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Robert Ingersoll Right To Kill Rival

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Right To Kill Rival

Robert Green Ingersoll



HOW far should a husband or wife go in defending the sanctity
of home?

Is it right for the husband to kill the paramour of his wife?

Is it right for the wife to kill the paramour of her husband?

These three questions are in substance one, and one answer
will be sufficient for all.

In the first place, we should have an understanding of the
real relation that exists, or should exist, between husband and

The real good orthodox people, those who admire St. Paul, look
upon the wife as the property of the husband. He owns, not only her
body, but her very soul. This being the case, no other man has the
right to steal or try to steal this property. The owner has the
right to defend his possession, even to the death. In the olden
time the husband was never regarded as the property of the wife,
She had a claim on him for support, and there was usually some way
to enforce the claim. If the husband deserted the wife for the sake
of some other woman, or transferred his affections to another, the
wife, as a rule, suffered in silence. Sometimes she took her
revenge on the woman, but generally she did nothing. Men killed the
"destroyers" of their homes, but the women, having no homes, being
only wives, nothing but mothers -- bearers of babes for masters --
allowed their destroyers to live.

In recent years women have advanced. They have stepped to the
front. Wives are no longer slaves. They are the equals of husbands.
They have homes to defend, husbands to protect and "destroyers" to
kill. The rights of husbands and wives are now equal. They live
under the same moral code. Their obligations to each other are
mutual. Both are bound, and equally bound, to live virtuous lives.

Now, if A falls in love with the wife of B, and she returns
his love, has B the right to kill him? Or if A falls in love with
the husband of B, and he returns her love, has B the right to kill

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If the wronged husband has the right to kill, so has the
wronged wife.

Suppose that a young man and woman are engaged to be married,
and that she falls in love with another and marries him, has the
first lover a right to kill the last?

This leads me to another question: What is marriage? Men and
women cannot truly be married by any set or form of words, or by
any ceremonies however solemn, or by contract signed, sealed and
witnessed; or by the words or declarations of priests or judges.
All these put together do not constitute marriage. At the very best
they are only evidences of the fact of marriage -- something that
really happened between the parties. Without pure, honest, mutual
love there can be no real marriage. Marriage without love is only
a form of prostitution. Marriage for the sake of position or wealth
is immoral. No good, sensible man wants to marry a woman whose
heart is not absolutely his, and no good, sensible woman wants to
marry a man whose heart is not absolutely hers. Now, if there can
be no real marriage without mutual love, does the marriage outlast
the love? If it is immoral for a woman to marry a man without
loving him, is it moral for her to live as the wife of a man whom
she has ceased to love? Is she bound by the words, by the ceremony,
after the real marriage is dead? Is she so bound that the man she
hates has the right to be the father of her babes?

If a girl is engaged and afterward meets her ideal, a young
man whose presence is joy, whose touch is ecstasy, is it her duty
to fulfill her engagement? Would it not be a thousand times nobler
and purer for her to say to the first lover: "I thought I loved
you; I was mistaken. I belong heart and soul to another, and if I
married you I could not be yours."

So, if a young man is engaged and finds that he has made a
mistake, is it honorable for him to keep his contract? Would it not
be far nobler for him to tell her the truth?

The civilized man loves a woman not only for his own sake, but
for her sake. He longs to make her happy -- to fill her life with
joy. He is willing to make sacrifices for her, but he does not want
her to sacrifice herself for him. The civilized husband wants his
wife to be free wants the love that she cannot help giving him. He
does not want her, from a sense of duty, or because of the contract
of ceremony, to act as though she loved him, when in fact her heart
is far away. He does not want her to pollute her soul and live a
lie for his sake. The civilized husband places the happiness of his
wife above his own. Her love is the wealth of his heart, and to
guard her from evil is the business of his life.

But the civilized husband knows when his wife ceases to love
him that the real marriage has also ceased. He knows that it is
then infamous for him to compel her to remain his wife. He knows
that it is her right to be free -- that her body belongs to her,
that her soul is her own. He knows, too, if he knows anything, that
her affection is not the slave of her will.

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In a case like this, the civilized husband would, so far as
hehad the power, release his wife from the contract of marriage,
divide his property fairly with her and do what he could for her
welfare. Civilized love never turns to hatred.

Suppose he should find that there was a man in the case, that
another had won her love, or that she had given her love to
another, would it then be his right or duty to kill that man? Would
the killing do any good? Would it bring back her love? Would it
reunite the family? Would it annihilate the disgrace or the memory
of the shame? Would it lessen the husband's loss?

Society says that the husband should kill the man because he
led the woman astray.

