Knowledge: Robert Ingersoll Quotes

I recently finished The Best of Robert Ingersoll and was amazed throughout by his wisdom and foresight. As I read, I saved favorite quotes to include below. Many are more relevant now due to escalation than they were in the 1800s.

Ingersoll was a great humanitarian who spoke eloquently for women's rights, black's equality, and the limits of proposed prohibition (drug laws). Though we still have room to improve in these areas, people of intelligence have already been won over. Instead of saving these quotes, I chose quotes about problems that are as bad as ever-- religion, greed, and politics.

Ingersoll was greatly respected by many of the best thinkers and artists of his time like Mark Twain, Walk Whitman, and Frederick Douglass. He was friends with many of the people who disagreed with hime. He spoke about politics and current events while being a warm father and husband. Despite having died over a hundred years ago and doing little more than speak and write, he is regaining popularity as more and more of us catch up to his ideas and perspectives.

Here is another recent post about Ingersoll with more links.

Quotes and excerpts from The Best of Robert Ingersoll

Greed, Economics, and Labor
"How are we to settle the unequal contest between men and machines? Will the machines finally go into partnership with the laborer? Can these forces of nature be controlled for the benefit of her suffering children? Will extravagance keep pace with ingenuity? Will the workers become intelligent enough to be the owners of the machines? Will theses giants, these titans, shorten or lengthen the hours of labor? Will they give leisure to the industrious or will they make the rich richer and the poor poorer?"

"All men engaged in manufacturing are neither good nor generous. Many of them get work for as little as possible, and sell its product for all they can get. It is impossible to adopt a policy that will not by such people be abused. Many of them would like to see the working man toil for twelve hours or fourteen or sixteen in each day. Many of them wonder why they need sleep or food, and are perfectly astonished when they ask for pay."

"Capital has always claimed and still claims the right to combine.  Manufacturers meet and determine upon prices in spite of the great law of supply and demand.  Have the laborers the same right to counsel and combine? When the poor combine, it is "conspiracy". If they act in concert, if they really do something it is the "mob". Capital has the army and the navy, the legislative, the judicial and the executive departments."

"I believe in helping people to help themselves.  I believe that corporations, and successful men, and superior men intellectually, should do all within their power to keep from robbing their fellow-men.  The superior man should protect the inferior.  The powerful should be the shield of the weak.  Today it is, for the most part, exactly the other way.  The failures among men become the food of success."

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable."

"When those who do the work own the machines, when those who toil control the invention, then, and not till then, can the world be civilized or free, When these forces shall do the bidding of the individual, when they become the property of the mechanic instead of the monopoly, when they belong to labor instead of what is called capital, when these great powers are as free to the individual laborer as the air and light are now free to all, then, and not until then, the individual will be restored and all forms of slavery will disappear."

"Will the workers always be ignorant enough and stupid enough to give their earnings for the useless? Will they support millions of soldiers to kill the sons of other workingman? Will they learn that force to succeed, must have a though behind it, and that anything done, in order that it may endure, must rest upon the corner-stone of justice?"

"Every man should give to another according to his ability to give-- and enough that he may make his living and lay something by for the winter of old age."

"What would you think of a man who had one thousand neckties, lying awake nights contriving how he might add one more to his collection?"

"Capital can do nothing without the assistance of labor. All there is of value in the world is the product of labor. Many employers have sought to balance their accounts by leavings something for universities, for the establishment of libraries, drinking fountains, or to build monuments to departed greatness. It would have been, I think, far better had they used this money to better the condition of the men who really earned it. I think the great railroads should pay pensions to their worn out employees. These great companies should take care of the men they maim... it may be that the mechanics, the workingmen, will finally become intelligent enough o really unite, to act in absolute concert."

Government and Politicians

"...why have governments? If the nation leaves the poor to starve, and the weak and unfortunate to perish, it is hard to see for what purpose the nation should be preserved. If our statesmen are not wise enough to foster great enterprises, and to adopt a policy that will give us prosperity, it may be that the laboring classes, driven to frenzy by hunger, the bitterness of which will be increased by seeing others in the midst of plenty, will seek a remedy in destruction."

"I suppose that the superstition most prevalent with public men, is the idea that they are of great importance to the public. As a matter of fact, public men, -- that is to say, men in office, -- reflect the average intelligence of the people, and no more. A public man, to be successful, must not assert anything unless it is exceedingly popular. And he need not deny anything unless everybody is against it."

"I hope the time will come when the government will give as much to educate two men as to kill one." (1881)

"There is but one use for law, but one excuse for government-- the preservation of liberty."

"I want it distinctly understood...that while I am opposed to Catholicism I am not opposed to Catholics-- while I am opposed to Presbyterianism I am not opposed to Presbyterians. I do not fight people, I fight ideas, I fight principles, and I never go into personalities...I attack certain principles because I think they're wrong, but I always want it understood that I have nothing against persons--nothing against victims."

