O.P. Recommends: Constitutional, a Podcast About the Story of America

Constitution of the United States, first page of the original, provided by the National Archives and Records Administration, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

I loved the last podcast series that Lillian Cunningham hosted for the Washington Post: Presidential, which ‘explores the character and legacy of each of the American presidents’. This new podcast, Constitutional, also explores the character and legacy of the Constitution, so to speak, and how it came to be. Cunningham speaks with various guests, historians, librarians, politicians, activists, and many more experts about the philosophical underpinnings of the Constitution, what it can and can’t do and the debate over this very question, and how it has been applied throughout United States history.

I’ve just listened to the fifth episode, ‘Gender’, and learned something I feel like a doofus for not knowing: As of March 22nd of this year, the Equal Rights Amendment is only two states away from being ratified by enough of them to become part of the U.S. Constitution. A conservative senator slipped in a 1982 deadline as a tactic to help in its defeat, but it may still become that law of the land. Learn more about the fascinating story here in this wonderful episode, but I recommend starting from the beginning and listening to all of them.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, Part 2

Etching of the old Peoria County Courthouse on a granite wall at the new one, Peoria, IL. It shows the portico from which Lincoln delivered his famed Peoria Speech of October 16th, 1854

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017, continued

~ Dedicated to Shannon Harrod Reyes

I leave the library and begin my afternoon’s site searches at the Peoria County Courthouse. Abraham Lincoln visited this courthouse many times over the years, on some occasions in his capacity as a lawyer and other times in association with his political career. There’s a statue of Lincoln here commemorating a particularly notable occasion: his delivery of a speech from the front portico of the old courthouse on October 16, 1854. This speech was composed and delivered in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, co-authored by Stephen A. Douglas. The Peoria Speech, as it’s now known, was part of a series that took place during that legislative election season where Douglas and Lincoln addressed and rebutted each other’s arguments, sometimes during the same event, sometimes separately. Their exchange would be revived four years later, notably in the series of seven formal debates of 1858. Douglas won that year’s Senate election with 54% of the vote, but Lincoln distinguished himself so well in that campaign season that he won the larger prize two years later. He was elected President in 1860, handily defeating his closest rival Douglas with a 10%+ lead.

The Peoria County Courthouse as it appears today, Peoria, Illinois

It was this 1854 speech delivered here in Peoria, however, that’s widely credited with first putting Lincoln on the political map in a big way. Lincoln had mostly withdrawn from politics, having served many years in the Illinois state legislature but only winning one term in higher office in 1846 in the United States House of Representatives. The furor over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise and opened the door to the expansion of slavery, drove Lincoln back into politics, by his own account. He had always been rather reticent about the slavery issue, concerned that too much controversy over it would destabilize the country. The recent passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was only one of the many major events that revealed the controversy was unavoidable.

The Trial of John Brown by Horace Pippin, 1942 at the De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA. John Brown was one of those who led abolitionists into Kansas territory to combat pro-slavery advocates, and in the process, indiscriminately killed pro-slavery settlers. He led the unsuccessful raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859 and was executed for treason.

For one thing, Kansas-Nebraska Act’s underlying political doctrine of popular sovereignty, where the states could decide on the legalization of slavery themselves by vote, led to such extreme regional disputes as Bleeding Kansas. People flooded into the territory (Kansas was not yet a state) to push the vote one way or another through violence as well as numbers. Those on the pro-slavery side wanted to preserve the political power of the slave states and to be able to settle in Kansas with their slaves if they so chose. Those opposing slavery forces wanted to keep slavery out of Kansas as a matter of principle and, more often, to make it a place where people could make a new life for themselves without having to compete with slaves for jobs and with wealthy slave-plantation owners for land.

Secondly, while attractive to many from both sides at first glance, the principle of popular sovereignty revealed its weaknesses over time and proved deadly to Douglas’ political career. Abolitionists and other free state citizens did not want to abide by fugitive slave laws which required that free states return escaped slaves, and did not want to protect the right of visitors to own slaves within their borders. They saw this as an imposition of slavery into territories that abolished it. Slave states regarded the refusal to return escaped slaves as an attack on their property rights, and an unfair limit on their right to travel freely from state to state. Popular sovereignty turned out to harm, not help, the cause of preserving the Union.

