Arguably the greatest orator you’ve never heard will get his due in the downtown spot where he spoke more than 130 years ago.
Because of his religious—or make that non-religious—sentiments, Robert Green Ingersoll, also known as The Great Agnostic, is hardly remembered today. Yet he gave hundreds of speeches, including nearly 100 in Indiana alone, many drawing large crowds and lasting three or four hours. To rekindle interest and to celebrate his life, the Center for Inquiry Indiana is hosting a reading of one of Ingersoll’s speeches, titled “A Vision of War,” at the corner of Market and Meridian streets on the Circle’s eastern spoke this Sunday, August 12. The event begins at 7 p.m. and celebrates his 179th birthday. Ingersoll presented the talk to Civil War veterans on the Circle in 1876. (Ingersoll himself was a colonel during the Civil War.)
His address is relevant for any time in history when war is present, says CFI Indiana executive director Reba Boyd Wooden. The speech covers not only what soldiers experienced on the battlefield, but, perhaps more poignantly, what their friends and family went through on the home front when those they knew and loved went to war—some of them never to return.
One of the special guests for the event will be Tom Flynn, executive director of Council for Secular Humanism, editor of Free Inquiry magazine, and director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum. When Flynn learned that Wooden had planned this event, he jumped at the chance to participate, Wooden says.
>> LISTEN: A 2008 podcast interview here with Flynn about Ingersoll (starting at the 13:30 mark)
A few Ingersoll quotes:
> “The true civilization is where every man gives to every other every right that he claims for himself.”
> “There is no slavery but ignorance.”
> “Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind.”
> “Every man is dishonest who lives upon the labor of others, no matter if he occupies a throne.”
More Indiana connections to Ingersoll, compiled by CFI:
> Hoosier Lew Wallace wrote Ben-Hur after a discussion about religion with Ingersoll.
> Carl Graham Fisher, founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, won a national prize from Ingersoll’s publisher for, as a young man, selling more Ingersoll booklets than anyone else on any American railroad. He would also read Ingersoll while on breaks. One Ingersoll quote—”The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so”—was his guiding principle. He owned a 12-volume leather-bound set of Ingersoll’s collected works.
> Eugene V. Debs, from Terre Haute, was a great admirer of Ingersoll even though they were at opposite ends of the political-economic spectrum. He said of Ingersoll, “He was the Shakespeare of oratory—the greatest the world has ever known. Ingersoll lived and died far in advance of his time … I loved him truly … The name of Ingersoll is revered in our house, worshipped by us all, and the date of his birth is holy in our calendar. … I have never loved another mortal as I have loved Robert Green Ingersoll.”
> Clemens Vonnegut, great-grandfather of Kurt Vonnegut, translated a book by Robert Ingersoll into German. Kurt Vonnegut was also known for his humanist views that are in line with Ingersoll’s philosophies.
Photos courtesy Center for Inquiry Indiana