Ingersoll the Magnificent
(edited by Cliff Walker from three sources)
While the work itself is in the public domain, the editing for this edition
is copyrighted by Cliff Walker: Do Your Own E-Text Conversions!
Ingersoll the Magnificent
Address delivered August 11th 1954 dedicating,
as a Public Memorial, the house in which
Robert G. Ingersoll was born, Dresden,
Yates County, in the state of New York.
"In the presence of death I affirm and reaffirm the truth of all that I have said against the superstitions of the world. I would say that much on the subject with my last breath."
The fertile valley of Yates County never produced a better or finer product than the babe who was born in this house one hundred and twenty-one years ago today.
Yates County is known for its beautiful Finger Lakes, but the most celebrated of its products are the sparkling and stimulating wines which are made from the grapes that grow ripe upon your fertile hills.
From these grapes you have made the choicest of vintages. Wines that soothe the troubled brain, that stimulate the heart to exuberance and joy, and that have brought happiness to the sons and daughters of men.
Your wines are now world famous. From the vats of the Pleasant Valley and Taylor wineries, your products are now equal in every degree with the finest champagnes of Europe.
And yet, without the slightest disparagement, poor indeed are your products compared with the thoughts which leaped from the brain of this babe when grown to manhood.
His eloquent words, which by contrast, let me call the Precious Wine of Life, soothes the troubled breast of man, stimulates his intellect, instills into his brain sentiments of love and tenderness and humanity far beyond that produced by the juice of your grapes.
While your grapes may sometimes sour and grow stale, no such deterioration can affect the words and thoughts of Robert G. Ingersoll.
On the contrary, like fine wine, the older the thoughts and sentiments of Ingersoll become, the more delicious the bouquet. His ideas become more valuable day by day -- age merely mellows the product of his brain, and time increases the precious quality of his words.
The more you read of Ingersoll, the more you get out of him, the longer you are acquainted with his eloquence, the more precious becomes the quality of his genius, and the more potent his words.
Your wine is for a moment of pleasure. Drink your champagne for its temporary period of joy; drink it while you may, to drown your sorrow, or to toast your joy; drink it for whatever reason you wish, for when it has accomplished its purpose, it is gone. Not so with Ingersoll. The more you drink the more thirsty you become, the stronger your desire; the more you drink the more there is left to drink.
As each grape of eloquence is eaten and turned into the rarest of intellectual wines, other "grapes" of knowledge, clothed in the beauty of incomparable language, automatically take their places. An ever-renewing marvel of life!
Drink from the fountain of this man's genius. Every swallow has within its sparkling thought, not the intoxication of the senses, but an intoxication that stimulates the mind, develops the brain, and gladdens the heart.
Drink, drink, drink for this Fountain of Eloquence cannot run dry. It is limitless -- It is for all time -- It is eternal.
I believe it was the great Charles Darwin who said, after revealing to the world his discovery of the evolutionary processes of life, that he could not account for a genius.
This statement is substantiated by the fact that we cannot account for the rare genius of Robert G. Ingersoll.
Can it be said that the soil of Yates County, which gives that distinctive quality to the juice of the grape, likewise nourished the soil of his brain wherein common words, by a mysterious transmutation, were turned into sparkling crystals of melody and eloquence?
If that were true, then others who were nourished by the fertility of your soil would have developed as Ingersoll did. If there were any like him, we have no knowledge of them.
What then endowed this babe with his genius?
His mother died when he was a little more than two years old.
Just think of such a tragedy!
A prattling, dimpled babe should lose his mother. A young and tender mother should be deprived of nurturing her own infant child. O, cruel scheme of life!
In all the world of agony and tears there is no sadder, no more poignant, no more heart-rending tragedy than that which was suffered by baby Robert and his mother Mary.
Never have words been written that can describe the tortuous bewilderment of a two year old cherub holding out his dimpled arms for the love and embrace of his mother that shall never take place.
What scheme of life is it that would so ruthlessly still the arms of a mother whose supreme joy is to hold her darling babe -- but whose lifeless arms are never to be raised?
The only memory that Robert G. Ingersoll had of his mother was her lifeless body as she lay in her coffin. What tangled and twisted thoughts must have come into his childish mind when the mother he loved so much could not touch him, and she who loved her baby son so much could not move to clasp him to her breast! "Mamma, Mamma," cried little Robert, as he looked upon his mother's lifeless face. "Hush, little boy, hush. Your mamma is dead!", said a grown-up, as he carried the bewildered little fellow away, never again to see the most beautiful face that was ever mirrored upon the mind of a child.
Mary Livingston Ingersoll lies buried in nearby Cassonvia. How fortunate for the human race that this exceptional woman should have given to the world this child -- this wonderful child, which she endowed with such incomparable mental and physical qualities, before being so tragically taken by The Grim Reaper.
We give her our full measure of thanks for having given us the child she was deprived of seeing grow into manhood.
Would that she could live again, even for a fleeting moment, to feel the joy and rapture of the honor and glory that her illustrious son brought to her!
Scientists tell us that our Universe is hundreds of billions of years old! Have you any conception of such a length of time? Scientists have also demonstrated that the age of the Earth upon which we live is over 3,000,000,000 years old! Just think of it! In simple language it means that the sun has been shining, the earth has turned on its axis, and travelled in its orbit around the sun, the moon has rotated around the earth, the seasons have come and gone, the winds and rains and other elements of nature have never ceased, and every myriad form of life has lived, reproduced and died, beyond the ken of human calculation, and yet a simple, little innocent babe cannot have its mother, and a young and loving mother cannot live long enough to nourish her lisping offspring
How useless seems this vast universe with only this one defect!
I cannot see anything worthy in such a scheme of life.
