Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Inherit the Wind Celebrates 60th Birthday

happy birthdayScratch the surface of a lawyer and you’ll find a playwright.

We work with the same tools: characters, conflict and words. Some of our scripts play out in the theater of the courtroom. Others are transactional and never leave the office.

This year saw this 60th anniversary of Inherit the Wind, which has been called the greatest American courtroom drama ever written.

The play, which fictionalized the 1925 Scopes creationism trial, was also an historic and cultural benchmark. It came at a time when the country was emerging from two world wars into a brave new era of science and technology.

The principal characters were local prosecutor Matthew Harrison Brady – a three-time presidential candidate and self-righteous true believer – and defense counsel Henry Drummond – also famous and a former friend and ally of Brady, but an agnostic and modernist.

They are pitted against each other in the criminal trial of Bert Cates, a young high school teacher who was arrested for teaching Darwinism in violation of a state law banning evolution from public education.

Here are several excerpts:

Act 1, Scene 1

[Brady learns the day before the trial is to begin that

Drummond is coming from out of town to defend Cates).

Brady: Drummond? Henry Drummond!

Fundamentalist preacher Jeremiah Brown: We won’t allow him in this town!

Brady: No. I believe we should welcome Henry Drummond. If the enemy sends its Goliath into battle, it magnifies our cause. Henry Drummond has stalked the courtrooms of this land for forty years. When he fights, headlines follow. The whole world will be watching our victory over Drummond. If St. George had slain a dragonfly, who would remember him? A toast, then! A toast to tomorrow! To the beginning of the trial and the success of our cause. A toast, in good American lemonade!

Act 1, Scene 2

[During jury selection, potential jurors Bannister and Dunlap are questioned.]

Drummond: Mr. Bannister, How come you’re so anxious to get that front seat over there?
Bannister: Everybody says this is going to be quite a show.

Drummond: I hear the same thing. Ever read anything in a book about evolution?

Bannister: Nope

Drummond: Or about a fella named Darwin?

Bannister: Can’t say I have.

Drummond: I’ll bet you read your Bible.

Bannister: Nope.

Drummond: How come?

Bannister: Can’t read.

Drummond: Well you are fortunate. He’ll do.

Judge: Mr. Bannister, take your seat.

Assistant prosecutor: Do you believe in the Bible, Mr. Dunlap?

Dunlap: I believe in the Holy Word of God.

Assistant prosecutor: This man is acceptable to the prosecution.

Drummond: No questions. Not acceptable.

Lead prosecutor Brady: Does Mr. Drummond refuse this man a place on the jury simply because he believes in the Bible?

Drummond: If you find an evolutionist in town, you can refuse him.

Brady: I object to the defense rejecting a worthy citizen without so much as asking him a question!

Drummond: All right, I’ll ask him a question. How are you?

Dunlap: Kinda hot.

Drummond. So am I. Excused.

Brady: I object to the note of levity which counsel for the defense is introducing into these proceedings.

Act 3

[Cates is found guilty but sentenced by the judge only to a fine of $100.

Afterwards, Brady addresses the crowd outside the courtroom.]

Brady: Fellow citizens, and friends of the unseen audience. From the hallowed hills of sacred Sinai , in the days of remote antiquity, came the law which has been our bulwark and our shield. Age upon age, men have looked to the law as they have looked to the mountains, whence cometh our strength.

[The crowd begins drifting away and Brady collapses.]

Drummond: How quickly they can turn. And how painful it can be when you don’t expect it.



About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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