Archive for February, 2013

The New Deal

From our friends across the pond– giving a European view of the New Deal. Also explains how opinion polls were first used to help determine government actions.

The use of primary source interviews: The Slave Narratives

This video can also be found at

Professor James Horton discusses the significance of the WPA Slave Narrative project.

Upcoming Assignments

Our essential questions today was: How did the New Deal change and challenge Americans’ expectations about government?


1. On Friday, please have a handwritten summary of Liberal and Conservative assessments of the New Deal from the 1930s to now. This is to be 250 words at a minimum. Make sure you include modern perspectives. You will need to do some research, and m,ake sure you include specific points.


2. In addition, please make sure you have read the material on the Migrant Mother and the links to the other photographs and Dorothea’s Lange’s perspective. I would like to discuss this on Friday.

The Dust Bowl Experience

Be ready to discuss this Wednesday-Thursday- make sure you have gone to the link and listened to the interview.

Read this, and then go here ( to see and hear Florence Thompson, the subject of Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph.

“I left Oklahoma in 1925 and went to Oroville [California]. That’s where them three girls’ dad [Cleo] died, in Oroville, 1931. And I was 28 years old [in 1931], and I had five kids and that one [the baby in this photo, Norma] was on the road. She never even saw her daddy. She was born after he died. It was very hard. And cheap. I picked cotton in Fireball, when that girl there was about two years old, I picked cotton in Fireball for 50-cents a hundred.”
Question: “A ‘hundred’ [meaning] weight?”
“A hundred pounds.”

Question: “How much could you pick in a day, then?”
“I generally picked around 450, 500. I didn’t even weigh a hundred pounds. I lived down there in Shafter, and I’d leave home before daylight and come in after dark. We just existed! Anyway, we lived. We survived, let’s put it that way. I walked from what they called a Hoover camp ground right there at the bridge [in Bakersfield], I walked from there to way down on First Street, and worked at a penny a dish down there for 50-cents a day and the leftovers. Yeah, they give me what was leftover to take home with me. Sometimes, I’d carry home two water buckets full.
“Well, [in 1936] we started from L.A. to Watsonville. And the timing chain broke on my car. And I had a guy to pull into this pea camp in Nipomo. I started to cook dinner for my kids, and all the little kids around the camp came in. ‘Can I have a bite? Can I have a bite?’ And they was hungry, them people was. And I got my car fixed, and I was just getting ready to pull out when she [Dorothea Lange] come back and snapped my picture.
“I come to this town [Modesto] in 1945. I transferred from Whittier State to Modesto. And when this hospital opened up out here, I went to work there. And the first eight years I lived in this town, I worked 16 hours out of 24. Eight-and-a-half years, seven days a week.”
Question: “Are you comfortable now?”
–Florence Thompson, the famous “Migrant Mother” from the Dorothea Lange photo

Florence Thompson was born on an Indian reservation – “in a tepee,” she said – in Oklahoma in 1903. Her father died when she was 13 months old, but her mother lived to be 108. Even before the Depression, Florence, her husband Cleo and their growing family left Oklahoma for California. For a time, they found work around Shafter, California. But as the Depression settled in, they were forced to become migrant farm workers. They followed the harvests until the war created jobs. Florence settled in Modesto, California in 1945. Her family put down roots, although Florence was most comfortable living in a mobile home. She died of cancer in 1983.

Now read what Dorothea Lange remembers about this experience:

Here is where you can see the famous photo and more from the series that Dorothea Lange took:

US Indian Policy during the New Deal

This is the second part of a paper I wrote in graduate school, the previous section of which is located here:

The Indian New Deal

The election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 brought about a sea change in Indian policy. The two most influential officials for Indian policy in the federal bureaucracy were the secretary of the interior and his subordinate, the commissioner of Indian affairs. Roosevelt’s nominees for these posts were both active veterans of the Indian reform movement. Harold Ickes, who was chosen as secretary of the interior, was a former director of the American Indian Defense Association with strong credentials as a Progressive. Roosevelt chose an outspoken critic of the Indian Bureau as his commissioner of Bureau of Indian Affairs. John Collier had organized the Pueblo Indians against many federal policies, and had been a founder of the American Indian Defense Association, which had fought steadfastly against Eurocentric proposals put forth by the Indian Bureau under Coolidge and Hoover. Collier and Ickes had worked together and shared many ideas about Indian reform.

