Monday, August 19, 2013

Robert Ingersoll, born August 11, 1833

Robert Green Ingersoll was born in Dresden, New York, the youngest of five children of John and Mary Livingston Ingersoll: Ruth, John, Mary Jane, Ebon Clark and Robert. Shortly before Robert's birth, Mary Ingersoll circulated a petition to Congress that slavery be abolished in Washington, D.C. Robert's middle name, "Green", was in honor of Reverend Beriah Green, a reformer and abolitionist. The family called him "Bob". 

Robert Green Ingersoll's Birthplace
Reverend John Ingersoll was a Congregationalist preacher who was also an abolitionist. In 1834, he became associate pastor at the Second Free Church in New York City.  The Reverend Charles G. Finney, a famous revivalist, was pastor of the church. Ingersoll resigned from the church in 1835, the same year his wife, Mary, died in Madison County.  Bob was two years old.  John Ingersoll later married for a second time to Frances Langdon Willard. 

The family moved frequently, as John Ingersoll was rarely employed in one place for more than a year or two at a time.  In 1841, the family moved to Illinois. From 1842 to 1845, John Ingersoll preached at the First Congregation Church in Madison, Ohio. Ingersoll's liberal views resulted in a trial for un-ministerial conduct in Madison that forbade John from further preaching the ministry. The Congregational hierarchy later reversed the decision. Bob, still a child at the time of the trial, believed his father had received unjust and bigoted treatment. 

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. "

At one time, several Baptist ministers and elders who were conducting a revival in the neighborhood were also staying at Bob's boardinghouse.  They were discussing religion at table; the young teacher took no part in their discussions.  One day he was pointedly asked what he thought about baptism. He hesitated to speak, but they insisted. He said: 
"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.

He was 27 years old when the Civil War began.

1850 Map of Illinois
In 1854, the family settled in Marion, Illinois, where Robert Ingersoll and his older brother  Ebon Clarke Ingersoll were admitted to the bar that year. 

Former Home of the Ingersolls in Marion, Illinois
A county historian, writing twenty years later, noted that local residents considered the Ingersolls as a "very intellectual family; but, being Abolitionists, and the boys being deists, rendered obnoxious to our people in that respect."

 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 addition to his job as a clerk, he and his brother opened their law practice in Shawneetown under the name "E.C. and R.G. Ingersoll". They also had an office in Raleigh, the county seat of neighboring Saline County.  As an attorney following the court circuit, Ingersoll often practiced alongside John Cunningham's soon-to-be son-in-law, John A. Logan, the state's attorney who had been a political ally of John Hall.

Ingersoll and his brother moved to Peoria, Illinois in 1857.  Reverend John Ingersoll died in Peoria on May 1, 1859.  Robert Ingersoll was there when he died.  The old man on his deathbed asked Bob to read to him from the black book clutched to his chest. His son was surprised to discover that it wasn’t the Bible; it was Plato describing the death of Socrates.

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. 

Towards the close of the campaign he challenged his opponent to a joint debate. The challenge was accepted, and the two men met at Galesburg. A man who lived in Galesburg recollected years later:
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.  
William Kellogg
When election day came, Ingersoll was defeated, but his campaign had made him the most popular Democrat in his district.

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
Ingersoll joined the Union Army on September 16, 1861 and with Colonel Basil D. Meek, a Peoria judge, began to help recruit volunteers from Peoria to serve in a cavalry regiment. He was commissioned Colonel of the Eleventh Illinois Cavalry Regiment. In early November, 1961, the recruits began to appear at Camp Lyon at Peoria. The regiment presented itself for service on December 20, 1861.
Colonel Robert Ingersoll with Captain William McClure
A circuit rider, traveling to other counties for some of his cases, including those for the railroads, he was invited to the mansion home of the most wealthy family in Tazewell County, that of Benjamin Weld and Harriette Park of Groveland.   There, he met and wooed 
Eva Amelia Park, their 21-year old daughter.    They were married on February 13th, 1862, in a religious ceremony, although Eva, influenced by her grandmother, was a "rationalist" also.   Ingersoll called Eva  “a woman without superstition.”

Nine days after the wedding, he returned to duty with his regiment; less than two months later, the Eleventh Illinois fought in the Battle of  Shiloh. Colonel Ingersoll's regiment was under the direction of General Prentiss at Pittsburgh Landing; they were engaged in the fight on April 6 & 7.  Ingersoll wrote to his brother Ebon Clark, 
“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.

On September 24, 1862, the Illinois Republican convention nominated Ebon Clark for congressman-at-large on the third ballot. Ebon Clark Ingersoll responded by giving a "rebel and copperhead" damning speech. He was happy to be in a convention where he saw no traitors, as he implied he had in the Democratic convention. He was for emancipation and for punishing the rebels. He was against all those who were not unconditionally for the Union, and he wouldn't mind seeing a few traitors in Illinois, as in South Carolina, hanged if it would help crush the rebellion in a short time. 

When Robert Ingersoll, who was with his regiment at Corinth, Mississippi, heard of Ebon's criticism of the Democrats, he applauded. On September 22, 1 862, he wrote: "I glory in the position you have taken. . . .The effect of the Springfield (Democratic) Convention is to throw cold water upon the present enthusiasm of the North. . . . Slavery is unspeakable-detestable-destroy it." When Ebon allowed Robert's letter of September 22 condemning the Democrats to be published in the Republican newspaper, Robert was angered.

