George Rappleyea was a 31 year old chemical and mining engineer who had grown up in New York City. He was the local manager of the Cumberland Coal and Iron Company. Although he had never been a regular churchgoer, he began attending the Methodist church in Dayton. The young minister convinced George that evolution was not in conflict with Christianity if both were properly understood. George was later baptized and appointed superintendent of the Sunday school. His opposition to the Butler Act traces back to the funeral of a six-year-old boy, the son of one of his workers. The fundamentalist preacher, standing over the coffin, told those present that the young boy was doomed to the ``flames of hell'' because he had never been baptized. Rappalyea was angered by the insensitivity of this fundamentalist preacher. A few days later, when he heard that the fundamentalists had pushed through the anti-evolution Butler Act, he resolved to fight the new law. He found his chance when he discovered an article in the Chattanooga Times in which the ACLU offered to defend any teacher who would challenge the Butler Act in court. He presented his ideas to several community leaders at Robinson's Drugstore. The town leaders agreed that a trial of this magnitude could bring much needed publicity to their town.
At the time of the trial, John scopes was twenty-four years old. Prior to coming to Dayton he had graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1924. He was a popular football coach and general science teacher at Rhea County High School in Dayton. From the point-of-view of the ACLU, he was the ideal defendant for their case. He was clean-cut, cared about teaching, and had no hostility toward religion. He attended the local Presbyterian church in Dayton. When once asked about his religious beliefs by reporters, he replied “I don't know if I'm a Christian, … but I believe there is a God.” Usually a defendant gets to choose his attorney, but in this case the decision was up to the ACLU. Scopes was invited to come to New York City where the selection of the defense team was to be made. He attended a luncheon-conference along with 15–20 of the leading civil libertarians. Among those present were Harvard's Felix Frankfurter (a future Supreme Court Justice) and Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas. Dudley Malone, a prominent New York divorce lawyer, urged the group to accept Clarence Darrow's offer to join the defense. He said that Darrow would pay all of his own expenses and would accept no fee. The ACLU didn't want Clarence Darrow because they felt that he would detract from the main civil rights issue they were pursuing. A number of the attendees were worried that Darrow's outspoken agnosticism and his controversial defense of two young thrill killers (Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb) would make him a poor choice. During the discussion, Scopes was asked his opinion. He pointed out that the prosecution already had a well known figure in William Jennings Bryan. He thought that it would be nice to have a high profile figure on their side as well. A vote was taken and Darrow was narrowly approved. ACLU Director Baldwin was so upset by the decision that he canceled his plans to attend the trial. Scopes was very happy with the decision to accept Darrow.
There were many journalists in Dayton for the trial, but none was better known than H.L. Mencken of the Baltimore Sun. His syndicated articles appeared in newspapers across the country. He was well known for his caustic and satirical writing style. One of his favorite targets was religion, in particular fundamentalist Christianity. Like Clarence Darrow, the one thing he was intolerant of was intolerance. He once asserted that the human race is so obviously imperfect that man could not possibly have been the creation of an omnipotent God, but—at best—the bungled effort of “an incompetent committee of gods.” During the trial he referred to the locals as ‘babbits’, ‘morons’, ‘peasants’, ‘hill-billies’, ‘yaps’, and ‘yokels’. He chastised the “degraded nonsense which country preachers are ramming and hammering into yokel skulls.” Mencken said of Bryan “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 forlorn pastors who belabor halfwits in galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards. … It is a tragedy, indeed, to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon.” Following Bryan's death he wrote in an obituary
Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not.
However, when speaking of the defense lawyers Darrow and Malone he had nothing but the highest praise.
