans were convinced that scientists, physicians, could make objective, technically valid determinations, of who should live, who should die.  They believed, probably more strongly than any group of Americans before or since that science was capable of making objectively true judgements."

Darrow most certainly regarded himself as a "progressive," and happily balanced his unquestioning faith in "science" with what another biographer refers to as his "childish conception of theology" such that he was still using the age-old arguments of the typical "village atheist" (i.e. his own father - the original "poor, weak underdog"), including questions like:

"Do you know anything about how many people there were on this earth 3,000 years ago?."

How does knowing how many people there were on Earth 3,000 years ago relate to the validity of someone's religious beliefs?  Does it really make sense to suppose that someone who doesn't know the population of Egypt 3,500 years ago; or of China 5,000 years ago must therefore be an "ignoramus"?  If it does, then Darrow surely shot himself in the foot on a grand scale since he clearly had no more idea than Bryan as to the answers of many of the questions he was asking.

How Darrow Stole the Show

When the ACLU decided to challenge the Butler Act it was not their intention to enter into a confrontation with the members of the Christian community, who made up well over 50% of the population.  They wanted freedom for the teaching of evolution in schools, but they were prepared to be diplomatic about it.  They wanted one teacher to break the law, but only in order to provide the basis for a legal challenge.  They certainly weren't about to incite mass civil disobedience.  As Arthur Hays, nominal manager of Scopes' defence and a full-time member of the ACLU explained:

"It was felt by us [i.e. the ACLU] that if the cause of free education was ever to be won, it would need the support of millions of intelligent churchgoing people who didn't question theological miracles."

Which is why it came as something of a shock when Clarence Darrow threw his hat into the ring.  And not just a shock, but a very unwelcome shock.
Despite his pose as an agnostic, it was as plain then as it is now that Darrow was a fully paid up atheist, with a particular dislike of Christianity, and of the rural brand of literalist Christianity such as might be found in Dayton, Tennessee and in Darrow's home town of Kinsman, Ohio.  Indeed, Darrow had a thriving second career as a public speaker, with ranting against Christianity as his favourite topic.

Edward B. Davis (Distinguished Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College) put the situation in a nutshell in his article Science and Religious Fundamentalism in the 1920s (American Scientist, May-June, 2005. page 254):

"Liberal theologians and scientists initially intended to use the [Scopes] case to prove that religious faith could be reconciled with the theory of natural selection.  Then Clarence Darrow, the renowned attorney and atheist from Chicago, forced his way in and destroyed the effort to project a religious image from the Rhea County courthouse."

(It should also be noted that Darrow's corrosive religious bigotry seems to have rendered him completely blind to any differences between 'literalist' Christianity and 'fundamentalist' Christianity.  This is indicated, for example, by the way he constantly harped on about Bryan's "literal" beliefs during the confrontation on July 20th, even though Bryan was actually a fundamentalist and not an all out literalist (as he explained in response to one of Darrow's early questions during that session).)

The fact is that most of us do not hold our ideas and beliefs for carefully thought through reasons.  We hold them because in some way or other they "seem right."  By the same token it is very difficult to change anyone's ideas or beliefs simply by the use of rational arguments.
So whilst Darrow apparently imagined that questioning Bryan's historical knowledge would somehow undermine his credibility, he was in fact talking to two quite separate audiences - and having a different impact on each - even amongst those people who actually saw the trial, and especially the Darrow-Bryan confrontation, first hand.

On the one side there was the "modernist" or "progressive" audience - which existed across the country, though they were predominantly located in the urban areas.  For people in these groups, traditional religious ideas were quaint, ridiculous, out-of-date, etc. depending on the individual.  For this audience, including many of the journalists reporting on the trial, the mere fact that:

  • Darrow dared to attack the credibility of such a renowned figure as William Jennings Bryan , and
  • Bryan was not a "scientist" and could not give sensible answers to Darrow's "sci-babble" questions

would be enough be taken as some kind of evidence that the new ideas - represented by Darrow - were better than the old ideas - represented by Bryan.
It was a pretty negative way of thinking - but it suited those who were in revolt against the Victorian values they had grown up with, and especially those who had seen the old values, and the credibility of those who preached them, buckle under the savage assault of the massive carnage of World War One.
(Ironically it was Bryan's own reaction against the horrors of WW1 that helped to fuel his opposition to the teaching of evolutionist ideas.  But when Darrow waived the right to make any closing comments he thereby denied Bryan the opportunity to present his point of view.)

