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“Fanaticism and Ignorance is Forever Busy” The Scopes Monkey Trial at 94Years, and Inherit the Wind

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

“As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.” Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) Inherit the Wind

Tomorrow is the 84th Anniversary of the beginning of what became known as the Scopes Monkey Trial which was dramatized in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind. I really do believe that it is well worth watching, especially when a charlatan like Donald Trump, a man with no Christian virtues whatsoever stokes up the hopes of conservative Christians by catering to his base of Conservative Christians who hang on his every word, like a cult, believing that he, through the police power of the state will Christianity great again.

Of course the Christianity that Trump and his followers refers to is not that of Jesus, but that of Constantine and every other strongman who has used the Christians and the church to achieve earthly power and to crush any opposition. Noted televangelists have come to Trump’s side, many like John Hagee saying that Christians that God will punish Christians, that vote against Trump. That is why this film is still so pertinent.

It is fascinating that a play and film set about an incident that actually occurred in the 1920s remains so timeless. It is hard to believe that 90 years after the trial and over 50 years after the movie that our society would still be debating the issue in the movie and that legislatures and school boards are still attempting to pass religious doctrine off as science.

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It is a film about what is commonly called the “Scopes Monkey Trial” which was litigated in July of 1925 and featured an epic battle between populist three time Presidential Candidate and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan and famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow. The film is not completely historically accurate. It was adapted from a play by the same name. It came out following the hysteria of the McCarthy Era, when people were condemned and blacklisted for their freedom of speech, association; frequently on the basis of false testimony against them. However, the film captures the blind hatred of religious bigots the willingly ignorant who object to any belief or theory that threatens their superior position in society.

The trial was brought about after the passage of the Butler Act in Tennessee. It was an act that made it a criminal offense to teach evolution in any publicly funded school. The act stipulated:

“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.”

The author of the act was Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, a farmer and the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association an interdenominational organization dedicated to a “New Protestantism” based on the Pre-Millennial interpretation of Bible prophecy.

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Butler was heavily influenced by William Jennings Bryant who with his followers had gotten legislation banning evolution in 15 states. H.L. Mencken commented that over the years of his public life that Bryant, who had been a progressive advocate had “transformed himself” into some “sort of Fundamentalist Pope.”

Butler was opposed to the teaching of evolution and the act passed the house by a vote of 75-1. No public hearings had been held on it and no debate proffered.

Butler’s legislation did face some opposition in the State Senate. However it passed there on a vote of 24-6 after the famous Fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday preached as series of revival meetings to incite public opinion in favor of the bill. Sunday’s message was clear, he preached that “Education today is chained to the Devil’s throne” and praised Butler and the House for their “action against that God forsaken gang of evolutionary cutthroats.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay, but Peay expected little to come of it.

The American Civil Liberties Union put the law to the test using high school biology teacher John Scopes who was charged with breaking the law. The trial ended up becoming less about the guilt or innocence of Scopes or even the constitutionality of the law, but rather as the field where the conflict between religious and social issues and faith versus intellectualism was fought. Butler, the man who legislated the law on religious grounds covered it as a correspondent.

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Mencken wrote of the trial:

“The Scopes trial, from the start, has been carried on in a manner exactly fitted to the anti- evolution law and the simian imbecility under it. There hasn’t been the slightest pretense to decorum. The rustic judge, a candidate for re-election, has postured the yokels like a clown in a ten-cent side show, and almost every word he has uttered has been an undisguised appeal to their prejudices and superstitions. The chief prosecuting attorney, beginning like a competent lawyer and a man of self-respect, ended like a convert at a Billy Sunday revival. It fell to him, finally, to make a clear and astounding statement of theory of justice prevailing under fundamentalism. What he said, in brief, was that a man accused of infidelity had no rights whatever under Tennessee law…”

It was an epic event covered by news outlets across the nation and the atmosphere in the town outside the courthouse was circus like, something that the movie depicts very well. The defense was not allowed to produce Scientists as witnesses, even to the chagrin of Butler who despite his opposition to evolutionary theory felt that it was not fair. When all was said and done Scopes had been convicted and a fine of $100 assessed, which was overturned on appeal. Bryan died a week after the trial and of the 15 states with similar legislation to Butler passed them into law.

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The film is based on the play of the same name written in 1950 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It was written during the height of the McCarthy Era and opened in 1955. The first film version starring Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow), Frederic March as Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan), Gene Kelly as E.K. Hornbeck (H.L. Mencken) while Dick York played Bertram Cates (John Scopes). Lawrence and Lee invented some fictional characters including Reverend Brown played by Claude Akins.

The film directed by Stanley Kramer captures the raw emotions of the trial, the participants and the spectators who came from near and far. The depiction of the angry mob of Christians is terrifying to watch. In the film they sing:

“We’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree. Our God is marching on! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Gory Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. We’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, our God is marching on.”

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March’s depiction of Matthew Harrison Brady is riveting. The Brady of the film does not do justice to other parts of Bryan’s life. Bryan, outside his fight against evolution was ahead of his time in many ways. Earlier in his career he had pressed for Universal Suffrage, fought against war and labored against the social Darwinism of the banks, business and the Robber Barons. However the loss of three Presidential elections left him bitter and it is believed that he saw the trial as an opportunity to regain the limelight and perhaps build a base to again run for President. This speech by Brady is a fair characterization of Bryan’s beliefs:

“I have been to their cities and I have seen the altars upon which they sacrifice the futures of their children to the gods of science. And what are their rewards? Confusion and self-destruction. New ways to kill each other in wars. I tell you gentlemen the way of science is the way of darkness.”

The problem with the Bryant of the Scopes Trial was that he was a caricature of his former self, he played to the crowds. The trial played to the worst parts of his character and that shows in the movie depiction. Some Christians find this an unfair portrayal and even call it a lie, however even though March’s portrayal is fictional it does fit the spirit of the trial which is captured in the writings of many of the contemporary commentators of the trial. Mencken wrote of the real Bryan: It is a tragedy, indeed, to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon.

 

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Another of those commentators, Marcet Haldeman-Julius wrote of the real Bryan:

“As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it. No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan’s can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell. At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends. It is anything but a weak face–Bryan’s. But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity. My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion. Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught–that a lie told for the glory of God is justified…”

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But I think that the real drama and tension in the film comes from Spencer Tracy in his portrayal of Drummond. This speech is taken almost verbatim from the trial:

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

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I think that this speech is the real crux of the tension that we face even now. Legislators in a number of States have enacted laws of much the same kind of spirit as Butler and defended them with the same kind of fire as Bryan. Civil libertarians, especially secular ones bring up the same issues as Darrow did. I am a Christian and a Priest and my thinking about this is much like that espoused by Drummond in the movie.

So the film may be a fictional depiction of the Scopes Trial, but it is a film that I think that people would do well to watch. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or the issues that I agree with brought up by the character of Henry Drummond. However, I think that everyone should watch the film and come to their own conclusions as well as to ask themselves how their particular ethic, whether secular or religious informs them in how they deal with this issue and so many others that divide us today.

Bryant’s death, coming a few days after the trial was nowhere as near as dramatic as the death scene in the movie, sometimes fiction makes the story a bit more entertaining.

But the film also gives a warning to cynics like Mencken. After Brady’s death and the trials end there is a fascinating dialogue between Drummond (Darrow) and Hornbeck (Mencken). It is worth watching:

Henry Drummond : My God, don’t you understand the meaning of what happened here today?

E. K. Hornbeck : What happened here has no meaning…

Henry Drummond : YOU have no meaning! You’re like a ghost pointing an empty sleeve and smirking at everything people feel or want or struggle for! I pity you.