Before his nomination as Indian commissioner, Collier had been a vocal opponent of allotment policies. Collier had begun his career as a settlement worker in the community center movement to help impoverished urban dwellers improve their lives through pooling their resources. The idea of community drove Collier’s public career. His attention to Indian policy began in 1920 when he visited a pueblo in Taos, New Mexico. Here Collier believed he had found the ingredients for a perfect community, a “Red Atlantis” which, if protected from the European-American concepts of excessive individualism and materialism, could develop into a model for reform of American society at large. With the backing of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Collier was engaged in the fight to preserve the traditional organization of the Pueblos against assimilationist schemes of Congress and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. With two million members in the GFWC, Collier gained the attention of several Indian reform groups and government officials to lobby for the protection of the Indians.

In 1923, Collier founded the American Indian Defense Association so that he could fully focus on policy reform. He was a frequent witness on behalf of the AAIA at congressional hearings and was sharply critical of the Indian Bureau’s policies and its stewardship of Indian reservations. He opposed the leasing of Indian lands by Bureau officials without Indian consultation, especially for the exploitation of mineral resources. He battled compulsory attendance of Christian services at boarding schools, prohibitions on customary marriages, and charging tribes for reservation construction projects that primarily benefited non-Indians. He also helped draft legislation such as the Tribal Councils Bill which would have authorized the creation of tribal councils. This bill would have allowed tribes to elect a committee to create a tribal constitution and bylaws. Among the provisions was the election of a tribal council under this tribal constitution that would have the power to represent the tribe before federal authorities and to employ attorneys to help them preserve their rights. Although this bill failed to pass, many of its ideals would live on in the Indian Reorganization Act.
After some political maneuvering, Collier was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on April 20, 1933. As commissioner, it was obvious Collier was not going to promote policies that contradicted his Edenic view of Indian society. Collier immediately declared that freedom of religion would be extended to all Indians. He cancelled debts that had been charged Indian tribes without tribal authorization and managed to achieve the dissolution of the Board of Indian Commissioners. This group, which had its genesis as administrators of the Dawes Act provisions in the late nineteenth century, was a visible proponent of the old ways of Indian policy.

Collier faced immediate crises upon taking office. Severe weather during the winter of 1932-33 on many western reservations created a real danger of starvation, and relief efforts were immediately set in motion. Collier initiated action on employment and environmental problems by using funds from the Civilian Conservation Corps to establish an Indian adjunct, the Emergency Conservation Work program, whose mission was to promote soil conservation and prevent overgrazing on tribal lands. From 1934 to 1942, when the CCC was abolished, Indians were greatly aided by this program which provided training and experience as well as conservation work. Other New Deal programs which were active on reservations included the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Works Progress Administration, and the Civil and Public Works Administrations.
Another action taken in the early days of the Roosevelt administration dealt with the lack of social services on Indian reservations. For decades the funding the BIA allocated to build schools and hospitals and to hire the staff to operate such facilities was sorely deficient. Therefore, in April 1934 the Johnson-O’Malley Act was passed into law. This new law authorized the federal government to contract with states to provide social services for their Indian inhabitants. The Act specifically listed education, medical, agricultural, and social welfare or relief services as eligible for such contracting. The Act allowed states to take over any existing buildings constructed for such purposes to facilitate the delivery of services. Oklahoma Indians were excluded from this Act.

In Collier’s first annual report, he called for ending allotment and emphasized “group organiz-ation and tribal incorporation” to enable Indians to begin managing their own resources and economic destinies. Collier set out to reverse the decades old push for the destruction of Indian communities through his design of the Indian Reorganization Act. Through this legislation Collier attempted to end the forced absorption of individual Indians into the general culture and economy. Instead, he sought to give new powers to tribal government and to have Indians achieve new power through tribal identity.
Three events gave added impetus to the policy shift toward cultural pluralism. In 1928 the secretary of the interior had asked the Brookings Institution to analyze the conditions on reservations. The results of this study were published under the title The Problem of Indian Administration (also known as the Meriam Report) in 1928. The report criticized the government for inadequately funding Indian programs, for being less concerned about Indians than about exploiting their natural resources, and for refusing to give Indians a voice in their own affairs. The report recommended, among other things, that a loan program be made available to Indians, that boarding schools be abolished, and that allotments be curtailed to enable better land use policies. The report also suggested a reorientation of the Indian service, although with the goal of assimilation still in the forefront:

… [The survey staff] would not recommend the disastrous attempt to force individual Indians to be what they do not want to be, to break up their pride in themselves and their Indian race, or to deprive them of their Indian culture…. The fact remains, however, that the hands of the clock cannot be turned backward. The Indians are face to face with the predominating civilization of the whites …[which has] largely destroyed the economic foundation upon which the Indian culture rested. This economic foundation cannot be restored as it was. The Indians cannot be set apart away from the whites.”

