|Robert Green Ingersoll's Birthplace|
He later said of his father:
"My father was a kind and loving man. He loved his children tenderly and intensely. There was no sacrifice he would not and did not make for them . . . He was a good, a brave and honest man. I loved him living, I love him dead. I never said to him an unkind word, and in in my hear there never was of him an unkind thought."The family moved to Illinois in the late 1840s. Bob had very little formal education. He last saw the inside of a conventional schoolroom as a youth of fifteen while his family was residing in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Later, he would say that his real education began while he was waiting at a cobbler’s shop, when he chanced to pick up a book of the poetry of Robert Burns. At 19, Bob began teaching school, working primarily at schools in Illinois, although he also had jobs in Pennsylvania and Tennessee. While teaching in Waverly, Tennessee, he witnessed the sale of slaves. In a letter to his family he wrote: "People here ask me if I think slavery wrong and I tell them I do and that I believe it is wrong enough to damn the whole of them, and they take it in good part. "
"Well, I'll give you my opinion: with soap, baptism is a good thing."The brethren were shocked, and his remark went from gossip to gossip. The feeling against him became so strong that he was obliged to abandon his position at the school.
|Former Home of the Ingersolls in Marion, Illinois|
While in Marion, Robert Ingersoll served as deputy clerk for John Cunningham, Williamson County's County Clerk and Circuit Clerk. In 1855, after Cunningham was named registrar for the federal land office in southeastern Illinois at Shawneetown, Illinois, Ingersoll followed him to that city on the Ohio River. After a short time there, he took the deputy clerk position with John E. Hall, the county clerk and circuit clerk of Gallatin County, and also a son-in-law of John Hart Crenshaw.
On November 11, 1856, Ingersoll caught John Hall in his arms when the son of a political opponent assassinated his employer in their office.
|The Posey Building in Shawneetown, Illinois|
in which the Ingersolls and Abraham Lincoln had law offices
In 1860, Ingersoll, then twenty-seven years old and a Democrat, was made the congressional nominee of the party. His Republican opponent was Judge William Kellogg, recognized as one of the foremost orators in Illinois at a time when Douglas, Lincoln, Yates and Trumbull were in their glory. Ingersoll made his opening speech at Galesburg. No reception committee met him at the depot, and no hall had been secured for the meeting. Ingersoll went to a hotel, ate his supper, and then, mounting a wagon on the opposite side of the street, calmly began his speech. It was a warm, sultry summer evening, and the street was deserted. At the outset the speaker's audience consisted of one boy, but before he finished a majority of the voters of the town had gathered about him.
Ingersoll wore a pair of pants and a short-tailed coat several sizes too small for him, and which, with his round head, light hair, fat, smooth-shaven face and portly form, made him look like an over-grown school boy. But he was more than a match for Judge Kellogg, who was many years his senior, one of the ablest men ever sent to congress from Illinois, and an old and experienced campaigner.
The debate which began early in the evening and lasted until nearly morning, was a go-as-your-please affair from start to finish. No chairman was chosen. One man would speak awhile and then the other would interrupt and keep talking until the first one, too angry to longer keep silence, would try his hand again.
Slavery was then the burning issue, and at one point Kellogg asked Ingersoll what he would do if a poor black man, escaping from slavery, should come to his home and ask for food and shelter. Would he give them, or would he, as the fugitive slave law then in force demanded, arrest the poor runaway and have him sent back into slavery?
Quick as a flash Ingersoll blurted out that he would do as he had done within a week when a black man came to his door—give him the last dollar he had and bid him God speed on his way to Canada.
Stephen Douglas died on June 3, 1861. Ingersoll was called upon to be the Peoria funeral orator for Douglas, as he would be for Lincoln almost four years later. Ebon Clark was chosen to be in the small committee delegated to attend the Chicago funeral. On June 7, 1861 , a great funeral parade proceeded to the Peoria Court House square where Robert Ingersoll was introduced as the orator of the day. The account in the Peoria Daily Democratic Union was short on quotations and long on praise for the speech: "It fully sustained the reputation which its author has won all over Illinois, as the 'young man eloquent'."
|Ingersoll in Union Army Uniform|
|Colonel Robert Ingersoll with Captain William McClure|
“The Rebels rushed us with the fury of Hell and our soldiers disputed every bloody inch with more courage and more dauntless desperate heroism than I before imagined possessed by men. . . .The rain fell all night, slowly and sadly, as though the heavens were weeping for the dead. All night long I stood with my blanket around me, drearily by the side of a dead tree watching the shells of the gunboats. Every fifteen minutes would come a flash like heat lightning—then the boom—then the bluish line bending over the distant wood—then the roar of the bursting, and then last of all the double echo dying over the far hills.”Those who survived the Battle of Shiloh saw action at Bolivar, Tennessee in August, at Davis Bridge in September, and at Corinth in October. Ingersoll was impatient with officers such as General John Pope of Illinois, who was defeated at Second Bull Run, and with President Lincoln, who had appointed Pope and other "incompetents." "To allow troops to be led by such a jackass is murder. When will Lincoln stop appointing idiots because they come from Ills, or are related to his charming wife." he complained.