James C. Allen
By election time in 1862 Ingersoll was profoundly discouraged with the war effort, with politicians, and with the prospect that his brother would be defeated. He wrote Ebon Clark a letter meant to prepare him for the defeat; the letter also displays Ingersoll 's misgivings about democracy. Robert's pessimism with politics and war was more justified than he realized. Ebon Clark was defeated in the November election, losing to a Copperhead (peace Democrat), James C. Allen. 

Nathan Bedford Forrest
On December 2, 1862, Ingersoll was appointed Chief of Cavalry on the staff of General Jeremy C. Sullivan. His regiment was stationed at Jackson, Tennessee. Sullivan, having been advised that Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, was crossing the Tennessee River at Clifton with a large force, ordered Ingersoll to proceed toward the river. Ingersoll left Jackson on the evening of December 16th, taking with him two hundred of his own regiment and two guns of the Fourteenth Indiana Battery. About daybreak of the 18th, a few miles east of Lexington, the advance pickets of the enemy were sighted. Forrest's two thousand men began pouring in from all directions. Ingersoll dismounted and stood by the guns, encouraging his men, and personally directing their fire, until the cavalry charge was transformed into a hand-to-hand encounter. Twenty-two Union officers and men were either killed or wounded, and one hundred and forty-eight others, including Ingersoll, were taken prisoners.

Three days after his capture, Ingersoll was paroled by General Forrest, and sent to St. Louis to command a camp of other paroled prisoners. He waited months be be exchanged so he could re-enter active service, but eventually resigned his commission and was discharged in June 1863. He was released on his promise that he would not fight again, which was common practice early in the war.
“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. 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
After Ingersoll returned from the war, his wife, Eva, gave birth to two daughters: Eva on September 22, 1863, and Maud on October 4, 1864.

Illustration of the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863
Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg on July 3-4, 1863, raised the hope that the war was near an end, but when summer turned to autumn, a "peace without victory" movement began to gain strength in the North. Ingersoll joined the forces determined to see that the sacrifices of the soldiers should not have been in vain. On August 28, he spoke at a Union mass meeting in Smithville; the Republican newspaper The Transcript reported: "He was in good fighting condition, and for one hour and a half dealt such blows to traitors, copperheads, and the rebellion that the audience were perfectly carried away with him:.   Ingersoll declared:
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. 
On October 27, Ingersoll maintained that he was as good a Douglas Democrat as ever and argued for colonization and "total separation of the white and black races." He claimed, as did many moderate Republicans, that making a Negro a soldier did not make him equal to a white man and that taking a Negro into the service did not qualify him to vote anymore than it "would a dog who helped fight off an attacker." But he was also favoring "confiscation and emancipation as war measures." By the election he was demanding: "Call me abolitionist, call me negro equality man, amalgamationist- anything, so you don't call me a Copperhead." 

In a special election in May 1864, Ebon Clark Ingersoll was elected as an Illinois Congressman.  He traveled to Washington where he was seated on May 20 and called on President Lincoln on May 28.  Lincoln, in turn, introduced him to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells with the following note: "This introduces Hon. Mr. Ingersoll, successor to our lamented friend Lovejoy. Please see him." In Congress on June 20, Ebon Clark Ingersoll made a speech favoring a constitutional amendment ending slavery.  The 13th Amendment to the Constitution declared that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Formally abolishing slavery in the United States, the 13th Amendment was passed by the Congress on January 31, 1865.

During 1865, Ingersoll began studying Paine, Voltaire, and Comte. His study led him to begin changing his position on a higher power from one of a deist to one of a rationalist. He also began giving more lectures. 

Illustration of the Assassination of President Lincoln
The news of Robert E. Lee's surrender to Ulysses Grant on April 9, 1865, soon reached Peoria. But a few days later, news came of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  Ingersoll saw the act as more than an assassination; it was a symbol of the South's role in enslaving millions of people and starting an unspeakable war, for which they were unrepentant. It propelled him quickly into the camp where most of his fellow veterans were heading: into the ranks of the Radical Republicans.  The process by which Ingersoll became a Radical Republican (i.e., one who favored equal political rights for blacks and a controlled readmission of the Southern states) moved swiftly between the assassination in 1865 and the Johnson impeachment in 1868. The assassination of Lincoln and the revelation of the Andersonville prison atrocities did much to push him toward radicalism. 

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. 

In 1866, most Americans were forced to choose between the lenient reconstruction policy of Andrew Johnson and the more stringent policy of Congress. It was in this setting that the Ingersoll brothers accepted the president's ' 'Look at Peoria" challenge (from Johnson's interview with The London Times) and demonstrated that Johnson's policy would not "play in Peoria." The expression "Look at Peoria" is probably the earliest version of the famous "How does it play in Peoria" phrase, connoting Peoria as typical of political opinion in the American heartland. On April 12, 1866, a correspondent of The London Times interviewed Andrew Johnson: the president noted that although the radicals "have raised the cry of 'mad dog' at me., they will understand me better by and by." Referring to his policy of rapid [white] reconstruction, he insisted there were signs that people were beginning to be alive to the truth: "Look at Peoria" -- and he mentioned several other towns where meetings in support of the president's policy have been held since the his veto of the Civil Rights Bill.   The London Times story was published in London on May 1 ; The New York Times saw the story and reprinted it on May 14. The Transcript printed the interview on May 31 , noting: "The allusion of President Johnson, in his conversation with the correspondent of The London Times, to our city, has given Peoria a rather unenviable notoriety."  