Shortly after arriving in Dayton, he tried to perpetrate a hoax on the local residents. He printed a handbill announcing that an imagined “fundamentalist and miracle worker,” Dr. Elmer Chubb, would be coming to Dayton for a “public demonstration of healing, casting out devils, and prophesying.” The flyer, complete with numerous made-up testimonials, bragged that “Dr. Chubb will allow himself to be bitten by any poisonous snake, gila monster, or other reptile. He will also drink any poison brought to him.” The handbill also declared that Chubb will “preach in Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Coptic, Egyptian, and in the lost languages of the Etruscans and the Hittites.” He hired a boy to pass out the one thousand copies of the handbill, and then waited to see what would happen. To his dismay the locals simply shrugged and went about their business.
For many years Darrow was a very successful labor lawyer representing various labor unions. However, in 1911 he was hired by the AFL to defend the McMamara brothers who were charged with dynamiting The Los Angeles Times building during a bitter labor struggle. Twenty people were killed in the fire following the blast. During the trial Darrow was accused of masterminding a scheme to bribe a perspective juror. He faced two long trials on these charges. In the first he was acquitted, but the second ended in a hung jury. After the second trial a deal was struck in which the state agreed to not retry Darrow in exchange for Darrow's promise to never practice law again in California. In view of the bribery allegations the labor unions no longer desired his services. Darrow then turned to criminal law and became a very successful defense lawyer. In 1924 he took the case of 18-year-old Nathan Leopold and 17-year-old Richard Loeb, two wealthy teenagers in Chicago. The two were accused of kidnapping and murdering 14-year-old Bobby Franks. Leopold was a law student at the University of Chicago and Loeb was the youngest ever graduate of the University of Michigan. When asked why they would do such a thing, they said it was for the pure love of excitement. Darrow, in order to avoid facing a jury intent on vengeance, entered a guilty plea. Thus, the trial was a very long sentencing hearing before the judge. Darrow argued that Leopold and Loeb were mentally diseased. His closing statement lasted 12 hours. In the end the boys avoided the death penalty and were sentenced to life in prison. Needless to say, this decision was very controversial.
Clarence Darrow was an avid reader, reading such authors as Voltaire, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Darwin. Marx, and Freud. Scopes said that he was the best read man he had ever known. Darrow was a fixture in the intellectual circles of Chicago. He was also an outspoken agnostic. Meeting before the Scopes trial with local prosecutors, Darrow told them, “I wish I could believe in the Bible, like you people—I just can't. And I wish I could get hope out of it like you do.” He added, sadly, “I've got no hope.”
William Jennings Bryan
Theodore Roosevelt said of Bryan, “By George, he would make the greatest Baptist preacher on earth.” He probably would have become a Baptist preacher if it were not for his great fear of water. After witnessing a baptismal immersion at age six, he decided that this was not for him. At age 14 he left the Baptist church and became a Presbyterian. After graduating from law school, he and his wife moved to Nebraska. He became the first Democratic congressman in Nebraska's 20 years of statehood. He served two terms in congress. In 1896 he gave a famous speech at the Democratic National Convention advocating the use of silver rather than gold to back the dollar. He concluded with “You shall not press down on the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” Tumultuous applause erupted from the audience. A while later he became the youngest person ever nominated for president. He lost to William McKinley. He ran again in 1900 and 1908. In 1900 he lost again to McKinley and in 1908 he lost to Howard Taft. Although he never became president, he had a big effect on the Democratic party. He helped change the party from conservative Civil War losers to a party focused on the interests of blue-collar workers, farmers, and religious and ethnic minorities. Because of his advocacy for issues affecting the common man, he became known as “The Great Commoner.” In 1912 he became Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson. However, he resigned when he saw Wilson pushing the nation toward World War I. After leaving the Wilson administration he advocated for social reform issues such as women's suffrage and prohibition. Bryan's Christian faith was influential in all that he did. He became very concerned about the teaching of evolution in schools. He felt that it was eroding the faith of young people. He was influential in introducing bills in several states prohibiting the teaching of evolution. In Tennessee such a bill became law. Five days after Scopes was arrested, Bryan was asked to join the prosecution team. He gladly accepted. Sadly Bryan died a few days after the trial while preparing to publish the closing statement that he didn't get to make at the trial.