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Robert Ingersoll Tribute Wright

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Tribute Wright

Robert Green Ingersoll


New York. December 19, 1885.

ANOTHER hero has fallen asleep -- one who enriched the world
with an honest life.

Elizur Wright was one of the Titans who attacked the monsters,
the Gods, of his time -- one of the few whose confidence in liberty
was never shaken, and who, with undimmed eyes, saw the atrocities
and barbarisms of his day and the glories of the future.

When New York was degraded enough to mob Arthur Tappan, the
noblest of her citizens; when Boston was sufficiently infamous to
howl and hoot at Harriet Martineau, the grandest Englishwoman that
ever touched our soil; when the North was dominated by theology and
trade, by piety and piracy; when we received our morals from
merchants, and made merchandise of our morals, Elizur Wright held
principle above profit, and preserved his manhood at the peril of
his life.

When the rich, the cultured, and the respectable, -- when
church members and ministers, who had been "called" to preach the
"glad tidings," and when statesmen like Webster joined with
bloodhounds, and in the name of God hunted men and mothers, this
man rescued the fugitives and gave asylum to the oppressed.

During those infamous years -- years of cruelty and national
degradation -- years of hypocrisy and greed and meanness beneath

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the reach of any English word, Elizur Wright became acquainted with
the orthodox church. He found that a majority of Christians were
willing to enslave men and women for whom they said that Christ had
died -- that they would steal the babe of a Christian mother,
although they believed that the mother would be their equal in
heaven forever. He found that those who loved their enemies would
enslave their friends -- that people who when smitten on one cheek
turned the other, were ready, willing and anxious to mob and murder
those who simply said: "The laborer is worthy of his hire."

In those days the church was in favor of slavery, not only of
the body but of the mind. According to the creeds, God himself was
an infinite master and all his children serfs. He ruled with whip
and chain, with pestilence and fire. Devils were his bloodhounds,
and hell his place of eternal torture.

Elizur Wright said to himself, why should we take chains from
bodies and enslave minds -- why fight to free the cage and leave
the bird a prisoner? He became an enemy of orthodox religion --
that is to say, a friend of intellectual liberty.

He lived to see the destruction of legalized larceny; to read
the Proclamation of Emancipation; to see a country without a slave,
a flag without a stain. He lived long enough to reap the reward for
having been an honest man; long enough for his "disgrace" to become
a crown of glory; long enough to see his views adopted and his
course applauded by the civilized world; long enough for the hated
word "abolitionist" to become a title of nobility, a certificate of
manhood, courage and true patriotism.

Only a few years ago, the heretic was regarded as an enemy of
the human race. The man who denied the inspiration of the Jewish
Scriptures was looked upon as a moral leper, and the Atheist as the
worst of criminals. Even in that day, Elizur Wright was grand
enough to speak his honest thought, to deny the inspiration of the
Bible; brave enough to defy the God of the orthodox church -- the
Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Eternal jailer, the Everlasting

He contended that a good God would not have upheld slavery and
polygamy; that a loving Father would not assist some of his
children to enslave or exterminate their brethren; that an infinite
being would not be unjust, irritable, jealous, revengeful,
ignorant, and cruel.

And it was his great good fortune to live long enough to find
the intellectual world on his side; long enough to know that the
greatest naturalists, philosophers, and scientists agreed with him;
long enough to see certain words change places, so that "heretic"
was honorable and "orthodox " an epithet. To-day, the heretic is
known to be a man of principle and courage -- one blest with enough
mental independence to tell his thought. To-day, the thoroughly
orthodox means the thoroughly stupid.

Only a few years ago it was taken for granted that an
"unbeliever" could not be a moral man; that one who disputed the
inspiration of the legends of Judea could not be sympathetic and

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humane, and could not really love his fellow-men. Had we no other
evidence upon this subject, the noble life of Elizur Wright would
demonstrate the utter baselessness of these views.

His life was spent in doing good -- in attacking the hurtful,
in defending what he believed to be the truth. Generous beyond his
means; helping others to help themselves; always hopeful, busy,
just, cheerful; filled with the spirit of reform; a model citizen
-- always thinking of the public good, devising ways and means to
save something for posterity, feeling that what he had he held in
trust; loving Nature, familiar with the poetic side of things,
touched to enthusiasm by the beautiful thought, the brave word, and
the generous deed; friendly in manner, candid and kind in speech,
modest but persistent; enjoying leisure as only the industrious
can; loving and gentle in his family; hospitable, -- judging men
and women regardless of wealth, position or public clamor;
physically fearless, intellectually honest, thoroughly informed;
unselfish, sincere, and reliable as the attraction of gravitation.
Such was Elizur Wright, -- one of the staunchest soldiers that ever
faced and braved for freedom's sake the wrath and scorn and lies of
place and power.

A few days ago I met this genuine man. His interest in all
human things was just as deep and keen, his hatred of oppression,
his love of freedom, just as intense, just as fervid, as on the day
I met him first. True, his body was old, but his mind was young,
and his heart, like a spring in the desert, bubbled over as
joyously as though it had the secret of eternal youth. But it has
ceased to beat, and the mysterious veil that hangs where sight and
blindness are the same -- the veil that revelation has not drawn
aside -- that science cannot lift, has fallen once again between
the living and the dead.

And yet we hope and dream. May be the longing for another life
is but the prophecy forever warm from Nature's lips, that love,
disguised as death, alone fulfills. We cannot tell. And yet perhaps
this Hope is but an antic, following the fortunes of an uncrowned
king, beguiling grief with jest and satisfying loss with pictured
gain. We do not know.

But from the Christian's cruel hell, and from his heaven more
heartless still, the free and noble soul, if forced to choose,
should loathing turn, and cling with rapture to the thought of
endless sleep.

But this we know: good deeds are never childless. A noble life
is never lost. A virtuous action does not die. Elizur Wright
scattered with generous hand the priceless seeds, and we shall reap
the golden grain. His words and acts are ours, and all he nobly did
is living still.

Farewell, brave soul! Upon thy grave I lay this tribute of
respect and love. When last our hands were joined, I said these
parting words: "Long life!" And I repeat them now.

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