Robert Green Ingersoll, one of the most famous progressives of the 19th century, was born August 11, 1833. Following in the tradition of Paine & Jefferson, Ingersoll spent his life as an advocate for progressive causes, becoming arguably America’s greatest orator at a time when oratory was practically the national pastime.
Had he not openly rejected Christianity and God, Ingersoll’s speaking skills would have taken him a long way in the political arena, perhaps to the highest office in the land. Few could match his ability to appeal to both heart and intellect at once.
His books and speeches are still impressive today; they are intelligent and eminently quotable despite the patina of more than a century between his time and ours.
He was, for example, a great story-teller.
When I say I want a miracle, I mean by that, I want a good one. All the miracles recorded in the New Testament could have been simulated. A fellow could have pretended to be dead or blind, or dumb, or deaf. I want to see a good miracle. I want to see a man with one leg, and then I want to see the other leg grow out. I would like to see a miracle like that performed in North Carolina. Two men were disputing about the relative merits of the salve they had for sale. One of the men, in order to demonstrate that his salve was better than any other, cut off a dog’s tail and applied a little of the salve to the stump and, in the presence of the spectators, a new tail grew out. But the other man, who also had salve for sale, took up the piece of tail that had been cast away, put a little salve at the end of that, and a new dog grew out, and the I last heard of those parties they were quarrelling as to who owned the second dog. Something like that is what I call a miracle. —”Miracles and Immortality” The Dispatch, Pittsburgh, PA. December 11, 1880
He could be elegant.
To-day we remember all the heroes, all the generous and chivalric men who came from other lands to make ours free. Of the many thousands who shared the gloom and glory of the seven sacred years, not one remains. The last has mingled with the earth, and nearly all are sleeping now in unmarked graves, and some beneath the leaning, crumbling stones from which their names have been effaced by Time’s irreverent and relentless hands. But the Nation they founded remains. The United States are still free and independent. The “government derives its just power from the consent of the governed,” and fifty millions of free people remember with gratitude the heroes of the Revolution. — Decoration Day (Veterans Day) Oration, 1882
He could be honest.
When peace came, when the independence of a new Nation was acknowledged, the great truth for which our fathers fought was half denied, and the Constitution was inconsistent with the Declaration. The war was waged for liberty, and yet the victors forged new fetters for their fellow-men. . . .
Let us be truthful; all our fathers were not true to themselves. In war they had been generous, noble and self-sacrificing; with peace came selfishness and greed. They were not great enough to appreciate the grandeur of the principles for which they fought. They ceased to regard the great truths as having universal application. “Liberty for All” included only themselves. They qualified the Declaration. They interpolated the word “white.” They obliterated the word “All.” — Decoration Day (Veterans Day) Oration, 1882
He could be effusive.
To-day we reverently thank the abolitionists. Earth has no grander men — no nobler women. They were the real philanthropists, the true patriots. When the will defies fear, when the heart applauds the brain, when duty throws the gauntlet down to fate, when honor scorns to compromise with death, — this is heroism. The abolitionists were heroes. He loves his country best who strives to make it best. The bravest men are those who have the greatest fear of doing wrong. Mere politicians wish the country to do something for them. True patriots desire to do something for their country. Courage without conscience is a wild beast. Patriotism without principle is the prejudice of birth, the animal attachment to place. These men, these women, had courage and conscience, patriotism and principle, heart and brain. — Decoration Day (Veterans Day) Oration, 1882
He could be adamant.
That is the problem with this Christian religion. Leave your father, leave your mother, leave your wife, leave your children, leave everything and follow Jesus Christ. I will not. I will stay with my people. I will not sacrifice on the altar of a selfish fear all the grandest and noblest promptings of my heart.
There may be a God for all I know. There may be thousands of them. But the idea of an infinite Being outside and independent of nature is inconceivable.
To account for anything by supernatural agencies is, in fact to say that we do not know. Theology is not what we know about God, but what we do not know about Nature. — Some Mistakes of Moses
When you endeavor to explain the mystery of the universe by the mystery of God, you do not even exchange mysteries — you simply make one more. Nothing can ever be mysterious enough to be an explanation.
I believe there is room everywhere for thought, and the more liberty you give away, the more you will have. In liberty, extravagance is economy.
If God created the universe, there was a time when he commenced to create. Back of that commencement there must have been an eternity. In that eternity what was this God doing? He certainly did not think. There was nothing to think about. He did not remember. Nothing had ever happened. What did he do? Can you imagine anything more absurd than an infinite intelligence in infinite nothing wasting an eternity? — Some Mistakes of Moses
A library is an arsenal.
To hate man and worship God seems to be the sum of all the creeds.
Anger blows out the lamp of the mind.
Ignorance is the soil in which miracles grow.
In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments — there are consequences.
Beyond the region of the Probable is the Possible, and beyond the Possible is the Impossible and beyond the Impossible are the religions of this world.
Ministers say they teach charity. That is natural. They live on Hand-outs.
Well, I’ll give you my opinion: with soap, baptism is a good thing.