A Biographical Appreciation of
Robert Green Ingersoll
FROM EIGHTEEN SIXTY-SEVEN TO EIGHTEEN SEVENTY-SEVEN
On February 28, 1867, Ingersoll became attorney-general of Illinois, serving as such until January 11, 1869. He was appointed by Governor Richard J. Oglesby, but undoubtedly would have succeeded himself when the office was made elective, had he not renounced the candidacy therefor. The reasons for the renunciation indicated will be noted later. Meantime, we come, in proper narrative sequence, to snother act, an act which, for manliness, — for unswerving fidelity to the dictates of conscience, — has never been surpassed in the history of American politics.
On May 6, 1868, the Republican state convention met in Peoria to select a candidate for the governorship of Illinois. Although no special efforts had been made in Ingersoll’s behalf, it was found, at once, that he was the first choice of three-fourths of the delegates. But some of the more sagacious questioned the political wisdom of that choice. Ingersoll, even thus early, had become, as far as the preachers were concerned, the best-hated individual in all the state; and the delegates, notwithstanding their high personal regard for the man, could not afford to launch the bark of their aspirations without some assurance that it would not be dashed against the jagged rock of his heterodoxy. They wanted a pledge from their prospective leader, who, be it marked, had yet to achieve national renown. Accordingly, a committee was sppointed to confer with him, the convention adjourning to await the result. It had not long to wait: —
“Gentlemen, I am not asking to be govenor 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 globe.”
In these days, when the gaze can scarcely be extended without revealing a politician at the feet of a priest, this reply is as strangely refreshing as would be a fountain that should burst from the fevered breast of the desert.
For the sake of narrative completeness and historic justice, I may add that the convention, having declined to nominate Ingersoll because he refused to stultify himself, conferred the honor of nomination upon a man who, by previously declaring that he was not a candidate, [NOTE: General John M. Palmer, who was afterwards nominated and elected, telegraphed to general Rowett, while the convention was in session: “Do not permit me to be nominated. I cannot accept.”]
Induced Ingersoll to become one, and who, to say the least, did not prevent his friends, in that very convention, from making political capital of tke fact that Ingersoll was an “infidel.”
And this is not the worst: the same individuals who sought to stake the mental manhood of Ingersoll upon a “tower of silence,” to be pecked by the unclean vultures of politics, now desired to retain him as “guide, counselor, and friend.” His wisdom, his eloquence — his prestige — must not be lost to them. And so, by the strange alchemy of hypocrisy, his disqualifications for the gubernatorial candidacy suddenly became qualifications for that of attorney-general. Accordingly, insult followed injary; and he was asked to accept the nomination for the latter office. But Robert G. Ingersoll still stood sponsor for his manhood; and his reply on this occasion was about as evasive and difficult of comprehension as had been his reply to the committee from the convention, and presumably, for that reason, did not afford as much pleasure to him who became the successful candidate for the governorship: —
“When I say I am a candidate for a particular office, I mean it; and when I say I am a not a candidate for a particular office, I mean that too. When I became a candidate for governor, I renounced my candidacy for attorney-general; and other candidates were invited into the field. I would despise myself forever were I now to become a candidate against any of these men whom, by my action, I have invited to become candidates.”
This, as far as his own political preferment was concerned, sealed Ingersoll’s doom, not only in Illinois, but throughout the United States.
There occurred, in connection with this campaign, a little incident which, revealing Ingersoll’s sense of justice, — his tenderness and compassion, — even more impressively than the two official replies to the politicians revealed his mental manhood, it is here impossible to omit. The treasurehouse of English is filled with priceless gems; and long before I heard of this incident, I had decided (for myself alone) as to which was the greatest, which the tenderest, expression in our language; that the greatest was Shakespeare’s — “There is no darkness but ignorance,” and that the tenderest most compassionate, was Whitman’s — “Not till the sun excludes you, do I exclude you.” But the incident of Ingersoll changed my mind. The particulars of that incident are as follows:
Soon after the campaign, Ingersoll and a number of his associates were gathered in his office in Peoria. Some one mentioned the fact that his orthodox political opponents had circulated the charge that he had referred to Christ as “an illegitimate child.”
Now, a small man, confronted with this charge, might have replied: —
“Yes: I said it; and according to your Bible, it is true.”
A great man might have added to this: —
“But is it any fault of Christ’s?”
But Ingersoll replied: —
“Gentlemen, it isn’t to have you think that I would call Christ an illegitimate child’ which hurts me: it is to think that you should think that I would think any the less of Christ if I knew it was so.”
It has been stated by many whose judgment is entitled to great weight, that, had Ingersoll kept silent on religious questions, any place within the gift of the people might have been his. For example, the resolutions of the memorial meeting which was held in Peoria on July 23, 1899, and which was participated in by the most prominent residents of that place, — his lifelong acquaintances and former fellow-citizens and neighbors, — contain the following:
“* * * At a time when everything impelled him to conceal his opinions, or to withhold their expression, when the highest honors of the state were his if he would but avoid the discussion of the questions that relate to futerity, he avowed his belief; he did not bow his knee to superstition, nor countenance a creed from which his intellect dissented.