If, with all the time at my disposal, with all the wealth of the resources of this vast universe, to do with as I will, I could not produce a better scheme of life than now prevails, I would be ashamed of my efforts and consider my work a humiliating failure.
Could I but regulate "this sorry scheme of things," of one thing I would be certain in my arrangement of life. Every child would be wanted, and no disease nor distress would mar the love of mother and child. If death would of necessity be part of life, then every child would live to manhood, and every mother would live long enough to feel that sense of joy which the accomplishments and achievements of her offspring would bring to her proud maternal heart.
I would be ashamed of my efforts if I did not do at least this. This is small enough compensation for the price of living, and helping to perpetuate the human race. Anything less than this is making a mockery of life
Unless, and until, such a condition comes to pass, there is no God in this vast universe worthy of our homage.
Robert G. Ingersoll grew rapidly into manhood.
He was a big man. He was more than six feet tall. He weighed more than two hundred and fifty pounds. He had a massive head -- and a neck of eighteen and one half inches. His face was like a Greek God -- only better chiseled; his penetrating blue eyes, his captivating smile would make the Apollo Belvedere envious. He had a charm of manner; dignity of bearing, and he carried his huge body with such ease, and grace, that none could escape the magnificence of his person. He was a man.
He chose the law for his profession. His rise was rapid.
He met, and courted, and loved the only woman of his life -- "a woman without superstition." He had found his helpmate.
Another thing I would abolish, if I could fashion the universe "nearer to my heart's desire," is war.
What perverted intelligence is there behind the universe, that would produce life in the agony of such indescribable suffering, only to have it snuffed out in the fierce passion of hatred and revenge, with all the horrible suffering of a lingering and agonizing death.
The misery of parting love has been the theme of countless songs and stories. It is unnecessary to repeat them.
Robert G. Ingersoll and his bride, Eva Parker, suffered this poignancy.
Hardly before they had finished their first passionate kiss of love, the young husband was torn from the loving embrace of his young bride, and ordered off to war.
Why is there so much unnecessary suffering to life?
Robert G. Ingersoll became a Colonel in the United States Army. He fought in the Civil War. He fought in the war of Liberation. A war when brother fought against brother, where father fought against son -- a war where the tender ties of family were subordinated to the great cause of Freedom for all, and the preservation of the Union. A war to restore the integrity of the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, as Thomas Paine wrote it: to abolish negro slavery and make our country truly free.
But let me tell you this: That no danger which Robert G. Ingersoll faced -- no battery of gunshot -- no steel bayonet could compare with the danger he was to face when he fought to free men's minds from the shackles of ignorance and religious superstition.
When Robert G. Ingersoll fought as a Colonel in the Civil War, his conduct was that of gallantry. When he fought the combined opposition of religious hatred, antagonism and ignorant fanaticism, he was magnificent.
When the bloody Civil War was over, Robert G. Ingersoll entered the political arena. He became Attorney General of the State of Illinois. His fame as an orator, his integrity, his reputation as an astute lawyer, made him the most logical candidate for the nomination for the Governorship of his state.
His views on the question of religion, by this time, were well known. He never lost an opportunity to speak the praises of Thomas Paine.
A delegation of political leaders came to see him.
They stated their business, and named the conditions upon which he was to receive the nomination for the Governorship of the State of Illinois.
The proposition was that he would receive the nomination provided he concealed his religious opinions.
Robert G. Ingersoll refused to accept their proposition. They begged, they implored him to change his mind. They told him that they did not want him to change his convictions, but merely to keep them to himself.
When the conference was over, Ingersoll was adamant. He gave them a peremptory "Good-by, gentlemen," with this further explanation: Here is his laconic reply: "I am not asking to be Governor of Illinois ... I have in my composition that which I have declared to the world as my views upon religion. My position I would not, under any circumstances, not even for my life, seem to renounce. I would rather refuse to be President of the United States than to do so. My religious belief is my own. It belongs to me, not to the State of Illinois. I would not smother one sentiment of my heart to be the Emperor of the round world..."
"A good man," he said, "should not agree to keep silent just for the sake of an office. A man owes his best thoughts to his country."
Did any statesman, in any country on the face of this earth, utter a more magnificent statement?
There was to be no chains of slavery upon the brain of Robert G. Ingersoll; there was to be no shackles of servitude upon his mind. His intellectual independence was far more important, and far more valuable, than the governorship of any state in the union, or even the Presidency of the United States.
Robert G. Ingersoll was to remain a free and independent human being, under the government which he so proudly loved, and fought so gallantly to preserve.
There was no office on the face of this earth that could induce him to sacrifice his intellectual integrity, or cause him to commit assault upon the children of his brain.
How paltry seem the excuses of some people today, who refuse to express their honest convictions, for fear of some petty retaliation.
The Brooklyn minister, by the name of DeWitt Talmadge, sought to "answer" Ingersoll's attacks upon Christianity by stressing the fact that he had lost the nomination for Governor of Illinois because of his unbelief.
Should Ingersoll have been condemned for having been true to his principles -- to his intellectual integrity -- or should he have been a hypocrite, like so many ministers, and remained silent in order to secure that which was trash compared to his being true to himself?
In reply to Talmadge, Ingersoll said: "I thought it better to be honestly beaten, than to dishonestly succeed. If I had been a successful hypocrite, I might now be basking in the sunshine of this gentleman's respect.... I preferred to tell the truth and I have never regretted the course I pursued."
The trouble with most ministers of religion is that they have been so steeped in hypocrisy and sophistry that they cannot understand what intellectual integrity means. They are so accustomed to mental lying, as a measure of success, that they cannot understand what prompts a man to prefer to be true to himself -- who prefers to tell the truth -- for the truth's sake, rather than gain public recognition by being a hypocrite.