How do we know that he betrayed the woman? Mrs. Potiphar left
many daughters, and Joseph certainly had but few sons. How do we
know that it was not the husband's fault? She may for years have
shivered in the winter of his neglect. She may have borne his
cruelties of word and deed until her love was dead and buried side
by side with hope. Another man comes into her life. He pities her.
She looks and loves. He lifts her from the grave. Again she really
lives, and her poor heart is rich with love's red blood. Ought this
man to be killed? He has robbed no husband, wronged no man. He has
rescued a victim, released an innocent prisoner and made a life
worth living. But the brutal husband says that the wife has been
led astray; that he has been wronged and dishonored, and that it is
his right, his duty, to shed the seducer's blood. He finds the
facts himself. He is witness, jury, judge and executioner. He
forgets his neglect, his cruelties, his faithlessness; forgets that
he drove her from his heart, remembers only that she loves another,
and then in the name of justice he takes the life of the one she

A husband deserts his wife, leaves her without money, without
the means to live, with his babes in her arms. She cannot get a
divorce; she must wait, and in the meantime she must live. A man
falls in love with her and she with him. He takes care of her and
the deserted children. The "wronged" husband returns and kills the
"betrayer" of his wife. He believes in the sacredness of marriage,
the holiness of home.

It may be admitted that the deserted wife did wrong, and that
the man who cared for her and her worse than fatherless children
also did wrong, but certainly he had done nothing for which he
deserved to be murdered.

A woman finds that her husband is in love with another woman,
that he is false, and the question is whether it is her right to
kill the other woman. The wronged husband has always claimed that
the man led his wife astray, that he had crept and crawled into his
Eden, but now the wronged wife claims that the woman seduced her
husband, that she spread the net, wove the web and baited the trap
in which the innocent husband was caught. Thereupon she kills the
other woman.

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In the first place, how can she be sure of the facts? How
doesshe know whose fault it was? Possibly she was to blame herself.

But what good has the killing done? It will not give her back
her husband's love. It will not cool the fervor of her jealousy. It
will not give her better sleep or happier dreams.

It would have been far better if she had said to her husband:
"Go with the woman you love. I do not want your body without your
heart, your presence without your love."

So, it would be better for the wronged husband to say to the
unfaithful wife: "Go with the man you love. Your heart is his, I am
not your master. You are free."

After all, murder is a poor remedy. If you kill a man for one
wrong, why not for another? If you take the law into your own hands
and kill a man because he loves your wife and your wife loves him,
why not kill him for any injury he may inflict on you or yours?

In a civilized nation the people are governed by law. They do
not redress their own wrongs. They submit their differences to
courts. If they are wronged they appeal to the law. Savages redress
what they call their wrongs, They appeal to knife or gun. They
kill, they assassinate, they murder; and they do this to preserve
their honor. Admit that the seducer of the wife deserves death,
that the woman who leads the husband astray deserves death, admit
that both have justly forfeited their lives, the question yet
remains whether the wronged husband and the wronged wife have the
right to commit murder.

If they have this right, then there ought to be some way
provided for ascertaining the facts. Before the husband kills the
"betrayer," the fact that the wife was really led astray should be
established, and the "wronged" husband. who claims the right to
kill, should show that he had been a good, loving and true husband.

As a rule, the wives of good and generous men are true and
faithful. They love their homes, they adore their children. In
poverty and disaster they cling the closer. But when husbands are
indolent and mean, when they are cruel and selfish, when they make
a hell of home, why should we insist that their wives should love
them still?

When the civilized man finds that his wife loves another he
does not kill, he does not murder. He says to his wife, "You are

When the civilized woman finds that her husband loves another
she does not kill, she does not murder. She says to her husband, "I
am free." This, in my judgment, is the better way. It is in
accordance with a far higher philosophy of life, of the real rights
of others. The civilized man is governed by his reason, his
intelligence; the savage by his passions. The civilized man seeks
for the right, regardless of himself; the savage for revenge,
regardless of the rights of others.

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I do not believe that murder guards the sacredness of home,
the purity of the fireside. I do not believe that crime wins
victories for virtue. I believe in liberty and I believe in law.
That country is free where the people make and honestly uphold the
law. I am opposed to a redress of grievances or the punishment of
criminals by mobs and I am equally opposed to giving the "wronged"
husbands and the "wronged" wives the right to kill the men and
women they suspect. In other words, I believe in civilization.

A few years ago a merchant living in the West suspected that
his wife and bookkeeper were in love. One morning he started for a
distant city, pretending that he would be absent for a couple of
weeks. He came back that night and found the lovers occupying the
same room. He did not kill the man, but said to him: "Take her; she
is yours. Treat her well and you will not be troubled. Abuse or
desert her and I will be her avenger."

He did not kill his wife, but said: "We part forever. You are
entitled to one-half of the property we have accumulated. You shall
have it. Farewell!"

The merchant was a civilized man a philosopher.


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