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Gordon Stien Collection of Robert Green Ingersoll (1801-1970) | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center

Name: Gordon Stien Collection of Robert Green Ingersoll (1801-1970)

Historical Note:

Robert Green Ingersoll was born to the Reverend and Mrs. John Ingersoll in Yates County, New York, on August 11, 1833. Although his formal education was interrupted when his family moved to Ohio, Wisconsin, and then to Illinois, home study and memorization of Bible passages compensated for intermittent public instruction. Ingersoll eventually developed literary passions for Robert Burns and Shakespeare and became a lawyer in Illinois by the age of twenty-two.

After practicing law in Southern Illinois for approximately three years, Ingersoll and his brother, Ebon Clark, moved to Peoria in 1857 where they earned reputations for being outstanding attorneys. In February of 1862 Ingersoll married Eva Amelia Parker who bore him two daughters, Eva and Maud. He served in the Union Army from September of that year until June of 1863 when he returned to Peoria.

In addition to resuming his law practice with Ebon in Peoria, Ingersoll began lecturing against traditionally held religious beliefs and became active in politics. He campaigned for Ebon who was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1864 and was himself appointed that state’s Attorney General in 1866. Ingersoll later lost the Republican nomination for governor because of his increasing notoriety as an outspoken agnostic.

Ingersoll’s speech nominating James G. Blaine for the Presidency at the 1876 Republican Convention in Cincinnati established his own national reputation as an orator but did little to advance his political career. Blaine was defeated and later turned against Ingersoll.

Embittered, Ingersoll left politics and moved in 1877 to Washington D.C. to pursue business and law. Eventually he moved to New York where he defended some of the most significant legal cases of the 1880’s and 1890’s. He continued lecturing to thousands across the country against the Christian religion. As his fame spread, some of his earlier lectures and subsequent retorts from consternated clergy were published.

Ingersoll suffered a heart attack and died July 21, 1899.

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