“Casting aside all the things for which men most sigh — political honor, the power to direct the fortunes of the state, riches and emoluments, the association of the worldly and the well- to-do — he stood forth and expressed his honest doubts, and he welcomed the ostracism that came with it, as a crown of glory, no less than did the martyrs of old.
“* * * at the time that he made his stand, there was before him only the prospect of loss and of the scorn of the public.
“We therefore, who know what a struggle it was to cut loose from his old associations, and what it meant to him at that time, rejoice in his triumph and in the plaudits that came to him for thus boldly avowing his opinions, and we desire to record the fact that we feel that he was greater than a martyr, greater than a saint, greater than a mere mere hero — he was a thoroughly honest man.’ * * * “
Hon. Clark E. Carr (ex-minister to Denmark), who is intimately and personally acquainted with the last fifty years of the political history of Illinois, said, in an eloquent address at the Ingersoll memorial meeting in Chicago, on August 6, 1899: —
“We remember how, on account of his splindid services, and his sublime patriotism, we in Knox county and in our part of the state, united in seeking to place him in the chief executive office, and we remember that by modifying certain views he held, he could have been nominated by acclamation and elected to the high office of Governor of Illinois, which would have opened the way to even higher emoluments and positions; and we remember with what tenacity and firmness he held to his convictions, and that neither public sentiment, the appeal of friends, nor the allurements of position, could move him to accept as true what he could not believe.”
“It is my strong conviction,” wrote Dr. Moncure D. Conway, in the South Place Magazine, London, “that but for orthodox animosity, Colonel Ingersoll would have been Presideut of the United States. Certainly no man of his ability ever occupied that office.”
Many similar remarks might be quoted from like sources. They were often made to Ingersoll himself, by publicists and political leaders. Exact language cannot here be essayed; but the opinion expressed was usually couched in suhstantially the following, if, indeed, in much more intimate terms: ‘Were it not for your attitude on religion, you could, with your ability and personality, have any honor that it is possible for the American people to bestow.’
Strange as it may seem to some, the recipient of these intended compliments never appreciated them. And what an alternative mediocrity did put at his feet! As a matter of fact, there was no place in this Republic that could have honored Robert G. Ingersoll. And he could no more have preserved silence on relig;on, than Shellcy could have refrained from pouring furth the marrelous poetry that now glorifies the realm of fancy. Where is the man with imagination enough to picture that iron frame of ample proportions, that classic head and fine, frank face — that embodiment of all the gradations of temperament, from clown to king — sitting acquiescent at the feet of a Talmage!
And suppose that Ingersoll had become president of the United States. Suppose that, unheeding the silent voice within, he had agreed to accept the nomination for the governorship of Illinois, — that is to say, the governorship, — and that, subsequently, with calloused conscience, using his irresistible eloquence to smoothe the way, he had marched to the executive seat of the nation. Would it have been better — better for him and for the world?
Who remembers the governors of states? How many can recall the names of all the presidents? We remember Washington: — he was the first. We remember Jefferson, who at least penned the sublimest of human documents; — Jefferson! the noble sage, whose lamp of wisdom shineth still. And we remember Lincoln, in whose soul were the sadness and sorrow, the anguish, the despair, and the consolation, of a people; — Lincoln! who kept unscattered in the skies the constellation of the Republic; who caused the bow of equal rights to arch alike the white and the black; whose wit, like lightning, always taking the shortest course, often struck in the highest places; and whose humor, like sunshine, silvered and gilded “the clouds of war”; — Lincoln! in his hand the broken fetters, at his feet the bowed slave; — Lincoln! in the ruthless fields, his hand the last laurel on the dying soldier’s brow.
The truth is, that, in levying on posterity, there is no extrinsic substitute for intrinsic worth. In the inexorable necessity of things, not an atom can ultimately be otherwise than as it really is. No office per se can be great enough to honor an incumbent. Of course, a mediocrity may be masked for a while by the garment of greatness; but to himself all the time, and to the world in due time, he is as inevitable as the atom to the chemist.
Those who regret Ingersoll’s failure to reach official supremacy should ponder well this fact. They should also consider, that rarely, with peoples, has the greatest been chosen to lead or to rule. Nor should this excite surprise; for the individual who bears the unmistakable stamp of moral and intellectual grandeur almost invariably differs sufficieiitly from his fellows to incur their disapproval, if not their contempt. Nature does not make and break a special die to please the multitude.
Far from regrettable, Ingersoll’s declination of the nomination for the governorship of Illinois was one of the richest blessings that ever befell the cause of intellectual freedom. It was an incident which, to the real friend of progress, must ever recall the spirit of the Declaration and of the Emancipation.
In the first place, Ingersoll yearned for inestimably higher things than the governorship of any state, or the presidency of any country, whatever. He could not have been satisfied with being the mere servant of a people. He himself possessed not only ears, but a voice. He had a message for mankind, and he would deliver that message, though it be from a platform denied to him by intolerance, showered with the brickbats of bigotry, stormed by the infantry of ignorance, and raked by the cross-fire of fanaticism.