No wonder Ingersoll said, "it is a magnificent thing to be the sole proprietor of yourself."
Do not think for a moment that it is not at times heart-breaking to find a man like Ingersoll, who fought so courageously for the enlightenment and advancement of mankind, to suffer insults and rebukes for his efforts, while liars and hypocrites reap the rewards which he so richly deserved.
No man who was ever President of the United States, no man who ever held the highest office of any government on the face of this earth, equalled the intellectual grandeur of Robert G. Ingersoll.
Ingersoll never hesitated to tell the world that he preferred liberty above all else. He said: "I want no heaven for which I must give my reason; no happiness in exchange for my liberty, and no immortality that demands the surrender of my individuality. Better rot in the windowless tomb, to which there is no door but the red mouth of the pallid worm, than wear the jeweled collar of a god."
It was the considered political opinion of his day that the governorship of the State of Illinois was the stepping stone to the presidency of the United States. Anyone who has the slightest inkling of the political and social prestige possessed by a President of the United States, or even the governor of one of our sovereign states, can understand the exorbitant price paid by Robert G. Ingersoll for the independence of his mind.
Robert G. Ingersoll was the only man, to my knowledge, in the history of our country, who possessed the magnificence of character, to retain the integrity of his mind and heart, in preference to the highest political office in the gift of the American people.
Robert G. Ingersoll was maligned, insulted, slandered, libeled, caricatured, shunned and ostracized. He was banned, rotten-egged, booed and his life threatened. He was indicted in the state of Delaware for blasphemy. He was denied the right to speak in many cities, and the doors of public and private halls were closed to him.
Some people are afraid they will lose their jobs, some afraid of being shunned by friends, some are afraid that their children will suffer, but Robert G. Ingersoll never gave a thought to what his intellectual liberty would cost. It was cheap at any price.
Ingersoll knew the petty jealousies, the narrow-mindedness of the bigoted and the prejudiced. He knew that they blabbered merely for the sake of blabbering. They denounced him not only without cause, but with a wickedness and viciousness of unparalleled venom. Their puny and pigmy brains were unable to comprehend his altruistic motives for the emancipation of man.
Fortunately, their attacks had no effect upon him.
The shining quality of his integrity was such, that not only did he not feel the darts of these spiteful people, but he even made excuses for their reprehensible conduct because of their ignorance.
He himself best describes their perversity. He said, regarding the holding of political office, that, "If you come back with a dollar in your pocket they will swear that you stole it, and if you come back dead broke, they will swear that you lost it at poker."
Ingersoll was so well armed in honesty, that the threats from his enemies, and the slanders of the thoughtless, passed him by as Shakespeare would say, "like the idle winds for which he had no respect."
Ingersoll's daughter Maud, once told me that her father never forgave a man who had maligned him. And if he did, he always regretted it. I have never forgotten that statement, and it has proved its value to me on many occasions, because I too have been the target for attacks from the scoundrels of slander.
There is a detestable trait in the make-up of many human beings. Perhaps it is some form of atavism -- the primitive instinct of jealousy of the attainments of others. These mentally warped human beings are always "belittling," and without the slightest justification are continually casting slurs and slanders upon those who fight for the advancement of mankind.
The poison of their prejudice knew no bounds; they would rather do harm to the greatest of causes than restrain the fury of their fanatical hatred.
Among the many slanders and vituperations heaped upon Ingersoll was the charge that he had made money out of his unbelief!
Despite his great demand as an orator, and at the same time being of the greatest and foremost lawyers of his day, Ingersoll died leaving an estate of only $80,000.00.
If money is the criterion by which we are to measure a man's worth for his contribution to the intellectual, moral and social advancement of the human race, then Robert G. Ingersoll should have left an estate of $80,000,000.00!
He lived in the days when men acquired great wealth. Contemporary lawyers died leaving enormous estates.
If money was Ingersoll's ambition, he would have died a multi-millionaire.
His services to the human race were priceless!
He gave up the Presidency of the United States to free men's minds -- and wicked minded clergymen charge him with marring money out of his unbelief!
What is religion?
Is religion anything but profit?
If not, how come that you read almost daily in the newspapers of priests and rabbis and clergymen who die leaving estates aggregating hundreds of thousands of dollars?
How did they acquire their money? I will tell you.
Religion is all profit. They have no merchandise to buy, no commissions to pay, and no refunds to make for unsatisfactory service and results.
And what about the vast wealth owned by the religious organizations whose assets total billions of dollars. What did they do for this money? They did not save a single soul, because man has no soul to save. It was all profit -- 100% profit.
Their commodity is fear. They blackmail their parishioners with threats of hell and damnation. These poor deluded people give them their hard earned money to save them from a hell that does not exist, and from eternal torment that was invented by the perverted minds of priests to rob the living and in addition, the church and the clergy are exempt from taxation! Insult to injury!
Let me tell you that religion is the cruelest fraud ever perpetrated upon the human race. It is the last of the great scheme of thievery that man must legally prohibit so as to protect himself from the charlatans who prey upon the ignorance and fears of the people.
The penalty for this type of extortion should be as severe as it is of other forms of dishonesty.
Ingersoll dedicated his life, suffering the rebukes and insults of the ignorant and prejudiced, to liberate mankind from the demoralizing dogmas of religion which have so stultified the human race; and in addition he suffered an ostracism that some people would not endure for all the money in the world.
O, you miserable scandal-mongers who attack the integrity of a man who is ready to give his liberty and his life to fight the battle for humanity.
Shame on those who so unjustly malign the Fighters for Freedom.
It will be a wonderful day when men and women will be willing to pay for mental emancipation as they now pay for stultification -- when Freethought becomes profitable and religion a financial failure.
What a day of justice that will be!