|James C. Allen|
|Nathan Bedford Forrest|
“War is horrid beyond the comprehension of man. It is enough to break the heart to go through the hospitals and see gray-haired veterans with lips whitening under the kiss of death—hundreds of mere boys with thoughts of home—of sister and brother—meeting the dark angel alone, nothing but pain, misery, neglect, and death. ...to see death around you, everywhere nothing but death—to think of the ones far away expecting the dead to return and hoping for one more embrace—listening for footsteps that never will be heard on earth—it makes one tired—tired of war.”
~ Robert Ingersoll
|Illustration of the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863|
I am neither a Democrat, a Republican, an Abolitionist or the other thing. . . . If there is any man here today who believes that slavery is right, that man ought to be a slave. ... I am opposed to the Union as it was. . . . We tried to serve God and the devil at the same time and failed. . . I don't care for Abraham Lincoln, but I am with him when he attempts to make this country all free. . . . Were it not for northern copperheads, we should have had peace months ago. The southern people ask me to sustain slavery. I will see them dead first. . . . Hang them and they will be nearer heaven than they ever were before. . . . There are but two parties now, the pro- slavery party and the anti-slavery party. I am on the free side.
|Illustration of the Assassination of President Lincoln|
On May 14th, 1866, at the age of 33, that Ingersoll gave his first iconoclastic speech, "Progress" in Peoria. He spoke of his budding abhorrence of superstition and concluded with a plea for the continuation of progress in thought. He was now the attorney for the Peoria and Rock Island Railroad, the Peoria, Decatur and Evansville Railroad, the Toledo, Peoria, Atlanta and Decatur Railroad, the Chicago and Alton Railroad, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, the Indianapolis and St. Louis Railroad, the Illinois Midland Railroad, and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroads. He was on the Board of Directors of the Peoria and Rock Island Railroad.
|Portrait of Ingersoll as Attorney General|
Although Ingersoll was not yet publicly committed to "point blank Atheism," by 1869 he considered himself an "infidel" and was reading widely in search of a philosophy that would be more pleasing to him than the "Northern religions." After reading the Hindu book of sacred verse Rig Veda in 1870, he remarked, "My mind is full of Maruts, Indias, Vishnus and Aditis. . . . All the divinities of India are at my tongue's end. To tell the truth I am a little in love with the religion of Brahma. . . . I have embraced the doctrine of the sensual."
Ingersoll's law practice at this time was lucrative. At various times he represented the Illinois Central and the Peoria and Rock Island railroads. He also served as prosecutor and defense attorney in various cases involving fraud. Although he sustained losses of business because of the Chicago Fire of 1871 and the Panic of 1873, he prospered.
"The Golden Age of Freethought," which stretched roughly from 1875 until the beginning of the First World War, divided Americans in much the same fashion, and over many of the same issues, as have the culture wars of the present. The argument over the proper role of religion in civil government was a subsidiary of the larger question of whether the claims of supposedly revealed religion deserve any particular respect or deference in a pluralistic society. The other cultural issues that divided Americans in Ingersoll’s time are equally familiar and include evolution, race, immigration, women’s rights, sexual behavior, freedom of artistic expression, and vast disparities in wealth. In the 19th century, however, the issues were newer, as was the science bolstering the secular side of the arguments, and the forces of religious orthodoxy were stronger.
In 1876 he moved into a mansion which had taken 2 years and $50,000 to build. Constructed of brick and stone, four stories high, steam heated, it was the most outstanding residence in Peoria. During this period he was assisting the Republicans in a disputed election, defending a revenue officer charged with illicit dealings in whiskey and was heavily involved in politicking.