E. K. Hornbeck : You pity me?

Henry Drummond : Isn’t there anything? What touches you, what warms you? Every man has a dream. What do you dream about? What… what do you need? You don’t need anything, do you? People, love, an idea, just to cling to? You poor slob! You’re all alone. When you go to your grave, there won’t be anybody to pull the grass up over your head. Nobody to mourn you. Nobody to give a damn. You’re all alone.

E. K. Hornbeck : You’re wrong, Henry. You’ll be there. You’re the type. Who else would defend my right to be lonely?

I just know when I watch it, that it could have been in the news this week, only with a different cast of characters. My concern is that there is a very loud minority that wants to inflict its particular religious view on everyone and use the public treasure to do it. The attitude of many of these people is much like the characters from the actual Scopes Trial including their view that pushes both demonizes those they oppose and their desire to regulate the secular opposition to the sidelines.

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I know that the same accusation is made by religious people of secularists, however I have seen the results of religious wars in Iraq and the Balkans, and from history. Those conflicts and the brutality of religious people in them give me great pause when I see religious and political leaders here suggest curtailing the civil liberties and even using the law against those that they oppose. As Drummond asked in the movie: “Must men go to jail because they find themselves at odds with a self-appointed prophet?”

That is why this film and that trial are still so important, for the very practice of liberty and protection of the First Amendment.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Murder in Lafayette Square, Dan Sickles: Part Two

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break over the next few to read and reflect I am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text dealing with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history: Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Within a year of his assignment Sickles returned to the United States to help prepare the Democratic nomination for his friend Buchanan who had long desired the office, and return to his lucrative post in New York. In the spring of 1856 Sickles began to work on Buchanan’s nomination for the Presidency and while doing so began his own campaign for New York’s Third District’s Congressional seat. Buchanan won the election of 1856 against an opposition divided between the Know Nothing candidacy of former President Millard Fillmore and the candidate of the new Republican Party, John C. Fremont.

In the election of 1856, Sickles carried the district easily. For Sickles it was a triumph, he was “riding a flood tide of political fortune that might carry him far,” [1] and like any wife Teresa too was delighted with the result. Even so, Teresa must have wondered if her husband would mend his ways now that he was on the national spotlight, or if he would continue his extramarital romps around the nation’s capital. Following the election Dan and Teresa moved to Washington D.C. where they took up a fashionable residence, the Stockton Mansion, on Lafayette Square, not far from the White House and Sickles friend, James Buchanan.

Once he was established in Washington Sickles was in his element, politics at its grandest. It was a different style than of politics than Tammany, where brass knuckled force often ruled, but it suited Sickles, who was “a fixer who knew all the tricks of Tammany at its crookedest but who seems not to have taken graft himself. He had his sights fixed on the presidency, and he was making about as much progress in that direction as a Tammany man can,” [2]   until a strange combination of unrequited love, infidelity, the personal betrayal of a friend, and a murder intervened.

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Teresa Sickles

While her husband politicked along the Potomac, the new congressman’s wife was adapting to her life in Washington D.C. The wives were expected to entertain and host parties on a regular basis at their residences, but they also knew their share of loneliness and neglect. Since legislators routinely were “busy with night sessions, committee meetings, and plain nocturnal politicking over whiskey punch, that their wives either accepted other escorts or spent lonely evenings at home with fancywork or a book.” thus it was not surprising that Teresa, “should seek the gayety of the capital in her first year there.” [3] In the absence of their husbands it “was not uncommon for available bachelors to act as escorts for married women when their husbands were unavailable.” [4] Since Dan Sickles was frequently unavailable and since Teresa probably still suspected that Dan was still engaged in extramarital affairs, it is not surprising that the young Mediterranean beauty found comfort in another man.

The years of 1857 and 1858 would be a tumultuous time for the nation as well as the Sickles. Buchanan had been elected because of his stability and moderation in an age of pro and anti-slavery radicalism. However, over the next year his presidency, and his would be overwhelmed by events and Buchanan’s decisions supporting the expansion of slavery. While Sickles was neither a slave owner, nor himself fond of the institution, it was part of life, and many of his friends in Washington D.C. and in Congress were slave holders. Buchanan had schemed before his inauguration with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney in the Dred Scott decision, which was handed down in the days following Buchanan’s inauguration, followed by the fiasco over the Lecompton constitution and the attempted admission of Kansas as a Slave State, an event which split the Democratic party in the 1860 election, ensuring Abraham Lincoln’s defeat of Buchanan’s Lecompton foe in the Senate, Senator Stephen A. Douglas who would have been the prohibitive favorite in the election had the split not occurred.

Likewise, Sickles and his beautiful young wife would become part of one of the most sensational trials of American history, rivaling the Lindbergh kidnapping trial, the trial of O.J. Simpson, the Scopes Monkey Trial, and the Impeachment of President Bill Clinton in its captivation of America. As in London, Teresa became popular and she and Dan were much sought after and their home “became the scene of a gradual number of and entertainments,” [5]and even as Sickles continued his robust politicking and philandering Teresa became the object of another’s affection, the District of Attorney for the District of Columbia, Philip Barton Key, the son Francis Scott key, the writer of the Star Spangled Banner. Interestingly enough it was Sickles who had helped Key the troubled man to be reappointed to his office in early 1857 after Key had helped Sickles overcome legal and financial difficulties to secure Sickles in the Stockton Mansion and the two men developed a warm friendship.

Philip Key was extraordinarily handsome, especially when outfitted in his green and gold militia uniform of the Montgomery Guards, and was considered one of the most desirable men in Washington. An accomplished horsemen he rode about town on his “horse Lucifer – a nobly bred, dapple gray hunter.”[6] When he gained Sickles’ friendship many of his well to do political and society friends became frequent visitors to the Sickles household. After Sickles had helped Key to be reappointed to his office, Key was instrumental in helping make the arrangements for Sickles to rent the Stockton Mansion.

During his first term in office Key was not known for being a particularly good District Attorney and spent much time away from the office complaining about his allegedly poor health. But his health did not keep him away from Washington’s party scene and “One hostess called him “the handsomest man in all Washington… he was a prominent figure at all the principle functions; a graceful dancer, her was a favorite of every hostess of the day.” [7] When he met Teresa, the dashing bachelor took an intense interest in the wife of the man who had helped him retain his job. The two were soon attending many functions together that Sickles, due to his work schedule could seldom attend.

Within weeks Key became a frequent guest at the Sickles home and few were surprised at this, as most observers knew that Sickles was responsible for Key’s reappointment. With Sickles now fully engaged in the dramatic political battles of late 1857, Teresa and Key began to spend much more time together. The two were seen together at the “theater, at teas, at hops. But most of all they went riding together.” [8] The frequency of these visits was noted and became the source of much gossip but Sickles was unaware of it and entertained no suspicions that his new friend was becoming deeply involved with his wife, and that Key had rented a room where the two could intimate.

That was until a young man equally smitten by Teresa had a few drinks with a colleague and the colleague shared the information with a loyal Sickles ally who then told Sickles. Sickles was shocked and called for a meeting with Key, however, after a brief conversation, Key convinced Sickles that there was nothing to the rumors, and Sickles was satisfied.