Statue of Abraham Lincoln outside the Peoria County Courthouse commemorating his Oct 16, 1854 speech here

The Peoria speech was Lincoln’s second public delivery of his first detailed and straightforward denunciation of slavery on moral grounds. While the speech did not promote the national abolition of slavery, Lincoln made the historical case that Thomas Jefferson was a reluctant slave-owner caught up in a social institution that he abhorred, but like slave-owners of Lincoln’s day, he felt trapped in it. So, Jefferson hoped and planned for its gradual dissolution. He used his influence to make sure the Northwest Ordinances of 1787 and ’89 banned slavery in all new territories of the United States, shifting the balance of political power away from the slave states and towards those states whose prosperity resulted from the industry of free people. Lincoln argued that continuing to prevent the spread of slavery was the only way to realize Jefferson’s hope while doing what was politically possible to assuage the evils of slavery until it faded away. Though we, with Frederick Douglass, might be scornful of and impatient with Lincoln’s apparent have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too attitude towards slavery as a terrible moral evil but allowable in the South if it held the Union together, the speech contains the outline of the basic moral principles underlying Lincoln’s increasingly anti-slavery platform as his Presidency and the Civil War progressed.

The version of the Peoria speech that’s come down to us was transcribed by Lincoln himself for publication in Springfield’s Illinois Daily Journal, in seven issues on October 21, then the 23th-28th, 1854. This is lucky for us, as few transcripts of that series of exchanges between Douglas and Lincoln. Lincoln had delivered the first version of this speech in Springfield and had clarified and refined it, as well as making a few changes to tailor it to the Peoria crowd.

Commerce Bank at the approximate site of old Rouse’s Hall at Main St and Jefferson Ave, Peoria.

Frederick Douglass ambrotype, 1856, by an unknown photographer, image public domain via Wikimedia Commons. He spoke in Peoria in Rouse’s Hall about three years after this picture was taken.

Then I head to Jefferson and Main, to the site of Rouse’s Hall. Douglass lectured here on February 25th, 1859, and according to the Peoria Daily Transcript newspaper, his speech was so well received that Douglass decided to add a follow-up one a few days later. The Transcript reported that ‘appreciative and intelligent’ audience braved the weather in large numbers to hear this famous orator speak.

In the first speech, Douglass presented his argument that all human races had a common origin, supporting his views with ‘history, philosophy, and science’. He was not making a Darwinian case since On the Origin of Species would not be published until the fall of that same year. The Transcript also reported that the speech included an argument about slavery which ‘he had not yet exhausted,’ so presumably Douglass was presenting the larger case that since all human beings belong to a common natural family, there can be no claims of superiority that would justify one branch of this family to oppress another.

In their notice of the second speech scheduled for March 1st, the Transcript predicted that the crowd would be even larger, given the enthusiasm of the audience during the last one and the fact that this one was better advertised. They also confirmed that Douglass revealed the true ‘heinousness of Slavery’ by showing how black and white people belonged to the same human family, with the same ‘inherent faculties of the soul.’ Douglass, proclaimed the Transcript, was living proof that natural genius is to be found in all races in equal measure, and all it takes for the black race to achieve its potential is to improve those faculties is to enjoy equal access to all that culture has to offer. One of the ways for his fellow black citizens to do so, Douglass said, was self-improvement: since they were not given equal chances to improve themselves, they must take this chance into their own hands as far as possible until legal and social equality was achieved.

Writing about ‘Our Recent Western Tour’ in Douglass’ Monthly, published the next month of April, 1859, Douglass spoke optimistically of the future, based on the mostly warm welcome he and his fellow speakers had received during the tour. In years past, he had often been subject to humiliation and rude treatment by audience members and people of the towns he traveled to. This time, he wrote, they were usually treated with courtesy, respect, and friendship, and the number of committed abolitionists seemed to be ever-increasing. As Douglass wrote, ‘We think a Negro lecturer an excellent thermometer of the state of public opinion on the subject of slavery…’ Though he found the overall temperature warming, he still encountered some chill between-times, as the next story will reveal.

Rouse’s Hall, image courtesy of Peoria Public Library

Robert Ingersoll in 1868. This photo would have been taken around the time that Frederick Douglass would have called on him in Peoria, when Ingersoll was about 35 years old, a married father of two, and the Attorney General of Illinois.