Yes, it will be a day of justice when men and women will no longer pay, by the sweat of their brows, to be taught the grossest superstition; but instead, will receive useful knowledge for the fruits of their labor; knowledge that will give them courage to face life and its problems; will give them a better understanding of the universe, that will make them live better lives -- be better citizens -- and bring happiness to themselves and to their families; when they will take the Cash of life and let the Credit of death go.
Bigotry, ignorance and prejudice deprived this country of the services of Robert G. Ingersoll, and I need not hesitate for a single moment when I say that he possessed a greater intellect than any man who ever sat in the Presidential chair.
What intellectual prestige Robert G. Ingersoll would have brought to the Executive Mansion as President of the United States of America!
World admiration would have been showered upon us.
What wonders he would have accomplished!
Religion has many blots upon her blood-stained garments, but no "damned spot" is more ineradicable, than that of having deprived the people of this great Republic of the genius of Robert G. Ingersoll.
And yet, I had rather ten thousand times ten thousand times over, that the name of Robert G. Ingersoll be omitted from the list of governors of the State of Illinois, than that the world should have been deprived of only one of his incomparable lectures.
I had rather ten thousand times ten thousand times over, that the name of Robert G. Ingersoll be omitted from the list of the presidents of the United States of America, than that the world should have been deprived of only one of his matchless orations.
"Myth and Miracle," "Heretics and Heresies," "The Liberty of Man, Woman and Child," "The Mistakes of Moses," will be read long after the names of the Governors and Presidents of Ingersoll's day are forgotten.
When you realize the grip of tyranny that religion has had over the minds and bodies of men for thousands of years, it seems almost incredible that any progress, whatever, was made towards liberty.
As the breaking of the chains from the bodies of men was a slow and painful process, so it will be in emancipating the mind of man from the invisible shackles of mental slavery.
We owe an everlasting debt to the brave men and women of the past who, one by one, faced the brutal power of the church in the Best of Causes.
None stand higher, or is more deserving of our homage than Robert G. Ingersoll.
O, brave and courageous Ingersoll, I love and honor you for the magnificent stand you took by refusing to surrender your intellectual integrity for a "mess of potage."
Your example will be a shining light to future generations, who will be inspired by your courage to follow your exemplary conduct.
I can assure you that if Robert G. Ingersoll was ever president, the people of the United States would not be insulted by having a diplomatic representative at the Vatican, and there would be no religious flag flying above that of Old Glory.
The Cross of Christ, which has for its dogma, "believe and have eternal life; believe not, and be eternally damned," would not replace, even for a single moment, The Star Spangled Banner, which guarantees to each and all of its citizens, equality and justice under the law.
I tell you that the flag of Christianity which now flies above that of the official emblem of this nation, when religious services are being held in our armed forces, is an insult to the American people, and a violation of the provisions of the Constitution.
If Robert G. Ingersoll was ever president, there would be no silly Thanksgiving Day proclamations, and no specially designated days for public prayers.
Praying does not give one the knowledge he needs of the proper conduct as an individual in society, nor as a member of the community. All the praying in the world will not solve a single problem, or bring a ray of intelligence to the mind. Not a single prayer, in all the long history of the human race, has ever been answered.
If Robert G. Ingersoll was ever president you would not be able to find a single clergyman, who would expose his ignorance to the public, by asking divine guidance for the members of Congress, because, as Ingersoll so aptly put it -- "The clergy know that I know, that they know, that they do not know."
If Ingersoll was ever president, men and women would be selected for public service upon their merit and ability to perform the duties of their office, rather than be selected because of their religious affiliations, or because of the number of votes they would bring to the party.
Only recently, I had occasion to write to a United States Senator and call his attention to the provisions of the Federal Constitution, which states that "No religious test shall ever be required to hold an office of public trust under the government of the United States."
This Senator had selected three candidates for judicial office solely because of their religious affiliations, rather than upon their ability to administer justice impartially.
If Ingersoll was ever president, there would be no kow-towing to the religious element -- no abdication of the prerogative of the high office of the presidency.
Laws for the benefit of the people would not be sidetracked because the feelings of some religious people would be "offended"; and by the same token, laws granting special privileges to religious individuals and organizations, would not be permitted, to the disadvantage of other citizens.
He would not let religious parasites suck the life blood out of the people by tax exemption.
Discrimination, in the matter of laws, would completely vanish. Ingersoll knew only too well the danger of the church upon the body politic and warned: "Give the church a place in the constitution, let her touch once more the sword of power, and the priceless fruit of all ages will turn to ashes on the lips of man."
Praying as a public function, particularly when led by a clergyman, is a vulgar display of an exclusively personal matter. Prayer is something that cannot be done by proxy. Public prayer is, if nothing else, an undignified public performance -- a humiliating spectacle. Praying for victory on the battlefield is the height of folly. There could be nothing sillier, if it were not so tragic. Prayer has not only never prevented war, nor brought victory, but it becomes a dangerous practice which leads many to rely upon help from a source that only "echoes our wailing cry," and has the tendency to disarm us from using every ounce of our energy in fighting the enemy.
"In wars between great nations," says Ingersoll, "the gods still interfere; but in prize fights, the best man with an honest referee, is almost sure to win."
Prayers are only wasted efforts on the desert air.
Under an administration of Robert G. Ingersoll our motto would not be, "In God We Trust," but rather, "Liberty" and "Equality before the Law."
What a rule of sanity would come into the public service of this Republic of ours if Robert G. Ingersoll had ever been president.
Ingersoll would not have flattered ignorance at the expense of intelligence merely because it wore the cloak of religion.
