Tag Archives: William Jennings Bryan

Looking for John Washington Butler and Finding Johnny Cash

2 Jun

The Scopes Monkey Trial is one of my favorite topics to discuss with students, and it ranks high for several reasons. First, it took place in Tennessee, and it is important for them to know that not all important events happen in faraway places. Second, it was a debate between religion and science, and that debate continues ninety years later. Third, it is an interesting story with interesting people.

When we talk about the trial, a few people tend to stand out. William Jennings Bryan had been a leader in the Democratic Party for thirty years and saw this as one last fight for ordinary citizens. Clarence Darrow was the most famous lawyer in the country and also viewed himself as a defender of the people. John Scopes was a high school teacher and coach who agreed to a publicity stunt and ended up with his name in the history books.

Of course, a lot of other people played important roles, and I try to talk about as many as possible. However, there is one person who played a vital role who tends to get skimmed over.

A lot of time is spent on the Butler Act, the law that banned the teaching of evolution, but little time is spent on its author, John Washington Butler. I know from an episode of American Experience that he was a member of the Tennessee legislature and that he represented the counties of Macon, Sumner and Trousdale, all of which are just across the Cumberland River from where I am sitting. However, that is about it.

With that in mind, I went looking for John Washington Butler. First, I wanted a picture of him and found it at findagrave.com.Butler

Then, I did what I tell my students not to do. I went to Wikipedia and found an article that was three sentences long. Obviously, that did not provide much information. However, there is one thing useful about Wikipedia. The sources at the bottom of the articles can be valuable.

Butler’s page has two links. The first is an entry by Jeanette Keith in The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. It is a short sketch of the man and provides some insight into why he pushed for the ban on teaching evolution. I know this is a good place to find information because I wrote an article about a local sportswriter for the online encyclopedia.

The second source links to an article by Doug Linder for the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. It goes into great detail about Butler’s life and political career. It also describes the morning when Butler wrote the bill in his home.

My problem is that I do not know where the writer got this information. There are a few notes, but they do not provide much help. Also, there is another issue that may have been an accident but may also lead to questions about this article. When describing the trial, the following is written.

Sue Hicks, a local member of the prosecution team, ridicules the defense claim of unconstitutionality. It is “perfectly ridiculous to say,” Hicks says, “that a teacher…can go in and teach any kind of doctrine he wants.” What if, she wondered, a teacher hired to teach arithmetic decided he would rather teach architecture?

I highlighted the pronoun because Sue Hicks was a man. Legend states that he was the inspiration for “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash. The story goes that the writer, Shel Silverstein, attended a speech by Hicks and was inspired to write the song.

That is an interesting story, but it has gotten me off subject. After my search for John Washington Butler, I know more than when I started. I know what he looks like. I know some things about his life and his career. However, I do not know as much as the Internet would like for me to believe.

 

D.C. Road Trip – A Lot of Statues and One Chandelier

23 Jul

We rose bright and early on Thursday because we had an appointment to keep. We were scheduled to meet at the office of our congressional representative, Diane Black, and a member of her staff was going to lead us on a tour of the Capitol. After a short cab ride, we found ourselves at the entrance of one of the several congressional office buildings. I was expecting a long wait through security, but it was easier than I expected. There was a metal detector, but that was about it. Heck, I thought it was harder to get the elevator to work at our hotel.

From the office, we made our way through the tunnel to the Capitol. People were hustling and busting, and I realized something. The vast majority were in their 20s. I came to the conclusion that our government is actually run by young people who have the drive and energy to do it.

The tour of the Capitol was awesome and was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We saw scars from where the British burned the building during the War of 1812. We also saw a chandelier that began its life in a whorehouse before being moved to a Methodist church. Finally, it made its way full circle to our nation’s Capitol. It started in a place where they screw people for their money and ended up in the same type of place.image-13

The old chambers of the House and Senate were also cool. I wanted to see the place where Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was almost beaten to death, and, suddenly, there we were.

The rotunda was interesting, but I really liked the statues scattered throughout the building. Each state submits two statues of people who are important to them. There were a lot of presidents, but there was also Helen Keller and a Native American leader. Tennessee’s entries are Andrew Jackson and John Sevier, two men who were not fond of each other.

However, there were also statues of other people who were important in Tennessee history.

Texas offered a statue of Sam Houston, who served as governor of Tennessee. Also, his first law office was in Lebanon.image-14

Nebraska had a statue of William Jennings Bryan, who died in Tennessee after serving as the prosecutor in the Scopes Monkey Trial.image-15

Without a doubt, the highlight of the visit was sitting in the gallery and watching the House of Representatives at work. As we looked down upon them, a few things went through my mind.

The room is a lot smaller than I imagined.

This is the room where Franklin Roosevelt made the “Infamy Speech.”

The House of Representatives is chaotic. We watched them take two votes, and hardly anyone was sitting down. They were walking around. They were standing in front of the speaker’s stand and talking. Kids were on the floor. Staff members were in and out. It was in complete disarray.

Most members of the House are anonymous. Most people probably know their own representative and others in their state, but that is about it. Heck, we sit close to the Kentucky border, and I could not tell you who any of their people are. Except for a few in leadership positions, no one really knows who these people are.

