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America, Laboratory of Democracy: Little Leviathans

The 1924 Scopes Trial that banned teaching Charles Darwins' evolution in Tennessee and how US States to decide on religion in schools, allow divorce, birth control and many issues

3/4 One of the most fascinating, and least understood, features of American democracy is that individual states possessed a scope of power much greater than what was given to the central government in Washington. On so many issues, the states went their own way. Whether to teach religion in schools; legalise or outlaw slavery; allow divorce or the sale of alcohol or the sale of firecrackers; permit birth control, pornography, or gambling - on all these matters, and many others, it was up to the individual states to decide.

This episode examines the enormous powers possessed by these little leviathans and the diverse ways in which they used them. We visit Dayton, Tennessee, the site of the famous 1924 Scopes Trial, which put before a judge the question of whether the state of Tennessee had the right to ban the teaching of Charles Darwin and evolution from the schools (it did). We talk to experts on the history of marriage in America to understand why some states banned interracial unions while others didn’t seem to care. And we talk to Californians who see in the recent rebirth of states’ rights the best hope of sustaining a liberal politics in America on matters such as climate control, social welfare and racial equality.

(Photo: American teacher John Thomas Scopes (1900 - 1970) (2nd from left) standing in the courtroom during his trial for teaching Darwin's Theory of Evolution in his high school science class, Dayton, Tennessee, 1925. Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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27 minutes

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