Though Sickles had been satisfied by the explanation, “despite his own well-publicized moral lapses, Daniel Sickles was a man of intense personal pride who would not countenance the breath of scandal attaching to his wife.” [9] He took the time to warn her to make sure that she was not involved in any other indiscretions, and left the subject. However, Key and Teresa continued to see each other, and “she and Barton thought that they were taking more care, and being less observed by people than they were.” [10] Yet as they pursued one another their affair became increasingly public, and seen by too many people not to go unnoticed. The two were seen together in at the Congressional Cemetery, and frequently at a house at “385 15th Street where he would enter the by the front door – and she the back.” [11] When a mutual friend expressed his concerns, Key shrugged off the warning, and “with the bravado of a proud weakling, he still held his course. And Teresa, ductile, enamored, blindly followed his lead.” [12] Another friend of Key suggested to him that he could be in danger, but Key “bridled and patted the breast of his coat. “I am prepared for any emergency,” he snapped. Key was a crack pistol shot and his friend believed that Key was preparing for a possible confrontation. [13]

Like so many people young spouses who find their needs unfulfilled at home, and who suspect their spouse of infidelity, , “Teresa did not see this love affair as tragic and dangerous. She lived within it as a secret fantasy, as in a virtual and time-consuming experience that lacked any power to inflict damage on other areas of her life.” [14] She became less discreet, Key would signal to her from across the street to confirm their dalliances and despite their insipidly inept attempt to hide the affair it became clear to Sickles’ coachman and household maids that the two were engaged in sexual encounters in the Sickles carriage and in the Stockton Mansion itself.

The situation finally came to a head in February 1859 following Sickles reelection and return to Washington. “Made more reckless than ever by their recent separation, Barton and Teresa now again were seen everywhere together.” [15] The couple were now making clandestine liaisons on a nearly daily basis, and eventually, one of the observers decided to tell Sickles. The anonymous source, using the initials of R.P.G. sent Sickles a letter detailing the affair. Sickles received the letter from a butler on the night of Thursday February 24th as he was leaving the usual dinner party at his house for the traditional hop that followed at the Willard Hotel.

Sickles did not read the letter until after the couple returned home and Teresa had gone to bed. Sickles was stunned and at first did not believe the contents as he placed little stock in anonymous messages. So he had George Wooldridge, a longtime friend and congressional clerk investigate, and on Saturday February 26th Wooldridge confirmed Sickles worst fears. That evening at their home Sickles confronted Teresa about the letter and as he stormed about angrily in their bedroom she confessed, after which Sickles had her write out her confession detailing everything. He may have been desolate and angry, but he was a lawyer, and he got his written proof.

But scandal was the last thing that Sickles wanted, as he had higher aspirations in politics, so he immediately called his friends for counsel and by Sunday morning several, including Wooldridge and Samuel Butterworth were at the Stockton Mansion with Sickles. As always, Sickles’ “first thoughts were for himself, and he melodramatically”[16] exclaimed to Butterworth, “I am a dishonored and ruined man…I cannot look you in the face.” [17]

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Murder

His friends “were profoundly touched by the depth of his feeling, and were convinced that he needed to be saved from a severe derangement of his senses; from lunacy, that is.” [18] his friends attempts to calm him, Sickles was beside himself with anger, and his anger now swirled around his marriage and what he believed was the scandal that would cost hi his career. That afternoon, Key again tempted fate, this time, for the last time. He had been tipped off by an anonymous letter that the affair was public, but he was determined to see Teresa. He made several passes by the house, each time signaling with a handkerchief, until Sickles observed him. Sickles called out to Butterworth “That villain has just passed my house! My God, this is horrible!” [19]

Butterworth left the house first and met Key at the southeast corner of Lafayette Square across from the White House. Allegedly not knowing Sickles intended any harm, Butterworth walked with Key to for a few minutes and then left. The exchange delayed Key and gave Sickles, who had armed himself with a single shot large caliber Derringer, and a muzzle-loading Colt revolver, enough time to catch up with Key near the Club House on Madison on the east side of the square. Sickles was raving but Dan’s fury transcended reality,” [20] as at least a dozen witnesses were nearby as he screamed, “Key, you scoundrel, … you have dishonored my bed – and you must die!” [21] Sickles pulled out the revolver, the first shot from which grazed Key, and the second which misfired. A brief scuffle ensued as Key lunged at his assailant, but Sickles flung him to the ground, and drew the Derringer as Key threw the opera glasses that he viewed Teresa at Dan. A third shot hit Key in the groin and he slumped to the ground screaming “Murder! Murder!… Don’t shoot!” [22]

If there was a chance for Sickles to prove that he acted in self-defense it was now, but he could not control himself. He fired the revolver yet again and it misfired. He placed the weapon in his pocket and drew the Derringer, and fired a shot which hit Key in the Liver. As Key writhed on the ground Sickles tossed the Derringer to the ground and he again drew the Colt. As the stunned witnesses to the attack looked on, Sickles advanced toward the fallen Key and placed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger, but again the weapon misfired. As Sickles attempted to place another cap in the pistol, a number of witnesses began to intervene. One man, “a member of the club, running up, stopped him. Mr. sickles – for God’s sake!” And Butterworth, coming forward, took Dan by the arm. Without a word, they walked away together.” [23] Witnesses took the mortally wounded Key away to the Club, where he expired.

President Buchanan was almost immediately told of the murder by a White House page boy, was aware of the implications of the scandal, Sickles was a friend and political ally with much promise. Buchanan told the boy leave town and gave him a sum of money to facilitate his departure. Soon after Sickles and Butterworth went by carriage “to the home of Attorney General Black, where the Congressman formally surrenders himself to the silver-haired Cabinet member who had regarded him as a protégé.” [24]He declined bail in favor of a speedy trial, was allowed to go home where he told Teresa that he had killed her lover, retrieved some personal items and then went to the District jail, “a foul hole, swarming with vermin, destitute of sewage, bath, water, ventilation, and so inadequate to its purpose that often a dozen or more prisoners were herded into a single narrow cell.” [25] When he arrived he reportedly asked the jailer if they were the best accommodations available, to which the jailer responded “this is the best place you members of Congress have afforded us.” [26] Dejected, but undeterred Sickles sent a message to the public, “In doing what I had to do I have broken the law. Therefore I place myself behind bars. It is for you to set me free.” [27] The stage was now set for the one of the most unbelievable and storied trials in American history.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.4

[2] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.151

[3] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.15

[4] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.8

[5] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.16

[6] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.74

[7] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.9

[8] ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.20

[9] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.25

[10] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[11] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.99

[12] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.94

[13] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.44

[14] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[15] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.93

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[17] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.53

[18] Ibid Keneally American Scoundrel p.121

[19] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[20] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.127

[21] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.54

[22] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.11

[23] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.112

[24] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.55

[25] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.114

[26] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.135

[27] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.114

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Marching Backwards Again: the Scopes Monkey Trial at 82

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Eighty-two years ago today a high school biology teacher in Dayton, Tennessee was convicted of teaching the theory of Evolution and fined $100 in defiance of The Butler Act, a state law written by Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, a farmer and the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association.

The text of the law stated:

“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.”

Butler’s legislation did face some opposition in the State Senate. However it passed there on a vote of 24-6 after the famous Fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday preached as series of revival meetings to incite public opinion in favor of the bill. Sunday’s message was clear, he preached that “Education today is chained to the Devil’s throne” and praised Butler and the House for their “action against that God forsaken gang of evolutionary cutthroats.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay, but Peay expected little to come of it.

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It was a show trial that pitted a prosecutorial team led by proponents of Butler’s legislation and headed by William Jennings Bryan, a former Secretary of State and four-time Presidential Candidate against Scopes, who was defended by the renowned attorney Clarence Darrow. Though Bryant “won” the trial the result was not to his satisfaction and proved embarrassing to him and his cause. The trial judge refused to admit scientists and scholars as witnesses for the defense but Darrow, despite the “defeat” was the clear winner.

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William Jennings Bryan (above) Clarence Darrow (below)

Marcet Haldeman-Julius wrote of Bryan at the trial:

“As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it. No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan’s can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell. At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends. It is anything but a weak face–Bryan’s. But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity. My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion. Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught–that a lie told for the glory of God is justified…”

I find it interesting that 82 years later the Republican Party has been hijacked by Christian Fundamentalists like Butler and Bryant. This was shown in a poll last week in which over half of the GOP respondents thought that college education was a bad thing and harmful for the country and propose bills that devastate education budgets, scientific studies, and promote an agenda that is harmful to the planet that we live on. Ignorance is forever busy.

