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The Superlative Robert Green Ingersoll

The Superlative Robert Green Ingersoll April 11, 2016

Robert Green Ingersoll was a truly great thinker. You can find a great deal of awesome content from him on the superlative theingersolltimes.com website. Please check it out, and send its curator your appreciation for putting it together. He is a tireless worker! Something for your Monday:

By the same book they proved that nearly everybody is to be lost, and that all are to be saved; that slavery is a divine institution, and that all men should be free; that polygamy is right, and that no man should have more than one wife; that the powers that be are ordained of God, and that the people have a right to overturn and destroy the powers that be; that all the actions of men were predestined—preordained from eternity, and yet that man is free; that all the heathen will be lost; that all the heathen will be saved; that all men who live according to the light of nature will be damned for their pains; that you must be baptized by sprinkling; that you must be baptized by immersion; that there is no salvation without baptism; that baptism is useless; that you must believe in the Trinity; that it is sufficient to believe in God; that you must believe that a Hebrew peasant was God; that at the same time he was half man, that he was of the blood of David through his supposed father Joseph, who was not his father, and that it is not necessary to believe that Christ was God; that you must believe that the Holy Ghost proceeded; that it makes no difference whether you do or not; that you must keep the Sabbath holy; that Christ taught nothing of the kind; that Christ established a church; that he established no church; that the dead are to be raised; that there is to be no resurrection; that Christ is coming again; that he has made his last visit; that Christ went to hell and preached to the spirits in prison; that he did nothing of the kind; that all the Jews are going to perdition; that they are all going to heaven; that all the miracles described in the Bible were performed; that some of them were not, because they are foolish, childish and idiotic; that all the Bible is inspired; that some of the books are not inspired; that there is to be a general judgment, when the sheep and goats are to be divided; that there never will be any general judgment; that the sacramental bread and wine are changed into the flesh and blood of God and the Trinity; that they are not changed; that God has no flesh or blood; that there is a place called “purgatory;” that there is no such place; that unbaptized infants will be lost; that they will be saved; that we must believe the Apostles’ Creed; that the apostles made no creed; that the Holy Ghost was the father of Christ; that Joseph was his father; that the Holy Ghost had the form of a dove; that there is no Holy Ghost; that heretics should be killed; that you must not resist evil; that you should murder unbelievers; that you must love your enemies; that you should take no thought for the morrow, but should be diligent in business; that you should lend to all who ask, and that One who does not provide for his own household is worse than an infidel. [From his Complete Works, Volume 3, About The Bible]

That site is a wealth of resources and work by Robert Ingersoll himself. For those of you unfamiliar with Ingersoll, here is his wiki bio:

Robert Green “Bob” Ingersoll (August 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899) was a Civil War veteran, American political leader, and orator during the Golden Age of Freethought, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism. He was nicknamed “The Great Agnostic.”

Robert Ingersoll was born in Dresden, New York. His father, John Ingersoll, was an abolitionist-leaning Congregationalist preacher, whose radical views forced his family to move frequently. For a time, Rev. John Ingersoll filled the pulpit for American revivalist Charles G. Finney while Finney was on a tour of Europe. Upon Finney’s return, Rev. Ingersoll remained for a few months as co-pastor/associate pastor under Finney. The elder Ingersoll’s later pastoral experiences influenced young Robert negatively, however, as The Elmira Telegram described in 1890: [1]

Though for many years the most noted of American infidels, Colonel Ingersoll was born and reared in a devoutly Christian household. His father, John Ingersoll, was a Congregationalist minister and a man of mark in his time, a deep thinker, a logical and eloquent speaker, broad minded and generously tolerant of the views of others. The popular impression which credits Ingersoll’s infidelity in the main to his father’s severe orthodoxy and the austere and gloomy surroundings in which his boyhood was spent is wholly wrong. On the contrary the elder Ingersoll’s liberal views were a source of constant trouble between him and his narrow-minded parishioners. They caused him to frequently change his charges, and several times made him the defendant in church trials. His ministerial career was, in fact, substantially brought to a close by a church trial which occurred while he was pastor of the Congregational Church at Madison, Ohio, and at which his third wife appeared as prosecutor. Upon this occasion he was charged with prevarication and unministerial conduct. The evidence adduced—the trial is one of the abiding traditions of the dull little town of Madison—was of the most trivial and ridiculous character, but the committee which heard it decided that though he had done “nothing inconsistent with his Christian character,” he was “inconsistent with his ministerial character,” and forbade him to preach in the future. Elder John went before the higher church authorities and was permitted to continue his clerical labors. However, he soon removed to Wisconsin, going from there to Illinois, where he died. The Madison trial occurred when young Robert was nine years old, and it was the unjust and bigoted treatment his father received which made him the enemy, first of Calvinism, and later of Christianity in its other forms.