This also happens to be one of my favorite stories about Ingersoll. It likely occurred during one of Frederick Douglass’ return visits here for a 1867 speech at Rouse’s Hall. This year is consistent with Douglass’ account: it must have happened in the late 1860’s since Douglass wrote it was ‘a dozen years ago or more’ in his final biography, 1881’s The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. For all of the Transcript’s glowing review of his speeches and the audience’s enthusiasm, Douglass recalled finding little welcome offstage here on his first visit, so he dreaded going back. Perhaps he wouldn’t even be able to find a hotel that would accommodate him at all! Douglass mentioned this to a friend who he was staying with in Elmwood, a previous stop on his speaking tour. This friend said to him, ‘I know a man in Peoria, should the hotels be closed against you there, who would gladly open his doors to you – a man who would receive you at any hour of the night, and in any weather, and that man is Robert J. Ingersoll.’ (He got the middle initial wrong.) Douglass expressed concern about disturbing his family and was glad he didn’t have to, since the ‘best hotel’ gave him a room. But he was intrigued his friend’s description of Ingersoll’s hospitable and unbiased personality, and about his ‘infidel’ views (quotes are Douglass’ own, presumably tongue in cheek. Douglass was a religious skeptic in many ways himself). So Douglass went to call on the Ingersoll family at home the nest morning. Douglass went on to describe the warmth of his welcome in fulsome terms, and to point out that this ‘infidel’ gave him a more Christian welcome than anyone who would define themselves that way ever had. His impression of Ingersoll’s face with its expression of ‘real living human sunshine’, I notice as I reread Douglass’ story, accords with the one I write in the first part of this account: ‘He has the face of a ready and kindly friend.’

In that March 6th, 1867 speech at Rouse’s Hall, Douglass spoke of the temperature dropping once again, The Civil War had ended just under two years before, and the North had not yet sorted out what they perceived as ‘the negro problem.’ Even many of the most ardent Abolitionists were not ready to accept black people as equal members of their own communities. Like Lincoln had for most of his life, they considered slavery wrong but didn’t think that black and white people were fully if at all compatible as friends, coworkers, fellow politicians, and so on; certainly not as romantic partners. And many still thought condescendingly of freed black people as some kind of amorphous mass of downtrodden creatures that should be humbly grateful for the new freedoms that were bestowed on them, and therefore not demand too much. Douglass, rightly, rejected this view. Black people had fought, and fought hard, for their own freedom, and those who fought with them, while brave and often motivated by sincerely held moral beliefs, were also acting in their own interests. The test of whether the emancipation of the black race was a true one, consistent with our American principles laid out in our founding documents, was to see how well the United States protected the rights of black people from there on out.

Parking lot where Robert Ingersoll’s mansion and then the National Hotel used to stand, at the north corner of Jefferson Ave and Hamilton St, kitty-corner from the Peoria County Courthouse

Period view of Robert Ingersoll’s grand house at Jefferson and Hamilton, image from the Robert Ingersoll Birthplace Museum webpage

In 1876, Robert Ingersoll took his law practice solo, and moved his office into his third and final Peoria home at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Hamilton Street. The Ingersoll family lived here until they returned to New York in 1877. All three locations of Ingersoll’s homes, by the way, are taken from Edward Garstin Smith’s The Life and Reminiscences of Robert G. Ingersoll. Smith provides street corners and some landmarks, but since he gives us no street numbers, doesn’t specify north, south, east, and west, and most of the landmarks have changed, I don’t always know just where to photograph. He does tell us that the National Hotel was later built on the site of this home, and Ingersoll’s ‘splendid mansion,’ a four-story affair, was ‘moved to the side of the lot’ of the hotel. Then, with further digging, I find an old postcard of the National Hotel site on the Local History and Genealogy Collection of the Peoria Public Library’s website. Once again, they come through admirably!

Peoria National Hotel postcard, pre-1911, courtesy of US Genealogy Express. This hotel was built on the site of the Ingersoll family’s third and final home in Peoria.

Another image of the New National Hotel at the former site of Robert G. Ingersoll’s home at the northeast corner of Jefferson & Hamilton. It was built 1883 and razed in 1970, having suffered a fire. It’s now a parking lot. Local History and Genealogy Collection, Peoria Public Library, Peoria, Illinois

Corner of Main and Jefferson, Peoria, IL, pre-WWI, Local History and Geneology Collection, Peoria Public Library, IL.

The first home of Ingersoll in Peoria, which he rented, was in the 100 block of North Jefferson Ave, between Main St and Hamilton Blvd., and at the time Smith wrote his biography of Ingersoll, the site was occupied by the YMCA building. This site would likely be across the street from the Courthouse square; it’s my understanding that no other buildings ever occupied the square, based on all the old photos and atlases I could find of Peoria. That would place it somewhere near the Rouse’s Hall site, perhaps to the north of it where the tall building next to Commerce Bank is now. (See the Commerce Bank at Main St and Jefferson Ave photo above.)