Robert Ingersoll was well known in Illinois, but it was not until 1876 that he came to national prominence. The Republican National Convention in June in Cincinnati, Ohio, gave him an opportunity to speak to a larger audience. He was a member of the delegation which Illinois sent to the convention. The Illinois delegates were all enthusiastic supporters of James Blaine, and it was decided that as Illinois's turn would come early in the call of states, an Illinois man should place Blaine in nomination. Ingersoll was asked to make the speech. When he told his brother Ebon Clark, who had accompanied him to Cincinnati, his brother urged him to decline. Ebon Clark argued that Robert was a comparatively unknown man, and that if he failed in the undertaking his future would be ruined.
|1876 Republican National Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio On the stage in the far distance, Robert Green Ingersoll launched his national reputation with his impassioned "Plumed Knight" speech nominating James G. Blaine for the GOP nomination.|
"Like an armed warrior, like a plumed knight, James G. Blaine marched down the halls of the American Congress and threw his shining lances full and fair against the brazen forehead of every defamer of his country and malinger of its honor."
“The first secular government; the first government that said every church has exactly the same rights and no more; every religion has the same rights, and no more. In other words, our fathers were the first men who had the sense, had the genius, to know that no church should be allowed to have a sword.”Days after Ingersoll gave the speech, he received the following letter from his brother, Ebon Clark:
LAW OFFICE OF E.C. INGERSOLL
810 F St. Washington, D.C.
July 11, 1876.
Ever Dearest Brother:
I have just read your grand oration delivered on the 4th. I paid it the tribute of my tears. It is full of sublime utterances and golden truths. You are always at the bed-rock of things. You think deeper and broader than anybody; and then you are absolutely untrammeled! Your thoughts have the irresistible and boundless sweep of the ocean, and the directness of a ray of light. I wish your oration could be read by every human being on the globe! The whole race would be elevated, except those 'robbers called kings,' and those 'hypocrites called priests.' My dear and splendid brother, I cannot tell you how proud I am of you, nor how much I love you. I will meet you in Phila. next Saturday. If you wish to stop at any other hotel than the Girard, let me know.
With infinite love,
Your devoted brother
|Ebon Clark Ingersoll|
In 1876, Ingersoll delivered the "Plumed Knight" speech, the centennial oration on the Fourth of July, and gave dozens of campaign speeches, including the famous "Bloody Shirt" address to the veteran soldiers. After the election campaign, he delivered "Ghosts" and "The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child," in dozens of cities at very substantial fees. Between 1876 and 1880, he traveled and lectured almost constantly. His lecturing tours cemented the reputation as an orator that his Cincinnati speech had given him, and also made him the best known of American agnostics.
|Letterhead from the Ingersoll Brothers' Law Office in Washington, D.C.|
|Sign in Ingersoll's Office|
The Ingersoll home in Washington, D.C. comprised a large household. The census of 1880 lists twelve occupants of the house:
- Robert (age 47)
- his wife Eva (39)
- their daughter, Eva (16)
- their daughter, Maude (15)
- Robert’s mother-in-law, Harriette Parker (84)
- Robert’s sister-in-law, Eva’s sister, Sue Farrell (24)
- Sue's husband Clinton Farrell (29)
- Their daughter, Eva Farrell (5)
- Sue Sharkey (35), a housekeeper hired by the Ingersolls when the girls were little, and considered part of the family
- Three Black servants: Georgie Brown (30)
- Fannie Evans (40)
- William Vaughn (26)
At the entrance to the parlor was a bust of Shakespeare. Usually Ingersoll’s hat sat on the head of the bust at a rakish angle. In the summer, the hat was a white Panama; in other seasons, it was a black derby or a topper. Above the fireplace hung a portrait of Ebon Clark and next to the mantle was a bust of Robert Ingersoll. A nearby Steinway Grand was played regularly at the weekly socials. A portrait of Beethoven hung in the library, and there were busts of Voltaire, Newton and Paine. Shelves of books lined the four walls of the library, halfway from the floor to the ceiling. On a center table “was a massive book in heavy morocco binding edged with gilt, the complete works of Shakespeare." Ingersoll called it his bible.
|Ingersoll's Home, 25 Lafayeet Square, Washington, D.C.|
This prince of pagans occupies a handsome residence on Lafayette Square. On Sunday evenings the Ingersoll home is open to their friends, and these Sabbath symposiums are most enjoyable of all the weekly round of social affairs that any season can offer. Ease and hospitality liven the air from the square tiled hall into which the vestibule opens to the remotest sanctum. Before the church bells have ceased tolling the faithful to the evening service, people begin dropping into this charming home and the smooth face and round head of the host appears to the visitor in the hall with unhackneyed and cordial greetings. Adding to his own social attractiveness Colonel Ingersoll has a delightful family to make it more inviting to his guests ....