Andrew Johnson
On June 9, The Transcript reprinted a column from the Bureau County Republican which argued that E. C. Ingersoll should be reelected because: "The President in his interview with The London Times said exultingly, 'Look at Peoria and you will see how the people support my policy' .... Now let a new man be taken up in place of Mr. Ingersoll, and there will be more proud pointing at Peoria as endorsing Johnson's policy." After all challenges to Ebon Clark Ingersoll were fought off, the Transcript headed a story: "LOOK AT PEORIA. Look at Peoria we repeat, and see the verdict she rendered fit her primary election."'

Many moderate Republicans became radical Republicans during the summer of 1866 because they believed that the South had not accepted defeat. When some of the Southern states, acting under Johnson, sanctioned governments adopted discriminatory "black laws," elected ex-Confederate officials to the U. S. Congress, and allowed hundreds of blacks to be killed in the Memphis and New Orleans riots, most Republicans rallied around Congress.

Richard Oglesby
Robert Ingersoll's political and personal friendship with Radical Republican Governor Richard Oglesby led to his appointment as Illinois Attorney General in 1867.  It was the only public office Robert Ingersoll ever held. His radical views on religion, slavery, women's suffrage, and other issues prevented him from pursuing or holding political offices higher than that of state attorney general.  Illinois Republicans tried to pressure him into running for governor, on the condition that Ingersoll conceal his agnosticism during the campaign, but he refused to do on the basis that concealing information from the public was immoral.

Portrait of Ingersoll as Attorney General
On August 3, 1868, Ingersoll addressed "The Colored People's Celebration" at the Peoria Fairgrounds. In celebration of the end of slavery in the West Indies, Ingersoll told the blacks (he was unique at that time in using the term) that slavery had been supported by the government and the church. He argued that John Brown was the greatest of men but he concluded: "You owe no great debt to the whites. The Truth is we had to give you your liberty. "

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."

In the winter of 1870,  Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and John Wesley Powell came to Peoria.  Beginning in January, a revivalist movement began to capture the attention of most Peorians: no less than seven churches scheduled noon prayer sessions and "hell-fire preaching" every evening.  Visiting committees canvassed the city to pray with families and went "through distilleries, saloons, houses of ill-fame . . . trying to win them by the simple story of the Cross. ..."   Ingersoll warned that baptism was the fashion and that "little boys that can't swim will have to stand back." 

On March 15, 1870, a women's suffrage convention was held at Rouse's Hall where Susan B. Anthony spoke in favor of equal rights for women. Ingersoll spoke in favor of a constitutional amendment for equal rights. He argued that voting should not be a privilege but a right with responsibilities.  He contended that the world was beginning to be governed by thought, and the women had as much of that as man had. 

Frederick Douglass 
In his autobiography, Frederick Douglass described an incident in Peoria in which he was welcomed by the "infidel" when Christian ministers had been less solicitous. Douglass, fearing that he would not be allowed to stay in any Peoria hotel, had expressed his concerns to a friend in a nearby town. The friend had assured him that Robert Ingersoll "would gladly open his doors to you," that he was a man "who will receive you in any weather ... at midnight or at cockcrow." Douglass was, after all,  accommodated in a Peoria hotel, but he called on Ingersoll the next day and "received a welcome from Mr. Ingersoll and his family which would have been a cordial to the bruised heart of any proscribed and storm-beaten stranger, and one which I can never forget or fail to appreciate."  Douglass, who had married a white woman, was an embarrassment to some Republicans and an anathema to most Democrats.

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.

In the autumn of 1875, accompanied by his wife and his daughters, Eva and Maud, Ingersoll made a brief tour abroad, visiting England, Ireland, and France for a few months.  In an entry in his diary, Ingersoll wrote: "Today my darling Eva is twelve years old. We all gave her twelve kisses a piece and one to grow on. We gave her the same number of slaps and told her how dearly we love her."

"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.
Although Ingersoll's speech nominating James Blaine for the presidential election was unsuccessful, as Rutherford B. Hayes received the Republican nomination, the speech itself, known as the "Plumed Knight" speech, was considered a model of political oratory, and promoted Ingersoll's national reputation:
"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."
 James Blaine 
To the question that retains its politically divisive power to this day—whether the United States was founded as a Christian nation—Ingersoll answered an emphatic no. The marvel of the Framers, he argued in an oration delivered on July 4, 1876, in his hometown of Peoria, was that they established “the first secular government that was ever founded in this world” at a time when every government in Europe was still based on union between church and state. “Recollect that,” Ingersoll admonished his audience.  A government that had “retired the gods from politics,” Ingersoll declared the United States' 100th birthday, was a necessary condition of progress.
“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:

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
 E.C. Ingersoll"
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. 

