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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2a/Robert_G._Ingersoll_-_Brady-Handy.jpgRobert Green "Bob" Ingersoll (August 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899) was an American writer and orator during the Golden Age of Free Thought, who campaigned in defense of agnosticism. He was nicknamed "The Great Agnostic".

Ingersoll enjoyed a friendship with the poet Walt Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is 'Leaves of Grass' ... He lives, embodies, the individuality, I preach. I see in Bob [Ingersoll] the noblest specimen—- American-flavored—- pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light."[11]

TThe feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death during 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric.[12]

RRobert Ingersoll was born in Dresden, Yates County, New York. His father, John Ingersoll, was an abolitionist-sympathizing Congregationalist preacher, whose radical opinions caused him and his family to relocate frequently. For a time, Rev. John Ingersoll substituted as preacher for American revivalist Charles G. Finney while Finney was on a tour of Europe. Upon Finney's return, Rev. Ingersoll remained for a few months as co-pastor/associate pastor with Finney.

During 1853, "Bob" Ingersoll taught a term of school in Metropolis, Illinois, where he let one of his students, the future Judge Angus M. L. McBane, do the "greater part of the teaching, while Latin and history occupied his own attention". At some time prior to his Metropolis position, Ingersoll had also taught school in Mount Vernon, Illinois.[2]

LLater that year, the family settled in Marion, Illinois, where Robert and his brother Ebon Clarke Ingersoll were admitted as lawyers during 1854. A county historian writing 22 years later noted that local residents considered the Ingersolls as a "very intellectual family; but, being Abolitionists, and the boys being deists, rendered obnoxious to our people in that respect."[3]

WWhile in Marion, he learned law from Judge Willis Allen and served as deputy clerk for John M. Cunningham, Williamson County's County Clerk and Circuit Clerk. During 1855, after Cunningham was named registrar for the federal land office in southeastern Illinois at Shawneetown, Illinois, Ingersoll followed him to the riverfront city along the Ohio River. After a brief time there, he accepted the deputy clerk position with John E. Hall, the county clerk and circuit clerk of Gallatin County, and also a son-in-law of John Hart Crenshaw.[4] On November 11, 1856, Ingersoll caught Hall in his arms when the son of a political opponent assassinated his employer in their office.[5]

WWhen he relocated to Shawneetown, he continued to practice law with Judge William G. Bowman who had a large library of both law and the classics. In addition to his job as a clerk, he and his brother began their law practice using the name "E.C. and R.G. Ingersoll".[6] During this time they also had an office in Raleigh, Illinois, then the county seat of neighboring Saline County. As attorneys following the court circuit he often practiced alongside Cunningham's soon-to-be son-in-law, John A. Logan, the state's attorney and political ally to Hall.

With his earlier mentor Cunningham having relocated back to Marion after the land office's closing during 1856, and Logan's relocation to Benton, Illinois, after his marriage that autumn, Ingersoll and his brother relocated to Peoria, Illinois, where they finally settled during 1857.

Ingersoll was married, February 13, 1862, to Eva Amelia Parker (1841-1923). They had two daughters. The elder daughter, Eva Ingersoll Brown, was a renowned feminist and suffragist. /p>

WWith the beginning of the American Civil War, he raised the 11th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Cavalry and assumed command. The regiment fought in the Battle of Shiloh. Ingersoll was later captured in a Union skirmish with the Confederates near Lexington, Tennessee on December 18, 1862, then released on his promise that he would not fight again (he resigned as regiment commander on June 30, 1863), which was common practice early in the war.

After the war, he served as Illinois Attorney General. He was a prominent member of the Republican Party and, though he never had an elected job, he was nonetheless an active participant of politics. According to Robert Nisbet, Ingersoll was a "staunch Republican."[7] His speech nominating James G. Blaine for the 1876 presidential election was unsuccessful, as Rutherford B. Hayes received the Republican nomination, but the speech itself, known as the "Plumed Knight" speech, was considered a model of political oratory. His radical opinions on religion, slavery, woman's suffrage, and other issues of the time effectively prevented him from ever pursuing or having political offices higher than that of state attorney general. Illinois Republicans tried to persuade him to campaign for governor on the condition that Ingersoll conceal his agnosticism during the campaign, which he refused to do.

Ingersoll was involved with several major trials as an attorney, notably the Star Route trials, a major political scandal in which his clients were acquitted. He also defended a New Jersey man charged with blasphemy. Although he did not win the acquittal, his vigorous defense is considered to have discredited blasphemy laws and few other prosecutions followed.

Ingersoll represented the con-artist, James Reavis, the 'Baron of Arizona' for a time, pronouncing his Peralta Land Grant claim valid.[8]

IIngersoll was one of the most popular orators of the age, when oratory was public entertainment. He spoke on every subject, from Shakespeare to Reconstruction, but his most popular subjects were agnosticism and the sanctity and refuge of the family. He committed his speeches to memory although they were sometimes more than three hours long.

Many of Ingersoll's speeches advocated freethought and humanism, and often ridiculed religious belief. For this the press often attacked him, but neither his opinions nor the negative press could stop his increasing popularity. During Ingersoll's greatest fame, audiences would pay $1 or more to hear him speak, a considerable sum for that time.

In a lecture entitled "The Great Infidels", he attacked the doctrine of Hell: "All the meanness, all the revenge, all the selfishness, all the cruelty, all the hatred, all the infamy of which the heart of man is capable, grew blossomed, and bore fruit in this one word—- Hell."[9]

IIngersoll died from congestive heart failure at the age of 65. Soon after his death, his brother-in-law, Clinton P. Farrell, collected copies of Ingersoll's speeches for publication. The 12-volume Dresden Editions kept interest in Ingersoll's ideas alive and preserved his speeches for future generations. Ingersoll's ashes are interred in Arlington National Cemetery.


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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_G._Ingersoll