The house is admirably fitted for entertaining, with its three rooms opening into one another and the dining room beyond. The first parlor has crimson hangings, dull red walls and a dark Turkey carpet, with deep velvet furniture. The second parlor is in light colors, with cream walls, pearl-tinted carpet and a large book case where the works of Spinoza and Mark Twain stand jocularly side by side, and Matthew Arnold, agricultural reports and Max Muller lean together. The third room contains the piano and more books, while the walls all through are hung with paintings and fine engravings. For wit, eloquence and repartee Colonel Ingersoll finds no superior, and with a room full of friends about him his bon mots and epigrams are incessant.In their home on Lafayette Square, the Ingersolls received ambassadors, diplomats, members of Congress, department heads, judges, writers, actors, musicians and notables like Frederick Douglass and Clara Barton.
|Ingersoll in 1877|
|Rutherford B. Hayes|
|Cover of The Truth Seeker|
|D. M. Bennett|
He believed that happiness is the only good, reason the only torch, justice the only worship, humanity the only religion, and love the only priest.
He added to the sum of human joy; and were every one to whom he did some loving service to bring a blossom to his grave, he would sleep tonight beneath a wilderness of flowers.
He who sleeps here, when dying, mistaking the approach of death for the return of health, whispered with his last breath, "I am better now."
Let us believe, in spite of doubts and dogmas, of fears and tears, that these dear words are true of all the countless dead.
The record of a generous life runs like a vine around the memory of our dead . .
|Mark Twain / Samuel Clemens|
Chicago, Nov. 14/79, A little after 5 in the morning
I’ve just come to my room. Livy darling, I guess this was the memorable night of my life. By George, I never was so stirred since I was born. I heard four speeches which I can never forget. One by Emory Storrs, one by Gen. Vilas (O, wasn’t it wonderful!) one by Gen. Logan (mighty stirring), one by somebody whose name escapes me, & one by that splendid old soul, Col. Bob Ingersoll,—oh, it was just the supremest combination of English words that was ever put together since the world began. My soul, how handsome he looked, as he stood on that table, in the midst of those 500 shouting men, & poured the molten silver from his lips! Lord, what an organ is human speech when it is played by a master! All these speeches may look dull in print, but how the lightnings glared around them when they were uttered, & how the crowd roared in response! Ah, It was a great night, a marvelous night, a memorable night. I am so richly repaid for my journey—& how I did long wish with all my whole heart that you were there to be lifted into the very seventh heaven of enthusiasm, as I was. The army songs, the military music, the crashing applause—Lord bless me, it was unspeakable.
Out of compliment they placed me last in the list—No. 15—I was to “hold the crowd” . . . Then Gen. Sherman (Chairman) announced my toast, & the crowd gave me a good round of applause as I mounted on top of the dinner table, but it was only on account of my name, nothing more,—they were all tired & wretched. They let my first sentence go in silence, till I paused & added “we stand on common ground”—then they burst forth like a hurricane & I saw that I had them! From that time on, I stopped at the end of each sentence, & let the tornado of applause & laughter sweep around me.—& when I closed with “And if the child is but the prophecy of the man, there are mighty few will doubt that he succeeded,” I say it who oughtn’t to say it, the house came down with a crash. For two hours & a half, now, I’ve been shaking hands & listening to congratulations. Gen. Sherman said, “Lord bless you, my boy, I don’t know how you do it—it’s a secret that’s beyond me—but it was marvelous—but great—give me your hand again.”
. . . And do you know, Gen. Grant sat through fourteen speeches like a graven image, but I fetched him! I broke him up, utterly! He told me he told me he laughed till the tears came & every bone in his body ached. (And do you know, the biggest part of the success of the speech lay in the fact that the audience saw that for once in his life he had been knocked out of his iron serenity.)
Bless your soul, ’twas immense. I never was so proud in my life. Lots & lots of people—hundreds, I might say—told me my speech was the triumph of the evening—which was a lie. Ladies, Tom, Dick & Harry—even the policemen—captured me in the halls & shook hands, & scores of army officers said “Whe shall always be right do grateful to you for coming.” General Pope came to hunt me up—I was afraid to speak to him on that theatre stage, last night, thinking it might be presumptuous to tackle a man so high up in military history. Gen. Schofield, & other historic men, paid their compliments. Sheridan was ill & could not come, but I’m to go with a General of his staff & see him before I go to Col. Grant’s. Gen. Augur—well, I’ve talked with them all, received invitations from them all—from people living everywhere—& as I said before, it’s a memorable night. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything in the world.
But my sakes, you should have heard Ingersoll’s speech on that table! Half an hour ago he ran across me in the crowded halls & put his arms about me & said “Mark, if I live a hundred years, I’ll always be grateful for your speech—Lord what a supreme thing it was!” But I told him it wasn’t any use to talk, he had walked off with the honors of that occasion by something of a majority. Bully boy is Ingersoll—traveled with him in the cars the other day, & you can make up your mind we had a good time.