Then of course the creationist descendants of Butler and Bryant are taking the State of Kentucky for all the money that they can with their massive Noah’s Ark Creation Museum paid for in part by taxpayer dollars. With the museum failing the group is doing its best to avoid paying taxes on the property by selling it to their non-profit entity for $10.

Such people claim to love God, but they manifestly hate his creation, including people God created who don’t believe like them. Scopes has passed into history but it lingers today.

Spencer Tracy, who played the fictional version of Darrow in the movie Inherit the Wind gave a speech in that movie which should be required reading for anyone:

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Lure of Trump’s Cross of Gold

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

In the post-election euphoria of the prosperity preachers who very Donald Trump as a political savior, and the President Elect’s stacking of his cabinet with billionaires of the first order, most of whom have no experience in the cabinet positions or are opposed to the missions of the departments they are to head one wonders what the 80% plus of self-identified Evangelical of Conservative Christians were thinking. But then, the answer is not that hard to find. For decades many of these people have been taught by their leaders that government policies that actually protect and benefit them are evil, and that God himself is basically a survival of the fittest Social Darwinist, that is basically the Gospel that they have been taught for decades. I used to be a clergyman in a denomination where many people believed and practiced such a faith.

So let me ask if you remember when conservative Christian politicians and preachers actually supported working people? I am not kidding, there was a time when some did exactly that and did so in the highest reaches of their political parties. Unlike today’s preachers they were not just lobbying for more tax cuts for the most wealthy, and extolling the job “creators” over the the people whose labor actually produces products, instead they spoke boldly on behalf of regular people. Sadly today all of the major political figures as well as most of the minor ones who claim to be “conservative Christians” have more in common with the greedy Robber Barons than one of the most celebrated conservative Christian politicians who has ever lived.

William Jennings Bryan was one of the most influential politicians of his era. Bryan served as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, he was a Senator and three time Presidential Candidate. He was also a very conservative Fundamentalist Christian perhaps most famous, or perhaps infamous now as one of the prosecuting attorneys at the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. In fact I can find that Bryan’s handling of that case played to the basest religious and social hatred of his day and though he thought that he was defending “Biblical” values  ended up making Christians look but small minded, intolerant and hateful. The movie Inherit the Wind, though a fictional account of that trial, shows how decent Christians can become consumed with hatred in the name of righteousness.  It is a sad thing that Bryan is most remembered for the Scopes Trial than when he bucked the political system of both the Republican and Democratic parties to speak up for workers and small businessmen. Personally I cannot imagine Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio or any other supposedly Christian political leader, especially the President Elect doing what Bryan did.

Whether one agrees on Bryan’s fundamentalist religious doctrine regarding the creation of the earth or the manner of how God created the earth,  one has to admit that of pre-Great Depression politicians he was quite amazing. Especially in how he saw through the Godlessness of unbridled capitalism and the devaluation of workers by valued capital over the people that actually produced anything.

As an American and a Christian I have to look at the body of work and life of a man. I don’t have to agree with all that they stood for or did and though I find much fault in Bryan and his supporters in the Scopes Trial I do not throw out the good things that he did and got right.

I think the apex of Bryan’s political thought is encapsulated in his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 1896, what is now called the Cross of Gold Speech.

When one looks at it now it really is timeless. Bryan saw through the charade that was being played out by politicians and the big money Wall Street types that they represented with great verve. It was a speech that one might have heard come from a prophet in the Old Testament.

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I am just going to quote a couple of pertinent sections from the speech to trigger the thought of anyone reading this article. I think that they could be spoken today in light of the way that many conservative Christians both Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants, Roman Catholics and those that preach the so called “Prosperity Gospel” have thrown their support behind ideas that are nothing more than unvarnished, crude materialism of the worst kind. In fact I believe that it is nothing more than the “baptism” of such thought by Christians are among the biggest reasons for the massive exodus of people from the churches and the rise of the “Nones,” or those with no religious preference.

Bryan said:

“We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.”

His words are striking in their directness and honesty. They are not only Christian but they are deeply American. He called on his Democratic party, which had been as bad as the Republicans during the age of the unregulated Robber Barons who used the Gold Standard to manipulate the markets and eliminate silver as currency to their benefit to be different:

“Upon which side will the Democratic Party fight; upon the side of “the idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses”? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic Party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses, who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic Party.”

His arguments could be called true Christian populism. Bryan talked about two ideas of diametrically opposed types of government and economics:

“There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

He concluded his speech with this statement.

“Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

When I hear the unholy trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers who extol the virtue of capital over labor and the worship of wealth as the highest good I wish that there would be some that would remember that the people who actually make things, grow things, fix things and maintain things are not just human capital, but people.

Despite his rigid anti-science beliefs, as well as his often pro-Jim Crow positions, one almost wishes for the day that a man like William Jennings Bryant spoke for Christians rather than seeing Christians throw themselves at the feet of a man who has pulled the wool over their eyes, emasculated them, and will doom them and their churches to irrelevancy as more and more people abandon the the Christian faith.

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Today that unholy trinity is poised to take over every branch of the Federal Government because of the fact that Evangelical and Conservative Christians abandoned all principle to elect a man who despite his words during the campaign has a history of standing against everything that they believe. And after all, it is people that matter and sadly that doesn’t seem to matter to the sycophants who cheer every word of the President Elect even as he and his billionaire cabinet members enact policy after policy that will destroy them.

That is something to think about.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Dan Sickles Part Two: Murder in Lafayette Square

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break over this Thanksgiving weekend and am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text dealing with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history, Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Within a year of his assignment Sickles returned to the United States to help prepare the Democratic nomination for his friend Buchanan who had long desired the office, and return to his lucrative post in New York. In the spring of 1856 Sickles began to work on Buchanan’s nomination for the Presidency and while doing so began his own campaign for New York’s Third District’s Congressional seat. Buchanan won the election of 1856 against an opposition divided between the Know Nothing candidacy of former President Millard Fillmore and the candidate of the new Republican Party, John C. Fremont.

In the election of 1856, Sickles carried the district easily. For Sickles it was a triumph, he was “riding a flood tide of political fortune that might carry him far,” [1] and like any wife Teresa too was delighted with the result. Even so, Teresa must have wondered if her husband would mend his ways now that he was on the national spotlight, or if he would continue his extramarital romps around the nation’s capital. Following the election Dan and Teresa moved to Washington D.C. where they took up a fashionable residence, the Stockton Mansion, on Lafayette Square, not far from the White House and Sickles friend, James Buchanan.

Once he was established in Washington Sickles was in his element, politics at its grandest. It was a different style than of politics than Tammany, where brass knuckled force often ruled, but it suited Sickles, who was “a fixer who knew all the tricks of Tammany at its crookedest but who seems not to have taken graft himself. He had his sights fixed on the presidency, and he was making about as much progress in that direction as a Tammany man can,” [2]   until a strange combination of unrequited love, infidelity, the personal betrayal of a friend, and a murder intervened.

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Teresa Sickles

While her husband politicked along the Potomac, the new congressman’s wife was adapting to her life in Washington D.C. The wives were expected to entertain and host parties on a regular basis at their residences, but they also knew their share of loneliness and neglect. Since legislators routinely were “busy with night sessions, committee meetings, and plain nocturnal politicking over whiskey punch, that their wives either accepted other escorts or spent lonely evenings at home with fancywork or a book.” thus it was not surprising that Teresa, “should seek the gayety of the capital in her first year there.” [3] In the absence of their husbands it “was not uncommon for available bachelors to act as escorts for married women when their husbands were unavailable.” [4] Since Dan Sickles was frequently unavailable and since Teresa probably still suspected that Dan was still engaged in extramarital affairs, it is not surprising that the young Mediterranean beauty found comfort in another man.