"God cannot send to eternal pain a man who has done something toward improving condition of his fellow man. If he can, I had rather go to hell than to heaven and keep company with such a god."

"A church that preaches the eternity of punishment has within it the see of all barbarism and the soil to make it grow."

"I have little confidence in any enterprise or business or investment that promises dividends only after the death of the stockholder."

"If only Christians go to heaven and all other go to hell, it seems to me that there will be a thousand times more misery in the next world or state than in this."

"The Catholics have a Pope. Protestants laugh at them, and yet the Pope is capable of intellectual advancement. In addition to this, the Pope is mortal, and the church cannot be afflicted with the same idiot forever. The Protestants have a book for their Pope. The book cannot advance. Year after year, and century after century, the book remains as ignorant as ever."

"Think of the egotism of a man who believes that an infinite being wants his praise!"

"Years ago I took the ground that shutting the eyes in prayer is a souvenir of sun worship. People who addressed the sun had to close their eyes and afterwards, when they worshiped images adorned with jewels, they pretended that their faces were so bright that they could not look upon them."

"Many people imagine that falsehoods may become respectable on account of age, that a certain reverence goes with antiquity, and that if a mistake is covered with the moss of sentiment it is altogether more credible than a parvenu fact.  They endeavor to introduce the idea of aristocracy into the world of thought, believing, and honestly believing, that a falsehood long believed is far superior to a truth that is generally denied."

"Is it not strange that God, though he gave hundreds of directions for the purpose of discovering the presence of leprosy, and for cleaning the leper after he was healed, forgot to tell how the disease could be cured? Is it now wonderful that while God told his people what animals were fit for food he failed to give a list of plants that man might eat? Why did he leave his children to find out the hurtful and the poisonous by experiment, knowing that experiment in millions of cases, must be death" 

"A Christian who does not believe in absolute intellectual liberty is a curse to mankind. An Infidel who does believe in absolute intellectual liberty is a blessing to this world. We cannot expect all Infidels to be good, nor all Christians to be bad, and we might make some mistakes even if we selected these people ourselves. I never did pretend that the fact that a man was a Christian ever tended to show that he was a bad man. Neither have I insisted that the fact that a man is an Infidel even tends to show what, in other respects, his character is."

"God improves as man advances. Our ignorance is God. What we know is science."

"Let us judge each other by our actions, not by theories. Not by what we happen to believe--because that depends very much on where we were born."

Humanism / Agnosticism

"I believe in turning our attention to things of importance – to questions that may by some possibility be solved. It is of no importance to me whether God exists or not. I exist, and it is important to me to be happy while I exist. Therefore I had better turn my attention to finding out the secret of happiness, instead of trying to ascertain the secret of the universe."

"We are laying the foundations of the grand temple of the future–not the temple of all the gods, but of all the people–wherein, with appropriate rites, will be celebrated the religion of Humanity. We are doing what little we can to hasten the coming of the day when society shall cease producing millionaires and mendicants–gorged indolence and famished industry."

"I live, and that of itself is infinitely wonderful. It is no more wonderful that I may be again, if I have been, than that I am, having once been nothing."

"For thousands of years men have been writing the real Bible, and it is being written from day to day, and it will never be finished while man has life. All the facts that we know, all the truly recorded events, all the discoveries and inventions, all the wonderful machines whose wheels and levers seem to think, all the poems, crystals from the brain, flowers from the heart, all the songs of love and joy, of smiles and tears, the great dramas of Imagination's world, the wondrous paintings, miracles of form and color, of light and shade, the marvelous marbles that seem to live and breathe, the secrets told by rock and star, by dust and flower, by rain and snow, by frost and flame, by winding stream and desert sand, by mountain range and billowed sea."

"All the wisdom that lengthens and ennobles life, all that avoids or cures disease, or conquers pain—all just and perfect laws and rules that guide and shape our lives, all thoughts that feed the flames of love the music that transfigures, enraptures and enthralls the victories of heart and brain, the miracles that hands have wrought, the deft and cunning hands of those who worked for wife and child, the histories of noble deeds, of brave and useful men, of faithful loving wives, of quenchless mother-love, of conflicts for the right, of sufferings for the truth, of all the best that all the men and women of the world have said, and thought and done through all the years."

"These treasures of the heart and brain—these are the Sacred Scriptures of the human race."

** In looking at the source text for many of these quotes, it appears that many were heavily edited by the author for simplicity and clarity. Though they retain there meaning, many of the quotes were originally much longer but here, lack the standard ellipses that denote such**

Here is the book quoted in this article and a second, published this year, that I will soon be reading.