Robert Green Ingersoll, 1833 - 1899

portrait of Robert Green Ingersoll
Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress
Robert Green Ingersoll signature

Born: 11 August 1833, Dresden, New York
Died: 21 July 1899, Dobbs Ferry-on-Hudson, New York

Ingersoll's mother died a year and a half after he was born, his father was a fierce abolitionist whose sermons so fiery that he frequently had to find new churches. With little formal schooling, Robert served two law apprenticeships to qualify for the bar. He set up a successful practice with his brother at Peoria, Illinois. He raised a cavalry regiment in Illinois and led it with distinction at Shiloh, but was captured by the Confederates and returned home under an oath to not fight for the north again. He was appointed as the first Attorney General of Illinois in 1867, but he never held other office. He was an outspoken agnostic, so though he spoke on behalf of Republican candidates, he was never appointed to any positions when they won. In 1886 Ingersoll defended a prominent freethinker in New Jersey against a charge of blasphemy; although he lost the case (and paid his client's $50 fine himself) he so effectively demolished the basis for blasphemy laws that no major cases have been brought since. Between 1865 and 1899 he made a dozen cross-country speaking tours, filling the largest theaters at a dollar a seat for lectures on Shakespeare, Robert Burns, religion, politics, and the lives of famous patriots and scientists. In fact, he is believed to have been seen and heard by more Americans than any other person before the advent of motion pictures and radio.

Biography from Wikipedia and Council for Secular Humanism

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