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs also sent a subcommittee to tour most of the reservations in the US as part of an investigation of the Indian Bureau, and their discoveries led to the resignation of the current Indian commissioner in 1929. Further, a meeting of all Indian reform groups at the Cosmos Club in Washington D.C. in January 1934 agreed on several suggestions to improve the conditions of Indian life. Among these proposals was a call for the end of allotment, tribal consolidation and ownership of fractionated heirship lands with remaining trust lands, and the organization of tribal councils vested with limited powers of government. The reformers advocated the reimposition of federal guardianship over Oklahoma Indians, who had been universally accorded citizenship and had “final disposition of the affairs” of tribal governments through an amendment to the Dawes Act in 1901, much to their detriment. Tribal governments in Oklahoma had been dissolved in 1914.

Both Collier and Ickes had participated in the Cosmos Club meeting, and Collier took the recommendations to heart. The legislation to implement this change was the work of many people who shared Collier’s views on tribal sovereignty. Collier set to work with William Zimmerman, who served as the assistant Indian commissioner, and two attorneys on the legal staff of the interior department, Nathan Margold and Felix Cohen. Zimmerman, Margold, and Cohen had all worked as lawyers with the AAIA. A month after the Cosmos Club meeting, these men had crafted a detailed, forty-eight page bill to address the complete reorganization of federal Indian policy. The finished product was sent to the chairs of the House and Senate Indian Affairs Committees, who presented it to Congress under their sponsorship. The legislation therefore bore their names as the Wheeler-Howard Bill.

The original bill was divided into four titles. Title I echoed the Tribal Council bill of 1932. One fourth of the adult residents on a reservation could petition the secretary of the interior to grant a charter that would allow tribal self-government under a constitution, which would allow the tribal government to contract with the federal government for services as well as determine tribal policies. An important provision required the secretary of the interior to submit annual budgets to each tribe to provide input upon before being submitted to Congress. Title II dealt with increasing educational opportunities so that Indians with at least one-fourth Indian ancestry could meet civil service requirements for Bureau positions. The bill also required that each Indian civilization be studied, preserved and taught in Indian schools. Title III specifically repealed the Dawes Allotment Act. Further allotments were forbidden and trust periods on current allotments would be extended indefinitely. Unsold surplus land was to be returned to the reservation. To solve fractionation, tribal members would transfer their interests in productive land to the tribe to consolidate holdings into usable parcels. In return, the Indians would be granted a proportionate interest in tribal property. The secretary of the interior could impose usage regulations for soil conservation and to prevent overgrazing. Title IV reformed the Courts of Indian Affairs into two tiers: a local level run under the tribal charter, and a national Court of Indian Affairs. This national Court was akin to the United States Supreme Court and would reclaim jurisdiction over major criminal cases from federal courts. These judges would go to the reservations to hear cases rather than force litigants to travel long distances.
When hearings were held on the bill, those who opposed Indian self-government questioned Collier about what they viewed as its anti-assimilationist bias. Several congressmen who came from states with sizeable reservations already chafed at the idea of mineral wealth locked away from exploitation and saw self-government as a further stumbling block to economic development for their states. These mostly western representatives further opposed the loss of tax revenue which resulted from the federal trust umbrella placed over Indian lands, and adjudged self-government as merely perpetuating Indian evasion of their civic responsibilities as citizens. As Rep. Theodore Werner of South Dakota remarked, under the proposed bill Indians would enjoy “all of the rights of citizenship, but would not participate in any of [its] burdens.”

As groundbreaking as the Wheeler-Howard bill was, it nonetheless demonstrated the limited faith that even champions such as Collier had in the ability of Indians to completely govern themselves. Economic decisions still had to be approved by the secretary of the interior. Matters regarding land acquisition and transfer of title to the tribe were still at the discretion of the secretary. Contracts to lease land or mineral rights were also subject to interior department approval. Even the assignment of tribal lands to individual members of the tribe had to be vetted by Bureau officials. Tribes could review appropriations requests submitted to Congress by the Indian Bureau, but could not initiate them independently. Many reformers were afraid that tribes who had little experience with budgetary considerations would rashly distribute any funds under their control as per capita payments. The economic crisis that affected all of America during the Depression was particularly acute on reservations, and large amounts of money could be squandered on a quick fix to desperate situations.

The greatest flaw of the Wheeler-Howard bill was that it included too many radical changes. Each title would have been more than adequate as a separate bill, and each change had unforeseen consequences. The level of detail was also a problem, because there was not room for differences among Indians and tribes. Collier’s ideas about tribal control of property impinged upon the freedom of those individuals who had adjusted to the concept of private property. Further, a bill whose intention was to increase Indian participation and self-government had been crafted with surprisingly little input from Indians.

