Ingersoll, Robert Green (August 11, 1833—July 21, 1899)
Ingersoll was a lawyer, Civil War officer, political leader, agnostic, and gifted orator. His controversial views on religion, slavery, and woman's suffrage were seen as threatening to the social status quo, and effectively prevented him from holding political offices higher than Illinois Attorney General.
Many of Ingersoll's speeches advocated freethought and humanism, and the questioning of religious belief. ‘I believe in the religion of reason—the gospel of this world; in the development of the mind, in the accumulation of intellectual wealth, to the end that man may free himself from superstitious fear, to the end that he may take advantage of the forces of nature to feed and clothe the world.’
Believing ‘An honest God’s the noblest work of man,’ he refused to conceal his agnosticism, insisting this would be immoral. ‘Intellectual liberty is the air of the soul, the sunshine of the mind, and without it, the world is a prison, the universe a dungeon.’ Poet Walt Whitman said of his friend Ingersoll, ‘He lives and embodies the individuality I preach. I see Bob pure out of the soil—spreading, giving, demanding light.’
Despite criticism by the press, he became an immensely popular speaker. He advocated a human-centered compassion: ‘The superior man is the providence of the inferior. He is eyes for the blind, strength for the weak, and a shield for the defenseless. He stands erect by bending above the fallen. He rises by lifting others.’
Ingersoll believed ‘Justice is the only worship. Love is the only priest. Ignorance is the only slavery. Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.’