The years of 1857 and 1858 would be a tumultuous time for the nation as well as the Sickles. Buchanan had been elected because of his stability and moderation in an age of pro and anti-slavery radicalism. However, over the next year his presidency, and his would be overwhelmed by events and Buchanan’s decisions supporting the expansion of slavery. While Sickles was neither a slave owner, nor himself fond of the institution, it was part of life, and many of his friends in Washington D.C. and in Congress were slave holders. Buchanan had schemed before his inauguration with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney in the Dred Scott decision, which was handed down in the days following Buchanan’s inauguration, followed by the fiasco over the Lecompton constitution and the attempted admission of Kansas as a Slave State, an event which split the Democratic party in the 1860 election, ensuring Abraham Lincoln’s defeat of Buchanan’s Lecompton foe in the Senate, Senator Stephen A. Douglas who would have been the prohibitive favorite in the election had the split not occurred.

Likewise, Sickles and his beautiful young wife would become part of one of the most sensational trials of American history, rivaling the Lindbergh kidnapping trial, the trial of O.J. Simpson, the Scopes Monkey Trial, and the Impeachment of President Bill Clinton in its captivation of America. As in London, Teresa became popular and she and Dan were much sought after and their home “became the scene of a gradual number of and entertainments,” [5] and even as Sickles continued his robust politicking and philandering Teresa became the object of another’s affection, the District of Attorney for the District of Columbia, Philip Barton Key, the son Francis Scott key, the writer of the Star Spangled Banner. Interestingly enough it was Sickles who had helped Key the troubled man to be reappointed to his office in early 1857 after Key had helped Sickles overcome legal and financial difficulties to secure Sickles in the Stockton Mansion and the two men developed a warm friendship.

Philip Key was extraordinarily handsome, especially when outfitted in his green and gold militia uniform of the Montgomery Guards, and was considered one of the most desirable men in Washington. An accomplished horsemen he rode about town on his “horse Lucifer – a nobly bred, dapple gray hunter.”[6] When he gained Sickles’ friendship many of his well to do political and society friends became frequent visitors to the Sickles household. After Sickles had helped Key to be reappointed to his office, Key was instrumental in helping make the arrangements for Sickles to rent the Stockton Mansion.

During his first term in office Key was not known for being a particularly good District Attorney and spent much time away from the office complaining about his allegedly poor health. But his health did not keep him away from Washington’s party scene and “One hostess called him “the handsomest man in all Washington… he was a prominent figure at all the principle functions; a graceful dancer, her was a favorite of every hostess of the day.” [7] When he met Teresa, the dashing bachelor took an intense interest in the wife of the man who had helped him retain his job. The two were soon attending many functions together that Sickles, due to his work schedule could seldom attend.

Within weeks Key became a frequent guest at the Sickles home and few were surprised at this, as most observers knew that Sickles was responsible for Key’s reappointment. With Sickles now fully engaged in the dramatic political battles of late 1857, Teresa and Key began to spend much more time together. The two were seen together at the “theater, at teas, at hops. But most of all they went riding together.” [8] The frequency of these visits was noted and became the source of much gossip but Sickles was unaware of it and entertained no suspicions that his new friend was becoming deeply involved with his wife, and that Key had rented a room where the two could intimate.

That was until a young man equally smitten by Teresa had a few drinks with a colleague and the colleague shared the information with a loyal Sickles ally who then told Sickles. Sickles was shocked and called for a meeting with Key, however, after a brief conversation, Key convinced Sickles that there was nothing to the rumors, and Sickles was satisfied.

Though Sickles had been satisfied by the explanation, “despite his own well-publicized moral lapses, Daniel Sickles was a man of intense personal pride who would not countenance the breath of scandal attaching to his wife.” [9] He took the time to warn her to make sure that she was not involved in any other indiscretions, and left the subject. However, Key and Teresa continued to see each other, and “she and Barton thought that they were taking more care, and being less observed by people than they were.” [10] Yet as they pursued one another their affair became increasingly public, and seen by too many people not to go unnoticed. The two were seen together in at the Congressional Cemetery, and frequently at a house at “385 15th Street where he would enter the by the front door – and she the back.” [11] When a mutual friend expressed his concerns, Key shrugged off the warning, and “with the bravado of a proud weakling, he still held his course. And Teresa, ductile, enamored, blindly followed his lead.” [12] Another friend of Key suggested to him that he could be in danger, but Key “bridled and patted the breast of his coat. “I am prepared for any emergency,” he snapped. Key was a crack pistol shot and his friend believed that Key was preparing for a possible confrontation. [13]

Like so many people young spouses who find their needs unfulfilled at home, and who suspect their spouse of infidelity, , “Teresa did not see this love affair as tragic and dangerous. She lived within it as a secret fantasy, as in a virtual and time-consuming experience that lacked any power to inflict damage on other areas of her life.” [14] She became less discreet, Key would signal to her from across the street to confirm their dalliances and despite their insipidly inept attempt to hide the affair it became clear to Sickles’ coachman and household maids that the two were engaged in sexual encounters in the Sickles carriage and in the Stockton Mansion itself.

The situation finally came to a head in February 1859 following Sickles reelection and return to Washington. “Made more reckless than ever by their recent separation, Barton and Teresa now again were seen everywhere together.” [15] The couple were now making clandestine liaisons on a nearly daily basis, and eventually, one of the observers decided to tell Sickles. The anonymous source, using the initials of R.P.G. sent Sickles a letter detailing the affair. Sickles received the letter from a butler on the night of Thursday February 24th as he was leaving the usual dinner party at his house for the traditional hop that followed at the Willard Hotel.

Sickles did not read the letter until after the couple returned home and Teresa had gone to bed. Sickles was stunned and at first did not believe the contents as he placed little stock in anonymous messages. So he had George Wooldridge, a longtime friend and congressional clerk investigate, and on Saturday February 26th Wooldridge confirmed Sickles worst fears. That evening at their home Sickles confronted Teresa about the letter and as he stormed about angrily in their bedroom she confessed, after which Sickles had her write out her confession detailing everything. He may have been desolate and angry, but he was a lawyer, and he got his written proof.

But scandal was the last thing that Sickles wanted, as he had higher aspirations in politics, so he immediately called his friends for counsel and by Sunday morning several, including Wooldridge and Samuel Butterworth were at the Stockton Mansion with Sickles. As always, Sickles’ “first thoughts were for himself, and he melodramatically”[16] exclaimed to Butterworth, “I am a dishonored and ruined man…I cannot look you in the face.” [17]

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Murder

His friends “were profoundly touched by the depth of his feeling, and were convinced that he needed to be saved from a severe derangement of his senses; from lunacy, that is.” [18] his friends attempts to calm him, Sickles was beside himself with anger, and his anger now swirled around his marriage and what he believed was the scandal that would cost hi his career. That afternoon, Key again tempted fate, this time, for the last time. He had been tipped off by an anonymous letter that the affair was public, but he was determined to see Teresa. He made several passes by the house, each time signaling with a handkerchief, until Sickles observed him. Sickles called out to Butterworth “That villain has just passed my house! My God, this is horrible!” [19]

Butterworth left the house first and met Key at the southeast corner of Lafayette Square across from the White House. Allegedly not knowing Sickles intended any harm, Butterworth walked with Key to for a few minutes and then left. The exchange delayed Key and gave Sickles, who had armed himself with a single shot large caliber Derringer, and a muzzle-loading Colt revolver, enough time to catch up with Key near the Club House on Madison on the east side of the square. Sickles was raving but Dan’s fury transcended reality,” [20] as at least a dozen witnesses were nearby as he screamed, “Key, you scoundrel, … you have dishonored my bed – and you must die!” [21] Sickles pulled out the revolver, the first shot from which grazed Key, and the second which misfired. A brief scuffle ensued as Key lunged at his assailant, but Sickles flung him to the ground, and drew the Derringer as Key threw the opera glasses that he viewed Teresa at Dan. A third shot hit Key in the groin and he slumped to the ground screaming “Murder! Murder!… Don’t shoot!” [22]

If there was a chance for Sickles to prove that he acted in self-defense it was now, but he could not control himself. He fired the revolver yet again and it misfired. He placed the weapon in his pocket and drew the Derringer, and fired a shot which hit Key in the Liver. As Key writhed on the ground Sickles tossed the Derringer to the ground and he again drew the Colt. As the stunned witnesses to the attack looked on, Sickles advanced toward the fallen Key and placed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger, but again the weapon misfired. As Sickles attempted to place another cap in the pistol, a number of witnesses began to intervene. One man, “a member of the club, running up, stopped him. Mr. sickles – for God’s sake!” And Butterworth, coming forward, took Dan by the arm. Without a word, they walked away together.” [23] Witnesses took the mortally wounded Key away to the Club, where he expired.