Although Collier professed to be a champion of Indian self-government, the Wheeler-Howard bill was yet another piece of legislation created for Indians without consultation with them. To rectify this situation, Collier called a series of Indian congresses to explain the bill’s proposals and seek Indian input and support. Support for Collier’s ideas was far from unanimous among Indians. The Navajo tribe strongly protested efforts to reduce the amount of stock that they could own. The rangeland of the Navajo reservation could support only 35,000 people, yet 61,000 were trying to wrest a living from the arid soil. As wealth had been traditionally measured by the size of one’s herd, any attempt to limit livestock struck at the heart of Navajo society as the most glaring paternalism. Another complaint was that there were no provisions in the bill for the resolution of Indian claims against the government and that it did not guarantee current treaty rights. Further, highly acculturated Indians resented the imputation that their Indian heritage made them incapable of handling their own affairs. These individuals had no use for tribal affiliation—they considered themselves simply to be American citizens. They viewed the bill as a blanket attempt to turn them back into “blanket Indians.”

When Collier attempted to amend the bill to answer many of these criticisms, the bill was unable to make it out of either the House or Senate Indian Affairs Committees. The bill was drastically revised and cut down to conform to Indian criticisms and congressional criticisms. Many of the most groundbreaking ideas were eliminated on the premise that they promoted segregation. A stalemate existed until pressure from President Roosevelt resulted in compromise legislation which could pass Congress. This legislation, called the Indian Reorganization Act, became law in the spring of 1934.
The Indian Reorganization Act was much shorter than Collier’s original bill. Gone was title IV reorganizing Indian courts. Some groundbreaking concepts still survived, however. The Dawes Act was repealed, future allotment was forbidden, and two million dollars was provided for the secretary of the interior to purchase new land for some reservations. Mandatory return of heirship lands to tribal control was also eliminated, and the inheritance practices that exacerbated fractionation were not reformed or addressed. To help address the problems of economic development, a $10 million revolving credit fund was implemented so that businesses could be developed on Indian lands. Oklahoma Senator Elmer Thompson attached an amendment that excluded Indians in his state from most of the Act’s provisions on the argument that Oklahoma Indians, especially the Five Civilized Tribes in the eastern half of the state, were already being assimilated, and revival of tribal institutions would simply delay that adaptation. Alaska natives were also not included. The Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of June 1936 reversed this exclusion for all Indians in Oklahoma except those on the Osage reservation. This Act also included a provision which had been deleted from the IRA which allowed groups of 10 or more Indians to form economic cooperatives in recognition of the difficulty in reviving tribal institutions after a nearly 30 year absence.

According to a mandate within the IRA, each tribe was required to hold a referendum by June 1935 to determine whether or not to organize under the Act. Collier had initially opposed the deadline, but the worsening economic conditions on reservations after the passage of the Act caused Collier to reverse his opinion, since many reservations urgently needed the economic assistance promised by the IRA. Many factors impeded the smooth operation of elections. First, the Bureau had never organized elections on the reservations before, and therefore lacked the experience and procedures for such a massive undertaking. The challenges were especially daunting on reservations with small populations, which often also lacked membership rolls from which to draw a list of eligible voters. In some places Indians held allotments on a reservation but did not live there. The Bureau decided that all should vote, and in some cases this led to disagreement over tribal government to this day.

Thus the IRA provided Indians with the choice to avail themselves of its provisions– or not. Between 1936 and 1945, 65 tribes had established constitutions under the Act. In total, 181 tribes voted to accept the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act, while 77 tribes rejected it. In terms of population, 130,000 Indians were in tribes which approved the IRA while 87,000 Indians were in tribes which rejected the Act. Many of the largest tribes, including the nearly 40,000 Navajos, had rejected organization under the Act.

Collier created a small army of Bureau personnel to aid the Indians in preparing for elections and constitutions. This army included lawyers, sociologists, and field agents who went to the Indians to help explain the specific next steps to take full advantage of the Act’s provisions. Since many tribes had no experience with constitutions or other abstract political ideas, attorneys for the Bureau often used boilerplate constitutions and modified them slightly to suit each group’s special circumstances. However, these IRA constitutions were often criticized by Indian traditionalists for imposing foreign concepts like democratic rule over the traditional use of consensus and the leadership of tribal headmen. Collier’s ideas still sought to change the Indians and their traditions, and once again these changes were in the name of the Indians’ best interest.

As early as the mid-1930s, those in Congress who were interested in Indian policy for good or ill had become aware of the sweeping changes that even the diluted IRA had set into motion. Some of Collier’s policy changes were in such sharp relief from the previous Federal policies that they antagonized even those interested in Indian reform. Those who had supported assimilation from the beginning also were unwilling to quietly suffer this policy revolution for long, and they compiled evidence against Collier on the charge of trying to strip Indians of what little “progress” they had made. Even Senator Burton Wheeler, who had co-sponsored the bill, became opposed to the reality unleashed by the IRA, and proposed another bill in 1937 to repeal the Indian Reorganization Act. Only pressure from groups such as the Indian Rights Association stayed the hand of Congress. However, Commissioner Collier spent countless hours before congressional committees arguing against deep reductions in the appropriations promised in the IRA. Appropriations to fulfill various requirements of the Act were often cut as a circuitous way to frustrate the intent of the law. Collier spent the last half of his time in office trying to protect what gains he had made from congressional and Christian reformist pressure.