Robert G. Ingersoll

In 1853, “Bob” Ingersoll taught a term of school in Metropolis, Illinois, where he let one of his students, the future Judge Angus M. L. McBane, do the “greater part of the teaching, while Latin and history occupied his own attention”. At some point prior to his Metropolis position, Ingersoll had also taught school in Mount Vernon, Illinois.[1]

Later that year, the family settled in Marion, Illinois, where Robert and his brother Ebon Clarke Ingersoll were admitted to the bar in 1854. A county historian writing 22 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.”[2]

While in Marion, he studied law under Judge Willis Allen and served as deputy clerk for John M. 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 the riverfront city along 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.[3] On November 11, 1856, Ingersoll caught Hall in his arms when the son of a political opponent assassinated his employer in their office.[4]

When he moved to Shawneetown, he continued to read law under Judge William G. Bowman who had a large library of both law and the classics. In addition to his job as a clerk, he and his brother opened their law practice under the name “E.C. and R.G. Ingersoll”.[5] During this time they also had an office in Raleigh, Illinois, then the county seat of neighboring Saline County. As attorneys following the court circuit he often practiced alongside Cunningham’s soon-to-be son-in-law, John A. Logan, the state’s attorney and political ally to Hall.

As the trial of Hall’s assassin dominated the scene and with his earlier mentor Cunningham having moved back to Marion following the land office’s closing in 1856, and Logan’s move to Benton, Illinois, after his marriage that fall, Ingersoll and his brother moved to Peoria, Illinois, where they finally settled in 1857.

Ingersoll was married, February 13, 1862, to Eva Amelia Parker (1841-1923). They had two daughters. Ingersoll was a great believer in the importance of family life.

With the outbreak of the American Civil War, he raised the 11th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Cavalry and took command. The regiment fought in theBattle of Shiloh. Ingersoll was later captured, then released on his promise that he would not fight again, which was common practice early in the war.

After the war, he served as Illinois Attorney General. He was a prominent member of the Republican Party and, though he never held an elected position, he was nonetheless an active participant in politics. According to Robert Nisbet, Ingersoll was a “staunch conservative Republican.”[6] His speech nominating James G. Blaine for the 1876 presidential election was unsuccessful, as Rutherford B. Hayes received the Republican nomination, but the speech itself, known as the “Plumed Knight” speech, was considered a model of political oratory. (Franklin Roosevelt probably used it as a model for his “Happy Warrior” speech when nominating Alfred E. Smith for president in 1928). His radical views on religionslavery, woman’s suffrage, and other issues of the day effectively prevented him from ever 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, which he refused to do on the basis that concealing information from the public was immoral.

Ingersoll was involved in several prominent trials as an attorney, notably the Star Route trials, a major political scandal in which his clients were acquitted. He also defended a New Jersey man charged with blasphemy. Although he did not win acquittal, his vigorous defense is considered to have discredited blasphemy laws and few other prosecutions followed.

Ingersoll represented the noted con-artist, James Reavis, the ‘Baron of Arizona‘ for a time, pronouncing his Peralta Land Grant claim airtight.[7]

Ingersoll was most noted as an orator, the most popular of the age, when oratory was public entertainment. He spoke on every subject, fromShakespeare to Reconstruction, but his most popular subjects were agnosticism and the sanctity and refuge of the family. He committed his speeches to memory although they were sometimes more than three hours long. His audiences were said never to be restless.

Many of Ingersoll’s speeches advocated freethought 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. At the height of Ingersoll’s fame, audiences would pay $1 or more to hear him speak, a giant sum for his day.

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.”[8]

Ingersoll died from congestive heart failure at the age of 65. Soon after his death, his brother-in-law, Clinton P. Farrell, collected copies of Ingersoll’s speeches for publication. The 12-volume Dresden Editions kept interest in Ingersoll’s ideas alive and preserved his speeches for future generations. Ingersoll’s ashes are interred in Arlington National Cemetery (Section 3, Lot 1620, Grid S-16.5).

In 2005, a popular edition of Ingersoll’s work was published by Steerforth Press. Edited by the Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page, “What’s God Got to Do With It: Robert Ingersoll on Free Speech, Honest Talk and the Separation of Church and State” brought Ingersoll’s thinking to a new audience.

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