Lew Wallace
Lew Wallace, another Union officer who was also a veteran of Shiloh, often told the story of how, on a train trip in 1876, he met Ingersoll. The train was bound for Indianapolis and the Third National Soldiers Reunion, where thousands of Union Army veterans planned to rally, reminisce, and march in a parade. After hours of conversation in which Ingersoll questioned the evidence for God, heaven, Christ, and other theological concepts, Wallace came away realizing how little he knew about his own religion. “I was ashamed of myself, and made haste now to declare that the mortification of pride I then endured ended in a resolution to study the whole matter, if only for the gratification there might be in having convictions of one kind or another.” Departing the train, he walked the pre-dawn streets of Indianapolis alone.  In true lawyer style, he hit the books: the Bible, and then every reference book about the ancient Middle East he could find. He suspected that a novel about Jesus Christ would be scrutinized by experts, so the plants, birds, clothes, food, buildings, names, places—everything had to be exact. The result for Wallace was, "first, the book Ben Hur, and second, a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the divinity of Christ. "

Letterhead from the Ingersoll Brothers' Law Office in Washington, D.C.
In 1878, Ingersoll moved his family to Washington, D.C., where he again created a law practice with his brother, Ebon Clark. His brother had been living in Washington since he was elected to Congress in 1864. When Robert Ingersoll moved to Washington, D. C, at age forty-five, his reputation as a trial lawyer, lecturer, and political speaker was well established.

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)
Sue Sharkey (1846-1925) lived in the Ingersoll household for over 60 years. She served as housekeeper and as governess to Ingersoll’s children and grandchildren, who sometimes called her “Tuda”. Born in Peoria, she moved with the Ingersoll family to Washington, D.C. and New York.

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.
A Washington journalist writing under the name of Ruhamah described Ingersoll’s home as follows in his “Washington Gossip” column:
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
For a time he became involved with several Atheist organizations: the New York State Freethinker's Association, the Manhattan Liberal Club, and the American Secular Union.  At the same time he was in close association with the Jewish Ethical Society and financially supporting the Hebrew Orphan's Asylum of San Francisco, California. In 1877, he accepted the office of vice president of the National Liberal League of Philadelphia. 

Rutherford B. Hayes
Several times in 1879, Ingersoll visited President Hayes in the nearby White House seeking a presidential pardon for D. M. Bennett, the publisher of The Truth Seeker.

Cover of The Truth Seeker
Bennett had fallen victim to the quasi-governmental Society for the Suppression of Vice headed by Anthony Comstock for sending allegedly pornographic material through the mails. Ingersoll was, however, unsuccessful in persuading Hayes to pardon Bennett.  Ingersoll himself was a staunch defender of what today is called "family values" and was opposed to pornography. He resigned from his post as vice president of the Liberal League in opposition to the organization’s position of advocating the right to send pornography through the U.S. mails.

 D. M. Bennett
The brothers' law partnership continued until Ebon Clark's sudden death of a heart attack on May 31, 1879.  Ingersoll included these famous lines in the eulogy of his beloved brother:
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
Mark Twain heard Ingersoll speak in Chicago and wrote to his wife, Livy:
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.
The Star Route scandal involved a lucrative scheme in which United States postal officials received bribes in exchange for awarding postal delivery contracts in southern and western areas to private contractors.  In 1845, Congress had created inland mail routes, eventually known as "Star Routes". After the Civil War, these highly sought after routes increased due to rapid expansion in the West and South West regions of the United States.  The potential for profits made the Postal Service ripe for corruption and scandal.  Contractors would first make low "straw" bids for the routes, while other contractors in the ring would make exorbitantly high bids. Through a series of default bidding, the ring contractor would receive the contract route at an exorbitant high price.  Profits from the excessively high contracts would be split between ring leaders. The ring consisted of a complex relationship between brokers, contractors, and appointed members of the Postal Service. Millions of dollars were being depleted from the national Treasury. By 1880, there were nearly 10,000 star routes, costing the federal government nearly $6 million a year to maintain.

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. 

Starting in 1880, Ingersoll undertook the defense of Thomas J. Brady, the Second Assistant Postmaster-General, and Arkansas Senator Stephen W. Dorsey, who had been Secretary of the Republican National Committee during Garfield's 1880 presidential campaign. In April 1881, President Garfield launched an investigation into the Star Routes corruption.  The president forced the resignation of Brady.  In June, a clerk of Senator Dorsey admitted wrongdoing and incriminated Dorsey and members of the senator’s family. Garfield insisted that investigators "Go ahead regardless of where and whom you hit," and encouraged prosecutors to move more swiftly.

James Garfield
On June 28, 1881, Ingersoll consulted with Garfield at the White House concerning the Star Route trial in which Ingersoll was defending Senator Dorsey. On July second, Ingersoll spent the evening from eight to ten in conference with Garfield. In the morning, when they were to resume discussion, Ingersoll was late, driving up at the White House just in time to greet the president on his way to the trains to keep an out-of-town engagement. Ingersoll returned home. Some fifteen minutes later there were cries in the street: ‘The President has been shot! The President has been shot!’ Hurrying to the depot, Ingersoll was admitted to the upstairs room where the wounded president lay stretched out on the floor. Garfield recognized Ingersoll, they exchanged a few words, and Ingersoll returned home.

This Harper’s Weekly cartoon in March 1882 by Thomas Nast portrays the Star Route scandal through the style and imagery of an Aesop’s fable.

