Robert G. Ingersoll
On this date (August 11) in 1833, Robert Green Ingersoll, who became the best known advocate of freethought in 19th-century United States, was born in Dresden, N.Y. The son of an impoverished itinerant pastor, he later recalled his formative church experiences: “The minister asked us if we knew that we all deserved to go to hell, and we all answered ‘yes.’ Then we were asked if we would be willing to go to hell if it was God’s will, and every little liar shouted ‘Yes!’ ” He became an attorney by apprenticeship, and a colonel in the Civil War, fighting in the Battle of Shiloh. In 1867, Ingersoll was appointed Illinois’ first Attorney General. His political career was cut short by his refusal to halt his controversial lectures, but he achieved national political fame for his thrilling nomination speech for James G. Blaine for president at the national convention of the Republican Party in 1876. Ingersoll was good friends with three U.S. presidents. The distinguished attorney was known and admired by most of the leading progressives and thinkers of his day.