At the present time, many of our office holders disgrace themselves, besides violating their oath of office, by placating the religious element in the matter of legislation and the administration of the law. For instance, most of our divorce laws are not based upon justice and consideration for the parties to the marriage contract, but rather contain provisions dictated by the Roman Catholic Church. Imagine using as an authority in the matter of marriage the opinion of a celibate priest!
Recently, the State of New York disgraced itself by a ruling which permitted students, whose parents are Christian Scientists, from participating in examinations where the germ theory of disease is discussed!
The scientific discovery of the germ theory of disease has saved the human race millions of lives and prevented the suffering of million" of people. And yet this insult to modern intelligence is permitted to satisfy the delusions of Christian Scientists!
Do you know that at one time the Courts of this state seriously considered discontinuing the study of geography in our public schools because some religionists still believed in the Biblical concept of the flatness of the earth!
We allow the violation of the Medical Practices Act, by brutal and savage religionists, by permitting them to mutilate helpless infants so as to conform with the savage Biblical text concerning circumcision.
This is the humiliating concession that we make to potential murderers in the name of the Religion of Judaism!
If Ingersoll had been president his influence would have permeated every governmental position. A new, braver, and more courageous office-holder would have come into existence. Men and women would have cherished the honor of serving the public, and would have been guided by the maxim that "public service is a public trust."
Hardly a department of the government activity would not have benefitted by his example of devotion to social, political and intellectual progress.
Imagine what an administration, free from theological taint, would have accomplished! Imagine the abuses which would have been avoided, and the wrongs which would have been corrected; the intellectual freedom which would have prevailed; the progress which would have followed, and the hypocrites which would have been driven from public life; the religious leeches who would have been forced to labor for their living, and last, but not least, the billions of dollars of church property which would have been forced to pay their rightful share of taxes so as to relieve the burden now borne so unjustly by the rest of the community, for as Ingersoll says, "to exempt the church from taxation is to help pay the priest's salary."
It was within the grasp of the people of this country to have as president a man who would have developed the resources of this great nation to an unbelievable extent, achieved material progress beyond our imagination, and would have established institutions that would have brought peace and happiness not only to our own people, but to all the world!
Here is an illustration of how Ingersoll was discriminated against.
I remember once visiting the Ingersolls' daughters at their home in Irving Place. When I entered the house Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Probasco -- that is, Eva and Maud, were sitting in the living room listening to the radio. What surprised me was that they were both wiping tears from their eyes. An historic event was taking place in New York City. The old Academy of Music, on Fourteenth Street, was being demolished. The narrator on the radio was describing the great events which had taken place in that once famous theatre. But not once did they mention Ingersoll's famous speech. It was his Declaration Day oration [actually, Decoration Day -- Cliff Walker] which he had delivered on May 30th, 1882. The President of the United States was there. Governors were there. Generals of the Army, and Admirals of the Navy were there. The most distinguished men and women of the day composed the audience. Ingersoll's speech shook the rafters of that memorable theatre. The reports of the event state that never before had there been such enthusiasm, applause, admiration and appreciation for a single individual who ever stood upon that stage. Never before had words from human lips swayed the audience to such a pitch of unrestrained, uncontrollable and spontaneous response as the orator did on this occasion.
Singers and dancers, acrobats and clowns were events to be remembered, but Ingersoll's great speech is passed over in silence.
No wonder Eva and Maud cried!
And yet, although Robert G. Ingersoll was not president, he exercised a power far beyond that of any Chief Executive. He was the Voice of Freedom; he was the voice of the oppressed; he was the voice of the weak; he was the voice of the down-trodden -- he fought to liberate the slaves of fear and superstition; he was the Champion of Mental Emancipation -- the Flag Bearer of Intellectual progress.
And now I am going to tell you a little secret about myself. When I was a young man, it was suggested to me, that I enter politics. I became a member of a political club, and shortly thereafter, a member proposed that I would make a good candidate for the New York State Assembly. It was intimated that this was the first step in a political career. Frankly, I was flattered by the idea. However, I told the leader of my district that I was of an independent mind, and that I would take no orders, and that I would vote for what I believed to be the best interest of the people, regardless of party, and that I was a devoted follower of Robert G. Ingersoll.
That answer strangled my political career in embryo. I did not get the nomination.
Now I am going to tell you another secret.
I had rather ten thousand times over have the honor and privilege of dedicating the house in which Robert G. Ingersoll was born, as a public memorial, than to hold high political office.
Robert G. Ingersoll defied the ignorant, bigoted, fanatical world of religion.
He asked no favors and gave no quarter.
He spoke the truth -- the plain, unvarnished truth.
He was unafraid.
He stood four-square.
He never hesitated -- he never retreated.
He cared not about the feelings of ignorance when the truth was necessary.
He struck with all the power at his command, and never once restrained his indictment, or failed to denounce the liars and hypocrites of his day, regardless of their so-called respectability.
He threw "his shining lance full and fair into the forehead" of his defamers, and minced not a word, or held back not a single thought when in combat.
Only one with the magnificent courage of a truly and supremely great man could have carried on such a crusade for intellectual emancipation against such overwhelming odds. He had wholeheartedly dedicated his life to this great cause and nothing on this earth could deter him.
Here was his motto, here was his guiding light, here was his star, here was his hope and inspiration. He said:
"Nothing is greater than to break the chains from the bodies of men -- nothing nobler than to destroy the phantom of the soul."
and to this he devotes his life, with a determination that made all other considerations, insignificant and valueless.
He was "as free from prejudice as the mariner's compass," -- desiring only to find amid the mists and clouds of ignorance the star of truth.
That is what made Robert G. Ingersoll so magnificent.
When the religious world realized the danger of Ingersoll, they marshaled their heaviest artillery against him.
From the ranks of religion there was recruited the Top Brass. Religious differences were forgotten -- Protestants and Catholics became "brothers-in-arms" against a common enemy. Under the banner of Jesus Christ there was only one battle cry -- "Ingersoll must be destroyed, or we are lost."