Caption: One day the Lion went out in search of some thievish animals that had been making depredations on his domain. On the way he fell in with the Fox, and as the latter acted in a suspicious manner, the Lion accused him of being one of the rascals he was looking for. The Fox, thinking to divert the Lion's attention, protested that he was no worse than others, and hypocritically pleaded that he did not know he had been doing anything wrong. "That is no excuse," said the Lion; "I shall not permit you to escape punishment; and will deal with your confederates also according to their deserts, whenever they fall into my power."

Attorney-General Brewster:

 "The uttermost penny lawlessly received and taken from the public treasury must be recovered."

The lion stands for the federal government prosecutors and the fox represents the Star Route perpetrators. The donkey peering out of the pit is David Key, the former postmaster general (1877-1880) under whose watch most of the frauds were executed. Key was a former Democratic senator from Tennessee who joined the cabinet of Republican president Rutherford B. Hayes as part of a political understanding which helped resolve the Electoral College controversy of 1876-1877.
After Garfield's death by assassination, President Chester Arthur pursued the investigation. President Arthur removed more implicated Post Office officials, and vowed to carry the investigation through "with the utmost vigor of the law." On March 4, 1882, Brady, Dorsey, and seven other men were indicted by a grand jury for fraud.  Ingersoll’s friend James G. Blaine served as Garfield’s secretary of state and was one of the most vehement advocates of the prosecution. Outraged, Ingersoll broke his friendship with Blaine and launched a powerful defense in the trial. Two federal prosecution trials took place in 1882 and 1883.  Nearly 150 witnesses were heard and 3,600 documents placed into evidence, but only Dorsey’s clerk and another minor defendant were found guilty.  Ingersoll won the acquittal of his clients. 

"The Result of the Star Route Trials"
showing Ingersoll walking away with bags of money as legal counsel fees
Puck Magazine
Public disgust over the Star Routes graft served as an impetus for civil service reform and the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in 1883.

Puck Magazine, March 7, 1883
During the Star Route trials, Ingersoll gave Marilla Ricker her first job as a licensed attorney, thus ratifying her credentials.  Born Marilla Young, she was brought up a “free thinker,” a suffragist and a Whig. She taught school until her marriage to John Ricker, a well-to-do farmer, who died in 1868, leaving her a wealthy widow. She began the study of law in Washington, D.C. in 1876 and was admitted to the bar of the supreme court of the District of Columbia in 1882, taking the examination with eighteen men, all of whom she outranked. 

Marilla Ricker
Robert Ingersoll was Ricker’s mentor.  Accounts of her role in the Star Route trial vary widely. Some refer to her as Ingersoll’s “assistant counsel.” Others say she “represented” one of the defendants. Still another says she “achieved national prominence through her work as an investigating attorney.”  Ingersoll was said to have referred to her as “the most sensible woman he had ever known.”  

Ricker practiced in Washington for many years and was known as the “prisoners’ friend,” from her constant habit of visiting jails and prisons, and applying for releases and pardons, and supplying prisoners with reading matter, writing material and other comforts. She often worked for her clients for free. Although she was certified to try cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and even ran for state governor, Marilla Ricker was still unable to vote. Across America, the suffragist movement followed close behind the abolitionist movement and women like Ricker worked tirelessly to gain voting rights. She was reportedly the first woman in New Hampshire  to attempt to register to vote, for as a property owner in Dover, Ricker believed that, if she paid property taxes, she should be able to vote. She went on registering, and being denied the vote, until 1920, when just months before her death, she voted legally for the first time.

Note to Marilla Ricker from Susan B. Anthony, 1900
On February 13, 1883, the Ingersolls celebrated their twenty-first wedding anniversary with a party at their home on Lafayette Square. “More than 400 guests were present,” The New York Times reported, “many of them having first attended the reception at the White House. The four parlors of the house were decorated with palms and flowers and an elaborate supper was served.”

Lincoln Hall in Washington, D.C.
Ingersoll’s appearance at Lincoln Hall in Washington, D.C. on October 22, 1883, was in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to render the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional.  Ingersoll and others were outraged by the decision and spoke strongly against it. He was introduced to the overflow crowd by Frederick Douglass, then recorder of
deeds for the District of Columbia.  It took eighty years before a similar bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, repaired the damage wrought by this Supreme Court decision. His 50-page speech included the following statement:
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.

Puck Magazine Cover featuring Ingersoll Lecuring to Coins
 In the summer of 1885, a woman in San Francisco lost, by sudden and unexpected death, her only child, a son. Her grief was greatly intensified by the terrors of the Calvinistic creed in which she had been reared, and according to which she well knew that there was, for her unconverted son, no hope.  Among those tried to console her was Mrs. Sarah B. Cooper, a  cousin of Ingersoll's who was prominent in church work. She turned to Ingersoll, begging that he write to the bereaved mother.  His letter was as follows:
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.
Sincerely yours,
R.G. Ingersoll
Cartoon of "Bob" Ingersol as "The Great Agnostic"
Though dubbed"The Great Agnostic", Ingersoll himself made no distinction between atheists and agnostics. In 1885, he was asked by an interviewer for a Philadelphia newspaper, “Don’t you think the belief of the Agnostic is more satisfactory to the believer that that of the Atheist?” He replied succinctly,
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.