Well, I bummed around that banquet hall from 8 in the evening till 2 in the morning, talking with people & listening to speeches, & I never ate a single bite or took a sup of anything but ice water; so if I seem excited now, it is the intoxication of supreme enthusiasm. By george, it was a grand night, a historical night.
And now it is a quarter past 6 A.M.—so good bye & God bless you & the Bays, my darlings.
Investigations by Congress into corruption began as early as 1872 during the Grant Administration. This investigation result had been tainted by bribery, while an 1876 investigation managed to shut down the Star Route frauds temporarily. A resurgence of graft took place in 1878 in the Hayes Administration, continuing into the Garfield Administration. In April 1880, another Congressional investigation was launched. President Hayes, in an effort of reform, stopped further awarding of Star Route contracts.
|"The Result of the Star Route Trials"|
showing Ingersoll walking away with bags of money as legal counsel fees
|"THE HARDER HE PUMPS, THE DIRTIER HIS CASE GETS"|
Puck Magazine, March 7, 1883
|Note to Marilla Ricker from Susan B. Anthony, 1900|
|Lincoln Hall in Washington, D.C.|
What are the fundamental rights, privileges and immunities which belong to a free man? Certainly the rights of all citizens of the United States are equal. Their immunities and privileges must be the same. He who makes discrimination between citizens on account of color, violates the Constitution of the United States.In 1883, Ingersoll moved his family and law practice to New York City, where he would be closer to his profitable railroad clients and his family to the richer cultural scene.
|"A SUNDAY SHOW - PROFIT FOR PAGAN AND PREACHER"|
Puck Magazine Cover featuring Ingersoll Lecuring to Coins
My Dear Madam:
Mrs. Cooper has told me the sad story of your almost infinite sorrow. I am not foolish enough to suppose that I can say or do anything to lessen your great grief, your anguish for his loss; but may be I can say something to drive from your poor heart the fiend of fear -- fear for him.
If there is a God, let us believe that he is good; and if he is good, the good have nothing to fear. I have been told that your son was kind and generous; that he was filled with charity and sympathy. Now, we know that in this world like begets like, kindness produces kindness, and all good bears the fruit of joy. Belief is nothing -- deeds are everything; and if your son was kind he will naturally find kindness wherever he may be. You would not inflict endless pain upon your worst enemy. Is God worse than you? You could not bear to see a viper suffer forever. Is it possible that God will doom a kind and generous boy to everlasting pain? Nothing can be more monstrously absurd and cruel.
The truth is, that no human being knows anything of what is beyond the grave.
If nothing is known, then it is not honest for anyone to pretend that he does know.
If nothing is known, then we can hope only for the good. If there be a God your boy is no more in his power now than he was before his death -- no more than you are at the present moment. Why should we fear God more after death than before? Does the feeling of God toward his children change the moment they die? While we are alive they say God loves us; when will he cease to love us?
True love never changes. I beg of you to throw away all fear. Take counsel of your own heart. If God exists, your heart is the best revelation of him, and your heart could never send your boy to endless pain.
After all, no one knows. The ministers know nothing. And all the churches in the world know no more on this subject than the ants on the ant-hills. Creeds are good for nothing except to break the hearts of the loving.
Let us have courage. Under the seven-hued arch of hope let the dead sleep. I do not pretend to know, but I do know that others do not know.
Listen to your heart, believe what it says, and wait with patience and without fear for what the future has for all.
If we can get no comfort from what people know, let us avoid being driven to despair by what they do not know.
I wish I could say something that would put a star in your night of grief -- a little flower in your lonely path -- and if an unbeliever has such a wish, surely an infinitely good being never made a soul to be the food of pain through countless years.
|Cartoon of "Bob" Ingersol as "The Great Agnostic"|
The Agnostic is an Atheist. The Atheist is an Agnostic. The Agnostic says: “I do not know, but I do not believe there is any god.” The Atheist says the same. The orthodox Christian says he knows there is a God, but we know that he does not know. The Atheist [too] cannot know that God does not exist.Ingersoll also pointed out that the labels “atheist” and “infidel” had generally been applied as epithets to anyone, religious or not, who refused to accept biblical stories that were scientifically impossible. Among those included were the devout Quaker, suffragist, and abolitionist Lucretia Mott, and Thomas Paine, who was also called a Judas, reptile, hog, mad dog, souse, louse, and arch-beast by his religiously orthodox contemporaries. Ingersoll subtitled his standard lecture about Paine, “With His Name Left Out, the History of Liberty Cannot Be Written.” He made it one of his missions not only to remind citizens in America’s second century of Paine’s indispensable rhetorical contributions to the revolutionary cause, but also to link those ideals to Paine’s fierce defense of liberty of conscience and the separation of church and state.
|Charles B. Reynolds|
On August 14,1886, The Truth Seeker published an examination of New Jersey's religious laws. It found that there the Constitution adopted in 1844 guaranteed both freedom of speech and the press and that "No person shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right merely on account of his religious principles." Blasphemy was, however, a crime punishable by twelve months hard labor or a fine not exceeding two hundred dollars. Further, while the Revised Statutes of New Jersey did not exclude a nonbeliever from testifying, the common law excluded any person who did not believe "there is a God who will punish him if he swears falsely."