President Buchanan was almost immediately told of the murder by a White House page boy, was aware of the implications of the scandal, Sickles was a friend and political ally with much promise. Buchanan told the boy leave town and gave him a sum of money to facilitate his departure. Soon after Sickles and Butterworth went by carriage “to the home of Attorney General Black, where the Congressman formally surrenders himself to the silver-haired Cabinet member who had regarded him as a protégé.” [24]He declined bail in favor of a speedy trial, was allowed to go home where he told Teresa that he had killed her lover, retrieved some personal items and then went to the District jail, “a foul hole, swarming with vermin, destitute of sewage, bath, water, ventilation, and so inadequate to its purpose that often a dozen or more prisoners were herded into a single narrow cell.” [25] When he arrived he reportedly asked the jailer if they were the best accommodations available, to which the jailer responded “this is the best place you members of Congress have afforded us.” [26] Dejected, but undeterred Sickles sent a message to the public, “In doing what I had to do I have broken the law. Therefore I place myself behind bars. It is for you to set me free.” [27] The stage was now set for the one of the most unbelievable and storied trials in American history.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.4

[2] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.151

[3] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.15

[4] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.8

[5] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.16

[6] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.74

[7] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.9

[8] ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.20

[9] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.25

[10] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[11] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.99

[12] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.94

[13] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.44

[14] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[15] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.93

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[17] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.53

[18] Ibid Keneally American Scoundrel p.121

[19] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[20] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.127

[21] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.54

[22] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.11

[23] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.112

[24] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.55

[25] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.114

[26] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.135

[27] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.114

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Reflecting on “Inherit the Wind”

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

“As long as the prerequisite for that shining paradise is ignorance, bigotry and hate, I say the hell with it.” Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) Inherit the Wind

Today has been a very busy day at work but I have been doing some reflection and instead of watching the Olympics tonight I decided to again watch the classic film Inherit the Wind. I really do believe that it is well worth watching, especially when a charlatan with no Christian virtues whatsoever stokes up the hopes of conservative Christians by promising that if he is elected he will make Christianity great again. Of course the Christianity that he refers to is not that of Jesus, but that of Constantine and every other strongman who has used the Christians and the church to achieve earthly power and to crush any opposition. Noted televangelists have come to Trump’s side, many like John Hagee saying that Christians that God will punish Christians, that vote against Trump. That is why this film is still so pertinent.

It is fascinating that a play and film set about an incident that actually occurred in the 1920s remains so timeless. It is hard to believe that 90 years after the trial and over 50 years after the movie that our society would still be debating the issue in the movie and that legislatures and school boards are still attempting to pass religious doctrine off as science.

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It is a film about what is commonly called the “Scopes Monkey Trial” which was litigated in July of 1925 and featured an epic battle between populist three time Presidential Candidate and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan and famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow.

The trial was brought about after the passage of the Butler Act in Tennessee. It was an act that made it a criminal offense to teach evolution in any publicly funded school. The act stipulated:

“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.”

The author of the act was Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, a farmer and the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association an interdenominational organization dedicated to a “New Protestantism” based on the Pre-Millennial interpretation of Bible prophecy.

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Butler was heavily influenced by William Jennings Bryant who with his followers had gotten legislation banning evolution in 15 states. H.L. Mencken commented that over the years of his public life that Bryan had “transformed himself” into some “sort of Fundamentalist Pope.”

Butler was opposed to the teaching of evolution and the act passed the house by a vote of 75-1. No public hearings had been held on it and no debate proffered.

Butler’s legislation did face some opposition in the State Senate. However it passed there on a vote of 24-6 after the famous Fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday preached as series of revival meetings to incite public opinion in favor of the bill. Sunday’s message was clear, he preached that “Education today is chained to the Devil’s throne” and praised Butler and the House for their “action against that God forsaken gang of evolutionary cutthroats.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay, but Peay expected little to come of it.

The American Civil Liberties Union put the law to the test using high school biology teacher John Scopes who was charged with breaking the law. The trial ended up becoming less about the guilt or innocence of Scopes or even the constitutionality of the law, but rather as the field where the conflict between religious and social issues and faith versus intellectualism was fought. Butler, the man who legislated the law on religious grounds covered it as a correspondent.

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Mencken wrote of the trial:

“The Scopes trial, from the start, has been carried on in a manner exactly fitted to the anti- evolution law and the simian imbecility under it. There hasn’t been the slightest pretense to decorum. The rustic judge, a candidate for re-election, has postured the yokels like a clown in a ten-cent side show, and almost every word he has uttered has been an undisguised appeal to their prejudices and superstitions. The chief prosecuting attorney, beginning like a competent lawyer and a man of self-respect, ended like a convert at a Billy Sunday revival. It fell to him, finally, to make a clear and astounding statement of theory of justice prevailing under fundamentalism. What he said, in brief, was that a man accused of infidelity had no rights whatever under Tennessee law…”

 

It was an epic event covered by news outlets across the nation and the atmosphere in the town outside the courthouse was circus like, something that the movie depicts very well. The defense was not allowed to produce Scientists as witnesses, even to the chagrin of Butler who despite his opposition to evolutionary theory felt that it was not fair. When all was said and done Scopes had been convicted and a fine of $100 assessed, which was overturned on appeal. Bryan died a week after the trial and of the 15 states with similar legislation to Butler passed them into law.

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The film is based on the play of the same name written in 1950 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It was written during the height of the McCarthy Era and opened in 1955. The first film version starring Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow), Frederic March as Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan), Gene Kelly as E.K. Hornbeck (H.L. Mencken) while Dick York played Bertram Cates (John Scopes). Lawrence and Lee invented some fictional characters including Reverend Brown played by Claude Akins.

The film directed by Stanley Kramer captures the raw emotions of the trial, the participants and the spectators who came from near and far. The depiction of the angry mob of Christians is terrifying to watch. In the film they sing:

“We’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Bertram Cates to a sour apple tree. Our God is marching on! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Glory Hallelujah! Glory Gory Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. We’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, we’ll hang Henry Drummond to a sour apple tree, our God is marching on.”

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March’s depiction of Matthew Harrison Brady is riveting. The Brady of the film does not do justice to other parts of Bryan’s life. Bryan, outside his fight against evolution was ahead of his time in many ways. Earlier in his career he had pressed for Universal Suffrage, fought against war and labored against the social Darwinism of the banks, business and the Robber Barons. However the loss of three Presidential elections left him bitter and it is believed that he saw the trial as an opportunity to regain the limelight and perhaps build a base to again run for President. This speech by Brady is a fair characterization of Bryan’s beliefs:

“I have been to their cities and I have seen the altars upon which they sacrifice the futures of their children to the gods of science. And what are their rewards? Confusion and self-destruction. New ways to kill each other in wars. I tell you gentlemen the way of science is the way of darkness.”

