|Robert G. Ingersoll (1833 - 1899)
American political leader and orator, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of atheism. He was born in Dresden, New York, but his family moved frequently because of his father's radical views before finally settling in in Peoria, Illinois. After the American Civil war, he served as Attorney General of Illinois. He was a prominent member of the Republican Party, at that time the more progressive party. His nominating speech for James G. Blaine in 1876 did not result in Blaine's candidacy, but the speech itself, known as the "Plumed Knight" speech, was considered the gold standard for political oratory. Ingersoll was involved in several prominent trials as an attorney. He also defended a New Jersey man for blasphemy. Although he did not win acquittal, his vigorous defense is considered to have discredited blasphemy laws and few other prosecutions followed. Ingersoll was most noted as an orator, the most popular of the age, when oratory was public entertainment. He spoke on every subject, from Shakespeare to Reconstruction, but his most popular subjects were atheism and the sanctity and refuge of the family. He committed his speeches to memory although they were sometimes more than three hours long. His audiences were said never to be restless. His radical views on religion, slavery, woman’s suffrage, and other issues of the day effectively prevented him from ever pursuing or holding political offices higher than that of Attorney General.