Ingersoll's involvement made the trial, held on May 19, 1887, a national media sensation. He called no defense witnesses, relying instead on a summation several hours long. The next day the jury found Reynolds guilty, but the judge imposed only a modest fine. Ingersoll paid the fine from his pocket and charged Reynolds no fee for his legal work.
|James Addison Reavis|
During the course of his deception, Reavis managed to convince a number of prominent people to support his efforts: he obtained legal and political support from Robert Ingersoll, Ingersoll's friend, Roscoe Conkling, and James Broadhead. In 1884 Conkling stated, "I can say, however, that having been consulted ... and having made a somewhat careful examination of the ancient papers and other papers produces, of which there are many, and on the facts and history of the case, I find they all go to show Mrs. Reavis to be the person she believes herself to be, namely the lineal descendant of the original grantee." Conkling introduced Reavis to Ingersoll, who was so impressed by Peralta papers that he agreed to represent Reavis in his efforts to have the new claim confirmed.
|Eva Ingersoll Brown|
|Castle Walston on the Hudson River at Dobbs Ferry, New York|
Before the marriage, all parties arranged that the newly-weds would live with the Ingersolls six months, and the Ingersolls would live with the Browns for six months. The couple had two children, Eva Ingersoll Brown and Robert G. Ingersoll Brown.
|Ingersoll with his grandchildren|
“I’ll tell you why. I do not attack persons, but their superstitions. I deal with opinions, not with those who hold them. I do not war against men. I do not war against persons. I war against certain doctrines that I believe to be wrong. But I give to every human being every right that I claim for myself."To a preacher who urged him to deal more gently with the beliefs cherished by many in his audiences, he replied:
“You do not exactly appreciate my feeling. I do not hate Presbyterians, I hate Presbyterianism. I hate with all my heart the creed of that church, and I most heartily despise the God described in the Confession of Faith. Some of the best friends I have in the world are afflicted with the mental malady known as Presbyterianism. They are the victims of the consolation growing out of the belief that a vast majority of their fellow-men are doomed to suffer eternal torment, to the end that their Creator may be eternally glorified. I have said many times, and I say again, that I do not despise a man because he has the rheumatism; I despise the rheumatism because it has a man” “
"All the meanness, all the revenge, all the selfishness, all the cruelty, all the hatred, all the infamy of which the heart of man is capable, grew blossomed, and bore fruit in this one word--Hell."
|Ingersoll in 1890|
They knew that to put God in the Constitution was to put man out. They knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought. They knew the terrible history of the church too well to place in her keeping, or in the keeping of her God, the sacred rights of man. They intended that all should have the right to worship, or not to worship; that our laws should make no distinction on account of creed. They intended to found and frame a government for man, and for man alone. They wished to preserve the individuality and liberty of all; to prevent the few from governing the many, and the many from persecuting and destroying the few.
|"The school house is my cathedral."|
Some of his better known lectures are as follows:
- Some Mistakes of Moses
- The Gods
- The Ghosts
- Liberty of Man, Woman and Child
- Heretics and Heresies
- Robert Burns
- Abraham Lincoln
[He] had all the attributes of a perfect man, and, in my opinion, no finer personality ever existed.
~ Thomas Edison
"It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass... He lives, embodies, the individuality, I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light."
When Whitman died in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral.
|Tomb of Walt Whitman on the day of his funeral|
|Robert Ingersoll addressing an audience at a Thomas Paine memorial gathering|
at New Rochelle, New York, on May 30, 1894
“I do not believe that the people can be made temperate by law....Prohibition fills the world with spies and tattlers, and, besides that, where a majority of the people are not in favor of it the law will not be enforced; and where a majority of the people are in favor of it there is not much need of the law.
"Take wine and malt liquors out of the world and she shall lose a vast deal of good fellowship; the world would lose more than it would gain.... If Prohibition succeeds, and wines and malt liquors go, the next thing will be to take tobacco away, and the next thing all other pleasures, until prayer meetings will be the only places of enjoyment."