Had he sgreed to accept the nomination previously mentioned, all this yearning for intellectual liberty, — this divine fire of enthusiasm, — would have been extinguished — like sudden night upon a flame of morning-glories! He would have drunk a subtle poison which, unlike that of Socrates, would have sought out and destroyed every fiber of his moral being. He would have stultified himself, — would have thrust an ignominious orthodox gag into his own mouth; and ever after, in the glass of conscience, — the mirror of memory, — he would have seen that gag projecting on either side.
And suppose, again, that he had become president of the United States, as he almost certainly would have done had he listened to the political sirens of Illinois. What, in general, wonld have been the result? A splendid hypocrite in The White House; a vast number of pardons; the Federal troops in attendance at prospective “lynching-bees” — that is, the protection of American citizens at home; some allegations that American citizens in China and Turkey had not been protected in their “rights”; a few half-hearted snubs for the royal tyrants and puppets of Europe; a volume or so of really brilliant “state papers” (not to mention the four Thanksgiving proclamations); a lot of half-great orations, delivered on popular and state occasions; and a book entitled, Robert G. Ingersoll: Was He an Infidel?
What have we now? The record of a life that was absolutely true to itself; a record that “runs like a vine around the memory of our dead”; the record of one who did more for the emancipation of the human mind than all the governors and presidents of history; the record of a man who pursued the straight, unswerving course that wins the hatred of the many and the love of the few, — the execration of the present, and the oak and laurel of the future.
On September 14, 1869, at Peoria, on the oceasion of the unveiling of a statue to that deathless savant, Ingersoll first delivered his lecture on Humboldt — a life dedicated to the demonstration of “the sublimest of truths,” that “the universe is governed by law.”
And in the following year came the lecture on Thomas Paine ; for “with his name left out, the history of liberty cannot be written.”
In 1872 was publislied The Gods, a lecture, which, demonstrating that “each nation has created a god” who “has always resembled his creators,” naturally lays down, as an initial prpposition, this striking paraphrase of Pope: “An honest God is the noblest work of man.”
Next following this, in 1873, was delivered the lecture Individuality a noble and earnest plea that all men become worthy of Wordsworth’s simile on Milton: “His soul was as a star and dwelt apart.”
In 1874 came Heritics and Hericies, a brave and splendid plea for intellectaal liberty — “Liberty, a word without which all other words are vain.”
In the autumn of 1875, accompanied by his wife and children (Eva and Maud), Ingersoll made a brief tour abroad, visiting England, Ireland, and France. Upon his return, he gave at Peoria, on November 16th, for the benefit of “The National Blues,” a local military organization, one of the most characteristic lectures of his lifetime. It was entitled: What I Saw, and What I Did Not See, in England, Ireland, and France. In it, we have many an inspiring view of his attitude at the shrine of departed genius. Of his visit to Westminster Abbey, for example, he says: —
“Here I came upon a statue of Shakespeare, leaning upon a column, and in his hand a scroll, on which was a quotation from The Tempest:
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rock behind: We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with sleep.'”
And he adds: —
“The last two lines were omitted. But I thought, while standing there, how much greater were those few lines than the cathedral itself.”
While in Paris, Ingersoll asked the superintendent of Pere Lachaise if he could direct him to the tomb of Auguste Comte; but the superintendent had never even heard of the author of the “Positive philosophy.” Ingersoll then asked the superintendent if he had ever heard of Napoleon Bonaparte.
“Of course I have,” he answered, in a half-insulted tone. “Why do you ask me such a question?”
“Simply that I might have the opportunity of saying,” replied Ingersoll, “that when everything connected with Napolcon, except his crimes, shall have been forgotten, Auguste Comte will be lovingly remembered as a benefactor of the human race.”
Whether or not Ingersoll then found the object of his inquiry, he found the tomb of Napoleon; and his now world-famous “Soliloquy” there, first given in the lecture above mentioned, was the result.
The year 1876 was one of the most varied and eventful, if not the most memorable, in the life of Ingersoll. May 22d found him in the heat and ardor of forensic argument, delivering, at Chicago, his celebrated Address to the Jury in the Munn Trial, in which his client, the defendant, proved to be innocent; while only two days later, at Peoria, “to fullill a promise made many years ago,” he pronounced at the grave of his father-in-law, Mr. Benjamin Weld Parker, the first of those tributes which, for purity, simplicity, and charm of diction, and for pathos and truly poetic recognition of the nothingness of all animate nature in the presence of the inevitable tragedy of death, will go down to postenty unequaled in our tongue.
But Ingersoll’s chief accomplishment, his most dramatic act, his most consummate achieveiment, as a whole, during this year, and, in its far-reaching influence for his personsl preferment, the greatest oratorical triumph of his life, was the nomination of Blaine for the presidency, at the Republican national convention, in Cincinnati, on June 15th. From a reputation that was hardly more than local, he sprang to a reputation that was general. The oratorical wouder of his state, he became, in a brief half-hour, the Cicero of his country and his age. As The Elegy, in a moment, made Gray immortal; as The Cotter’s Saturday Night instantly rendered deathless the name of Burns; so Ingersoll received upon his brow the fadeless laurel of Polymnia, as he tossed from his fervent lips the “shining lance” and argent “plume” of James G. Blaine.