N Jefferson Ave between Hamilton & Fayette, Ingersoll's house stood about where the 1st building on left does now 2017 Amy Cools

N. Jefferson Ave between Hamilton and Fayette. Ingersoll’s second house in Peoria stood about where the first building on left does now

Ingersoll’s second home, which he also rented, was on North Jefferson Ave as well, on the 200 block between Hamilton and Fayette. It was still standing when Smith wrote his biography in 1904. This may be where Ingersoll lived when he met and married his wife, and perhaps where they lived when their daughters were born; Smith doesn’t provide a timeline for their moves between each house. Ingersoll married Eva Amelia Parker in February 1862, and his daughters Eva Robert Ingersoll and Maud Robert Ingersoll were born in 1863 and 1864, respectively. So he had already completed his time of service in the Civil War then he settled down to make a family with Eva.

As I’ve written before, Ingersoll was a dedicated family man. He spoke eloquently and movingly of the joys of family life. It was a home filled with love and mutual respect, by all accounts. No wonder Ingersoll’s face almost invariably looks so amiable and friendly in photos! There’s a card I discover among the digital archives from the Robert Ingersoll papers in the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library which includes a photograph of Ingersoll cuddling two of his grandchildren over a poem he wrote titled, simply, ‘Love.’ I’ll leave you with this as I end this part of my account of my day in Peoria, and I’ll pick up the rest of the tale very soon….

Farrell, C. P., “Robert Ingersoll, Love,” Chronicling Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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Sources and inspiration:

Blassingame, J. (Ed.). The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. 4 volumes, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979-1999

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1881.

East, Ernest E. Abraham Lincoln Sees Peoria: An Historical and Pictorial Record of Seventeen Visits from 1832 to 1858. Peoria, 1939

Electoral history of Abraham Lincoln‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Foner, Philip S. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. II. New York: International Publishers, 1950.

Garrett, Romeo B. Famous First Facts About Negroes. New York: Arno Press, 1972

Garrett, Romeo B. The Negro in Peoria, 1973 (manuscript is in the Peoria Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Collection)

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

Hoffman, R. Joseph. ‘Robert Ingersoll: God and Man in Peoria‘. The Oxonian, Nov 13, 2011

Insurance Maps of Peoria, Volume 1. Sanborn Map Company of New York, 1927. (Showing the street numbers before they changed in 1958)

Kelly, Norm. ‘The Hall That Rouse Built‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2015

Kelly, Norm. ‘Peoria’s Own Robert Ingersoll‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2016

Leyland, Marilyn. ‘Frederick Douglass and Peoria’s Black History‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2005

Lehrman, Lewis E. Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

Lincoln Draws the Line’, Peoria, IL – posted by KG1960 on Waymarking.com

Lincoln, Abraham. ‘Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854.’ via the National Park Service’s Lincoln Home National Historic Site website and ‘Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Peoria, Illinois: [Oct. 16, 1854] in reply to Senator Douglas‘. Seven numbers of the Illinois Daily Journal, Springfield, Oct. 21, 23-28, 1854. [Peoria, Ill.: E. J. Jacob]

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois. Website, National Park Service

MacMillan, Lois. ‘Close Reading: Speech at Peoria, October 16, 1854‘, published at Quora: Understanding Lincoln

Peck, Graham. ‘New Records of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate at the 1854 Illinois State Fair: The Missouri Republican and the Missouri Democrat‘. Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 30, Issue 2, Summer 2009, pp. 25-80

Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854‘. Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois website, National Park Service

Smith, Edward Garstin. The Life and Reminiscences of Robert G. Ingersoll. New York: The National Weekly Publishing Co, 1904

Wakefield, Elizabeth Ingersoll, ed. The Letters of Robert Ingersoll. New York: Philosophical Library, 1951

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, W. Virginia, July 24th, 1899. From Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress

Happy Birthday, John Locke!

John Locke, lithograph by de Fonroug after H. Garnier, image public domain via the Library of Congress

John Locke, born August 29th, 1632, is probably the single person most responsible for our United States political form of government, or at least its philosophical underpinnings. (Montesquieu can be credited as most responsible for its form, but that’s a story for another time.) The ideas of this Enlightenment, empiricist philosopher and political theorist included arguments in favor of liberal government of and by the people centered on natural rights, including property rights and rights to freedom of thought and belief; an emphasis on reason inspired and restrained by evidence; and the so-called blank slate theory of the human mind, which postulates that experience entirely determines what we think and kind of person we become.

