The Scopes Trial

Malone the Victor, Even Though Court
Sides with Opponents, Says Mencken
by H.L. Mencken

(The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 17, 1925)

Dayton, Tenn., July 17. -- Though the court decided against him this morning, and the testimony of the experts summoned for the defense will be banned out of the trial of the infidel Scopes, it was Dudley Field Malone who won yesterday's great battle of rhetoricians. When he got upon his legs it was the universal assumption in the courtroom that Judge Raulston's mind was already made up, and that nothing that any lawyer for the defense could say would shake him. But Malone unquestionably shook him. He was, at the end, in plain doubt, and he showed it by his questions. It took a night's repose to restore him to normalcy. The prosecution won, but it came within an inch of losing.

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. It roared out of the open windows like the sound of artillery practice, and alarmed the moonshiners and catamounts on distant peaks. Trains thundering by on the nearby railroad sounded faint and far away and when, toward the end, a table covered with standing and gaping journalists gave way with a crash, the noise seemed, by contrast, to be no more than a pizzicato chord upon a viola da gamba. The yokels outside stuffed their Bibles into the loud-speaker horns and yielded themselves joyously to the impact of the original. 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. At its end they gave it a tremendous cheer -- a cheer at least four times as hearty as that given to Bryan. For these rustics delight in speechifying, and know when it is good. The devil's logic cannot fetch them, but they are not above taking a voluptuous pleasure in his lascivious phrases.

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. 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.

There followed some ranting about the Leopold-Loeb case, culminating in the argument that learning was corrupting -- that the colleges by setting science above Genesis were turning their students into murderers. Bryan alleged that Darrow had admitted the fact in his closing speech at the Leopold-Loeb trial, and stopped to search for the passage in a printed copy of the speech. Darrow denied making any such statement, and presently began reading what he actually had said on the subject. Bryan then proceeded to denounce Nietzsche, whom he described as an admirer and follower of Darwin. Darrow challenged the fact and offered to expound what Nietzsche really taught. Bryan waved him off.

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.

The crowd, of course, was with him. It has been fed upon just such balderdash for years. Its pastors assault it twice a week with precisely the same nonsense. It is chronically in the position of a populace protected by an espionage act In time of war. That is to say, it is forbidden to laugh at the arguments of one side and forbidden to hear the case of the other side. Bryan has been roving around in the tall grass for years and he knows the bucolic mind. He knows how to reach and inflame its basic delusions and superstitions. He has taken them into his own stock and adorned them with fresh absurdities. Today he may well stand as the archetype of the American rustic. His theology is simply the elemental magic that is preached in a hundred thousand rural churches fifty-two times a year.

These Tennessee mountaineers are not more stupid than the city proletariat; they are only less informed. If Darrow, Malone and Hays could make a month's stumping tour in Rhea county I believe that fully a fourth of the population would repudiate fundamentalism, and that not a few of the clergy now in practice would be restored to their old jobs on the railroad. Malone's speech yesterday probably shook a great many true believers; another like it would fetch more than one of them. But the chances are heavily against them ever hearing a second. Once this trial is over, the darkness will close in again, and it will take long years of diligent and thankless effort to dispel it -- if, indeed, it is ever dispelled at all.

With a few brilliant exceptions -- Dr. Neal is an example -- the more civilized Tennesseeans show few signs of being equal to the job. I suspect that politics is what keeps them silent and makes their State ridiculous. Most of them seem to be candidates for office, and a candidate for office, if he would get the votes of fundamentalists, must bawl for Genesis before he begins to bawl for anything else. 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.

I described Stewart the other day as a man of apparent education and sense and palpably superior to the village lawyers who sit with him at the trial table. I still believe that I described him accurately. Yet even Stewart toward the close of yesterday's session gave an exhibition that would be almost unimaginable in the North. He began his reply to Malone with an intelligent and forceful legal argument, with plenty of evidence of hard study in it. But presently he slid into a violent theological harangue, full of extravagant nonsense. He described the case as a combat between light and darkness and almost descended to the depths of Bryan. Hays challenged him with a question. Didn't he admit, after all, that the defense had a tolerable case; that it ought to be given a chance to present its evidence? I transcribe his reply literally:

"That which strikes at the very foundations of Christianity is not entitled to a chance."

Hays, plainly astounded by this bald statement of the fundamentalist view of due process, pressed the point. Assuming that the defense would present, not opinion but only unadorned fact, would Stewart still object to its admission? He replied.

"Personally, yes."

"But as a lawyer and Attorney-General?" insisted Hays.

"As a lawyer and Attorney-General," said Stewart, "I am the same man."

Such is justice where Genesis is the first and greatest of law books and heresy is still a crime.