That Ingersoll’s triumph was inevitable is as certain now, when we consider the man and the time, as it was surprising then. The year, — it was historic — a year of patriotic memories; the issues, — they were fraught with as muck gravity as any that could concern the citizens of the Republic; the pany, — although in power, it was beginning to show symptoms of internal discontent, of dissension, of weakness, and, for the first time in twelve years, its most hopeful wisdom beheld what it feared were the shadowy portents of defeat; the convention, — it was, both because of those present, and of those whose interests were there at stake, one of almost unexampled dignity, but withal a convention in which the tides and currents of ambition and intrigue surged fierce and wild; the prospective nominee, — he was the most audacious, the most impetuous, and the most inspiring of leaders — the idol of the hour. Such a year, such issues, such an outlook, such an assemblage, such a leader — these, each and all, were calculated to stir the utmost depths of the orator — his patriotism, his love of liberty and justice, his pride and prejudice, his emotions, his electrifying enthusiasm: —
“Ingersoll moven out from the obscure corner and advanced to the center stage. As he walked forward, the thundering cheers, sustained and swelling, never ceased. As he reached the platform, theytook on an increasing volume of sound; and for ten minuets the surging fury of acclamation, the wild waving of fans, hats, and handkerchiefs, transformed the scene from one of deliberation to that of a bedlam of rapturous delirium. Ingersoll waited with unimparired serenity until he should get a chance to be heard. * * * And then began an appeal, impassioned, artful, brillant, and persuasive. * * *
“Possessed of a fine figure, a face of winning, cordial frankness, Ingersoll had half won his audience before he spoke a word. It is the attestation of every man that heard him, that so brilliant a master stroke was never uttered before a political convention. Its effect was indescribable. The coolest-headed in the hall were stirred to the wildest expression. The adversaries of Blane, as well as his friends, listened with unswerving, absorbed attention. Curtis sat spellbound, his eyes and mouth wide open, his figure moving in unison with the tremendous periods that fell in masured, exquisitely graduated flow from the Illinoisan’s smiling lips. The matchless method and manner of the man can never be imagined from the report in type. To reacize the prodigious force, the inexpressible power, the irrestrainable fervor of the audience, requires actual sight.
“Words can do but meger justice to the wizard power of this extrodinary man. He sways and moved and impelled and restrained and worked, in all ways, with the mass before him, as if he possessed some key to the innermost mechanism that moves the human heart, and when finished, his fine frank face as calm as when he began, the overwrought thousands sank back in an exhaustion of unspeakable wonder and delight.” (From the Chicago Times, June 16, 1876)
The speech: —
“Massachusetts may be satisfied with the loyalty of Benjamin H. Bristow; so am I; but if any man nominated by this convention can not carry the State of Massachusetts, I am not satisfied with the loyalty of that State. If the nominee of this convention cannot carry the grand old Commonwealth of Massachusetts by seventy-five thousand majority, I would advise them to sell out Faneuil Hall as a Democratic headquarters. I would advise them to take from Bunker Hill that old monument of glory.
“The Republicans of the United States demand as their leader in the great contest of 1876 a man of intelligence, a man of integrity, a man of well-known and approved political opinions. They denabd a statesman; they demand a reformer after as well as before the election. They demand a politician in the highest, broadest and best sense — a man of superb moral courage. They demand a man acquainted with public affairs — with the wants of the people; with not only the requirements of the houre, but with the demands of the future. They demand a man broad enough to comprehend the relations of this Government to the other nations of the earth. They demand a man well versed in the powers, duties and prerogatives of each and every department of this Government. They demand a man who will sacredly preserve the financhial honor of the United States; one who knows enough to know that the national debt must be paid through the prosperity of the people; one who knows enough to know that all financhial theories in the world cannot redeem a single dollar; one who knows enough to know that all the money must be made, not by law, but by labor; one who knows enough to know that the people of the United States have the industry to make the money, and the honor to pay it over just as fast as they make it.
“The Republicans of the United States demand a man who knows that prosperity and resumption, when they come, must come together; that when they come, they willcome hand in hand through the golden harvest fields; hand in hand by the whirling spindles and turning wheels; hand in hand past the open furnace doors; hand in hand by the flaming forges; hand in hand by the chimneys filled with eager fire, greeded and grasped by the countless sons of toil.
“This money has to bedug out of the earth. You cannot make it by passing resolutions in a political convention.
“The Republicans of the United States want a man who knows that this Government should protect every citizen, at home and abroad; who knows that any government that will not defend its defenders, and protect its protectors, is a disgrace to the map of the world. They demand a man who believes in the eternal sepration and divorcement of church and school. They demand a man whose political reputation is spotless as a star; but they do not demand that their candidate shall have a certificate of moral character signed by a Confederate congress. The man who has, in full, heaped and rounded measure, all these splindid qualifications, is the present and gallant leader of the Republican party — James G. Blaine.