After watching them for a while, we decided to walk down the hall and watch the Senate. This is when we discovered why our government cannot get anything done. We had to leave our belongings in a room before going to the House chamber. However, we could not get to the Senate without first going back to get our stuff and turning it in again at the Senate holding room.

Understand? Me neither. We had to go back downstairs; get our stuff; turn it in at a different location; then go to the Senate. Ridiculous.

Then, we got to the Senate chamber and watched one guy give a speech to an empty room.

We left the Capitol and made our way to a sandwich shop for lunch. Then, we walked across the street to the Library of Congress.

Did I say walk? This is when we realized that walking to everything was not going to be as easy as we thought. The Mall is a huge expanse, and things that look close on the map may not be close in reality. With a busy morning behind us, we decided to take a cab to the hotel and rest up before dinner, which was at a cool South American restaurant. My wife and I both had mojitos with huge pieces of sugar cane sticking out of them. Nothing like a drink with a hunk of wood-like stuff.

After dinner, we walked to the Mall to see the monuments at night. We had heard that this is the best time to look at them. Several things stuck with me.

People play kickball and softball around the Washington Monument. I had never thought of it as a big recreational area, but that is what it is.

The World War II Memorial is amazing.image-18

The water in front of the Lincoln Memorial is huge, but it is also where Captain America met Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Tons of people want to see the Lincoln Memorial and will risk their lives for it. We saw one woman wreck a Segway. However, I can understand why. It is an inspiring experience.image-16

The Vietnam Memorial is behind a bathroom. We lost the people we were with when we thought they went to the bathroom. Actually, they were going to the Wall.

The Korean War Memorial is the one I most wanted to see, and I was not disappointed. Seeing the soldier statues glowing in the night was a haunting experience.image-17

With that, we caught a cab back to the hotel. My stepdaughter went to the room while my wife and I hung out in the lobby to make sure the rest of our gang made it back.

If You Missed the Trial of the Century, Then Wait. There Will Be Another One Soon.

17 Jun

June 17, 1994 – I was at a Bluegrass festival being held at the Ward Ag Center in Lebanon. Porter Wagoner was the emcee, and I have no idea why because he was not a Bluegrass artists. Jim and Jesse performed, but I cannot remember who else was on the docket.

Why remember a long ago Bluegrass festival? Because word filtered through the crowd that O.J. Simpson, whose wife had been brutally murdered with her friend a few days earlier, was leading a low-speed chase through the freeways of Los Angeles. Helicopters were hovering over the white Bronco as O.J. and Al made their way through the city.White Bronco

As millions of people were mesmerized by the chase, I was listening to some of that good old mountain music. Through the years, I have seen the documentaries and the reruns, but the live version went on without me. In those days, you could not even bring it up on your phone. I know that is hard to imagine.

Of course, the events of that week led to a nationwide fascination with the case and the trial that found O.J not guilty. It was known as the Trial of the Century because everyone had an opinion.

This post could be about a lot of things. It could be about collective memory and the notion that everyone can remember where they were when a high event happened. It could be about the verdict and the opinions that followed. However, it is not about those things. It is about the fact that there was more than one Trial of the Century.

Everyone who remembers the O.J. Simpson trial thinks that it is the biggest legal event that ever happened. That know Judge Lance Ito. They know that it was the first time they ever heard the name Kardashian. However, there were earlier trials just as huge and just as fascinating to the general public.

1924 – The Leopold and Loeb Trial

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were students at the University of Chicago School of Law who wanted to commit the perfect crime. Together, they spent months planning the crime and murdered Bobby Franks, a 14 year-old boy. Clarence Darrow was hired to defend them, but his real job was to keep them away from the death penalty.

Loeb was killed in prison, and Leopold was released after serving 33 years.

1925 – The Scopes Monkey Trial

Tennessee outlawed the teaching of Evolution in public schools, and business leaders in Dayton decided to use that to gain some publicity. They “arrested” John Scopes for teaching the theory and sent word that a trial was to be held. It grew into more than they could have imagined with William Jennings Bryan agreed to serve as prosecution and Darrow agreed to be the defense.

The trial was broadcast on radio throughout the nation and became a fight between the forces of religion and the forces of science. Bryan died from the stress of the trial, and Darrow was foiled in his attempt to take the case to the Supreme Court. A technicality overturned the guilty verdict.

1935 – The Lindbergh Baby Trial

Charles Lindbergh was the first person to fly a plane non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. This gained him more fame than he could have ever dreamed of. It also brought tragedy. His child, less than 2 years-old, was abducted, and ransom was demanded. There was an attempt to pay the money, but the child’s body was found a few miles from the Lindbergh home.

It seemed that everyone got in on the investigation, and suspicions finally fell on Richard Hauptmann, who was tried, sentenced and executed.

There have been numerous theories about this case. Did Hauptmann do it? Did the real killer get away with it? As the trial was going on, millions of people wanted to know.

Americans are fascinated by crimes. Heck, how many times a week does a crime get solved in an hour on some television show. However, those shows cannot compare to the real thing, and the public latches on to these stories as if they were “made for TV.” I guess those early ones were “made for radio.”

With that curiosity, we can be certain that there will be Trials of This Century just like there were Trials of the Last Century. Actually, we have already had one. I wonder what ever happened to Casey Anthony.