Just read Susan Jacoby’s biography of Robert Ingersoll: America’s eloquent and passionate mid-19th century orator who was a popularizer of science, an early champion of full equal rights for women, an abolitionist, a booster of Thomas Paine, a critic of anti-immigrant policies and religion… a man who was obsessed with justice, a believer in the intrinsic goodness of human nature, and promoter of universal human rights. It’s relatively brief, but if you’d like a quality introduction to one of America’s greatest, I highly recommend this book!
What’s especially impressive about Ingersoll was that his views on immigration, women’s and immigrant’s rights, and religious liberty (both from and of) were nearly wholly untarnished by the prejudices of his time, unlike many of his contemporaries. For example, even the great Elizabeth Cady Stanton used racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric in her advocacy for women’s rights, and Herbert Spencer used his interpretation of Darwinism to promote eugenicist policies. In contrast, Ingersoll’s commitment to justice ran so deep that he rejected such bigoted ideas, instead promoting Darwin’s own view that human beings, in a state of civilization, thrive precisely because we are cooperative, altruistic, and empathetic, and that the theory of evolution reveals that the human race is one big family.
Jacoby, Susan. The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought. New Naven: Yale University Press, 2013.