John T. Scopes (August 3, 1900- October 21, 1970) was a young teacher in Tennessee who became the defendant in a test case for promoting evolution in American schools on May 25, 1925. Tennessee had a law against teaching human evolution known as the Butler Act and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wanted to overturn it. The ACLU enlisted the top criminal attorney of the day, Clarence Darrow, to serve as Scopes attorney. Darrow was a noted criminal defense attorney, having defended the murderers Leopold and Loeb and even admitting their guilt by having them plead guilty. In the Leopold and Loeb case, Darrow had even convinced the judge to let them of with a life sentence rather then a hanging.
William Jennings Bryan, the former presidential candidate and Secretary of State, had oratorical skills second to none. His "Cross of Gold" speech in 1896 at the Democratic National Convention is considered one of the greatest political works in American history. He united the Populist and Democratic Parties under him and then and laid the foundation for the takeover by the Democratic Party of American politics 36 years later.
After witnessing the horrors of World War I, Bryan became convinced that the teaching of evolution was leading society to ruin through war. "Survival of the fittest" provided an intellectual justification for the brutal killing of other nationalities and races. Bryan foresaw the ethnic cleansing that grew to its horrible culmination in the Holocaust.
Bryan defended the Tennessee law and its application to Scopes, with its $100 fine as the penalty for teaching evolution. Darrow agreed to take the witness stand in favor of teaching evolution if Bryan took the witness stand against it. Bryan then testified and performed well. When the trial ended, Tennessee's Butler Act remained in effect for another half century, until 1967. To this day, Tennesee schools continue to teach little evolution.
In 1955, the trial was fictionalized an dramatized in the play Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. The play was later written into a movie by Lawrence, Lee, and Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith. Many misinformed people today think that Scopes and the evolutionists won the trial, but conservative rule in Tennessee today reflects the true outcome.