“Our country, crowded with the vast and marvelous achievements of its first century, asks for a man worthy of the past, and prophetic of her future; asks for a man who has the audacity of genious; asks for a man who is the grandest combination of heart, conscience and brain beneath her flag — such a man is James G. Blaine.
“For the Republican host, led by this intrepid man, there can be no defeat.
“This is a grand year — a year filled with recollections of the Revolution; filled with the proud and tender memories of the past; with the sacred legends of liberty — a year in which the people call from the fountains of enthusiasm; a year in which the people call for a man who has preserved in Congress what our soldiers won upon the field; a year in which they call for the man who has torn from the throat of treason the tounge of slander — for the man who has snatched the mask of Democracy from the hedeous face of rebellion; for the man who, like an intellectual athlete, has stood in the arena of debate and challenged all commers, and who is still a total stranger to defeat.
“Like an armed warrior, like a plumed knight, James G. Blane marched down the halls of the American Congress and threw his shinning lance full and fair against the brazen foreheads of the defamers of his country and the malingers of his honor. For the Republican party to desert this gallant leader now, is as though an army should desert their general upon the field of battle.
“James G. Blane is now and has been for years the bearer of the sacred standard of the Republican party. I call it sacred, because no human being can stand beneath its folds without becoming and without remaining free.
“Gentlemen of the convention, in the name of the great Republic, the only republic that ever existed upon this earth; in the name of all her defenders and of all her supporters; in the name of all her soldiers living; in the name of all her soldiers dead upon the field of battle, and in the name of those who perished in the skeleton clutches of famine at Andersonville and Libby, whose sufferings he so vividly remembers, Illinois — Illinois nominates for the next President of this country, that prince of parliamentarians — that leader of leaders — James G. Blaine.”
The circumstances of the origin and preparationof this speech, which, as is so well known, awakened unprecedented enthusiasm, not only in the United States and other English-speaking countries, but in frnce, wkere it was translated into the native tongue, are of the deepest interest.
Not only Blaine, but Morton also (who was a warm friend of the orator, and whom the latter greatly admired), had requested Ingersoll to place his name before the convention. Being favorable to both, and the matter not being subject to his personal preference, he informed them that, as a member of the Illinois delegstion, he would present the name of that delegation’s choice. (It is said that Ingersoll afterwards remarked to Marton: “I could have made a better speech for you than I made for Blaine.”)
It was nearing the midnight preceding the nomination when Ingersoll and his brother “Clark” reached their apartment at the hotel in Cincinnati. Not a sentence of the speech that Robert must be ready within twelve hours to deliver had been cast in final form, nor even roughly sketched on paper. His brother, aware of this, was filled with affectionate anxiety. He feared that Robert, through mere negligence, might not rise as gloriously as he knew him to be capable of doing to the golden heights of the coming occasion. He therefore urged the orator to make immediate preparation. But Robert G. Ingersoll would have belied one of his most distinguishing characteristics if, especially when feeling the need of rest, he had permitted himself to worry about the exact wording of a speech. So the two brothers retired, and were soon asleep.
Suddenly Robert awoke. It was still dark; but he felt refreshed, — alert. Quietly dressing, he stepped into the adjoining room, closed the door behind him, lit the gas. It was three o’clock. He sat down, and the subject-matter and enviroment of the prospective speech passed before his mind like a panorama — the year, the issues, the party, the candidate, the vast assemblage in Exposition Hall. The picture was complete. He saw it, felt it; now he must hear it — it must satisfy the ear of tke poet-orator. He picked up a pen. A little attention, here and there, to rhythm, alliteration, tone-coloring, cadence, and — genius had done its work! Then Robert Ingersoll, with a twinkle that “Clark” didn’t even dream of, put out the light and returned to bed as noiselessly as he had risen.
Suddenly he woke again, or rather, was awakened — “Clark” was tugging at his arm in almost importunate anxiety. ‘It was nine o’clock: — the convention would be in session in two hours — that speech must be written at once!’
“Let’s have some breakfast first,” said Robert, calmly, as he rose and began to dress.
“No, ‘Robin,'” replied “Clark,” “you shan’t leave this room until you prepare your speech.”
“All right, then; how will this do?” he smilingly rejoined, as he drew a manuscript from his pocket and began to read.
“When did you write it?” asked his amazed and delighted brother, at the close.
“Oh, last night, while you were asleep,” answered Robert.
Thus was written in solitude, and delivered first to an audience of one, the “Plumed Knight Speech.” Thus was kindled, in the pale glimmer of the “midnight oil,” the most brilliant flash of eloquence that ever electrified a political convention.
On July 4th, “one hundred years” after “our fathers retired the gods from politics,” Ingersoll delivered at Peoria the Centennial Oration. While the latter, from opening to close, breathes the most lofty, inspiring, and worshipful patriotisn, it contains one passage in particular which, because of sheer simplicity of diction, and tenderness of pathos, it is here impossible to omit. This of the men who bore the Stars and Stripes from the little village green, through the midnight gloom of Valley Forge, to Yorktown’s cloudless day”: —
“What did the soldier leave when he went?
“He left his wife and children.