The Scopes Trial

Battle Now Over, Mencken Sees;
Genesis Triumphant and Ready
for New Jousts
by H.L. Mencken

(The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 18, 1925)

Dayton, Tenn., July 18. -- All that remains of the great cause of the State of Tennessee against the infidel Scopes is the formal business of bumping off the defendant. There may be some legal jousting on Monday and some gaudy oratory on Tuesday, but the main battle is over, with Genesis completely triumphant. Judge Raulston finished the benign business yesterday morning by leaping with soft judicial hosannas into the arms of the prosecution. The sole commentary of the sardonic Darrow consisted of bringing down a metaphorical custard pie upon the occiput of the learned jurist.

"I hope," said the latter nervously, "that counsel intends no reflection upon this court."

Darrow hunched his shoulders and looked out of the window dreamily.

"Your honor," he said, "is, of course, entitled to hope."

No doubt the case will be long and fondly remembered by connoisseurs of judicial delicatessen -- that is, as the performances of Weber and Fields are remembered by students of dramatic science. In immediate retrospect, it grows more fantastic and exhilarating. Scopes has had precisely the same fair trial that the Hon. John Philip Hill, accused of bootlegging on the oath of Howard A. Kelly, would have before the Rev. Dr. George W. Crabbe. He is a fellow not without humor; I find him full of smiles today. On some near tomorrow the Sheriff will collect a month's wages from him, but he has certainly had a lot of fun.

More interesting than the hollow buffoonery that remains will be the effect upon the people of Tennessee, the actual prisoners at the bar. That the more civilized of them are in a highly feverish condition of mind must be patent to every visitor. The guffaws that roll in from all sides give them great pain. They are full of bitter protests and valiant projects. They prepare, it appears, to organize, hoist the black flag and offer the fundamentalists of the dung-hills a battle to the death. They will not cease until the last Baptist preacher is in flight over the mountains, and the ordinary intellectual decencies of Christendom are triumphantly restored.

With the best will in the world I find it impossible to accept this tall talk with anything resembling confidence. The intelligentsia of Tennessee had their chance and let it get away from them. When the old mountebank, Bryan, first invaded the State with his balderdash they were unanimously silent. When he began to round up converts in the back country they offered him no challenge. When the Legislature passed the anti-evolution bill and the Governor signed it, they contented themselves with murmuring pianissimo. And when the battle was joined at last and the time came for rough stuff only one Tennesseean of any consequence volunteered.

That lone volunteer was Dr. John Neal, now of counsel for the defense, a good lawyer and an honest man. His services to Darrow, Malone and Hays have been very valuable and they come out of the case with high respect for him. But how does Tennessee regard him? My impression is that Tennessee vastly underestimating incredibly that a farmer who read the Bible knew more than any scientist in the world. Such dreadful bilge, heard of far away, may seem only ridiculous. But it takes on a different smack, I assure you, when one hears it discharged formally in a court of law and sees it accepted as wisdom by judge and jury.

Darrow has lost this case. It was lost long before he came to Dayton. But it seems to me that he has nevertheless performed a great public service by fighting it to a finish and in a perfectly serious way. Let no one mistake it for comedy, farcical though it may be in all its details. It serves notice on the country that Neanderthal man is organizing in these forlorn backwaters of the land, led by a fanatic, rid sense and devoid of conscience. Tennessee, challenging him too timorously and too late, now sees its courts converted into camp meetings and its Bill of Rights made a mock of by its sworn officers of the law. There are other States that had better look to their arsenals before the Hun is at their gates.

The Scopes Trial

Tennessee in the Frying Pan
by H.L. Mencken

(The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 20, 1925)


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. The village Aristides Sophocles Goldsboroughs believed that the trial would bring in a lot of money, and produce a vast mass of free and profitable advertising. They were wrong on both counts, as boomers usually are. Very little money was actually spent by the visitors: the adjacent yokels brought their own lunches and went home to sleep, and the city men from afar rushed down to Chattanooga whenever there was a lull. As for the advertising that went out over the leased wires, I greatly fear that it has quite ruined the town. 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.

The natives reacted to this advertising very badly. The preliminary publicity, I believe, had somehow disarmed and deceived them. It was mainly amiable spoofing; they took it philosophically, assured by the local Aristideses that it was good for trade. 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. Some of the bolder spirits, indeed, talked gaudily of direct action against the authors of the "libels." But the history of the Ku Klux and the American Legion offers overwhelmingly evidence that 100 per cent Americans never fight when the enemy is in strength, and able to make a defense, so the visitors suffered nothing worse than black, black looks. When the last of them departs Daytonians will disinfect the town with sulphur candles, and the local pastors will exorcise the devils that they left behind them.


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.

