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The wearing away of American self-rule has been subtle.Knowing more about the ways that localism and Tocqueville’s vaunted “township freedom” have made possible the American regime of liberty will help us understand the cultural sources of our habit of freedom.This confrontation took place in a courtroom in Dayton, Tennessee, a small town in the eastern part of the state, where a young schoolteacher, John T. The trial attracted several thousand spectators and hundreds of newsmen, representing the most prestigious papers and journals in the nation.
Second, during the first two decades of the new century, state reforms in education led to dramatic increases in high school education and the taxes that supported it.
Fundamentalist Christians had remained largely untouched by Darwinian science and evolution until they were forced to finance the teaching of it in the schools their children were required to attend.
Tennessee’s law prohibited schools from teaching that humans “descended from a lower order of animals” and, importantly, violation of the law carried a fine.
A newly founded New York-based institution dedicated to the defense of individual liberty, the American Civil Liberties Union, sought to challenge the law in the courts.
The entrance of these two grizzled and famous liberals made the trial a sensation.
Bryan, the devout Presbyterian, former Nebraska congressman, and former Secretary of State to Woodrow Wilson, was the most leftwing presidential candidate that any major political party had nominated up to this point.
Thoughtful critics of the federal invasion of our liberties draw from rich intellectual, political, and constitutional arguments.
But few think as deeply about the cultural conditions of a free and self-reliant people.
Placing an advertisement in Tennessee newspapers promising to provide legal support to any teacher who challenged the law, the ACLU caught the eye of a group of businessmen in Dayton. Scopes, a coach and occasional science teacher, to challenge the state law banning the teaching of evolution.
Dayton was not a bastion of modernism, but it was no fundamentalist hotbed, either.