Bryan–who was running for president on the Democratic ticket–believed the Republican party had become imperialistic. In other words, he believed the Republicans wanted to turn America into an empire. One example of this imperialism was the Republicans’ attitude toward the Philippines. As a congressman, three-time presidential nominee and secretary of state, he was among the most accomplished politicians of his time. He was a populist who believed strongly in the wisdom of the common man, and he fought against policies that favored the wealthy and powerful. He was a pacifist who resigned as secretary of state when the US entered World War I. He toured the country tirelessly, campaigning for the causes he favored, and became a hero to many ordinary Americans.
Today even Bryan’s defenders seem to accept the religious part of his legacy and forget the rest. Conservatives revere him. A bible college in Dayton, Tennessee, where the Scopes trial took place, is named for Bryan, and the courthouse where the case was tried has a statue of him. Although the trial of John Scopes was supposed to focus narrowly on whether the Butler Act had been violated, it quickly spiraled into a national media event. People arrived from every part of the country often with their own agendas and axes to grind. It soon became a trial pitting evolutionists against creationists. Clarence Darrow, attorney for the defense wanted to test the constitutionality of the Butler Act, but Dayton, Tennessee was not the place to do it because the question to be answered there was ‘Has the law been violated?
Did John Scopes teach evolutionary theory to his students?’ The test of constitutionality would have to come later on appeal should the defendant be found guilty. It is not surprising then that when time came for the Defense’s closing statement, Darrow asked the judge to find the defendant guilty and to dispense with both closing statements. It is said that William Jennings Bryan had worked for weeks on his offering and, justifiable disappointment aside, once the defense had asked for a guilty verdict, any final remarks from him would have served no useful purpose. Darrow’s own words to the judge: ‘We have all been here quite a while and I say it in perfectly good faith, we have no witnesses to offer, no proof to offer on the issues that the Court has laid down here, that Mr. Scopes did teach what the children said he taught, that man descended from a lower order of animals — we do not mean to contradict that, and I think to save time we will ask the Court to bring in the jury and instruct the jury to find the defendant guilty. We make no objection to that and it will save a lot of time and I think that should be done. (p. 306 of the trial transcript)’
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