The problem with the Bryan of the Scopes Trial was that he was a caricature of his former self, he played to the crowds. The trial played to the worst parts of his character and that shows in the movie depiction. Some Christians find this an unfair portrayal and even call it a lie, however even though March’s portrayal is fictional it does fit the spirit of the trial which is captured in the writings of many of the contemporary commentators of the trial. Mencken wrote of the real Bryan: It is a tragedy, indeed, to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon.

 

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Another of those commentators, Marcet Haldeman-Julius wrote of the real Bryan:

“As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it. No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan’s can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell. At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends. It is anything but a weak face–Bryan’s. But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity. My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion. Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught–that a lie told for the glory of God is justified…”

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But I think that the real drama and tension in the film comes from Spencer Tracy in his portrayal of Drummond. This speech is taken almost verbatim from the trial:

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

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I think that this speech is the real crux of the tension that we face even now. Legislators in a number of States have enacted laws of much the same kind of spirit as Butler and defended them with the same kind of fire as Bryan. Civil libertarians, especially secular ones bring up the same issues as Darrow did. I am a Christian and a Priest and my thinking about this is much like that espoused by Drummond in the movie.

So the film may be a fictional depiction of the Scopes Trial, but it is a film that I think that people would do well to watch. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or the issues that I agree with brought up by the character of Henry Drummond. However, I think that everyone should watch the film and come to their own conclusions as well as to ask themselves how their particular ethic, whether secular or religious informs them in how they deal with this issue and so many others that divide us today.

I just know when I watched it again this week that it could have been in the news this week, only with a different cast of characters. My concern is that there is a very loud minority that wants to inflict its particular religious view on everyone and use the public treasure to do it. The attitude of many of these people is much like the characters from the actual Scopes Trial including their view that pushes both demonizes those they oppose and their desire to regulate the secular opposition to the sidelines.

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I know that the same accusation is made by religious people of secularists, however I have seen the results of religious wars in Iraq and the Balkans, and from history. Those conflicts and the brutality of religious people in them give me great pause when I see religious and political leaders here suggest curtailing the civil liberties and even using the law against those that they oppose. As Drummond asked in the movie: “Must men go to jail because they find themselves at odds with a self-appointed prophet?”

That is why this film is so important.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Incredible Scoundrel Pt.2: A Murder in Washington

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am a historian as well as a chaplain and priest. I do a lot of work with the Battle of Gettysburg and much of my work involves biography as I believe that the one constant in history is people. Technology and many other things may change, but people and human nature are constant, for good and for bad, and frankly I find people fascinating.

One of the most fascinating people of the Battle of Gettysburg is Union Major General Daniel E. Sickles, a man who was one of the most fascinating, salacious, scandalous, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history.

This is the second of a three part series taken from my Gettysburg and Civil War text. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Within a year of his assignment Sickles returned to the United States to help prepare the Democratic nomination for his friend Buchanan who had long desired the office, and return to his lucrative post in New York. In the spring of 1856 Sickles began to work on Buchanan’s nomination for the Presidency and while doing so began his own campaign for New York’s Third District’s Congressional seat. Buchanan won the election of 1856 against an opposition divided between the Know Nothing candidacy of former President Millard Fillmore and the candidate of the new Republican Party, John C. Fremont.

In the election of 1856, Sickles carried the district easily. For Sickles it was a triumph, he was “riding a flood tide of political fortune that might carry him far,” [1] and like any wife Teresa too was delighted with the result. Even so, Teresa must have wondered if her husband would mend his ways now that he was on the national spotlight, or if he would continue his extramarital romps around the nation’s capital. Following the election Dan and Teresa moved to Washington D.C. where they took up a fashionable residence, the Stockton Mansion, on Lafayette Square, not far from the White House and Sickles friend, James Buchanan.

Once he was established in Washington Sickles was in his element, politics at its grandest. It was a different style than of politics than Tammany, where brass knuckled force often ruled, but it suited Sickles, who was “a fixer who knew all the tricks of Tammany at its crookedest but who seems not to have taken graft himself. He had his sights fixed on the presidency, and he was making about as much progress in that direction as a Tammany man can,” [2]   until a strange combination of unrequited love, infidelity, the personal betrayal of a friend, and a murder intervened.

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Teresa Sickles

While her husband politicked along the Potomac, the new congressman’s wife was adapting to her life in Washington D.C. The wives were expected to entertain and host parties on a regular basis at their residences, but they also knew their share of loneliness and neglect. Since legislators routinely were “busy with night sessions, committee meetings, and plain nocturnal politicking over whiskey punch, that their wives either accepted other escorts or spent lonely evenings at home with fancywork or a book.” thus it was not surprising that Teresa, “should seek the gayety of the capital in her first year there.” [3] In the absence of their husbands it “was not uncommon for available bachelors to act as escorts for married women when their husbands were unavailable.” [4] Since Dan Sickles was frequently unavailable and since Teresa probably still suspected that Dan was still engaged in extramarital affairs, it is not surprising that the young Mediterranean beauty found comfort in another man.

The years of 1857 and 1858 would be a tumultuous time for the nation as well as the Sickles. Buchanan had been elected because of his stability and moderation in an age of pro and anti-slavery radicalism. However, over the next year his presidency, and his would be overwhelmed by events and Buchanan’s decisions supporting the expansion of slavery. While Sickles was neither a slave owner, nor himself fond of the institution, it was part of life, and many of his friends in Washington D.C. and in Congress were slave holders. Buchanan had schemed before his inauguration with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney in the Dred Scott decision, which was handed down in the days following Buchanan’s inauguration, followed by the fiasco over the Lecompton constitution and the attempted admission of Kansas as a Slave State, an event which split the Democratic party in the 1860 election, ensuring Abraham Lincoln’s defeat of Buchanan’s Lecompton foe in the Senate, Senator Stephen A. Douglas who would have been the prohibitive favorite in the election had the split not occurred.

Likewise, Sickles and his beautiful young wife would become part of one of the most sensational trials of American history, rivaling the Lindbergh kidnapping trial, the trial of O.J. Simpson, the Scopes Monkey Trial, and the Impeachment of President Bill Clinton in its captivation of America. As in London, Teresa became popular and she and Dan were much sought after and their home “became the scene of a gradual number of and entertainments,” [5] and even as Sickles continued his robust politicking and philandering Teresa became the object of another’s affection, the District of Attorney for the District of Columbia, Philip Barton Key, the son Francis Scott key, the writer of the Star Spangled Banner. Interestingly enough it was Sickles who had helped Key the troubled man to be reappointed to his office in early 1857 after Key had helped Sickles overcome legal and financial difficulties to secure Sickles in the Stockton Mansion and the two men developed a warm friendship.

Philip Key was extraordinarily handsome, especially when outfitted in his green and gold militia uniform of the Montgomery Guards, and was considered one of the most desirable men in Washington. An accomplished horsemen he rode about town on his “horse Lucifer – a nobly bred, dapple gray hunter.” [6] When he gained Sickles’ friendship many of his well to do political and society friends became frequent visitors to the Sickles household. After Sickles had helped Key to be reappointed to his office, Key was instrumental in helping make the arrangements for Sickles to rent the Stockton Mansion.

During his first term in office Key was not known for being a particularly good District Attorney and spent much time away from the office complaining about his allegedly poor health. But his health did not keep him away from Washington’s party scene and “One hostess called him “the handsomest man in all Washington… he was a prominent figure at all the principle functions; a graceful dancer, her was a favorite of every hostess of the day.” [7] When he met Teresa, the dashing bachelor took an intense interest in the wife of the man who had helped him retain his job. The two were soon attending many functions together that Sickles, due to his work schedule could seldom attend.