~ Robert Ingersoll
|Ingersoll Souvenir Spoon |
made by his admirer, Otto Wettstein, an Illinois jeweler
It affords me great pleasure to give facts in regard to any matters touching the character and conduct of so worthy a gentleman as Ingersoll. No person in the service could know the facts better than myself, as the Colonel and I were together in battle and in camp during his career in the army. Our relations were of the most intimate character, and I can say without fear of contradiction that there was not a braver man in the late war than Colonel Ingersoll. He did not know what fear was in battle or any place else.
The charge that Bob Ingersoll was a cowardly soldier, ran at the first fire in the first battle, bringing up in a pigpen, and was actually "captured by a sixteen-year-old boy,' is to my personal knowledge a gross mistake all through. The first engagement he was in was the battle of Pittsburg landing, April 6 and 7, 1862. His deportment was calm and collected; he made several strong pleas to our men to stand firm and fight the enemy to the last, as our cause was just.
Colonel Ingersoll was kind-hearted and generous, beloved and respected by all the men in his command, and I am sorry to hear these false charges made against him by persons who do not know what they are talking about.
He is not with the masses in his notions about religion. He and I did not agree on theology, but no man could show greater regard for the religious views of another than Mr. Ingersoll did for mine during our entire time together.
~ B. D. Meek, Eureka, Illinois, March 19, 1896
|Ingersoll in 1897|
July 20, '99
My Dear Sir: I enclose a clipping from your paper, Of course you copied it from some exchange.
The words attributed to me I never uttered or wrote.
'I have one sentiment for soldiers; -- Cheers for the living and tears for the dead.' This is mine -- but all the rest is by some one else.
It is true that I think the treatment of the Filipinos wrong -- foolish. It is also true that I do not want the Filipinos if they do not want us. I believe in expansion -- if it is honest. I want Cuba if the Cubans want us.
At the same time, I think our forces should be immediately withdrawn from Cuba, and the people of that island allowed to govern themselves. We waged the war against Spain for liberty -- for right -- and we must bear the laurel unstained.
|Ingersoll and his family|
He went to breakfast in the morning, and afterwards sat on the veranda, reading and talking with the family. About ten-thirty he remarked that he would lie down and rest awhile, and would then return and play pool with his son-in-law. Mrs. Ingersoll accompanied her husband up-stairs to their bedroom and remained with him while he slept. About eleven-forty-five he got up and sat in his chair to put on his shoes. Sue Sharkey entered the room, followed by Sue M. Farrell. Mrs. Ingersoll said: "Do not dress, Papa, until after luncheon -- I will eat up-stairs with you." He replied: "Oh, no; I do not want to trouble you." Mrs. Farrell then remarked: "How absurd, after the hundreds of times you have eaten upstairs with her." He glanced laughingly at Mrs. Farrell, as she turned to leave the room; and then Mrs. Ingersoll said: "Why, Papa, your tongue is coated -- I must give you some medicine."
He looked up at her with a smile and said, "I am better now," and, as he did so, closed his eyes. These were the exact last words said by his brother, Ebon Clark Ingersoll.
From The Record-Union of Sacramento, California on July 22, 1899:
NEW YORK, July 21.--Robert G. Ingersoll died at his home in Dobb's Ferry, N.Y., this afternoon of apoplexy. Mr. Ingersoll went to his summer home in Dobb's Ferry two days ago apparently in good health. Shortly after his arrival there he complained of a slight indisposition. He spent this morning in his room, and shortly before he was stricken his wife offered to have his luncheon taken up to him, so that he would not have to walk down stairs to the dining-room. He laughingly replied that while he did not feel quite as young as he used to, he guessed he was not yet an invalid, and he would go down with the others. As he finished speaking and was about to rise he fell back into his chair. A physician was immediately summoned, but when he reached the house he found that Mr. Ingersoll had died almost instantly.At four o'clock in the afternoon of Tuesday July 25th, four days after his death, his family and about thirty friends gathered in the room in which he died, and in which the body, without casket or conventional shroud, rested upon a bier.
It had been arranged to read three selections from his works: The Declaration of the Free; My Religion; and A Tribute to Ebon C. Ingersoll. This constituted the only service or ceremony at "Walston" or elsewhere.