The generals buckled their armor and went forth to battle.
At this point, pages are missing our copy of the Freethought Press edition; this is a bindery error. We pick up using the speech as it appeared in Joseph Lewis' ''Age of Reason Magazine,'' Volume 18, Number 10, October, 1954, comparing notes with the American Atheist Press reprint. The magazine version has, thus far, differed only slightly from the original edition of the book. Henceforth, where wording and punctuation differs, we go with the one which has the most wording or the one which is most grammatically correct; however, where the capitalization differs (a most notable problem with all American Atheist material), we go strictly with the article. We pick up with the original book on page 57, the beginning of the first chapter of Ingersoll quotes. Should we acquire another copy of the book, we will correct this essay to conform to it. -- Cliff Walker, editor of the HTML version.
The Big Guns were leveled against him.
First came the "policeman," in the person of Jeremiah S. Black, an Attorney General of the United States government. Then came the Wolf in sheep's clothing, the gentle and soft spoken clergyman -- Henry M. Field. His soft answers were poisoned with religious wrath. Next, was the Honorable William E. Gladstone -- England's Prime Minister -- the Civil Representative of the state-church of Protestantism. When the tyranny of the state is combined with the hypocrisy of the church, you have a modern example of the twin vultures that have devoured man, and his rights, throughout the ages. Last, but not least, was Cardinal Manning. Never before had the Catholic Church suffered such a mortal blow. This highest English speaking Catholic Prelate was humiliated and disgraced.
Ingersoll demolished them all.
They were decimated as the blade of the grass is cut by the steel blade of the mower.
With an outpouring of the knowledge of the universe and the laws which operate with undeviating accuracy, with unanswerable logic, with more understanding of the Bible than his clerical opponents, and with an eloquence without parallel, Ingersoll's adversaries were left upon the field of battle -- mortally wounded -- the only audible sounds were their dying sighs.
They never sought battle again. They had enough. They wanted no more of Ingersoll. The volcanic eruption of wisdom, and the avalanche of knowledge that rolled so irresistibly against his opponents, simply demolished and devastated all who made a stand against him.
Such words, arguments and logic had never before flowed from the lips of man in such torrents of matchless language and with a courage that knew no fear. His shining lance, studded with an hitherto unknown brilliance, pierced and penetrated and overwhelmed the defenses of orthodoxy.
Rabbis knew better than to do battle with Ingersoll. I remember once hearing the late Rabbi Stephen S. Wise make the statement that when Ingersoll was going up and down the country telling of the "Mistakes of Moses" that those people who thought Ingersoll was entirely mistaken were more mistaken than Ingersoll.
Ingersoll was invincible. He stood alone. The dazzling beacon of an emancipated world.
Every Protestant minister, when he gets down upon his knees, should pray, not to God, but to Robert G. Ingersoll for having taken from Christianity the horrible doctrine of hell and eternal damnation.
Every Protestant minister owes Robert G. Ingersoll a vote of thanks for having made his God a little more humane -- a deity of compassion, instead of hatred, jealousy and revenge.
Every Protestant minister should offer supplication to Robert G. Ingersoll for having freed him from the stigma of the demoralizing dogma of original sin.
In Ingersoll's time it was believed, and shouted from every pulpit, that only the threat of hell could make people good. And yet they got worse. They followed the example of the God they were told to worship. If it was profitable to God, they saw no reason why they could not use it to advantage to themselves. And what was the result? By imitating the example of God, the meanest, lowest and most detestable conduct ever reached by human beings prevailed among the sons and daughters of men that made living a terrifying nightmare. They killed, robbed and raped as God had done. The home was an eternal dungeon. A paralyzing fear gripped every member of the family.
Robert G. Ingersoll destroyed the frightful delusion of this horrible doctrine.
The world of religion is indebted to an atheist for having liberated them from a sadistic God.
I remember, as a young man, when reading "Some Mistakes of Moses," I came across this statement: "For my part I would not kill my wife, even if commanded to do so by the real God of this universe."
From that moment on my mind was free.
A mental emancipation took place.
My mind had been purged of the horrible belief in a tyrant God.
Fear no longer permeated my brain.
The only words that I know of that can adequately express my feeling of freedom are those of Ingersoll himself. He said:
"When I became convinced that the Universe is natural -- that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom ... For the first time, I was free ... I stood erect and joyously faced all worlds. And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain ... And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still."
I became a disciple of The Great Agnostic.
Now you can understand why I prefer the mantle of Robert G. Ingersoll to the garb of religion.
Robert G. Ingersoll was the philosopher of the Here and Now.
He preferred the joy of this world to the promised bliss of the other.
He said: "Human love is better than any religion. It is better to love your wife than to love God. It is better to make a happy home than to sunder hearts with creeds...."
Ingersoll civilized the home.
He took from the roof of the house the shingles of a jealous and revengeful God. He opened the windows which had been covered with the black dogma of fear, and permitted the sunlight of truth to enter. He flooded each and every room with love and tenderness. He believed "in the Republicanism of the home, and the Democracy of the fireside."
He drove from the hearts of parents the savagery of the Biblical edict that to spare the rod was to spoil the child, and for the first time children became members of a household of equality.
Corporal punishment in Ingersoll's time was considered as necessary as the kitchen stove. How could you live without it?
How could you make children "good"? How could you make them obey? The strap in the closet, the paddle upon the back-side with the hardest brush, the smack with the back of your hand upon the tender cheek of the child, were all necessary acts in the religious home where the brutality of the Bible God was considered the infallible code of family life.
Ingersoll said, "I should feel ashamed to die surrounded by children I had whipped. Think of feeling upon your dying lips the kiss of a child you had struck."