But what of the rest of the people of Tennessee? I greatly fear that they will not attain to consolation so easily. They are an extremely agreeable folk, and many of them are highly intelligent. I met men and women -- particularly women -- in Chattanooga who showed every sign of the highest culture. They led civilized lives, despite Prohibition, and they were interested in civilized ideas, despite the fog of Fundamentalism in which they moved. I met members of the State judiciary who were as heartily ashamed of the bucolic ass, Raulston, as an Osler would be of a chiropractor. I add the educated clergy: Episcopalians, Unitarians, Jews and so on -- enlightened men, tossing pathetically under the imbecilities of their evangelical colleagues. Chattanooga, as I found it, was charming, but immensely unhappy.

What its people ask for -- many of them in plain terms -- is suspended judgment, sympathy, Christian charity, and I believe that they deserve all these things. Dayton may be typical of Tennessee, but it is surely not all of Tennessee. The civilized minority in the State is probably as large as in any other Southern State. What ails it is simply the fact it has been, in the past, too cautious and politic -- that it has been too reluctant to offend the Fundamentalist majority. To that reluctance something else has been added: an uncritical and somewhat childish local patriotism. The Tennesseeans have tolerated their imbeciles for fear that attacking them would bring down the derision of the rest of the country. Now they have the derision, and to excess -- and the attack is ten times as difficult as it ever was before.


How they are to fight their way out of their wallow I do not know. They begin the battle with the enemy in command of every height and every gun; worse, there is a great deal of irresolution in their own ranks. The newspapers of the State, with few exceptions, are very feeble. One of the best of them, the Chattanooga News, set up an eloquent whooping for Bryan the moment he got to Dayton. Before that it had been against the anti-evolution law. But with the actual battle joined, it began to wobble, and presently it was printing articles arguing that Fundamentalism, after all, made men happy -- that a Tennesseean gained something valuable by being an ignoramus -- in other words, that a hog in a barnyard was to be envied by an Aristotle. The News was far better than most: it gave space, too, to the other side, and at considerable risk. But its weight, for two weeks, was thrown heavily to Bryan and his balderdash.

The pusillanimous attitude of the bar of the State I described in my dispatches from Dayton. It was not until the trial was two days old that any Tennessee lawyers of influence and dignity went to the aid of Dr. John R. Neal -- and even then all of the volunteers enlisted only on condition that their names be kept out of the newspapers. I should except one T.B. McElwee. He sat at the trial table and rendered valuable services. The rest lurked in the background. It was an astounding situation to a Marylander, but it seemed to be regarded as quite natural in Tennessee.

The prevailing attitude toward Neal himself was also very amazing. He is an able lawyer and a man of repute, and in any Northern State his courage would get the praise it deserves. But in Tennessee even the intelligentsia seem to feet that he has done something discreditable by sitting at the trial table with Darrow, Hays and Malone. The State buzzes with trivial, idiotic gossip about him -- that he dresses shabbily, that he has political aspirations, and so on. What if he does and has? He has carried himself, in this case, in a way that does higher credit to his native State. But his native State, instead of being proud of him, simply snarls at him behind his back.


So with every other man concerned with the defense -- most of them, slackaday, foreigners. For example, Rappelyea, the Dayton engineer who was first to go to the aid of Scopes. I was told solemnly in Dayton, not once but twenty times, that Rappelyea was (a) a Bowery boy from New York, and (b) an incompetent and ignorant engineer. I went to some trouble to unearth the facts. They were (a) that he was actually a member of one of the oldest Huguenot families in America, and (b) that his professional skill and general culture were such that the visiting scientists sought him out and found pleasure in his company.

Such is the punishment that falls upon a civilized man cast among fundamentalists. As I have said, the worst of it is that even the native intelligentsia help to pull the rope. In consequence all the brighter young men of the State -- and it produces plenty of them -- tend to leave it. If they remain, they must be prepared to succumb to the prevailing blather or resign themselves to being more or less infamous. 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.

As I have said, the State still produces plenty of likely young bucks -- if only it could hold them! There is good blood everywhere, even in the mountains. During the dreadful buffooneries of Bryan and Raulston last week two typical specimens sat at the press table. One was Paul Y. Anderson, correspondent of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the other was Joseph Wood Krutch, one of the editors of the Nation. I am very familiar with the work of both of them, and it is my professional judgment that it is of the first caliber. Anderson is one of the best newspaper reporters in America and Krutch is one of the best editorial writers.

Well, both were there as foreigners. Both were working for papers that could not exist in Tennessee. Both were viewed by their fellow Tennesseeans not with pride, as credits to the State, but as traitors to the Tennessee Kultur and public enemies. Their crime was that they were intelligent men, doing their jobs intelligently.