In 1887, Ingersoll made a pro bono defense of Charles B. Reynolds, a prominent freethinker who had been arrested in Boonton, New Jersey under an archaic blasphemy law.  An Adventist minister, Reynolds converted to freethought (or as he called it, the "religion of humanity") in his late forties. In September of 1883, he made his debut as a freethought lecturer in Rochester, New York.  Addressing a meeting of the New York State Freethinkers' Association, he delivered a eulogy for the late D. M. Bennett, publisher of the freethought paper The Truth Seeker.  The American Secular Union, one of the leading freethought organizations of its day, sponsored several traveling freethought speakers and raised funds to purchase tents in which they could speak, since most halls would not rent to "blasphemers."  During 1886, Reynolds began to give speeches, assisted by his son and wife. The exhibition consisted of paintings of exotic places, illuminated with gas light, and accompanied by an educational lecture. One of his lectures was titled "Why I Left The Pulpit"; other lectures focused on the need for "secularism."

 Charles B. Reynolds
In July, Reynolds pitched his tent in Boonton. Over three nights of lecturing, a hostile mob disrupted the lectures and damaged his tent.  The leaders encouraged both shouting and stone-throwing. The participants of the mob had taken no pains to disguise their identities, and Mr. Reynolds was able to identify them the next morning, Wednesday, July 28, for the purpose of a legal complaint. The justice who received the complaint was extremely reluctant to issue warrants for the arrests of the rabble-rousers and did so only after Reynolds deposited $5 with him. Reynolds asked the mayor for protection during his lectures; the mayor ordered the city marshall's presence at that evening's presentation. That evening at the tent, before the planned lecture began, Mr. Reynolds was arrested by that same marshal for blasphemy. Bail was arranged that night, and Reynolds returned to the tent to give his lecture. But the crowd was so disruptive that he was not able to complete it. At last he and his group were rushed by the mob and forced to run for their lives, the tent suffering a total loss.

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."

On October 13, Reynolds appeared in Morristown New Jersey. He was arrested there and held under a bond of four hundred dollars to await the action of the Morris County Grand Jury. Reynolds was charged with one blasphemy at Boonton and a second at Morristown. On October 20, Reynolds, in reading the newspaper, found that the blasphemy was not for his words at either the Boonton or the Morristown tent lectures, but rested on documents he had passed out: an analysis of the blasphemy laws and one titled "Blasphemy and The Bible." The latter showed that Christians and their Bible were the real blasphemers inasmuch as they ascribed to their god sentiments, passions, and attributes which degraded him to an inhumane, bloodthirsty monster. 

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
James Addison Reavis, later using the name James Addison Peralta-Reavis, the so-called "Baron of Arizona", was an American forger and fraudster.  He is best known in association with the Peralta land grant, also known as the Barony of Arizona, a pair of fraudulent land claims that if certified would have granted him ownership over 18,600 square miles of land in the Arizona and New Mexico Territories.  During the course of the fraud, Reavis collected an estimated $5.3 million in cash and promissory notes ($146 million in present-day terms) through the sale of quitclaims and proposed investment plans.  Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsen Purchase, the United States was required to recognize and honor existing land grants made by either the Spanish or Mexican governments. Reavis utilized this provision by manufacturing a fictional claim and then generating a collection of documents demonstrating how the claim came into his possession. The documents were then covertly inserted into various records archives. When serious challenges to this claim developed, Reavis developed a second claim by marrying  the purported last surviving descendant of the original claim recipient.

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.

By the time Reavis returned to Arizona Territory in August 1887 he was using the name "James Addison Peralta-Reavis". He went to Tucson to file a new claim on behalf of his wife, Doña Sophia Micaela Maso Reavis y Peralta de la Córdoba, third Baroness of Arizona.  Formal filing of the second claim occurred on September 2, 1887.  Reavis formed a corporation in 1887 with the name Casa Grande Improvement Company.  The company planned to develop the land of the grant by building roads, railways, dams, irrigation canals, telegraph lines, and other improvements while simultaneously engaging in leasing water rights, selling livestock, and performing other activities.  Robert Ingersoll was the company's first president.

Reaction to the new claim by Arizona residents was nearly unanimously negative, with some newspapers publishing open incitements to violence against Reavis. Following the inauguration of Benjamin Harrison in 1889,  Royal Johnson was reappointed Surveyor General for Arizona Territory in July.  Despite having been out of office, Johnson had continued to investigate the validity of the Reavis claim.  On October 12, 1889 he released the Adverse report of the Surveyor General of Arizona, Royal A. Johnson, upon the alleged Peralta Grant : a complete expose of its fraudulent character.  Johnson's report was met with celebration by Arizona residents: The Gazette praised the Surveyor General's intelligence and fairness while extending the thanks of the Salt River valley. 

In response to Johnson's report and the subsequent dismissal of his claim, Reavis filed a suit  against the United States in the Court of Claims: Reavis sought $11 million in damages ($304 million in present-day terms) already incurred with provisions in the suit for "further relief and costs" against future damages.  Southern Pacific Railroad attorney Harvey Brown served as Reavis' lead council, while Ingersoll and James Broadhead assisted in preparing the case.

