What Caused These

What Leaders of the
Day Thought of Him

… the supremest combination of words that was ever put together since the world began” and added “Bob Ingersoll’s music will sing through my memory always as the divinest that ever enchanted my ears… Except for my daughters, I have not grieved for any death as I have grieved for his. His was a great and beautiful spirit, he was a man – all man, from his crown to his footsoles. My reverence for him was deep and genuine.


[He] had all the attributes of a perfect man, and, in my opinion, no finer personality ever existed.


[His] character was as nearly perfect as it is possible for the character of mortal man to be … none sweeter or nobler had ever blessed the world…the example of his life was of more value to posterity than all the sermons that were ever written on the doctrine of original sin.


Robert G. Ingersoll was a great man, a wonderful intellect, a great soul of matchless courage, one of the great men of the earth – and yet we have no right to bow down to his memory simply because he was great. . . . Great orators, great lawyers often use their gifts lawyers for a most unholy cause. We pay a tribute of love and respect to Robert Ingersoll because he used his matchless powers for the good of man.


[His] name is in the pantheon of the world. More than any other man who ever lived he destroyed religious superstition. . . He was the Shakespeare of oratory – the greatest that the world has ever known…Twenty-one years later he wrote Ingersoll's granddaughter: I was the friend of your immortal grandfather and I loved him truly… the name of Ingersoll is revered in our home, worshipped by us all, and the date of birth is holy in our calendar.
[Debs ran for President five times on the Socialist ticket, last in 1920. He and Ingersoll were poles apart on economic policy.]


Shaw [asked] me to tell him all that I knew about Ingersoll…he told me Ingersoll had exercised an influence upon him probably greater than that of any other man. – Joseph Lewis


I've heard the greatest orators of this century – O'Connell, Gladstone, John Bright, Spurgeon, James, Stopford Brooks, Wendell Phillips, Henry Ward Beecher, Webster, Clay and the stirring eloquence of our anti-slavery orators – but none of them ever equaled Robert Ingersoll in his highest flights.

I heard Mr. Ingersoll many years ago in Chicago. The hall seated 5,000 people; every inch of standing-room was also occupied; aisles and platform crowded to overflowingHe held that vast audience for three hours so completely entranced that when he left the platform no one moved, until suddenly, with loud cheers and applause, they recalled him.

He returned smiling and said: ‘I’m glad you called me back, as I have something more to say. Can you stand another half-hour?’ ‘Yes: an hour, two hours, all night,’ was shouted from various parts of the house; and he talked on until midnight, with unabated vigor, to the delight of his audience.


There was logic even in his laughter. He passed the cup of mirth, and in its sparkling foam were found the gems of unanswerable truth. Every variety of power was in this orator, – logic and poetry, humor and imagination, simplicity and dramatic art, moral and boundless sympathy. . .

The effect on the people was indescribable. The large theatre was crowed from pit to dome. The people were carried from plaudits of his argument to loud laughter at his humorous sentences, and his flexible voice carried the sympathies of the assembly with it, at times moving them to tears by his pathos.”
[Conway's many literary and intellectual friends included Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Lyell, and Charles Darwin.]


He bantered us, challenged us, electrified us . . . At times his eloquence held us silent as images and some witty turn, some humorous phrase brought roars of applause. At times we cheered almost every sentence, like delegates at a political convention, At other moments we rose in our seats and yelled. There was something hypnotic in his rhythm and phrasing. His power over his auditors was absolute.

Short Biography

(From Council for Secular Humanism)

Robert Green Ingersoll is too little known today. Yet he was the foremost orator and political speechmaker of late 19th century America – perhaps the best-known American of the post-Civil War era.

This Man Knew Ingersoll

Herman Kitteridge wrote a Biographical Appreciation of Ingersoll which you can read here.

Ingersoll was obviously a hero to him; but when his praises are taken together with those of others quoted in this section, they merely seem confirmatory.

What Newspapers
Said About Him

The Cincinnati Daily
Enquirer of May 10, 1880:

His Vanity Must Have Been Touched
Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll lectured last night at Pike's Opera-House on his new theme of 'What We Must Do To Be Saved?' His vanity must have been touched by the flattering reception which met him. Seldom has such a large and intelligent audience been crowded into four walls of the house as were there when Colonel Ingersoll stepped upon the stage.

Milwaukee Evening Wisconsin:

Sparkling With Humor, Now Loaded With Stinging Sarcasm
Of fine physical proportions, graceful carriage, possessing a large and finely molded head, an expressive countenance, and genial smile, a voice of great compass, and lungs and throat that seem incapable of failure under the severest strain, his audience receives a favorable impression from the moment that he steps to the front of the rostrum, and utters his first sentence.

Boston Herald of Monday April 19, 1880:

Ladies and Gentlemen Whose Bearing Was That of Intelligence and Refinement
When the Boston Theatre is enlarged, it will be able to contain a greater audience than that which assembled within its walls last evening – not before. The announcement that Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll was to lecture caused so great a rush for seats that all the desirable sittings were taken two or three days in advance of the appointed time; and when the rotund figure and jolly countenance of the orator appeared upon the stage, last evening, and stepped forward to the reading desk at the footlights, he was greeted by an audience that not only filled every seat in the vast auditorium, even to the upper gallery, but overflowed into the aisles and doorways and thronged the lobbies.

Territorial Enterprise, Virginia City, Nev.:

All the Beauties of the Language; All the Enchantment of Eloquence; All the Splendors of Imagination
An overflowing house received Col. Ingersoll, at National Guard Hall, last evening, and hung entrenched upon his words, from the commencement to the close of his incomparable lecture. Of that lecture, we can speak only in general terms to-day. It is a wonderful production.

The Capital, a leading journal in Washington:

The Blade Cuts as Keenly, and the Embellishments Beautify
Commenting on Colonel Ingersoll's closing address to the Jury in the first Star Route trial, said: "The most characteristic feature of the trial was the marvelously powerful speech of Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll before the Jury and the Judge. People who knew this gifted gentleman only superficially, had supposed that he was merely superficial as a lawyer.

Boston Herald, July, 1894:

His Mentality Seems to be Duplex, Quadruplex, Multiplex.
Col. Robert G. Ingersoll represents what is intellectually highest among the whole world’s opponents of religion. He counts theology as the science of a superstition. He decries religion as it exists, and holds that the broadest thing a man, or all human nature, can do is to acknowledge ignorance when it cannot know. He accepts nothing on faith. He is the American who is forever asking, “Why?”—who demands a reason and material proof before believing.