He said it was just as easy to awaken a child with a kiss, as with a blow.
And where in all the world will you find such a sentiment as this:
"...Call me infidel, call me atheist, call me what you will, I intend so to treat my children, that they can come to my grave and truthfully say: 'He who sleeps here never gave us a moment of pain. From his lips, now dust, never came to us an unkind word.'"
Let me give you an illustration of the influence of Ingersoll in the matter of family relationship.
A United States Senator heard Ingersoll deliver his lecture on "The Liberty of Man, Woman and Child." When the great orator had finished, the Senator, who had disinherited his daughter, because she had married against his will, and to whom he had not spoken in over twenty years, wrote to her and asked for her forgiveness. He said that he had been "an old fool."
However, he did not wait for a reply. Ingersoll's words had such an effect upon him that he decided to go immediately to his daughter, and effected a reunion with a loving embrace.
Ingersoll's motto was this: "When you go home, you ought to go like a ray of light so that it will, even in the night, burst out of doors and windows and illuminate the darkness."
To Ingersoll, "The home where virtue dwells with love, is like a lily with a heart of fire -- the fairest flower in all the world."
As husband and father he was magnificent!
Robert G. Ingersoll never received an honorary degree from any institution of learning. And let me tell you that no recipient -- man or woman -- who received such recognition, deserved it more than he did.
He deserved this recognition for his intellectual eminence, and for his contribution to the mental emancipation of man.
He deserved it for his rare and unsurpassed oratorical powers.
He deserved it for his humanitarian ideas
He deserved it as one of the great leaders of his time.
He stood majestically above the heads of nearly all his contemporaries.
He was the most sought after man of his generation -- where intellectual giants were the rule, and not the exception.
From no matter what category you care to evaluate his worth, from no matter what standard you wish to compare him to others, none equaled the beneficial influence he exercised upon the social, political and intellectual life of his time.
Walt Whitman said, "America doesn't know today how proud she ought to be of her Ingersoll."
The great poet Swinburne said that the one man he wanted to meet above all others, if he visited America, was Robert G. Ingersoll.
The great Norwegian Bjornstjerne Bjornson said, "I envy the land that brings forth such glorious fruit as Ingersoll."
A volume could be written containing the praise and appreciation, of the genius of Ingersoll, by the great men and women of his time.
When I visited George Bernard Shaw, in 1948, at his home in Aylot, a suburb of London, he was extremely anxious for me to tell him all that I knew about Ingersoll. During the course of the conversation, he told me that Ingersoll had made a tremendous impression upon him, and had exercised an influence upon him probably greater than that of any other man. He seemed particularly anxious to impress me with the importance of Ingersoll's influence upon his intellectual endeavors and accomplishments.
In view of this admission, what percentage of the greatness of Shaw belongs to Ingersoll? If Ingersoll's influence upon so great an intellect as George Bernard Shaw was that extensive, what must have been his influence upon others?
What seed of wisdom did he plant into the minds of others, and what accomplishments of theirs should be attributed to him? The world will never know.
What about the countless thousands from whom he lifted the clouds of darkness and fear, and who were emancipated from the demoralizing dogmas and creeds of ignorance and superstition?
What will be Ingersoll's influence upon the minds of future generations, who will come under the spell of his magic words, and who will be guided into the channels of human betterment by the unparalleled example of his courageous life?
The debt the world owes Robert G. Ingersoll can never be paid.
I remember on one of my many visits with Thomas A. Edison, I brought up the question of Ingersoll. I asked this great genius what he thought of him, and he replied, "He was grand." I told Mr. Edison that I had been invited to deliver a radio address on Ingersoll, and would he be kind enough to write me a short appreciation of him. This he did, and a photostat of that letter is now a part of this house. In it you will read what Mr. Edison wrote. He said: "I think that Ingersoll had all the attributes of a perfect man, and, in my opinion, no finer personality ever existed...."
I mention this as an indication of the tremendous influence Ingersoll had upon the intellectual life of his time. To what extent did Ingersoll influence Edison?
It was Thomas A. Edison's freedom from the narrow boundaries of theological dogma, and his thorough emancipation from the degrading and stultifying creed of Christianity, that made it possible for him to wrest from nature her most cherished secrets, and bequeath to the human race the richest of legacies.
Mr. Edison told me that when Ingersoll visited his laboratories, he made a record of his voice, but stated that the reproductive devices of that time were not as good as those later developed, and, therefore, his magnificent voice was lost to posterity.
And yet, no institution of learning of Ingersoll's day had courage enough to confer upon him an honorary degree; not only for his own intellectual accomplishments, but also for his influence upon the minds of the learned men and women of his time and generation.
Robert G. Ingersoll never received a prize for literature. The same prejudice and bigotry which prevented his getting an honorary college degree, militated against his being recognized as "the greatest writer of the English language on the face of the earth," as Henry Ward Beecher characterized him. Aye, in all the history of literature, Robert G. Ingersoll has never been excelled -- except by only one man, and that man was -- William Shakespeare. And yet there are times when Ingersoll even surpassed the immortal Bard. Yes, there are times when Ingersoll excelled even Shakespeare, in expressing human emotions, and in the use of language to express a thought, or to paint a picture. I say this fully conscious of my own admiration for that "intellectual ocean, whose waves touched all the shores of thought."
Ingersoll was perfection himself. Every word was properly used. Every sentence was perfectly formed. Every noun, every verb and every object was in its proper place. Every punctuation mark, every comma, every semicolon, and every period was expertly placed to separate and balance each sentence.
To read Ingersoll, it seems that every idea came properly clothed from his brain. Something rare indeed in the history of man's use of language in the expression of his thoughts. Every thought came from his brain with all the beauty and perfection of the full blown rose, with the velvety petals delicately touching each other.
