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Robert Ingersoll Worlds Fair

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Worlds Fair

Robert Green Ingersoll


THE Great Fair should be for the intellectual, mechanical,
artistic, political and social advancement of the world. Nations,
like small communities, are in danger of becoming provincial, and
must become so, unless they exchange commodities, theories,
thoughts, and ideals. Isolation is the soil of ignorance, and
ignorance is the soil of egotism; and nations, like individuals who
live apart, mistake provincialism for perfection, and hatred of all
other nations for patriotism. With most people, strangers are not
only enemies, but inferiors. They imagine that they are progressive
because they know little of others, and compare their present, not
with the present of other nations, but with their own past.

Few people have imagination enough to sympathize with those of
a different complexion, with those professing another religion or
speaking another language, or even wearing garments unlike their
own. Most people regard every difference between themselves and
others as an evidence of the inferiority of the others. They have
not intelligence enough to put themselves in the place of another
if that other happens to be outwardly unlike themselves.

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Countless agencies have been at work for many years destroying
the hedges of thorn that have so long divided nations, and we at
last are beginning to see that other people do not differ from us,
except in the same particulars that we differ from them. At last,
nations are becoming acquainted with each other, and they now know
that people everywhere are substantially the same. We now know that
while nations differ outwardly in form and feature, somewhat in
theory, philosophy and creed, still, inwardly -- that is to say, so
far as hopes and passions are concerned -- they are much the same,
having the same fears, experiencing the same joys and sorrows. So
we are beginning to find that the virtues belong exclusively to no
race, to no creed, and to no religion; that the humanities dwell in
the hearts of men, whomever and whatever they may happen to
worship. We have at last found that every creed is of necessity a
provincialism, destined to be lost in the universal.

At last, Science extends an invitation to all nations, and
places at their disposal its ships and its cars; and when these
people meet -- or rather, the representatives of these people --
they will find that, in spite of the accidents of birth, they are,
after all, about the same; that their sympathies, their ideas of
right and wrong, of virtue and vice, of heroism and honor, are
substantially alike. They will find that in every land honesty is
honored, truth respected and admired, and that generosity and
charity touch all hearts.

So it is of the greatest importance that the inventions of the
world should be brought beneath one roof. These inventions, in my
judgment, are destined to be the liberators of mankind. They
enslave forces and compel the energies of nature to work for man.
These forces have no backs to feel the lash, no tears to shed, no
hearts to break.

The history of the world demonstrates that man becomes what we
call civilized by increasing his wants. As his necessities
increase, he becomes industrious and energetic. If his heart does
not keep pace with his brain, he is cruel, and the physically or
mentally strong enslave the physically or mentally weak. At present
these inventions, while they have greatly increased the countless
articles needed by man, have to a certain extent enslaved mankind.
In a savage state there are few failures. Almost any one succeeds
in hunting and fishing. The wants are few, and easily supplied. As
man becomes civilized, wants increase; or rather as wants increase,
man becomes civilized. Then the struggle for existence becomes
complex; failures increase.

The first result of the invention of machinery has been to
increase the wealth of the few. The hope of the world is that
through invention man can finally take such advantage of these
forces of nature, of the weight of water, of the force of wind, of
steam, of electricity, that they will do the Work of the world; and
it is the hope of the really civilized that these inventions will
finally cease to be the property of the few, to the end that they
may do the work of all for all.

When those who do the work own the machines, when those who
toil control the invention, then, and not till then, can the world

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be civilized or free, When these forces shall do the bidding of the
individual, when they become the property of the mechanic instead
of the monopoly, when they belong to labor instead of what is
called capital, when these great powers are as free to the
individual laborer as the air and light are now free to all, then,
and not until then, the individual will be restored and all forms
of slavery will disappear.

Another great benefit will come from the Fair. Other nations
in some directions are more artistic than we, but no other nation
has made the common as beautiful as we have. We have given beauty
of form to machines, to common utensils, to the things of every
day, and have thus laid the foundation for producing the artistic
in its highest possible forms. It will be of great benefit to us to
look upon the paintings and marbles of the Old World. To see them
is an education.

The great Republic has lived a greater poem than the brain and
heart of man have as yet produced, and we have supplied material
for artists and poets yet unborn; material for form and color and
song. The Republic is to-day Art's greatest market.

Nothing else is so well calculated to make friends of all
nations as really to become acquainted with the best that each has

The nation that has produced a great poet, a great artist, a
great statesman, a great thinker, takes its place on an equality
with other nations of the world, and transfers to all of its
citizens some of the genius of its most illustrious men or woman.

This great Fair will be an object lesson to other nations.
They will see the result of a government, republican in form, where
the people are the source of authority, where governors and
presidents are servants -- not rulers. We  want all nations to see
the great Republic as it is, to study and understand its growth,
development and destiny. We want them to know that here, under our
flag, are sixty-five millions of people and that they are the best
fed, the best clothed and the best housed in the world. We want
them to know that we are solving the great social problems and that
we are going to demonstrate the right and power of man to govern
himself. We want the subjects of other nations to see a land filled
with citizens -- not subjects; a land in which the pew is above the
pulpit; where the people are superior to the state; where
legislators are representatives and where authority means simply
the duty to enforce the people's will.

Let us hope above all things that this Fair will bind the
nations together closer and stronger; and let us hope that this
will result in the settlement of all national difficulties by
arbitration instead of war. In a savage state, individuals settle
their own difficulties by an appeal to force. After a time these
individuals agree that their difficulties shall be settled by
others. This is the first great step toward civilization. The
result is the establishment of courts. Nations at present sustain
to each other the same relation that savage does to savage. Each
nation is left to decide for itself, and it generally decides

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according to its strength -- not the strength of its side of the
case, but the strength of its army. The consequence is that what is
called "the Law of Nations" is a savage code. The world will never
be civilized until there is an international court. Savages begin
to be civilized when they submit their difficulties to their peers.
Nations will become civilized when they submit their difficulties
to a great court, the judgments of which can be carried out, all
nations pledging the cooperation of their armies and their navies
for that purpose.

If the holding of the great Fair shall result in hastening the
coming of that time it will be a blessing to the whole world.

And here let me prophesy: The Fair will be worthy of Chicago,
the most wonderful city of the world -- of Illinois, the best State
in the Union -- of the United States, the best country on the
earth. It will eclipse all predecessors in every department. It
will represent the progressive spirit of the nineteenth century.
Beneath its ample roofs will be gathered the treasures of Art, and
the accomplishments of Science. At the feet of the Republic will be
laid the triumphs of our race, the best of every land. --

The Illustrated World's Fair, Chicago, November, 1891.

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