The second audience were those who still upheld the "old" values and beliefs, in one form or another and who were not, as yet, seduced by the flashy, though ultimately empty promises of modernism.
Here, too, it would be a mistake to assume that the members of this second audience could be neatly pigeon-holed as being located exclusively in the South and/or in rural areas.

Members of this "traditionalist" audience saw Darrow pretty much for what he was - ignorant, arrogant and abusive - and whilst it is claimed that Darrow was mobbed by supporters after the confrontation with Bryan, the "mob" consisted mainly of reporters.  And if Bryan wasn't so mobbed, might it have been as simple as a mark of respect for the feelings of someone who had been treated in such a barbaric fashion?

In short, rather than being able to create a bridge between the different groups, as the ACLU had wanted to do, Darrow merely "preached to the converted," confirming for each side whatever viewpoint they already held.

How Historians Have Re-written History

It has been interesting to note, whilst researching this subject, how seldom - if ever - Clarence Darrow is subjected to objective examination by his biographers, and how frequently he becomes lost in a smokescreen of misinformation and myth making.  Even the most reputable of academics seem to go doo lally tat ("lose the plot") when it comes to reporting Darrow's supposed prowess as a lawyer, and especially in relation to the Scopes Trial.
I have recorded elsewhere on this site the way in which one professor of law has, in my opinion, seriously misrepresented certain details of the confrontation between Darrow and William Jennings Bryan in such a way as to inflate Darrow's supposed prowess and denigrate William Jennings Bryan (see
Part 3:  A Cult of Misinformation for details).  Sad to say, even Professor Edward Larson (Professor of History and Law at the University of Georgia), in his mainly excellent account of the trial - Summer for the Gods - has misrepresented details of that confrontation in a manner favourable to Darrow and unfavourable to Bryan:

Darrow questioned Bryan as a hostile witness, peppering him with queries and giving him little chance for explanation.  At times it became like a firing line:

"You claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?"
"I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there; some of the Bible is given illustratively...."
"But when you read that ... the whale swallowed Jonah ... how do you literally interpret that?"
"... I believe in a God who can make a whale and make a man and make them both do what he pleases...."
"But do you believe he made them - that he make [sic] such a fish and it was big enough to swallow Jonah?"
"Yes sir.  Let me add: One miracle is just as easy to believe as another."
"It is for me...just as hard."
"It is hard to believe for you, but easy for me....When you get beyond what man can do, you get within the realm of miracles; and it is just as easy to believe the miracle of Jonah as any other miracle in the Bible."

Does that look impressive?  Like a "firing line" as Darrow "peppers" Bryan with those incisive questions?  Maybe.  But here's what was actually said, including all the stumbles, the errors and above all the pointless repetition that Larson had to leave out in order to make his point.  To make it easier to track Larson's highly selective editing I have used red lettering to indicate all the material that Larson had to cut out of his account in his effort to justify his claim:

Q [Darrow] - Do you claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?
(Notice how, by removing the word "Do," Larson makes this simple question look like a feisty challenge.)
A [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.
(So Bryan did manage an explanation or two after all, but on a limited scale.)
Q - But when you read that Jonah swallowed the whale - or that the whale swallowed Jonah - excuse me please - how do you literally interpret that?
(Rather blatant misreporting, even for a defender of the Darrow myth.)
A - When I read that a big fish swallowed Jonah - it does not say whale.
Q - Doesn't it.  Are you sure?
A - That is my recollection of it.  A big fish, and I believe it, and I believe in a God who can make a whale and can make a man and make both do what He pleases.
Q - Mr. Bryan, doesn't the New Testament say whale?
A - I am not sure.  My impression is that it says fish; but it does not make so much difference; I merely called your attention to where it says fish - it does not say whale.
Q - But in the New Testament it says whale, doesn't it?
(This gives an excellent indication of Darrow's intellectual limitations.  To be accurate it doesn't say "whale" in either place.  In the book of Jonah the Hebrew words gadol and dag (or dagah) mean "great" and "fish" respectively.  In Matthew's Gospel the word translated in the King James version as "whale" is actually the Greek word ketos, which means "great sea monster.")
A - That may be true; I cannot remember in my own mind what I read about it.
Q - Now, you say, the big fish swallowed Jonah, and he there remained how long - three days - and then he spewed him upon the land.  You believe that the big fish was made to swallow Jonah?
A - I am not prepared to say that; the Bible merely says it was done.
Q - You don't know whether it was the ordinary run of fish, or made for that purpose?
(Darrow seems to be trying to prove that there is an answer to this question, but Bryan doesn't know it.  In fact Bryan is again being scrupulously accurate.  And Darrow has once more missed the point.  The account in the Book of Jonah says that "...the Lord had prepared a great fish...", which Darrow possibly imagined was intended to mean that God had created a fish for the purpose.  In fact, however, the Hebrew word manah actually means "appoint," rather than "make," in the sense of: "OK, when this guy comes flying over the side of the boat it's your job to swallow him."  Bryan was entirely right in saying that the Bible gives no indication whether the fish already existed or was created specifically for that purpose.)
A - You may guess; you evolutionists guess.
Q - But when we do guess, we have a sense to guess right.
A - But do not do it often.
(See Part 6:  The Expert Testimony for an idea of how many of the 1925 "guesses" were anything but right.)
Q - You are not prepared to say whether that fish was made especially to swallow a man or not?
A - The Bible doesn't say, so I am not prepared to say.
Q - You don't know whether that was fixed up specially for the purpose?
A - No, the Bible doesn't say.
(I guess we can begin to see by now why Larson left this stuff out of his illustration of Darrow's questioning technique.  At this point a sequence of no less than 7 questions and answers has been removed to create the illusion of a "firing line" performance.)
Q - But do you believe He made them - that He made such a fish and that it was big enough to swallow Jonah?
A - Yes, sir. Let me add: One miracle is just as easy to believe as another.
Q - It is for me.
A - It is for me.
Q - Just as hard?
(Notice that Larson's alleged reproduction of Darrow's words: "It is for me...just as hard" doesn't genuinely represent any statement in the real life trial.  When the court record is given in full we can see that "Just as hard" was actually said on its own and as a question!)
A - It is hard to believe for you, but easy for me. A miracle is a thing performed beyond what man can perform.  When you get beyond what man can do, you get within the realm of miracles; and it is just as easy to believe the miracle of Jonah as any other miracle in the Bible.
(Again Bryan does manage to add a brief explanation - but Larson edits it out.  Presumably because it would conflict with his claim that Darrow's "firing line" performance gave Bryan "little chance for explanation".
Larson's account ends here - possibly because in the next exchange Bryan yet again side-steps one of Darrow's crude attempts to trap him:)

Q - Perfectly easy to believe that Jonah swallowed the whale?
A - If the Bible said so; the Bible doesn't make as extreme statements as evolutionists do.

(For a far more detailed account of the confrontation between Darrow and Bryan - including sections of the court transcript - see Duel in the Shade.)

Now, having read these various distortions, there's one question above all others that presents itself - Why?
If Clarence Darrow did such a brilliant job at the Scopes Trial, if he absolutely wiped the floor with William Jennings Bryan, as he claimed he had, why has it been necessary for all and sundry to misrepresent the facts?  If what they claim is true really is true then why can't the unedited truth be allowed to speak for itself?

Deleting words, phrases and sentences, moving text around so as to change the sense of what it says - none of this takes us closer to the truth.  On the contrary, it must surely serve to conceal the truth.  And given the undoubted intelligence of the people who carry out these manoeuvres I have to assume that they are doing precisely that - seeking to conceal the truth because they do not like what the truth reveals.  That Darrow's performance in Dayton was nothing short of a self-serving, bigoted fiasco which benefited no one in the end, not even Darrow himself.  And if this isn't true, why were the ACLU officials still trying to get Neal to drop Darrow from the defense team right up to the time of the Appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court?

Clarence Darrow's Religion of Despair

Though we can never know for sure, there are substantial grounds for supposing that Clarence Darrow mistakenly believed that his atheism meant that he was automatically free of any religious influence.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, as this passage from 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."

In short - unless we are to suppose that this is mere posturing on behalf of his clients - Darrow was a dyed-in-the-wool fatalist.  He anthropomorphized the overpowering force which he believed controls our lives - replacing "God the Father" with "Nature the Mother".  He rejected free will, and therefore personal responsibility.  Yet in this instance, at least, his entire argument is plainly illogical.  It is based on a major, totally unjustified non sequitur.
It is self-evident that Richard Loeb was neither his own father, mother, grandfather or grandmother.  And it is equally true that he was not born into a wealthy Chicago family at his own request.  But by what feat of logical contortion can we arrive at the conclusion that being born into substantial material wealth meant that Loeb had to become bound up with Nathan Leopold in some kind of homosexual relationship?  And how did it mean that he had to conspire with Leopold to kidnap and murder 14 year old Bobby Franks - apparently for no better reason than to demonstrate his intellectual superiority?

