The Scopes Trial: Malone the Victor, Even Though Court Sides with Opponents, Says Mencken, by H.L. Mencken, The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 17, 1925

Dayton, Tenn., July 17. -- Though the court decided against him this morning, and the testimony of the experts summoned for the defense will be banned out of the trial of the infidel Scopes, it was Dudley Field Malone who won yesterday's great battle of rhetoricians. When he got upon his legs it was the universal assumption in the courtroom that Judge Raulston's mind was already made up, and that nothing that any lawyer for the defense could say would shake him. But Malone unquestionably shook him. He was, at the end, in plain doubt, and he showed it by his questions. It took a night's repose to restore him to normalcy. The prosecution won, but it came within an inch of losing.

Malone was put up to follow and dispose of Bryan, and he achieved the business magnificently. I doubt that any louder speech has ever been heard in a court of law since the days of Gog and Magog. It roared out of the open windows like the sound of artillery practice, and alarmed the moonshiners and catamounts on distant peaks. Trains thundering by on the nearby railroad sounded faint and far away and when, toward the end, a table covered with standing and gaping journalists gave way with a crash, the noise seemed, by contrast, to be no more than a pizzicato chord upon a viola da gamba. The yokels outside stuffed their Bibles into the loud-speaker horns and yielded themselves joyously to the impact of the original. In brief, Malone was in good voice. It was a great day for Ireland. And for the defense. For Malone not only out-yelled Bryan, he also plainly out-generaled and out-argued him. His speech, indeed, was one of the best presentations of the case against the fundamentalist rubbish that I have ever heard.

It was simple in structure, it was clear in reasoning, and at its high points it was overwhelmingly eloquent. It was not long, but it covered the whole ground and it let off many a gaudy skyrocket, and so it conquered even the fundamentalists. At its end they gave it a tremendous cheer --a cheer at least four times as hearty as that given to Bryan. For these rustics delight in speechifying, and know when it is good. The devil's logic cannot fetch them, but they are not above taking a voluptuous pleasure in his lascivious phrases.

The whole speech was addressed to Bryan, and he sat through it in his usual posture, with his palm-leaf fan flapping energetically and his hard, cruel mouth shut tight. The old boy grows more and more pathetic. He has aged greatly during the past few years and begins to look elderly and enfeebled. All that remains of his old fire is now in his black eyes. They glitter like dark gems, and in their glitter there is immense and yet futile malignancy. That is all that is left of the Peerless Leader of thirty years ago. Once he had one leg in the White House and the nation trembled under his roars. Now he is a tinpot pope in the coca-cola belt and a brother to the forlorn pastors who belabor half-wits in galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards. His own speech was a grotesque performance and downright touching in its imbecility. Its climax came when he launched into a furious denunciation of the doctrine that man is a mammal. It seemed a sheer impossibility that any literate man should stand up in public and discharge any such nonsense. Yet the poor old fellow did it. Darrow stared incredulous. Malone sat with his mouth wide open. Hays indulged himself one of his sardonic chuckles. Stewart and Bryan fils looked extremely uneasy, but the old mountebank ranted on. To call a man a mammal, it appeared, was to flout the revelation of God. The certain effect of the doctrine would be to destroy morality and promote infidelity. The defense let it pass. The lily needed no gilding.

There followed some ranting about the Leopold-Loeb case, culminating in the argument that learning was corrupting -- that the colleges by setting science above Genesis were turning their students into murderers. Bryan alleged that Darrow had admitted the fact in his closing speech at the Leopold-Loeb trial, and stopped to search for the passage in a printed copy of the speech. Darrow denied making any such statement, and presently began reading what he actually had said on the subject. Bryan then proceeded to denounce Nietzsche, whom he described as an admirer and follower of Darwin. Darrow challenged the fact and offered to expound what Nietzsche really taught. Bryan waved him off.

The effect of the whole harangue was extremely depressing. It quickly ceased to be an argument addressed to the court -- Bryan, in fact, constantly said "My friends" instead of "Your Honor" -- and became a sermon at the camp-meeting. All the familiar contentions of the Dayton divines appeared in it -- that learning is dangerous, that nothing is true that is not in the Bible, that a yokel who goes to church regularly knows more than any scientist ever heard of. The thing went to fantastic lengths. It became a farrago of puerilities without coherence or sense. I don't think the old man did himself justice. He was in poor voice and his mind seemed to wander. There was far too much hatred in him for him to be persuasive.

The crowd, of course, was with him. It has been fed upon just such balderdash for years. Its pastors assault it twice a week with precisely the same nonsense. It is chronically in the position of a populace protected by an espionage act In time of war. That is to say, it is forbidden to laugh at the arguments of one side and forbidden to hear the case of the other side. Bryan has been roving around in the tall grass for years and he knows the bucolic mind. He knows how to reach and inflame its basic delusions and superstitions. He has taken them into his own stock and adorned them with fresh absurdities. Today he may well stand as the archetype of the American rustic. His theology is simply the elemental magic that is preached in a hundred thousand rural churches fifty-two times a year.

These Tennessee mountaineers are not more stupid than the city proletariat; they are only less informed. If Darrow, Malone and Hays could make a month's stumping tour in Rhea county I believe that fully a fourth of the population would repudiate fundamentalism, and that not a few of the clergy now in practice would be restored to their old jobs on the railroad. Malone's speech yesterday probably shook a great many true believers; another like it would fetch more than one of them. But the chances are heavily against them ever hearing a second. Once this trial is over, the darkness will close in again, and it will take long years of diligent and thankless effort to dispel it -- if, indeed, it is ever dispelled at all.

With a few brilliant exceptions -- Dr. Neal is an example -- the more civilized Tennesseeans show few signs of being equal to the job. I suspect that politics is what keeps them silent and makes their State ridiculous. Most of them seem to be candidates for office, and a candidate for office, if he would get the votes of fundamentalists, must bawl for Genesis before he begins to bawl for anything else. A typical Tennessee politician is the Governor, Austin Peay. He signed the anti-evolution bill with loud hosannas, and he is now making every effort to turn the excitement of the Scopes trial to his private political uses. The local papers print a telegram that he has sent to Attorney-General A.T. Stewart whooping for prayer. In the North a Governor who indulged in such monkey shines would be rebuked for trying to influence the conduct of a case in court. And he would be derided as a cheap mountebank. But not here.

I described Stewart the other day as a man of apparent education and sense and palpably superior to the village lawyers who sit with him at the trial table. I still believe that I described him accurately. Yet even Stewart toward the close of yesterday's session gave an exhibition that would be almost unimaginable in the North. He began his reply to Malone with an intelligent and forceful legal argument, with plenty of evidence of hard study in it. But presently he slid into a violent theological harangue, full of extravagant nonsense. He described the case as a combat between light and darkness and almost descended to the depths of Bryan. Hays challenged him with a question. Didn't he admit, after all, that the defense had a tolerable case; that it ought to be given a chance to present its evidence? I transcribe his reply literally:

"That which strikes at the very foundations of Christianity is not entitled to a chance."

Hays, plainly astounded by this bald statement of the fundamentalist view of due process, pressed the point. Assuming that the defense would present, not opinion but only unadorned fact, would Stewart still object to its admission? He replied.

"Personally, yes."

"But as a lawyer and Attorney-General?" insisted Hays.

"As a lawyer and Attorney-General," said Stewart, "I am the same man."

Such is justice where Genesis is the first and greatest of law books and heresy is still a crime.