Thoughts of diamonds and pearls, rubies and sapphires rolled off his tongue as if from an inexhaustible mine of precious stones.
Just as the cut of the diamond reveals the splendor of its brilliance, so the words and construction of the sentences gave a charm and beauty and eloquence to Ingersoll's thoughts.
Ingersoll had everything: The song of the skylark; the tenderness of the dove; the hiss of the snake; the bite of the tiger; the strength of the lion; and perhaps more significant was the fact that he used each of these qualities and attributes, in their proper place, and at their proper time. He knew when to embrace with the tenderness of affection, and to resist and denounce wickedness and tyranny with that power of denunciation which he, and he alone, knew how to express.
If Ingersoll said that he approached the subject of Shakespeare with trepidation, what shall I say as I try to do justice to Ingersoll?
I humbly apologize for my inability to pay him a proper tribute, and yet I want to "lay this little wreath upon great man's tomb."
When I first visited the home of Robert G. Ingersoll opposite Gramercy Park, when his widow and his two daughters were still living, I would almost feel a gentle touch of a benediction as I would wander about his wonderful library.
He had a complete set of the individual volumes of Shakespeare's plays, and in every book, he had signed his name, as if to say that these volumes were a part of himself.
He also had on the table in the library, two enormous volumes. They were always opposite each other. One was the poems of Robert Burns, and this Ingersoll called "The Book of the Heart"; the other contained the complete works of Shakespeare, and this he called "The Book of the Brain."
I can well understand Ingersoll's great admiration for Shakespeare. In man respects they were alike -- they were both geniuses. They were both masters of the English language. Both expressed their thoughts with equal facility. As a delineator of human emotions, the Bard of Avon is without a peer, and The Great Agnostic is still the Master of Eloquence.
As long as the works of Ingersoll and Shakespeare were at my finger tips, I was never lonesome. I had, as it were, a cellar of the finest wines that were ever made, and when I wanted that stimulation of intellectual exhilaration, I would open a volume and "drink" to my heart's content.
Ingersoll said that Shakespeare reached the highest literary expression ever attained by man, and thought that there would never be his equal. In this Ingersoll was wrong, for Ingersoll himself attained a literary excellence that equaled the genius of the man from Stratford on Avon.
Ingersoll's Prose Poem, "Life" compares favorably with Shakespeare's Seven Stages of Man. And only in Shakespeare will you find anything comparable with Ingersoll's "The Laugh of A Child," "Love," "A Creed of Science" and others too numerous to mention here.
Ingersoll would delight in quoting an expression of Shakespeare's to show to what heights he had attained in the use of language to express a thought. He considered these the very epitome of Shakespeare's rare genius.
Let us make a few comparisons.
This is Shakespeare:
"Love is not love that alters
This is Ingersoll:
"I would rather live and love where death is king, than have eternal life where love is not."
This is Shakespeare:
"There is no darkness but ignorance."
This is Ingersoll:
"Give me the storm and stress of thought and action rather than the dead calm of ignorance and faith. Banish me from Eden when you will but first let me eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge."
This is Shakespeare:
"When valor preys on reason, it eats the sword it fights with."
This is Ingersoll:
"He loads the dice against himself who scores a point against the right."
This is Shakespeare:
"He jests at scars who never felt a wound."
This is Ingersoll:
"A lie bursts into blossom and has the perfume of truth."
This is Shakespeare:
"Let me not live
This is Ingersoll:
"I admit that reason is a small and feeble flame, a flickering torch by stumblers carried in the starless night, -- blown and flared by passion's storm, -- and yet, it is the only light. Extinguish that, and nought remains."
This is Shakespeare:
"I would have thee live;
This is Ingersoll:
im"Why pierce the brow of death with the thorns of hatred"?
I could give comparisons and illustrations without limit, but I am not here to quote the words of Ingersoll.
I am here to tell you how I do feel about him, and give you some idea of his greatness.
It is for you to seek his wisdom, and his humanity. Just as I have done. His knowledge, sentiments and inspiration are here for all to possess.
Could I but acquaint the world with Robert G. Ingersoll's humanity, with his ideas and his sentiments of love, patience and understanding, a renascence would automatically take place that would give life and living on this little earth of ours some semblance of what we call paradise.
And this great and wonderful man had to die!
I do not know the purpose of life, nor do I understand why death should come to all that is; but this I do know -- that when Robert G. Ingersoll died, on July 21, 1899, then you and I, and the whole world, suffered a mortal blow.
When the mighty heart, of his mighty body, that supplied the blood to his mighty brain, burst, never again was there to fall from his eloquent lips the pearls of thought that had been so wondrously formed in his brain.
The mightiest voice in all the world was silenced, forever. No wonder the people wept when they heard that Ingersoll was dead.
He was the greatest of the Great -- the Mightiest of the Mighty. He was "as constant as the Northern Star whose true fixed and resting quality there is no fellow in the firmament." He was the indistinguishable star whose brilliance never dimmed.
When Robert G. Ingersoll died, his death was "the ruins of the noblest man that ever lived in the tide of time ... When shall we ever see another?"
When Robert G. Ingersoll died, the sky should have been rent asunder, and Nature should have gone into mourning.
When this man died, Nature's masterpiece was destroyed, and hot tears of grief should have fallen from the heavens.
Robert G. Ingersoll no longer belongs to his family;
He no longer belongs to his friends;
He no longer belongs to his country;
Robert G. Ingersoll now belongs to all the world -- the whole universe --
He is immortal and eternal.
Among the galaxies of Nature's masterpieces, none shine with a greater brilliance than the babe who was born in this house 121 years ago today, and named Robert Green Ingersoll.