Col. Ingersoll’s Words

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Benjamin Ricketson Tucker


Cambridge, Mass., March 23, 1878.

To the Editor or The Index:—

It would appear, from your comments on Mrs. Laura Kendrick's criticism of Col. Ingersoll, that she, in her quotations, has relied on no better authority than the statement of some blundering reporter, instead of ascertaining for herself the lecturer's actual words. Permit me to corroborate her report. I heard the lecture myself, and gave especially close attention to the passage denunciatory of anti-marriage advocates, newspaper reports of which had previously aroused my interest. Not only did he use the exact words which Mrs. Kendrick attributes to him, but he delivered them with a bitterness of tone and vindictiveness of manner which left no room for doubt as to the impression which he intended to give. And in the lecture, as published in pamphlet-form, even stronger terms are employed; the phrase "long-haired men and short-haired women" Indicating an attack on persons as well as arguments; for it is incredible that Col. Ingersoll, while so emphatically declining to accept the statement that Samson's physical strength lay in the length of his hair, is still superstitious enough to find the same peculiarity an element of mental weakness in social reformers.

I trust, Mr. Editor, that, on the appearance of your next vigorous assault upon the Christian system, favoring its utter demolition and destruction, root and branch and fruit and flower, some moderate individual, who never goes to extremes, will be Inspired to suggest the probable necessity and benefit of amending and Improving Christianity, but the unwisdom of "throwing out the baby with the bath." Be assured that I shall read your answer to such a person with keenest relish. Sincerely yours,

Benj. R. Tucker.

[Mr. Tucker's testimony is conclusive as to the words used by Col. Ingersoll. We cannot believe, however, that the latter would hesitate to disavow the harsh and insolent meaning they have been understood to contain.

Inasmuch as we have never desired the "demolition" of Christianity in any sense that implies the destruction of a single element of good it may contain (and it contains many such elements), we should not be in the least disconcerted by the suggestion of the above "moderate individual." We should be thoroughly ashamed of the incapacity to draw toy distinctions, however delicate, which either reason or justice demands. We are grateful to any one who will point out a new, real, and important distinction anywhere; and it has not raised our opinion of the general public to perceive, as we have been forced to do of late, that so many liberals have proved themselves either unable or unwilling to recognize distinctions of the first importance on the "obscene literature" question. Let Mr. Tucker convict us of "throwing out the baby with the bath" on any question, and we promise to pick up the ill-used infant as speedily as possible.—Ed.]

  • Benjamin R. Tucker, “Col. Ingersoll’s Words,” The Index 9, no. 482 (April 4, 1878): 165.