Within weeks Key became a frequent guest at the Sickles home and few were surprised at this, as most observers knew that Sickles was responsible for Key’s reappointment. With Sickles now fully engaged in the dramatic political battles of late 1857, Teresa and Key began to spend much more time together. The two were seen together at the “theater, at teas, at hops. But most of all they went riding together.” [8] The frequency of these visits was noted and became the source of much gossip but Sickles was unaware of it and entertained no suspicions that his new friend was becoming deeply involved with his wife, and that Key had rented a room where the two could intimate.

That was until a young man equally smitten by Teresa had a few drinks with a colleague and the colleague shared the information with a loyal Sickles ally who then told Sickles. Sickles was shocked and called for a meeting with Key, however, after a brief conversation, Key convinced Sickles that there was nothing to the rumors, and Sickles was satisfied.

Though Sickles had been satisfied by the explanation, “despite his own well-publicized moral lapses, Daniel Sickles was a man of intense personal pride who would not countenance the breath of scandal attaching to his wife.” [9] He took the time to warn her to make sure that she was not involved in any other indiscretions, and left the subject. However, Key and Teresa continued to see each other, and “she and Barton thought that they were taking more care, and being less observed by people than they were.” [10] Yet as they pursued one another their affair became increasingly public, and seen by too many people not to go unnoticed. The two were seen together in at the Congressional Cemetery, and frequently at a house at “385 15th Street where he would enter the by the front door – and she the back.” [11] When a mutual friend expressed his concerns, Key shrugged off the warning, and “with the bravado of a proud weakling, he still held his course. And Teresa, ductile, enamored, blindly followed his lead.” [12] Another friend of Key suggested to him that he could be in danger, but Key “bridled and patted the breast of his coat. “I am prepared for any emergency,” he snapped. Key was a crack pistol shot and his friend believed that Key was preparing for a possible confrontation. [13]

Like so many people young spouses who find their needs unfulfilled at home, and who suspect their spouse of infidelity, , “Teresa did not see this love affair as tragic and dangerous. She lived within it as a secret fantasy, as in a virtual and time-consuming experience that lacked any power to inflict damage on other areas of her life.” [14] She became less discreet, Key would signal to her from across the street to confirm their dalliances and despite their insipidly inept attempt to hide the affair it became clear to Sickles’ coachman and household maids that the two were engaged in sexual encounters in the Sickles carriage and in the Stockton Mansion itself.

The situation finally came to a head in February 1859 following Sickles reelection and return to Washington. “Made more reckless than ever by their recent separation, Barton and Teresa now again were seen everywhere together.” [15] The couple were now making clandestine liaisons on a nearly daily basis, and eventually, one of the observers decided to tell Sickles. The anonymous source, using the initials of R.P.G. sent Sickles a letter detailing the affair. Sickles received the letter from a butler on the night of Thursday February 24th as he was leaving the usual dinner party at his house for the traditional hop that followed at the Willard Hotel.

Sickles did not read the letter until after the couple returned home and Teresa had gone to bed. Sickles was stunned and at first did not believe the contents as he placed little stock in anonymous messages. So he had George Wooldridge, a longtime friend and congressional clerk investigate, and on Saturday February 26th Wooldridge confirmed Sickles worst fears. That evening at their home Sickles confronted Teresa about the letter and as he stormed about angrily in their bedroom she confessed, after which Sickles had her write out her confession detailing everything. He may have been desolate and angry, but he was a lawyer, and he got his written proof.

But scandal was the last thing that Sickles wanted, as he had higher aspirations in politics, so he immediately called his friends for counsel and by Sunday morning several, including Wooldridge and Samuel Butterworth were at the Stockton Mansion with Sickles. As always, Sickles’ “first thoughts were for himself, and he melodramatically”[16] exclaimed to Butterworth, “I am a dishonored and ruined man…I cannot look you in the face.” [17]

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Murder

His friends “were profoundly touched by the depth of his feeling, and were convinced that he needed to be saved from a severe derangement of his senses; from lunacy, that is.” [18] his friends attempts to calm him, Sickles was beside himself with anger, and his anger now swirled around his marriage and what he believed was the scandal that would cost hi his career. That afternoon, Key again tempted fate, this time, for the last time. He had been tipped off by an anonymous letter that the affair was public, but he was determined to see Teresa. He made several passes by the house, each time signaling with a handkerchief, until Sickles observed him. Sickles called out to Butterworth “That villain has just passed my house! My God, this is horrible!” [19]

Butterworth left the house first and met Key at the southeast corner of Lafayette Square across from the White House. Allegedly not knowing Sickles intended any harm, Butterworth walked with Key to for a few minutes and then left. The exchange delayed Key and gave Sickles, who had armed himself with a single shot large caliber Derringer, and a muzzle-loading Colt revolver, enough time to catch up with Key near the Club House on Madison on the east side of the square. Sickles was raving but Dan’s fury transcended reality,” [20] as at least a dozen witnesses were nearby as he screamed, “Key, you scoundrel, … you have dishonored my bed – and you must die!” [21] Sickles pulled out the revolver, the first shot from which grazed Key, and the second which misfired. A brief scuffle ensued as Key lunged at his assailant, but Sickles flung him to the ground, and drew the Derringer as Key threw the opera glasses that he viewed Teresa at Dan. A third shot hit Key in the groin and he slumped to the ground screaming “Murder! Murder!… Don’t shoot!” [22]

If there was a chance for Sickles to prove that he acted in self-defense it was now, but he could not control himself. He fired the revolver yet again and it misfired. He placed the weapon in his pocket and drew the Derringer, and fired a shot which hit Key in the Liver. As Key writhed on the ground Sickles tossed the Derringer to the ground and he again drew the Colt. As the stunned witnesses to the attack looked on, Sickles advanced toward the fallen Key and placed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger, but again the weapon misfired. As Sickles attempted to place another cap in the pistol, a number of witnesses began to intervene. One man, “a member of the club, running up, stopped him. Mr. sickles – for God’s sake!” And Butterworth, coming forward, took Dan by the arm. Without a word, they walked away together.” [23] Witnesses took the mortally wounded Key away to the Club, where he expired.

President Buchanan was almost immediately told of the murder by a White House page boy, was aware of the implications of the scandal, Sickles was a friend and political ally with much promise. Buchanan told the boy leave town and gave him a sum of money to facilitate his departure. Soon after Sickles and Butterworth went by carriage “to the home of Attorney General Black, where the Congressman formally surrenders himself to the silver-haired Cabinet member who had regarded him as a protégé.” [24] He declined bail in favor of a speedy trial, was allowed to go home where he told Teresa that he had killed her lover, retrieved some personal items and then went to the District jail, “a foul hole, swarming with vermin, destitute of sewage, bath, water, ventilation, and so inadequate to its purpose that often a dozen or more prisoners were herded into a single narrow cell.” [25] When he arrived he reportedly asked the jailer if they were the best accommodations available, to which the jailer responded “this is the best place you members of Congress have afforded us.” [26] Dejected, but undeterred Sickles sent a message to the public, “In doing what I had to do I have broken the law. Therefore I place myself behind bars. It is for you to set me free.” [27] The stage was now set for the one of the most unbelievable and storied trials in American history.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.4

[2] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.151

[3] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.15

[4] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.8

[5] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.16

[6] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.74

[7] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.9

[8] ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.20

[9] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.25

[10] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[11] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.99

[12] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.94

[13] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.44

[14] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.92

[15] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.93

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[17] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.53

[18] Ibid Keneally American Scoundrel p.121

[19] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.10

[20] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.127

[21] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.54

[22] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.11

[23] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.112

[24] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.55

[25] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.114

[26] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.135

[27] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.114

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