“Did he leave them in a beautiful home, surrounded by civilization, in the repose of law, in the security of a great and powerful republic?
“No. He left his wife and children on the edge, on the fringe of the boundless forest, in which crouched and crept the red savage, who was at that time the ally of the still more savage British. He left hiswife to defend herself, and he left prattling babies to be defended by their mother and by nature. The mother made a living; she planted the corn and potatoes, and hoed them in the sun, raised the children, and, in the darkness of night, told them about their brave father and the ‘sacred cause.’ She told them that in a little while the war would be over and father would come back covered with honor and glory.
“Think of the women, of the sweet children who listened for the footsteps of the dead — who waited through the sad and desolate years for the dear ones who never came.” If the time ever comes when the majority of Americans can read without emotion the last two paragraphs, then will the Declaration of Independence have been in vain.”
The campaign following the speech at Cincinnati was, far Ingersoll, as far as purely political oratory was concerned, a period of unparalleled activity and influence. Of his reasons for this activity, he has told us very plainly. He entered the Hayes campaign, he says, not as a politician, but as an advocate and defender of certain principles upon which he believed rested the welfare of the nation. He entered the Hayes campaign because he believed, that it “was the turning-point, the midnight, in the history of the American Republic”; because he firmly believed, that, if the Democratic party should sweep into power, it would be “the end of progress,” and the end of what he considered “human liberty, beneath our flag.” “I went into the campaign,” he says, “simply because the rights of American citizens in at least sixteen states of the Union were trampled under foot. * * * I felt that it was necessary to arouse the North. I felt that it was necessary to tell again the story of the Rebellion, from Bull Run to Appomattox. I felt that it was necesssry to describe what the Southern people were doing with Union men, and with colored men; and I felt it necessary so to describe it that the people of the North could hear the whips, and could hear the drops of blood as they fell upon the withered leaves.” That he did all this, and much more, the written and traditional accounts of the most remarkable political campaign in our history are ample proof. The number of speeches that he made in New York, New Jersey, Penusylvania, and especially in Maine, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, is simply enormous; and, what is far more significant, the size, character, and enthusiasm of the assemblages that he addressed are alike unprecedented in American oratory. Every speech, no matter how many had preceded it on the same subject, had a peculiar newness, — a freshness and vigor all its own. As stated by the Chicago Tribune, “His voice was the trumpet-call from Maine to California.”
Of his address at Bangor, on August 24th, which, by the way, was never revised for publication, The Whig and Courier of that city said, among other things: —
“* * * no report cound do justice to such a masterly effort as that of the great western orator, and we have not attempted to convey any adequate impression of an address which is concerned on all hands to be the most remarkable for originality, power and eloquence ever heard in this section.
“Such a speech by such a man — if there is another — must be heard; the magnetism of the speaker must be felt; the indescribable influence must be experienced, in order to appreciate his wonderful power. * * * During portions of his address there was moisture in the eyes of every person in the audience, and from opening to close he held the assemblage by a spell more potent than that of any man we have ever heard speak. It was one of the grandest, most cogent and thrilling appeals in behalf of the great principles of liberty, loyalty, and justice to all men, ever delivered, and we wish it might have been heard by every citizen of our beloved Republic.”
It is stated, that, after one of Ingersoll’s speeches in Maine, the professor of Greek in a college there said: —
“If Demosthenes was ever as eloquent as Ingersoll, he was never properly reported.”
The speech at Cooper Union, New York, on September 10th, was, according to The Cincinnati Daily Times:
“* * * irristable — magnificent. It swept along with it an assemblage of greated numbers and finer character than has gathered in our national metropolis to hear any political speaker since the early days of the war. It is pleasant to remember that we shall have an opportunity of listening to a like effort on Monday night the 18th; but it is unfortunate that we have no hall large enough to accommodate the crowd that will gather.”
The New York Tribune more than justified the first of this quotation, and added, among other things: —
“* * * the presiding officer wisely decided to submit no other speaker to the too severe test of speaking on the same occasion with Mr. Ingersoll.”
The New York Speach, like the Bangor Speach, was published without revision by the orator.
Eleven days later, at Indianapolis, in the course of an address “to the veteran soldiers of the Rebellion,” — almost before the enthusiastic echoes of the “Plumed Knight Speech” had died away, — he gave voice to that imaginative flight which has since become universally known as A Vision of War, which, beyond the uttermost reach of dispute, is the most inspiring, the sublimest, the most truly pathetic, the most perfect, of war- paintings. The reader who does not fully realize the latter world do well to turn from Hugo on Waterloo, or from Lincoln at Gettysburg, to Ingersoll at Indianspolis.
It is not uninteresting, as a test of eloquence, that, during the address last indicated, (the audience being in the open air) two heavy showers occurred without causing any one to seek shelter, many indeed remaining rapt and motionless while the water actually “trickled down their backs” from neighboring umbrellas. Women were hysterical; men were weeping; among the latter being Garfield, who, seated on the platform, ruse, at the couclusion of the address, and greeted the speaker with a tearful embrace. If Robert G. Ingersoll had spoken no word before nor since, it would still be the verdict that he was, with consummate ease, the most eloquent orator of the English tongue.