On the morning of Thursday July 27th, his body was put in a hearse, which, followed by five carriages containing the family and friends, proceeded, at eight forty-five, to the railroad-station in Dobbs' Ferry. At the Grand Central Station, New York, the casket and party were again transferred to hearse and carriages and proceeded to the Fresh Pond crematory on Long Island. The ashes were received in an urn which the family had specially provided, and with which they returned to "Walston."
|Urn Containing Ingersoll's Ashes|
On the oblong tombstone are carved the words,
Nothing is grander than to break chains from the bodies of men
Nothing nobler than to destroy the phantoms of the soul.
|Ingersoll Gravestone in Arlington National Cemetery|
On the 12th of February, 1809, two babes were born—one in the woods of Kentucky, amid the hardships and poverty of pioneers; one in England surrounded by wealth and culture. one was educated in the University of Nature, the other at Cambridge. One associated his name with the enfranchisement of labor, with the emancipation of millions, with the salvation of the Republic. He is known to us as Abraham Lincoln. The other broke the chains of superstition and filled the world with intellectual light, and he is known as Charles Darwin. Nothing is grander than to break chains from the bodies of men—nothing nobler than to destroy the phantoms of the soul. Because of these two men the nineteenth century is illustrious.After Ingersoll died, Mark Twain wrote:
Of all men living and dead I love Ingersoll most! Except for my daughters, I have not grieved for any death as I have grieved for his. His was a great and beautiful spirit, he was a man – all man, from his crown to his footsoles. My reverence for him was deep and genuine.Ingersoll was better at making and spending money than he was at saving it, and although he did not die in debt, he left nothing like a fortune to his wife. He was fond of entertaining, and he and his wife gave legendary parties in the succession of Manhattan townhouses where they lived for the last 15 years of his life. He also gave away a good deal of money to Freethought causes, the arts, and impecunious relatives and was, as he was the first to acknowledge, an inept investor. In a letter to his brother John, he wrote, “I have a positive genius for losing money.”
Ingersoll’s generosity elicited a disapproving tut-tut from the Times in its obituary. “He earned great sums of money, both as a lecturer and a lawyer, but he let them go like water,” the newspaper reported. “It was his habit to keep money in his house in an open drawer, to which any member of his family was free to go and take what was wanted.” Since all the members of Ingersoll’s immediate family were women, one suspects that what really shocked the obituary writer was the reckless dispersal of cash to females.
Perhaps because of his refusal to play the role of tightfisted Victorian paterfamilias, Ingersoll by all accounts (including his own and those of his wife and their two daughters) had had an extraordinarily happy marriage and family life. This abundance of creature comforts and domestic happiness did not sit well with orthodox believers, who thought that the evil of questioning the existence of God should be punished in both this life and the next.
Ingersoll’s collected works were published within a few years of his death by his brother-in-law, C. P. Farrell, who owned the Dresden Publishing Company (named for Ingersoll’s birthplace in upstate New York). "The Great Agnostic" remained a well-known, frequently cited figure into the 1920s, not only because many of his friends and enemies remained alive but also because his writings were still thought to be capable of corrupting American youth.
|The Dresden Edition|
The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll
|Statue of Robert Ingersoll in Peoria's Glen Oak Park|
The Robert Ingersoll Birthplace, now known as Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, is located in Dresden, New York. The building has been celebrated by freethinkers since shortly after Ingersoll's death. When Ingersoll died in 1899, his brother-in-law and official publisher Charles P. Farrell launched the Dresden Publishing Company, named for the village of his birth, to publish a multi-volume set of Ingersoll's collected works. When published in 1900, the first volume bore an engraving of the birthplace.
The Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum opened on Memorial Day weekend in 1993. The Museum has been open to the public on weekends each summer and fall ever since. In 2003, a historically accurate front porch was added by volunteer contractor (and Ingersoll descendant) Jeff Ingersoll. In that year the Museum also adopted its current tagline, referring to Ingersoll as "the most remarkable American most people never heard of," a reference to his near-exclusion from history by religious detractors.
|The Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum|
|The Great Agnostic, |
Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought
Susan Jacoby wrote The Great Agnostic, Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought, published in 2013. She explained why Ingersoll's stature has diminished, with the hope that her book will do "as much for Ingersoll as Ingersoll did for Paine."
I hope the time will come when civilized man will understand that he cannot be perfectly happy while everybody else is miserable; that a perfectly civilized man could not enjoy a dinner knowing that others were starving; that he could not enjoy the richest robes if he knew that some of his fellow—men in rags and tatters were shivering in the blast. In other words, I want to carry out the idea here that I have so frequently uttered with regard to the other world; that is, that no gentleman angel could be perfectly happy knowing that somebody else was in hell.
~ Robert Ingersoll
While I am opposed to all orthodox creeds, I have a creed myself; and my creed is this. Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy to be here. The way to be happy is to make others so. This creed is somewhat short, but it is long enough for this life, strong enough for this world. If there is another world, when we get there we can make another creed. But this creed certainly will do for this life.
~ Robert Ingersoll, 1882