Mathew Given Reynold was assigned to represent the government in Reavis' suit.  Sevaro Mallet-Prevost, a Mexican born New York lawyer familiar with Spanish and Mexican law, and William M. Tipton, an expert on document analysis, were assigned to assist.  Mallet-Prevost and Tipton were dispatched to Tucson in January 1894 to make an examination of Reavis' original claim. From there, Mallet-Prevost continued on to the archives in Mexico.  Upon his return in April 1894, Mallet-Prevost stated he was "entirely convinced of the spurious character of every paper there filed".  As details of the government's evidence became known, the lawyers representing Reavis began withdrawing from the case.  Reavis' money had run out and he was destitute by the time the trial began.  The Court of Private Land Claims rejected the claim, finding "that the claim is wholly fictitious and fraudulent" and that the various Peralta documents had been forged and "surreptitiously introduced" into the various archives and record books where they were discovered.

Eva Ingersoll Brown
In 1889, Ingersoll's oldest daughter, Eva, married Walston Hill Brown, a well-to-do builder of railroads, and an agnostic. His wedding gift to Eva was a spacious estate known as Castle Walston on the Hudson River at Dobbs Ferry, New York. 

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
In tour after tour, Ingersoll crisscrossed the country and spoke before packed houses on topics ranging from Shakespeare to Reconstruction, from science to religion. In an age when oratory was the dominant form of public entertainment, Ingersoll was the unchallenged king of American orators.  Ingersoll delivered more than 1,300 lectures and was heard by more Americans than any other person before the invention of the radio.  At the height of Ingersoll's fame, audiences would pay $1 or more to hear him speak, a high sum for his day. “Standing Room Only” was often displayed at the entrance of the hall or theater where he was to speak. In a trip West at one time his fees for speaking amounted to more than fifty thousand dollars in one month. Two or three thousand dollars for a single lecture was not an unusual sum; one assembly in Chicago yielded seven thousand and one dollars. Ingersoll spoke in every state except Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.

Many of Ingersoll's speeches advocated free thought and humanism, and often poked fun at religious belief. For this the press often attacked him, but neither his views nor the negative press could stop his rising popularity. He opposed the Religious Right of his day. His Christian admirers sometimes said: “Colonel, why don’t you moderate your expressions, qualify your speech, and be more careful not to offend the susceptibilities of many of your hearers, — your views would be so much better received even if they were not adopted?”
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” “
In a lecture entitled "The Great Infidels," he attacked the Christian doctrine of Hell: 
"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
Known as "Robert Injuresoul" to his clerical enemies, he raised the issue of what role religion ought to play in the public life of the American nation for the first time since the writing of the Constitution, when the Founders deliberately left out any acknowledgment of a deity as the source of governmental power. In one of his most popular lectures, titled “Individuality,” Ingersoll said of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin:
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."
A man who combined reason with humor, who drew audiences looking for entertainment along with enlightenment, was much more dangerous than someone disposed to harangue audiences with the conviction that they were simply wrong about what they had been taught since birth. Everyone who paid to hear Ingersoll speak knew that he or she would go away with the memory of good laughs to accompany unsettling new thoughts.

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 
  • Blasphemy 
  • Shakespeare 
  • Robert Burns 
  • Abraham Lincoln 
  • Voltaire

He influenced Americans of his own generation with his arguments and young admirers who lived into the 20th century, making critical contributions to American politics, science, business, and law and becoming leaders on behalf of civil liberties and international human rights.  The list of his admirers includes Mark Twain, Clara Barton, Luther Burbank, Eugene V. Debs, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Walt Whitman and Thomas Edison.  

Luther Burbank
"I do not think there is a person in this world who has been a more ardent admirer of [Ingersoll] than I have been. His life and work have been an inspiration to the whole earth, shedding light in the dark places which so sadly needed light," Luther Burbank wrote.

After a young Eugene V. Debs heard Ingersoll speak, Debs accompanied him to the train station and then — just so he could continue the conversation — bought himself a ticket and rode all the way from Terre Haute to Cincinnati. 
[He] had all the attributes of a perfect man, and, in my opinion, no finer personality ever existed.
~ Thomas Edison 
“Ingersoll had a tremendous influence on me,” Robert La Follette recalled years after his friend’s death. “He liberated my mind. Freedom was what he preached; he wanted the shackles off everywhere. He wanted me to think boldly about all things. … He was a rare, bold, heroic figure.”

Walt Whitman
Ingersoll enjoyed a friendship with the poet Walt Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time.
 "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
When critical clergymen accused Ingersoll of cowardice during the Civil War, his colleague, Basil Meek, wrote the following letter:
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
Ingersoll wrote his last letter on July 20, 1899:
Dobbs' Ferry-on-Hudson
July 20, '99
Editor Clarion.
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.
Yours always,
R.G. Ingersoll
Ingersoll and his family
Ingersoll and his family arrived at their summer home in Dobbs Ferry late in July 1899. On Thursday, July 20, he spent a portion of the evening playing billiards with Walston H. Brown, his son-in-law, and C. P. Farrell, his brother-in-law and private secretary. During the night, Ingersoll had an attack of acute indigestion, sleeping very little, and suffering pain, which he sought to relieve with the nitroglycerin which had been previously prescribed.

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.

Robert Ingersoll died on Friday, July 21, 1899 from congestive heart failure.  He was 65 years old.