Indian involvement in World War II led many to believe that Indians could succeed off the reservation, and that only by taking their place in American society as average Americans could economic independence come to the Indians. House Resolution 1113 was introduced to emancipate Indian veterans from all trust restrictions. Despite all of Collier’s New Deal programs, reservations remained sinkholes of poverty, with little or no access to education, healthcare, modern amenities, or jobs. Thousands of Indians had worked in war industries or served in the military. The exposure to war industries had brought some Indians the training and experience to begin to participate in manufacturing and technical trades.

World War II also had another effect on Indian affairs. The headquarters for the Bureau of Indian Affairs was moved from Washington to Chicago in 1941 to provide office space for wartime programs in the capital. This action made it difficult for personnel in the bureau to work or consult with other departments in the federal bureaucracy. Experienced bureau personnel were either transferred to war agencies or went into the service. The national attention was focused on the war effort, and concern for Indians was understandably shunted aside. There were 100 vacancies for doctors and nearly 200 for nurses by 1944, and Collier complained that the Bureau could not “provide Indians even the most essential medical care.” By Collier’s resignation in January 1945, the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget was smaller than in 1932.

Ultimately, Indian reaction to Collier’s policies was also mixed. Yet, during Collier’s tenure, Indians learned at least one lesson: Collier was right in urging Indians to unite in order to make their voices heard. Indians responded to the conflicts during this time by forming their own advocacy groups to promote their divergent views. The American Indian Federation was founded by Joseph Bruner to advocate policies that would lead to the acculturation of Indians and the dismantlement of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This group was particularly strong among predominantly assimilated Indians in eastern Oklahoma. The AIF was controversial because its leader associated with the pro-Nazi German-American Bund. Nonetheless, its vociferous demands to liberate Indians from wardship and abolish the Bureau of Indian Affairs received much sympathy from assimilationist members of congress. Indians in California were also critical of the IRA and Collier’s inability to adjust his proposals to Indian realities when they clashed with his idealized vision of Indian culture. Other Indians, however, used the opportunities presented by the IRA to organize themselves at a level higher than the traditional band or village and wrest at least some power from the federal bureaucrats and reservation superintendents who had manipulated them for so long. The National Congress of American Indians was established in 1944 to fight for Indian rights and self-determination. This group was made up of tribal leaders who had gained experience in the political structures christened by the IRA. Historian Francis Prucha credits the Indian congresses Collier organized while promoting the Wheeler-Howard bill with providing the impetus for pan-Indian groups such as the NCAI and even the AIF.

Collier himself ultimately became an issue congressmen used to threaten funding for Indian programs. Collier resigned as commissioner of Indian Affairs in January 1945 when the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior Department Appropriations hinted that Bureau funding would be drastically reduced in 1946 if a new commissioner were not in place. Despite his high ideals, Collier had been only partially successful during the nearly twelve years he held his post. Chief among his successes was the reversal of the Dawes Act. His encouragement of Indian attempts to organize themselves was fortuitous in preparing Indians for the challenges that would nearly destroy many tribes in the twenty years after World War II. It was organization that allowed a minority numbering just over 345,000 to gain the attention that Indians did. However, the problems that dominated reservation life could certainly not be addressed during the depths of the Great Depression. The advent of the Second World War provided Indians with an opportunity to leave the reservations, which ironically weakened Collier’s case that Indians could only succeed through strengthening their communities.

The next part of this will be published on March 11 and can be found here:

Overview of the Scopes trial

Overview of the Scopes Trial

The early 1920s found social patterns in chaos. Traditionalists, the older Victorians, worried that everything valuable was ending. Younger modernists no longer asked whether society would approve of their behavior, only whether their behavior met the approval of their intellect. Intellectual experimentation flourished. Americans danced to the sound of the Jazz Age, showed their contempt for alcoholic prohibition, debated abstract art and Freudian theories. In a response to the new social patterns set in motion by modernism, a wave of revivalism developed, becoming especially strong in the American South.

Who would dominate American culture–the modernists or the traditionalists? Journalists were looking for a showdown, and they found one in a Dayton, Tennessee courtroom in the summer of 1925. There a jury was to decide the fate of John Scopes, a high school biology teacher charged with illegally teaching the theory of evolution. The guilt or innocence of John Scopes, and even the constitutionality of Tennessee’s anti-evolution statute, mattered little. The meaning of the trial emerged through its interpretation as a conflict of social and intellectual values.