Not only was it illogical, but Darrow was quite obviously unable to act consistently in accordance with his own philosophy.
In the same summation as I have just quoted from, Darrow made this appeal to the judge.  As you read it, please remember that the speaker claimed to believe that we are all like little robots, totally controlled by our heredity, our upbringing, and our 'glands' (they were very big on 'glands' in the 20's) with no option for individual responsibility:

"We did plead guilty before Your Honor because we were afraid to submit our cause to a jury.  I would not for a moment deny to this court or to this community a realization of the serious danger we were in and how perplexed we were before we took this unusual step. ...

"Your Honor, it may be hardly fair to the court, I am aware that I have helped to place a serious burden upon your shoulders.  And at that I have always meant to be your friend.  But this was not an act of friendship.

"I know perfectly well that where responsibility is divided by twelve [as in a jury trial], it is easy to say, 'Away with him'.

But, Your Honor, if these boys hang, you must do it.  There can be no division of responsibility here.  You can never explain that the rest overpowered you.  It must be by your deliberate, cool, pre-meditated act, without a chance to shift responsibility.

On the face of it, then, Darrow was claiming that Loeb and Leopold should not be held responsible, individually or jointly, for their deliberate, pre-meditated decision to murder a fourteen year old boy going about his daily life, but the judge must take sole responsibility for whatever sentence he handed out to them on account of the crime they had committed.  It is the kind of illogical nonsense that characterised many of Darrow's pronouncements.  After all, by this "logic" the judge was as bound by his upbringing as Loeb and Leopold were by theirs.  Either they all had free will, or nobody did.

Should we suppose that Darrow was playing mind games with the judge and the prosecuting attorney (who had yet to deliver his own summation) when he made this claim?  And was he really willing to put his clients' lives on the line (by arrogantly assuming that neither the prosecutor nor the judge would spot the illogicality of his argument) in order to play those games?  If not, then we can only suppose that after 67 years Darrow was still totally blind to the basic inconsistency of the fatalist view of the human condition which he had espoused for most of his life.

Oh, Pity the Poor Pollywog

According to one of Darrow's biographers - Kevin Tierney - Clarence Darrow saw Christianity as "a 'slave religion', encouraging acquiescence in injustice, a willingness to make do with the mediocre, and complacency in the face of the intolerable."  But even this wasn't anything to do with Darrow - it was mere regurgitation of the ideas of the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, which Darrow had literally learnt at his father's knee.  No wonder Darrow clung to such a bleak and depressingly line of mechanistic determinism.  In his own words:

"The purpose of man is like the purpose of the pollywog - to wiggle along as far as he can without dying, or, to hang onto life until death takes him."

Which certainly does fit with the report that he told his own son that he was "a true pessimist", and that "life is futile."

From these beginnings it is hardly surprising that Darrow had so little understanding of Bryan's religious concepts and beliefs.

  • Where Christianity emphasises free will, Darrow claimed to believe in helpless compliance with whatever fate handed out by way of heredity and upbringing.
  • Where Christianity offers the concept of self-worth, for Darrow human beings were nothing more than "nature's victims" - helpless pawns in some incomprehensible cosmic game.
  • Where Christianity teaches personal responsibility Darrow regarded the whole notion of punishing criminal actions as pointless and abhorrent on the grounds that none of us is responsible for anything that we do - except when it suited him to say something different, as in the quote from the Loeb-Leopold summation quoted above.

It is perhaps a telling reflection on Darrow's time in Dayton that in the 1991 biopic Darrow (KCET Los Angeles and Heus-Stept Productions) the whole business was summarized in just 16 seconds of voice over:

"The next summer [following the Loeb-Leopold case] Father and Ruby went to Dayton, Tennessee for the Scopes Monkey Trial - the performance most everybody remembers him for.
He took his agnosticism into the heart of the Bible Belt and made the case for teaching evolutionism in the schools.
They didn't much care for him down there."

