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Monkey Trial | Timeline

Timeline: Monkey Trial


Charles Darwin's Origin of Species is published. Its revolutionary theory of natural selection will have profound effects on both the scientific world and society at large.

January: William Jennings Bryan begins his anti-evolution crusade in Kentucky, speaking out against the Darwinian "law of hate" and calling for a return to the Biblical "law of love." His campaign catches fire in Tennessee.

March 21: Tennessee governor Austin Peay signs into law the Butler bill, outlawing the teaching of "any theory that denies the divine creation of man and teaches instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals."

May 4: Newspapers throughout Tennessee carry a small notice from the ACLU offering to pay court costs for any Tennessee teacher willing to test the anti-evolution law in the courts.

May 5: At a meeting in Robinson's drugstore in Dayton, Tennessee, science teacher John Scopes agrees to become the ACLU's defendant in a trial testing the Tennessee anti-evolution law.

May 13: Though he hasn't practiced law for 30 years, William Jennings Bryan agrees to represent the World's Christian Fundamentals Organization as special prosecutor at the Scopes trial.

May 25: In Dayton, a grand jury indicts John Scopes for violating the Butler Law.

July 10: Case Number 5232, the State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, comes before Judge John T. Raulston. Prosecution and defense teams choose members of the jury.

July 13: Clarence Darrow delivers an impassioned speech against "religious bigotry and hate." He hopes to convince Judge Raulston to declare the Butler Law unconstitutional.

July 15: Judge Raulston upholds the Butler Law and the trial continues. Witnesses for the prosecution and defense testify. Darrow and the defense team bring prominent scientists to Dayton to testify for evolution.

July 17: Judge Raulston reads his decision forbidding the defense team's scientific experts to testify before the jury. Darrow objects strenuously. Believing the trial is over, many reporters leave town.

July 20: Because of the heat and the crowd, Judge Raulston re-convenes court outside, under the trees. The defense calls Bryan to the stand as an expert on the Bible. Darrow's relentless interrogation of the elderly Bryan becomes the most famous event of the trial.

July 21: After nine minutes of deliberation, the jury returns a verdict of guilty. The judge imposes a fine of $100 on the defendant and John Scopes speaks for the first time, vowing to "to oppose this law in any way [he] can."

July 26: Five days after the trial ends, Bryan dies in his sleep in Dayton. Many blame his death on the stress of Darrow's interrogation, but he had been ill with diabetes for some time.

July 31: In a pouring rain, William Jennings Bryan is buried in Arlington National Cemetery just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

January 15: Darrow and the ACLU challenge the Butler Law before the Tennessee Supreme Court. The court overturns John Scopes' conviction on a technicality -- because the judge, not the jury, set the fine. But it allows the anti-evolution law to remain on the books.

September: A college named for William Jennings Bryan opens in Dayton in the old high school where John Scopes taught. Bryan College would grow into a liberal arts Christian college spread out over 100 acres in the hills above Dayton.

March 13: Clarence Darrow dies at the age of 81. At his request, friends scatter his ashes over a bridge in Chicago's Jackson Park.

Inherit the Wind opens on Broadway. Written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, the play uses the Scopes trial to symbolize the intolerance of McCarthyism, and the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.

July 21: Dayton celebrates the 35th anniversary of the Scopes trial with parades and photo opportunities. John Scopes returns to the scene of his "crime." The movie version of Inherit the Wind premieres at a local drive-in.

May 16: Tennessee overturns the Butler law. A newspaper editorial says, "Tennessee will be saved the ordeal of another trial in which a proud state is required to make a monkey of itself in a court of law."

October 18: In Epperson v. Arkansas, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns an Arkansas ban on the teaching of evolution, making all anti-evolution laws unconstitutional.

June 19: In Edwards v. Aguillard, the U.S. Supreme Court declares unconstitutional Louisiana's "Creationism Act" demanding equal time for creationism whenever evolution is taught.

September: The Book of Legal Lists calls the Scopes trial one of the top ten greatest trials of all time.

August 12: The Kansas Board of Education votes to omit any mention of macro-evolution from its state science standards. The board later votes to rescind the decision.

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