William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic candidate for President and a populist, led a Fundamentalist crusade to banish Darwin’s theory of evolution from American classrooms. Bryan’s motivation for mounting the crusade is unclear. It is possible that Bryan, who cared deeply about equality, worried that Darwin’s theories were being used by supporters of a growing eugenics movement that was advocating sterilization of “inferior stock.” More likely, the Great Commoner came to his cause both out a concern that the teaching of evolution would undermine traditional values he had long supported and because he had a compelling desire to remain in the public spotlight–a spotlight he had occupied since his famous “Cross of Gold” speech at the 1896 Democratic Convention. Bryan, in the words of columnist H. L. Mencken, who covered the Scopes Trial, transformed himself into a “sort of Fundamentalist Pope.” By 1925, Bryan and his followers had succeeded in getting legislation introduced in fifteen states to ban the teaching of evolution. In February, Tennessee enacted a bill introduced by John Butler making it unlawful “to teach any theory that denies the story of divine creation as taught by the Bible and to teach instead that man was descended from a lower order of animals.”

The Scopes Trial had its origins in a conspiracy at Fred Robinson’s drugstore in Dayton. George Rappalyea, a 31-year-old transplanted New Yorker and local coal company manager, arrived at the drugstore with a copy of a paper containing an American Civil Liberties Union announcement that it was willing to offer its services to anyone challenging the new Tennessee anti-evolution statute. Rappalyea, a modernist Methodist with contempt for the new law, argued to other town leaders that a trial would be a way of putting Dayton on the map. Listening to Rappalyea, the others–including School Superintendent Walter White–became convinced that publicity generated by a controversial trial might help their town, whose population had fallen from 3,000 in the 1890’s to 1,800 in 1925.

The conspirators summoned John Scopes, a twenty-four-year old general science teacher and part-time football coach, to the drugstore. As Scopes later described the meeting, Rappalyea said, “John, we’ve been arguing and I said nobody could teach biology without teaching evolution.” Scopes agreed. “That’s right,” he said, pulling a copy of Hunter’s Civic Biology–the state-approved textbook–from one of the shelves of the drugstore (the store also sold school textbooks). “You’ve been teaching ’em this book?” Rappalyea asked. Scopes replied that while filling in for the regular biology teacher during an illness, he had assigned readings on evolution from the book for review purposes. “Then you’ve been violating the law,” Rappalyea concluded. “Would you be willing to stand for a test case?” he asked. Scopes agreed. He later explained his decision: “the best time to scotch the snake is when it starts to wiggle.” Herbert and Sue Hicks, two local attorneys and friends of Scopes, agreed to prosecute.

Rappalyea initially wanted science fiction writer H. G. Wells to head the defense team. “I am sure that in the interest of science Mr. Wells will consent,” Rappalyea predicted. Wells had no interest in taking the case, but others did. John Neal, an eccentric law school dean from Knoxville, drove to Dayton and volunteered to represent Scopes. When William Jennings Bryan offered to join the prosecution team–despite having not practiced law in over thirty years–, Clarence Darrow, approaching seventy, jumped to join the battle in Dayton. Darrow was not the first choice of the ACLU, who was concerned that Darrow’s zealous agnosticism might turn the trial into a broadside attack on religion.The ACLU first preferred former presidential candidates John W. Davies and Charles Evans Hughes, but neither was willing to serve alongside Darrow. Instead, it dispatched Arthur Garfield Hays, a prominent free speech advocate, to join the defense team. The final member of the defense team was Dudley Field Malone, an international divorce attorney (and another volunteer who the ACLU might have preferred to stay at home). Completing the prosecution team in Dayton were present and former attorneys general for Eastern Tennessee, A. T. Stewart and Ben B. McKenzie, and Bryan’s son, federal prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, Jr.

A carnival atmosphere pervaded Dayton as the opening of the trial approached in July of 1925. Banners decorated the streets. Lemonade stands were set up. Chimpanzees, said to have been brought to town to testify for the prosecution, performed in a side show on Main Street. Anti- Evolution League members sold copies of T. T. Martin’s book Hell and the High School. Holy rollers rolled in the surrounding hills and riverbanks.

Nearly a thousand people, 300 of whom were standing, jammed the Rhea County Courthouse on July 10, 1925 for the first day of trial. (Judge John T. Raulston, the presiding judge in the Scopes Trial, had proposed moving the trial under a tent that would have seated 20,000 people). Also in attendance were announcers ready to send to listeners the first live radio broadcast from a trial. Judge Raulston, a conservative Christian who craved publicity, was flanked by two police officers waving huge fans to keep air circulating. The proceedings opened, over Darrow’s objections, to a prayer.