From The Record-Union of Sacramento, California on July 22, 1899:


The Brilliant Orator Numbered With the Silent Majority.


Passed Away Yesterday at His Home at Dobbs Ferry of Apoplexy.


Was Apparently Enjoying Good Health When He Went to His Summer Resort Two Days Ago-- His Wife and Two Daughters at His Bedside When Death Occurred.

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
The urn was engraved:

L'urne garde

La poussiere,
Le coeur
Le souvenir

Ingersoll's ashes were interred in Arlington National Cemetery in 1932. 

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
The quotation on the gravestone is from Ingersoll’s speech on Abraham Lincoln. It refers to Lincoln, and then to Darwin:
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
Ingersoll did not make the social Darwinist mistake of believing that “tooth and claw” should be the rule in civilized societies. His rejection of social Darwinism—at a time when many freethinkers, to their discredit, shared the views of conservative religious believers about the natural inferiority of the poor, immigrants, and blacks—raises Ingersoll above most of his contemporaries in American secular thought. Two distinct threads run through the history of American secularism, the first descending from the humanism and egalitarianism of Paine and the second from 19th-century social Darwinism through the 20th-century every-man-for-himself “objectivism” of Ayn Rand. A true intellectual descendant of Paine, Ingersoll linked reason and science to the success and survival of democracy, as the Enlightenment deists among the Founders did, and contended that the capacity for rational thought existed among all races and social classes.

Statue of Robert Ingersoll in Peoria's Glen Oak Park
In 1911, Peoria dedicated a statue of Robert Ingersoll in a ceremony attended by his widow and daughters on October 28, 1911.   It stands in Peoria's Glen Oak Park, which was once Camp Lyon, where Colonel Ingersoll raised his Civil War Regiment.

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 birthplace has been restored and opened as an Ingersoll museum three times. In 1921 a committee that  included Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank, Edgar Lee Masters, and members of the Ingersoll family opened the birthplace as a museum, community house, and public library. The facility closed during the Depression and fell into disrepair. In 1954, a committee led by atheist activist Joseph Lewis restored the building again and operated it as an Ingersoll museum for several years.

In 1986 the two-story frame house was badly deteriorated. CODESH Inc., as the Council for Secular Humanism was then known, purchased the property for $7,000 and pressed successfully for its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.  $250,000 was then raised from grant-makers and the public; between 1987 and 1991 the house was stabilized and rehabilitated. In 1992 it was decided to establish a museum at the birthplace, and Tom Flynn was chosen to develop the museum. 

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 
In 2005 two interpretive Web sites made their debut: a virtual tour of the Ingersoll Museum and a celebration of freethought and radical reform history within a rough 100-mile radius of the Ingersoll Museum, the Freethought Trail.

In 2009 the Museum received a large number of artifacts and papers from the estate of Eva Ingersoll Wakefield, Robert Ingeroll's last surviving granddaughter.

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." 

Jennifer Michael Hecht, reviewing the book in The New York Times, concluded that Jacoby showed how Ingersoll’s fight against religion connected to his vision of a good society. During his time, religious writers commonly supported a harsh “biblical” approach to disciplining children. Ingersoll told his audiences that he had seen people who acted as though when Jesus said, “‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, for such is the kingdom of heaven,’ he had a rawhide under his mantle and made that remark simply to get the children within striking distance.” He favored quips like this, and newspapers reported them with the bracketed commentary of “[Laughter]” and “[Great Laughter].” 

Employing similar indictments, Ingersoll campaigned passionately for women’s rights, against racism and against the death penalty. When science ran afoul of humanitarian ideals, he fought against it too. 

In an appendix, Jacoby includes a short, vivid speech of Ingersoll’s against vivisection, which he likened to “the Inquisition — the hell — of science.

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


  1. Thank you for your outstanding history of Robert Ingersoll! I especially love hearing first-hand accounts and impressions of the man from his contemporaries like Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. It made my day stumbling across this article, thank you again.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it - it was so interesting to learn about him -

  3. Thank you so much for this excellent biographical sketch of Robert G. Ingersoll. Hopefully, your piece will serve as an introduction for many readers who will go on to study the life and works of Colonel Ingersoll in greater depth. Thank you again for your fine work.

  4. I became acquainted with Bob Ingersoll back in the 60's,when I found in a tiny used book store in Boston a copy of his lecture, "Some Mistakes of Moses," and he has been a friend of mine ever since. And now sir a question. There was once website which featured an Ingersoll Chronology, listing in great detail all his lecture dates, location and title of lecture delivered. It has since disappeared from the web. Have you any information on this , or can this invaluable record of Ingersoll's career be in some way restored? If not it is a terrible loss of painstaking research.

  5. I found this information fascinating. My curiosity about this man was peaked when I heard a random quote of his that caught my ear while listening to information on bible codes and how they were discovered scientifically. The odd thing about my resulting feeling about this man was that I was left seriously wondering more if he wasn't more of a believer than he knew. I say that because of how strongly the inscription on his gravestone struck me. "Nothing is grander than to break chains from the bodies of men. Nothing nobler than to destroy the phantoms of the soul." In my opinion, an astounding paraphrasing of my favorite bible verse. Isa 58:5-7. And, summation of what true religion (according to the words of my king) is.

  6. Your website is really cool and this is a great inspiring article.