The State of Tennessee v. John T. Scopes

The 1920s was a time period in which modern ideals were in constant competition with traditional values.  This fact is illustrated in a struggle that transpired in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee.

Tennessee v. John T. Scopes Trial: Dayton, Tennessee by Smithsonian Institution.
Taken the month before the Tennessee v. John T. Scopes Trial. June 1925. Photo by Watson Davis.
On March 25, 1951 the state of Tennessee passed a statute called the Butler Act.  The act prohibited the teaching of evolution, or any other theory that contradicted Divine creation, in all publically funded institutions, including universities.  The Tennessee General Assembly deemed the crime a misdemeanor, punishable with a fine between 100 and 500 dollars per offense. 
 The American Civil Liberties Union chose John T. Scopes to test the constitutionality of the Butler Act.  Scopes taught a chapter in the textbook that drew on Darwin’s theories outlined in On the Origin of Species and was formally charged on May 5, 1925. 

 John T. Scopes



                  The Origin of Species


The trial lasted from July 10-July 25 and soon became the top news story around the world. 


Various headlines and political cartoon from the trial. 

The Scopes Monkey Trial was a fight over evolution but also became a battle between the lawyers for the two opposing viewpoints.  Clarence Darrow defended the ACLU, Scopes, and Darwinism while William Jennings Bryan, argued for fundamentalism and the state of Tennessee.  What took place over the weeks of the trial transformed Dayton from a sleepy town into a media sensation. 

Political Cartoon depicting Clarence Darrow                                                                                                Political Cartoon depicting W. J. Bryan
Now that you have a background on the Scopes Monkey Trial, Here are some useful (and VALID) websites that will help you find out the ruling and the conclusion of the case as you research the case further.  These websites provide both primary and secondary source information:
  •  This website is from a compilation of compilation of famous trials made by Douglas O. Linder and the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School.  This site provides background information on Darwinism and Fundamentalism, quotes and pictures from key players in the trial, primary source material from observers of the trial, as well as newspaper cartoons. 


  • This website, created by provides background knowledge for the PBS film Monkey Trial.  The website offers a look at the Dayton Tennessee Courthouse, monkey themed music from the trial, and Speeches from Darrow and Bryan about the trial.