A jury of twelve men, including ten (mostly middle-aged) farmers and eleven regular church-goers, was quickly selected. The trial adjourned for the weekend. On Sunday, William Jennings Bryan delivered the sermon at Dayton’s Methodist Church. He used the occasion to attack the defense strategy in the Scopes case. As Bryan spoke, Judge Raulston and his entire family listened attentively from their front pew seats.

On the first business day of trial, the defense moved to quash the indictment on both state and federal constitutional grounds. This move was at the heart of the defense strategy. The defense’s goal was not to win acquittal for John Scopes, but rather to obtain a declaration by a higher court–preferably the U.S. Supreme Court–that laws forbidding the teaching of evolution were unconstitutional. (That goal, however, would not be realized for another 43 years, in the case of Epperson v. Arkansas ). As expected, Judge Raulston denied the defense motion.

Clarence Darrow (left) and William Jennings Bryan (right) at the trial.

Opening statements pictured the trial as a titanic struggle between good and evil or truth and ignorance. Bryan claimed that “if evolution wins, Christianity goes.” Darrow argued, “Scopes isn’t on trial; civilization is on trial.” The prosecution, Darrow contended, was “opening the doors for a reign of bigotry equal to anything in the Middle Ages.” To the gasps of spectators, Darrow said Bryan was responsible for the “foolish, mischievous and wicked act.” Darrow said that the anti-evolution law made the Bible “the yardstick to measure every man’s intellect, to measure every man’s intelligence, to measure every man’s learning.” It was classic Darrow, and the press–mostly sympathetic to the defense–loved it.

The prosecution opened its case by asking the court to take judicial notice of the Book of Genesis, as it appears in the King James version. It did. Superintendent White led off the prosecution’s list of witnesses with his testimony that John Scopes had admitted teaching about evolution from Hunter’s Civic Biology. Chief Prosecutor Tom Stewart then asked seven students in Scope’s class a series of questions about his teachings. They testified that Scopes told them that man and all other mammals had evolved from one-celled organism. Darrow cross-examined–gently, though with obvious sarcasm–the students, asking freshman Howard Morgan: “Well, did he tell you anything else that was wicked?” “No, not that I can remember,” Howard answered. After drugstore owner Fred Robinson took the stand to testify as to Scope’s statement that “any teacher in the state who was teaching Hunter’s Biology was violating the law,” the prosecution rested. It was a simple case.

On Thursday, July 16, the defense called its first witness, Dr. Maynard Metcalf, a zoologist from the Johns Hopkins University. The prosecution objected, arguing that the testimony was irrelevant to Scopes’ guilt or innocence under the statue. Before ruling the prosecution’s evidence, Judge Raulston decided to hear some of Dr. Metcalf’s testimony about the theory of evolution. The testimony evoked Bryan’s only extended speech of the trial. Bryan mocked Metcalf’s exposition of the theory of evolution, complaining that the evolutionists had man descending “not even from American monkeys, but Old World monkeys.” Dudley Malone countered for the defense, arguing in a thundering voice that the prosecution’s position was borne of the same ignorance “which made it possible for theologians…to bring Old Galilee to trial.” It was a powerful speech. Anti-evolution lawmaker John Butler called it “the finest speech of the century.” Members of the press gave Malone a standing ovation and most courtroom spectators joined in the sustained applause. The next day, Raulston ruled the defense’s expert testimony inadmissible.

Raulston’s ruling angered Darrow. He said he could not understand why “every suggestion of the prosecution should meet with an endless waste of time, and a bare suggestion of anything that is perfectly competent on our part should be immediately overruled.” Raulston asked Darrow, “I hope you do not mean to reflect upon the court?” Darrow’s reply: “Well, your honor has the right to hope.” Raulston responded, “I have the right to do something else.” The insult earned Darrow a contempt finding, which was later dropped when Darrow, to a big hand from spectators, apologized for his remark. Darrow and Raulston shook hands.

After expressing concern that the courtroom floor might collapse from the weight of the many spectators, Raulston transferred the proceedings to the lawn outside the courthouse. There, facing the jury, hung a sign–attached to the courthouse wall– reading, “Read Your Bible.” Darrow asked either that the sign be removed or that a second sign of equal size saying “Read Your Evolution” be put up along with it. Raulston ordered the sign removed. Before a crowd that had swelled to about 5,000, the defense read into the record, for purpose of appellate review, excerpts from the prepared statements of eight scientists and four experts on religion who had been prepared to testify. The statements of the experts were widely reported by the press, helping Darrow succeed in his efforts to turn the trial into a national biology lesson.

