You know how I love irony--and who doesn't--so in going over--in the Bank of Wisdom (I love the Bank of Wisdom--it's all the work of a Louisville, Kentucky, man who wants to preserve those obscure pieces of literature--like Spooner's essays and the Complete Works of Robert G. Ingersoll.
I picked a speech of Ingersoll's today to read, Brooklyn Speech, 1880. I suddenly found it was a political speech, a speech in support of the Republican Party candidates of that year--Garfield was the presidential candidate for the Republicans. What I noticed first of all was that Ingersoll's Republican Party wasn't the Repugnican Party of today. I throw some doubt on Ingersoll's over-sort-of-grandiloquence over the near-perfect image he has of his ideal Republican Party, but then I begin to see his style--Ingersoll's, as my dad told me those many years ago--that not only was Ingersoll the smartest man to have ever lived but he also was a great orator. The irony? The Democratic Party of 1880 sounds like today's Repugnican Party--and, yes, it was true, even blacks were Republicans in those days. Here's an excerpt from this speech--to tickle your fancy:
There are things in this Government that I wish to preserve, and there are things that I wish to destroy; and in order to convince you that you ought to go the way that I am going, it is only fair that I give to you my reasons. This is a Republic founded upon intelligence and the patriotism of the people, and in every Republic it is absolutely necessary that there should be free speech. Free speech is the gem of the human soul. Words are the bodies of thought, and liberty gives to those words wings, and the whole intellectual heavens are filled with light. In a Republic every individual tongue has a right to the general ear. In a Republic every man has the right to give his reasons for the course he pursues to all his fellow-citizens, and when you say that a man shall not speak, you also say that others shall not hear. When you say a man shall not express his honest thought you say his fellow- citizens shall be deprived of honest thoughts; for of what use is it to allow the attorney for the defendant to address the jury if the jury has been bought? Of what use is it to allow the jury to bring in a verdict of "not guilty," if the defendant is to be hung by a mob? I ask you to-night, is not every solitary man here in favor of free speech? Is there a solitary Democrat here who dares say he is not in favor of free speech? In which part of this country are the lips of thought free -- in the South or in the North? Which section of our country can you trust the inestimable gem of free speech with? Can you trust it to the gentlemen of Mississippi or to the gentlemen of Massachusetts? Can you trust it to Alabama or to New York? Can you trust it to the South or can you trust it to the great and splendid North? Honor bright -- honor bright, is there any freedom of speech in the South? There never was and there is none to-night-and let me tell you why.
They had the institution of human slavery in the South, which could not be defended at the bar of public reason. It was an institution that could not be defended in the high forum of human conscience. No man could stand there and defend the right to rob the cradle -- none to defend the right to sell the babe from the breast of the agonized mother -- none to defend the claim that lashes on a bare back are a legal tender for labor performed. Every man that lived upon the unpaid labor of another knew in his heart that he was a thief. And for that reason he did not wish to discuss that question. Thereupon the institution of slavery said, "You shall not speak; you shall not reason," and the lips of free thought were manacled. You know it. Every one of you. Every Democrat knows it as well as every Republican. There never was free speech in the South.
And what has been the result? And allow me to admit right here, because I want to be fair. there are thousands and thousands of most excellent people in the South -- thousands of them. There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands there who would like to vote the Republican ticket. And whenever there is free speech there and whenever there is a free ballot there, they will vote the Republican ticket. I say again, there are hundreds of thousands of good people in the South; but the institution of human slavery prevented free speech, and it is a splendid fact in nature that you cannot put chains upon the limbs of others without putting corresponding manacles upon your own brain. When the South enslaved the negro, it also enslaved itself, and the result was an intellectual desert. No book has been produced, with one exception, that has added to the knowledge of mankind; no paper, no magazine, no poet, no philosopher, no philanthropist, was ever raised in that desert. Now and then some one protested against that infamous institution, and he came as near being a philosopher as the society in which he lived permitted. Why is it that New England, a rock- clad land, blossoms like a rose? Why is it that New York is the Empire State of the great Union? I will tell you. Because you have been permitted to trade in ideas. Because the lips of speech have been absolutely free for twenty years. We never had free speech in any State in this Union until the Republican party was born. That party was rocked in the cradle of intellectual liberty, and that is the reason I say it is the best party that ever existed in the wide, wide world. I want to preserve free speech, and, as an honest man, I look about me and I say, "How can I best preserve it?" By giving it to the South or North; to the Democracy or to the Republican party? And I am bound, as an honest man, to say free speech is safest with its earliest defenders. Where is there such a thing as a Republican mob to prevent the expression of an honest thought? Where? The people of the South are allowed to come to the North; they are allowed to express their sentiments upon every stump in the great East, the great West, and in the great Middle States; they go to Maine, to Vermont, and to all our States, and they are allowed to speak, and we give them a respectful hearing, and the meanest thing we do is to answer their arguments.
To read the whole speech--this guy could talk, man; it's a long speech, but eloquent.
Oh life back in those dimly lit days in US history--15 years after the Civil War (my grandmother the poet told me, seriously, "There was nothing civil about the War Between the States."
for The Daily Growler