Robert Green Ingersoll
Cincinnati, Ohio, September 14, 1879
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: Allow me to say that the cause nearest my heart, and to which I am willing to devote the remainder of my life, is the absolute, the absolute, enfranchisement of the human mind. I believe that the family is the unit of good government, and that every good government is simply an aggregation of good families. I therefore not only believe in perfect civil and religions liberty, but I believe in the one man loving the one woman. I believe the real temple of the human heart is the hearthstone, and that there is where the sacrifice of life should be made; and just in proportion as we have that idea in this country, just in that proportion we shall advance and become a great, glorious and splendid nation. I do not want the church or the state to come between the man and wife. I want to do what little I can while I live to strengthen and render still more sacred the family relation. I am also in favor of granting every right to every other human being that I claim for myself; and when I look about upon the world and see how the children that are born to-day, or this year, or this age, came into a world that has nearly all been taken up before their arrival; when I see that they have not even an opportunity to labor for bread; when I see that in our splendid country some who do the most have the least, and others who do the least have the most; I say to myself there is something wrong somewhere, and I hope the time will come when every child that nature has invited to our feast will have an equal right with all the others. There is only one way, in my judgment, to bring that about; and that is, first, not simply by the education of the head, but by the universal education of the heart. The time will come when a man with millions in his possession will not be respected unless with those millions he improves the condition of his fellow men. The time will come when it will be utterly impossible for a man to go down to death, grasping millions in the clutch of avarice. The time will come when it will be impossible for such a man to exist, for he will be followed by the scorn and execration of mankind. The time will come when such a man when stricken by death, cannot purchase the favor of posterity by leaving a portion of the gains which he has wrung from the poor, to some church or Bible society for the glory of God.
Now, let me say that we have met together as a Liberal League. We have passed the same platform again; but if you will read that platform you will see that it covers nearly every word that I have spoken–universal education–the laws of science included, not the guesses of superstition–universal education, not for the next world but for this–happiness, not so much for an unknown land beyond the clouds as for this life in this world. I do not say that there is not another life. If there is any God who has allowed his children to be oppressed in this world he certainly needs another life to reform the blunders he has made in this.
Now, let us all agree that we will stand by each other splendidly, grandly; and when we come into convention let us pass resolutions that are broad, kind, and genial, because, if you are true Liberals, you will hold in a kind of tender pity the most outrageous superstitions in the world. I have said some things in my time that were not altogether charitable; but, after all, when I think it over, I see that men are as they are, because they are the result of every thing that has ever been.
Sometimes I think the clergy a necessary evil; but I say, let us be genial and kind, and let us know that every other person has the same right to be a Catholic or a Presbyterian, and gather consolation from the doctrine of reprobation, that he has the same right to be a Methodist or a Christian Disciple or a Baptist; the same right to believe these phantasies and follies and superstitions–[A voice–“And to burn heretics?”]
No–The same right that we have to believe that it is all superstition. But when that Catholic or Baptist or Methodist endeavors to put chains on the bodies or intellects of men, it is then the duty of every Liberal to prevent it at all hazards. If we can do any good in our day and generation, let us do it.
There is no office I want in this world. I will make up my mind as to the next when I get there, because my motto is–and with that motto I will close what I have to say–My motto is: One world at a time!