There’s an excellent, very approachable introductory short biography of Jonn Locke written by Patrick J. Connolly for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy which I recommend. And Locke’s ideas are explored often here at Ordinary Philosophy as well.

Learn more about this great and oh-so-influential thinker at:

‘John Locke’  – by William Uzgalis for The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

John Locke Part One and Part Two – podcast episodes by Stephen West for Philosophize This

John Locke 1632-1704 – Dr. Rachael Kohn discusses Locke’s life and ideas with Perez Zagorin for The Ark, a program of Australia’s Radio International

The Social Contract – Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss this foundational question of political philosophy, which was the impetus for Locke’s political theory  – ‘By what authority does a government govern?’ for In Our Time. 

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, Part 1

Abraham Lincoln portrait head, cast of Gutzon Borglum model for Mount Rushmore at Tower Park, Peoria Heights. Other versions of this sculpture are at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, the Lincoln Tomb, and the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017

I awake in a spotlessly clean, perfectly comfortable, aggressively unimaginative Motel 6 hotel room on the north end of Peoria, Illinois. I’ve noticed that Motel 6’s are much better than they used to be when I was a child and young adult, at least in terms of cleanliness and amenities. They were never glamorous, but they now have less character. For many years, for example, the beds sported these wonderfully colorful blankets printed with stylized images of famous cities and landscape features all over the United States. Now, the rooms and draperies are beige highlighted with rust-orange, furnished with the plainest of midcentury-style designs, angular objects only occasionally relieved by a sleek curve here and there.

My term for this sort of accommodation is ‘people storage’: strictly utilitarian, uninspired, and uninspiring. Perhaps that’s a good thing for my purposes: I fled the room as soon as I could to place myself in a more interesting environment. Still, I’m irritated as I so often am with modern architecture and interior design. Why have we stopped bothering to go on artistic flights of fancy, then directing the inspirations found there towards making these beautiful?

Abraham Lincoln portrait head near the Gold Star Memorial at Tower Park, Peoria Heights, IL

My first destination is a quick stop to see a bust of Abraham Lincoln at Tower Park in Peoria Heights, IL. It’s a cast bronze derived from a plaster model by sculptor Gutzon Borglum for his most famous work, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial sculpture in the Black Hills. Here, it’s mounted on a grooved stony concrete pedestal near a Gold Star Memorial dedicated to the families of slain soldiers. I’ll be visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield soon so I’ll see the original plaster cast there. More about this sculpture to follow.

Courthouse Square, Peoria, Illinois, ca. 1845. Peoria Public Library. Peoria would have looked like this for most of the years Lincoln visited. It had grown and changed quite a bit, however, by the time Robert Ingersoll moved here in 1857 and Frederick Douglass spoke here for the first time in 1859.

Lincoln was a regular visitor to Peoria, first visiting in 1832 to buy a canoe on the way home to New Salem from serving briefly as a captain the Black Hawk War (his election to this position by the men of his company was among the proudest moments of his life), and many more times throughout his legal and political career. His first campaign speech was also in Peoria, in 1840, during a Whig rally for Presidential candidate William Henry Harrison. There’s no record of what he said there that day, but many accounts of his early speeches describe a man initially hesitant and shy, whose eloquence increased as his confidence did. Peoria is the site of one of his greatest oratorical triumphs; I’ll tell the story once I reach the site where it occurred.

Plaque at the base of a flagpole dedicated to veterans in Glen Oak Park, Peoria, Illinois. Glen Oak Park is at the site of Camp Lyon, a Union recruitment and training camp for the Civil War

My second destination is pretty Glen Oak Park, lush with trees and large green lawns. I enter the park via the west entrance at Prospect Road and McClure Ave and park under the trees along the large oval central green. It’s hot and humid today, but there’s just a little breeze in addition to the plentiful shade, which helps a lot. There are two things that bring me here, both associated with the life of one man.

Robert G. Ingersoll, 1833 – 1899 was a colonel in the Civil War, a lawyer, a politician, and most famously, an orator. Born in Dresden, New York, he lived in Peoria from 1857-1877. Ingersoll was often called ‘The Great Agnostic’ for his trenchant and eloquent critiques of religion. He was also an abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, and promoter of the memory of Thomas Paine as a great American hero. Thomas Paine made a clear and eloquent case for the cause of American independence from Britain in his best-selling 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, then as the Revolutionary war struggled on, helped inspire patriotism and perseverance with his The American Crisis series. Paine’s once-stellar reputation suffered over time, especially after his publication of The Age of Reason, an attack on orthodox religion, and his vociferous criticism of diplomat Silas Deane and George Washington.