On October 5th, twenty thousand people, — said to be the largest political audience that had ever gathered in northern Indiana, — greeted him at Elkhart, special trains being run on all railway branches centering there. He was welcomed with the most eager enthusiasm; for the occasion, far from an ordinary incident of the campaign, was rather an ovation to Ingersoll individually, after his triumphant tour of the eastern states.
Passing over the details of the day, it is no less “curious” now than then “to watch the immense crowd, moved with the thought of the orator”; to witness its “tremendous outbursts” and, anon, its breathless suspense, ‘as eye seeks eye in silent wonder.’ Even more absorbing is the view afforded by the account of a member of the party that journeyed from Chicago to participate in the welcome: —
“Ingersoll begain in his characteristic way, lifting his audence to climax after climax, until men and women who had been seated stood on their feet * * * Looking down on the great crowd, throbbing to his every utterence, Ingersoll’s eyes fell on a group of twenty or thirty women in Quaker garb. There was on every one of those sweet young or older faces a look of absolute wonder. They followed Ingersoll in his soaring eloquence unbelieving as to his power to release them from the whirlwind-sweep upward and let them safely down. He seemed to catch the meaning of their faces, and, with a manner as caressing and gentle as that of a mother with a babe, he spoke, as if to them, of the glorious traditions of freedom, of the preciousness of the privilege every one enjoyed; and he came down from his lofty flight with an easy grace, and seemed to settle like a bird on wing over the group of women in drab.”
His final political speech of this year was delivered in Chicago, on October 20tk. No full stenographic report was made. Extracts, however, were authoritatively preserved and published.
Intent on choosing the most trustworthy medium for conveying, at this late date, something akin to an adequate impression of the appreciation of the orator on the occasiou indicated, the temptation to quote from the Chicago Tribune of October 21, 1876, the words of one who was present, is too strong to resist: —
“Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll spoke last night at the Exposition Building to the largest audience ever drawn by one man in Chicago. From 6:30 o’clock the sidewalk fronting along the building were jammed. At every entrance there were hundreds, and half-an-hour later thousands were clamoring for admittance. So great was the pressure the doors were finally closed, and the entrances at either end cautiously opened to admit the select who knew enough to apply in those directions. Occasionally a rush was made for the main door, and as the crowd came up against the huge barricade they were swept back only for another effort. Wabash Avenue, Monroe, Adams, Jackson, and Van Buren Streets were jammed with ladies and gentlemen, who swept into Michigan Avenue and swelled the sea that surged around the building.
“At 7:30 the doors were flung open and the people rushed in. Seating accomodations supposed to be adequate to all demands, had been provided, but in an instant they were filled, the aisles were jammed and around the sides of the building poured a steady streem of humanity, intent only on some coign of vantage, some place, where they could see and where they could hear. From the foundation, beyond which the building lay in shadow to the north end, was a swaying surging mass of people.
“Such another attendance of ladies has never been known at apolitical meeting in Chicago. They came by the hundreds, and the speaker looked down from his perch upon thousands of fair upturned faces, stamped with the most intense interest in his remarks.
“The galleries were packed. The frame of the huge elevator creaked, groaned, and swayed with the crowd roosting upon it. The trusses bore their living weight. The gallery railings bent and cracked. The roof was crowded, and the sky-lights teemed with heads.Here and there an adventurous youth crept out on the girders and braces. Toward the northern end of the building, on the west side, is a smaller gallery, dark, and not particularly strong- looking. It was fairly packed — packed like a sordine-box — with men and boys. Up in the organ-loft around the sides of the organ, everywhere that a human being could sit, stand, or hang, was pre- empted and filled.
“It was a magnificent outpouring, at least 50,000 in number, a compliment alike to the principle it represented, and the orator.”
Another writer (Prof. John Syphers) who was present (not as a reporter) stated, in a subsequent description of the meeting, that he “never saw anything that began with the wild excitement and enthusiasm manifested by the people “when it was announced that Ingersoll was approaching. ‘If,’ continues the description, ‘the queen of England or the czar of Russia had been coming into the building at one end, and Ingersoll at the other, every face, I believe, would have been turned toward Ingersoll’s door of entrance. The royal dignitaries from abroad would have been treated as but common spectators.’ This, in conjunction with all that prccedes it, renders quite conservative the Chicago Journal’s tribute: “Ingersoll was the supreme hero in the Hayes campaign.”
In the following year (1877), natioual questions not distractiug his attention, Ingersoll continued, with renewed vigor, his anti-theological crusade. In his first lecture, The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child, he made, not for himself alone, but in behalf of his fellows, clerical and lay, what he afterwards advised every other man and every woman to make, — “an individual declaration of independence.” He said: —
“I have made up my mind to say my say. I shall do it kindly, distinctly; but I am going to do it. I know there are thousands of men who substantially agree with me, but who are not in a condition to express their thoughts. They are poor; they are in business; and they know that should they tell their honest thought, persons will refuse to patronize them — to trade with them, they wish to get bread for their little cjildren; they wish to take care of wives; they wish to have homes and the comforts of life. Every such person is a certificate of the meanness of the community in which he resides. And yet I do not blame these people for not expressing their thought. I say to them: ‘Keep your ideas to yourselves; feed and clothe the ones you love; I will do your talking for you. The church cannot touch, cannot crush, cannot starve, cannot stop or stay me; I will express your thoughts.'”