A trifle brief, you might think, for an event that was supposedly the "jewel in the crown" of Darrow's legal career.  But far safer, perhaps, than telling the story in any detail.  Darrow may have made a case for teaching evolutionism in schools - but as can be seen in Part 13: The Significance of the Scopes Trial, he might as well have been talking to himself, for all the good it did.

Darrow's FBI File

My thanks to Sharon Williams, creator of the excellent Chicago History Journal website, where I found this link to the FBI file on Clarence Darrow.

The Scopes "Monkey" Trial Site Map

A brief description of the Scopes Trial - the original proceedings, the effective fictionalizing of the event in F.L. Allen's book Only Yesterday, and the confusion surrounding the play Inherit the Wind.  Also a short biography of the author.

Part 1: Summary
A short history of the events leading up to the Scopes Trial, the trial itself, and what happened afterwards.  Includes lists of the lawyers, witnesses, jurors, etc. involved in the Scopes Trial.  Explains why it was called the "Monkey" trial.

Part 2: Inherit the Wind
Looks at the real story behind the writing of the play Inherit the Wind, and some of the key differences between the play and the actual trial.  Explains where the title came from, and what it signifies.

Part 3: A Cult of Misinformation
The Scopes Trial has been the subject of a mountain of misinformation from the time of the trial through to the present day.  The members of this "cult" include not just journalists and authors but also lawyers, university professors, the Encyclopaedia Britannica and even the Library of Congress.  This section shows why the real life events are so widely misunderstood today.

Part 4: How it Began
Discusses the Butler Act (the basis for the charge against John Scopes), the action of the ACLU, the "Drugstore Conspiracy" which led to the trial being staged in Dayton, and how the two sets of lawyers were selected - or in some cases selected themselves.  This section includes the names of all of the lawyers on both sides.

Part 5: The Experts - and Others
Details of the expert witnesses due to give evidence for the defense - and two potential witnesses, one of whom did make an appearance (Piltdown Man), and one who didn't (Nebraska Man).

Part 6: The Expert Evidence
Arthur Hays claimed that the expert witnesses would deal only in "facts."  This section discusses specific items of "expert testimony" in the light of that claim and subsequent discoveries.

Part 7: Hunter's Civic Biology
Details of the true nature of the contents of Hunter's textbook A Civic Biology.

Part 8: The Trial - Part 1     In preparation
A timeline of the main events of the trial on a day-by-day basis.

Part 9: The Trial - Part 2
A detailed evaluation of the confrontation between Darrow and Bryan on the afternoon of day 7, with numerous quotes from the trial transcript and elsewhere.

Part 10: The Appeal
Many people know that the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the original result of the trial, but why?  Was John Scopes found "not guilty"?  What reasons did the Supreme Court give for their decision?
And what the heck is a nolle prosequi anyway?

Part 11: Was Scopes Guilty?
Another remarkable feature of the Scopes Trial was the number of lies involved - the biggest of which centers on the likelihood that the defense lawyers deliberately concealed the fact that Scopes was genuinely "not guilty."

Part 12: 80 Years of Evolution and Species
(Under Construction.  Additional material will be added.  Existing material may be subject to further editing.)
In Part 6 we looked at the kind of "evidence" offered by the expert witnesses.  In this section we look specifically at the meaning of terms such as "evolution" and "species" in 1925 and 2006.

Part 13: Education After the Scopes Trial
This section describes what happened to the teaching of evolutionary theory in American schools after the trial; and what Americans believe about the teaching of evolutionism and creationism today.

Part 14: Clarence Darrow - Attorney for the Damned?
Whilst the ACLU triggered the Scopes Trial, and the "drugstore conspirators" brought it to Dayton, the guiding force behind the events during the was Clarence Darrow.  This section looks at what motivated Darrow to essentially hi-jack the ACLU campaign and use it for his own ends.

Part 15: The Significance of the Scopes Trial
This section considers some of the many clashes in American society in the 1920s and considers whether they were genuine clashes, and if they were, what influence the Scopes Trial had an on any of them.
It also reveals what will be, for many people, surprising new information about the role of the University of Chicago in American culture at that time, discovered by Professor of the History of Science, Edward Davis.

Part 16: The Play, the Movie and the Trial
(Under Construction.  Additional material will be added.  Existing material may be subject to further editing.)
A detailed examination of the differences between the play and first (1960) film version of Inherit the Wind, and the real life Scopes Trial.

Part 20: Links and Resources
A list of websites and books related to the Scopes Trial, including the trial transcript and the script of Inherit the Wind.