On the seventh day of trial, Raulston asked the defense if it had any more evidence. What followed was what the New York Times described as “the most amazing court scene on Anglo-Saxon history.” Hays asked that William Jennings Bryan be called to the stand as an expert on the Bible. Bryan assented, stipulating only that he should have a chance to interrogate the defense lawyers. Bryan, dismissing the concerns of his prosecution colleagues, took a seat on the witness stand, and began fanning himself.

Darrow began his interrogation of Bryan with a quiet question: “You have given considerable study to the Bible, haven’t you, Mr. Bryan?” Bryan replied, “Yes, I have. I have studied the Bible for about fifty years.” Thus began a series of questions designed to undermine a literalist interpretation of the Bible. Bryan was asked about a whale swallowing Jonah, Joshua making the sun stand still, Noah and the great flood, the temptation of Adam in the garden of Eden, and the creation according to Genesis. After initially contending that “everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there,” Bryan finally conceded that the words of the Bible should not always be taken literally. In response to Darrow’s relentless questions as to whether the six days of creation, as described in Genesis, were twenty-four hour days, Bryan said “My impression is that they were periods.”

Bryan, who began his testimony calmly, stumbled badly under Darrow’s persistent prodding. At one point the exasperated Bryan said, “I do not think about things I don’t think about.” Darrow asked, “Do you think about the things you do think about?” Bryan responded, to the derisive laughter of spectators, “Well, sometimes.” Both old warriors grew testy as the examination continued. Bryan accused Darrow of attempting to “slur at the Bible.” He said that he would continue to answer Darrow’s impertinent questions because “I want the world to know that this man, who does not believe in God, is trying to use a court in Tennessee–.” Darrow interrupted his witness by saying, “I object to your statement” and to “your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.” After that outburst, Raulston ordered the court adjourned. The next day, Raulston ruled that Bryan could not return to the stand and that his testimony the previous day should be stricken from evidence.

The confrontation between Bryan and Darrow was reported by the press as a defeat for Bryan. According to one historian, “As a man and as a legend, Bryan was destroyed by his testimony that day.” His performance was described as that of “a pitiable, punch drunk warrior.” Darrow, however, has also not escaped criticism. Alan Dershowitz, for example, contended that the celebrated defense attorney “comes off as something of an anti-religious cynic.”

The trial was nearly over. Darrow asked the jury to return a verdict of guilty in order that the case might be appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Under Tennessee law, Bryan was thereby denied the opportunity to deliver a closing speech he had labored over for weeks. The jury complied with Darrow’s request, and Judge Raulston fined him $100.

Six days after the trial, William Jennings Bryan was still in Dayton. After eating an enormous dinner, he lay down to take a nap and died in his sleep. Clarence Darrow was hiking in the Smoky Mountains when word of Bryan’s death reached him. When reporters suggested to him that Bryan died of a broken heart, Darrow said “Broken heart nothing; he died of a busted belly.” In a louder voice he added, “His death is a great loss to the American people.”

A year later, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Dayton court on a technicality–not the constitutional grounds as Darrow had hoped. According to the court, the fine should have been set by the jury, not Raulston. Rather than send the case back for further action, however, the Tennessee Supreme Court dismissed the case. The court commented, “Nothing is to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case.”

The Scopes trial by no means ended the debate over the teaching of evolution, but it did represent a significant setback for the anti-evolution forces. Of the fifteen states with anti- evolution legislation pending in 1925, only two states (Arkansas and Mississippi) enacted laws restricting teaching of Darwin’s theory.

Tennessee Evolution Statutes

Note the date on each law…

Tennessee Evolution Statutes








House Bill No. 185

(By Mr. Butler)

AN ACT prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof.

Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

Section 2. Be it further enacted, That any teacher found guilty of the violation of this Act, Shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction, shall be fined not less than One Hundred $ (100.00) Dollars nor more than Five Hundred ($ 500.00) Dollars for each offense.

Section 3. Be it further enacted, That this Act take effect from and after its passage, the public welfare requiring it.

Passed March 13, 1925

W. F. Barry, Speaker of the House of Representatives

L. D. Hill, Speaker of the Senate

Approved March 21, 1925.

Austin Peay, Governor.










House Bill No. 48

(By Smith, Galbreath, Bradley)


(By Elam)

AN ACT to repeal Section 498 – 1922, Tennessee Code Annotated, prohibiting the teaching of evolution.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee :

Section 1. Section 49 – 1922, Tennessee Code Annotated, is repealed.

Section 2. This Act shall take effect September 1, 1967.

Passed : May 13, 1967

James H. Cummings, Speaker of the House of Representatives

Frank C. Gorrell, Speaker of the Senate

Approved : May 17, 1967.

Buford Ellington, Governor.