This lecture was repeated at the Grand Opera House, San Francisco, Monday evening July 9th, the proceeds, a large sum, being equally divided amog the Ladies’ Protection snd Relief Socicty, the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Home Society, and the Orphan Asylum Society.
Then came The Ghosts. “Let them cover theireyeless sockets witk their fleshless hands and fade forever from the imaginstion of men,” he declared.
Ingersoll having delivered this (as well as the preceding) lecture in San Francisco, the clergy of that city, eager to discover a vulnerable point at which to attack him from the pulpit, telegraphed forthwith to the late Mr. William Reynolds, a very prominent religious worker, (Organizer of Calvary Mission Sunday School, 1861; founder of national Sunday School Organization, 1887- ’97) at the lecturer’s home (Peoria), asking to be furnished with any available information reflecting upon the latter’s personal character. Mr. Reynolds replied that, aside from Ingersoll’s anti- theological views, there was no such information. But the clergy made their attack just the same! Ingersoll retorted, on June 27th, with My Reviewers Reviewed, one of his ablest and lengthiest lectures.
His address About Farming in Illinois, made during this season, contains the following striking epigram: “To plow is to pray, to plant is to prophesy, and the harvest answers and fulfills.”
The Eight to Seven Address, so called because eight of the congressional electoral commission of fifteen declared for the election of Hayes, and seven thereof for that of Tilden, was delivered in Tremont Temple, Boston, in October, before one of the largest, most enthusiastic, and yet most select and critical audiences, even for tkat lectureloving city; William Lloyd Garrison, James T. Fields, and the governor of Massachusetts being among those present. “The lecture,” as Bostonians insisted upon calling it, opened witk a concise statement of Ingersoll’s reasons for participating in the campaign of Hayes, and “contained a witty, philosophical, and intensely patriotic view of the political contest preceding and following the recent election, with wise and timely suggestions for preventing similar perils in the future.” A Boston paper stated that Ingersoll’s reputation as the greatest living orator was conceded to be firmly and justly established.
Ingersoll also published during this year a Vindication of Thomas Paine, it being a reply to the New York Observer’s attack upon the “Author-Hero of the Revolution.”
Not long after the inanguration of Hayes, Ingersoll’s friends, including the entire congressional delegation from Illinois, requested the president to appoint Ingersoll ambassador to Germany; but, pending the executive’s decision in the matter, Ingersoll called upou Mr. Evarts, the secretary of state, and asked that his name be not considered in connection with the Berlin mission, under any circumstances whatever, stating, at the same time, that there was no place in the gift of the administration “which he would accept.
That the matter afforded him no little amusement is shown by the following extract from a letter to Dr. Moucure D. Conway, then resident in London: —
“You have probably seen by the despatches that I have declined the mission. The religious press raised a most lugubrious howl of pious anguish. Hypocrites of the secular papers joined with the true believers in denouncing the appointment. It was laughable to see the panic occasioned by so small a matter. I was anxious to see what would be said. Upon the whole, the comments of the leading papers were very gratifying indeed. Not so much because they were full of kindness to me, but for the reason that they took the ground that religion was purely a personal matter with which the public had no right to meddle, one way or the other.”
His name was also mentioned with reference to the Paris mission and the position of attorneygeneral, and, in Illinois, with reference to a United States senatorship.
In Novemher of this year, he removed to Washington. Twenty years before, he left the provincial and slumberous confines of Shawneetown, that his intellectual and artistic faculties, his forensic and oratorical genius, might attain, in the far more opportune fields of Peoria, their full development. They had done this. A student from boyhood, — an insatiable reader and investigator from his later youth, — it was in Pcoria that he had become wholly alive to the great truths, — to the beauty and sublimity of the mental world, — and that all his powers and attributes had become a unified and coherent force. There, he had made the greatest intellects of the world, — the philosophers, statesmen, inventors, poets, dramatists, novelists, and scientists of all ages, — his constant companions. There, his political, religious, and philosophical opinions had taken definite form. There, he had laid the foundation broad and deep. Not only this: upon that foundation, he had stood the uncompromising champion of both physical and intellectual liberty, had won the honors of the soldier, had stood in the polirical arena unsullied and incorruptible, had stood peerless at the bar, and, as an orator, had been crowned with fame. In Peoria, he had written not only his first lecture, but one of his very greatest, The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child. There, he had first practised and expounded that social and domestic philosophy which was to make him the universal champion of the fireside, and the friend of the unfornate — the poor, the imprisoned, the wretched, the despised. To his fellow- citizens, he was nature’s nobleman — the pride and idol of the community. He was respected by strangers, liked by acquaintances, loved by friends. Naturally, therefore, upou his departure for the still wider fields of the national capital, regret in Peoria not only, but in the Prairie State, was general and profound.