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Published: April 3, 2011

William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925)

American lawyer, editor, syndicated columnist, congressman, presidential candidate, secretary of state and a prosecuting attorney in the famed SCOPES MONKEY TRIAL. A political and social liberal, Bryan was an intellectual and religious conservative who could recite the Bible verbatim and believed in its infallibility. A firm supporter of the growing Christian fundamentalist movement in the early 1920s, he declared Darwin’s theory of evolution an effort to subvert Christianity and American democracy. When Tennessee and other southern states banned the teaching of evolution, he joined the prosecutorial team in charging Dayton High School science teacher John Thomas Scopes with violating the law. In a surprising end to the trial, defense attorney Clarence Darrow called Bryan to the stand and humiliated him by forcing him to reconcile his literal interpretations of scriptural metaphors with scientific facts that even many fundamentalists had, by then, accepted. Bryan died a week later.