Rachel Maddux has an interesting article about the annual celebration of the Scopes trial in the town where it took place, Dayton, Tennessee. One of the things that most people don’t understand about the trial is that it was almost entirely a show trial, engineered by both the town and the ACLU (the former for financial reasons, the latter for legal reasons).
But the real story of the trial, like Dayton itself, began with the mines: they were dwindling, the town was suffering, and a group of local boosters—including drug store owner and school board president F. E. Robinson and school superintendent Walter White—were looking for a pick-me-up. Meanwhile, the fledgling ACLU was offering pro-bono legal representation for any teacher accused of breaking Tennessee’s recently passed Butler Act. Soon as the boosters got a whiff, they pounced. The trial was bound to be a big to-do somewhere, so why not Dayton? A willing defendant was found in John T. Scopes, a teacher and football coach at Rhea County Central High School. “I wasn’t sure if I had taught evolution,” Scopes wrote in his 1967 memoir. “Robinson and the others apparently weren’t concerned with this technicality. I had expressed willingness to stand trial. That was enough.”
Scopes was served with a warrant but never incarcerated. At the end of his eight-day trial, Bryan and the prosecution had won. But, in a way, so had the defense—among other maneuvers, Darrow had angled all along for a guilty verdict, planning to appeal the ruling to the Tennessee Supreme Court. (He did; they upheld the ruling, but dismissed Scopes’s fine on a technicality.) Both sides left town nursing a certain sense of bruised victory. The only clear loser was Dayton.
And that’s exactly what happened. The Dover school board used it, the Thomas More Law Center defended them, and both sides finally had their chance to take the matter to court. And unlike the Scopes trial, the outcome was unequivocal and correct.