January 5, 2007February 2, 2007Meeting Report

January 21, 2007

Dr. Donald Hayden

Robert Ingersoll

Dr. Donald HaydenThis meeting had the largest turnout--thirty people--we have seen in a long time, and was a huge success. Dr. Donald Hayden is a retired Sacramento physician who has had a long fascination with Robert Ingersoll.

Ingersoll was one of the great proponents of freethought. He was a successful lawyer, a power in the Republican Party, and arguably the greatest American orator of the late 19th century. He had a reputation for great personal integrity. He also gave hundreds of public lectures in which he was highly critical of religious doctrines in general and those of Christianity in particular.

Robert Ingersoll’s father was a clergyman and abolitionist. Robert didn’t get much formal schooling but was very well read in the Bible and classics and was able to begin practicing law at age 20. When the Civil War started, he raised a regiment. He was captured by the Confederates but was released upon his promise to end combatant activities, which he kept.

He returned to the practice of law and for a time was the appointed Attorney General of Illinois. He became a freethinker, perhaps through the influence of his wife, Eva Parker Ingersoll. He became quite successful as an attorney and a power in the Republican Party. His considerable rhetorical skills were well displayed in his “plumed knight” speech, in which he nominated James G. Blaine for President at the 1876 Republican convention.

Ingersoll made a career of addressing public meetings, throughout the United States, in which he attacked religious doctrines in general and those of Christianity in particular. He would speak to thousands at a time before the invention of sound amplification equipment. These speeches precluded any runs for elective public office and sometimes resulted in death threats. However, he was well liked personally by most people he actually met, even if they were orthodox Christians. His social ideas were well advanced for the time and he fully supported equal rights for blacks and women.

During his lifetime, he was one of the most famous men in America, but unfortunately is not well known today among the general population.

Report prepared by Wayne Luney, Recorder

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