Ingersoll agreed with Paine’s criticism of Washington. He thought that Paine was right to be aggrieved with Washington’s decision to do nothing to deliver him from his captivity and sentence of death by the radical French Revolutionaries under Robespierre. After all, Paine was condemned for opposing the execution of King Louis XVI, who had been an ally of the American Revolution and who had provided invaluable aid to Washington in the war. Paine also criticized Washington’s support for the institution of a state church in Virginia, which, of course, Ingersoll would oppose as well. Ingersoll used his own eloquence to help rescue Paine’s memory from disrepute and reinstate him as one of the moral and intellectual founders of the United States of America. Lincoln shared Ingersoll’s enthusiasm for Paine: in his twenties, he wrote an essay defending Paine’s freethinking and his deism. Lincoln was a religious skeptic himself, a nonbeliever as a young man who became a non-denominational theist over time.

The only known image of Ingersoll addressing an audience, Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Note the Thomas Paine banner hanging above Ingersoll.

Lincoln held similar sentiments to Ingersoll about Paine. In his twenties, he wrote an essay defending Paine and his deism, which his friend burned so that it could never be found and published. Lincoln had political ambitions already, and his friend, probably correctly, predicted it could derail any run for office he might take. Then, as now, real or at least assumed religious belief is a prerequisite for a successful political career, despite our legal commitments to freedom of conscience and belief. Lincoln was a religious skeptic himself, a nonbeliever as a young man who became a non-denominational believer over time. God entered his writings and discourse ever more often throughout the years though tellingly, not so for Jesus Christ specifically. Lincoln preferred, for the most part, to keep the particulars of his religious beliefs private.

Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll in his uniform, early 1860’s

The West gate of Glen Oak Park is the approximate site of Camp Lyon, where Ingersoll was commissioned as colonel of Union Army in 1861 and where he raised his Union regiment. His first experience in battle was in the Battle of Shiloh, a particularly bloody engagement and a Union victory. He conducted himself well and was commended for his excellent service in many battles during the next year and a half. He resigned on June 30th, 1863; he had been captured then placed in charge of a camp of paroled prisoners who could not fight as a condition of their parole unless they were exchanged for Confederate prisoners. This system of conditional parole and prisoner exchange was common practice at the time, I’m guessing because it saved a lot of money and resources for both sides in feeding and housing prisoners. Ingersoll waited for months for an exchange to happen so he could return to active service, but this exchange never came. So, he went home. Ingersoll thought he could be more returning to his law practice and entering politics than continuing to wait around for something that might never happen.

While he was still in the field, Ingersoll wrote some very compelling, descriptive accounts of the battle, as did his fellow soldier who fought at the battle of Shiloh, Ambrose Bierce. Ingersoll’s contemporary accounts were in letters to his brother; Bierce’s account ‘What I Saw of Shiloh’ was written when he had become an experienced writer, published in 1881. If you haven’t read Bierce’s Shiloh account, I very, very highly recommend it. Bierce was a journalist and prolific writer in many genres. He’s also the author of The Devil’s Dictionary and many other wonderful and skeptical satirical works, I think sometimes on the level of as well as in the spirit of Voltaire. He was a great admirer of Ingersoll, as was poet Walt Whitman, who was also Ingersoll’s personal friend. I’ll return to Ingersoll and Whitman’s relationship in the next installment of my Ingersoll account. Bierce included Ingersoll in his delightfully irreverent poetic definition of the term Decalogue:

Thou shalt no God but me adore:
’Twere too expensive to have more.
No images nor idols make
For Robert Ingersoll to break.
Take not God’s name in vain; select
A time when it will have effect.
Work not on Sabbath days at all,
But go to see the teams play ball.
Honor thy parents. That creates
For life insurance lower rates.
Kill not, abet not those who kill;
Thou shalt not pay thy butcher’s bill.
Kiss not thy neighbor’s wife, unless
Thine own thy neighbor doth caress.
Don’t steal; thou’lt never thus compete
Successfully in business. Cheat.
Bear not false witness— that is low—
But “hear ’tis rumored so and so.”
Covet thou naught that thou hast not
By hook or crook, or somehow, got.

Robert Ingersoll statue in Glen Oak Park, Peoria, Illinois

Plaque on the sculpture of Robert G. Ingersoll at Glen Oak Park, Peoria, Illinois

I continue south and a little east through the park on winding paths and roads, past playgrounds, fields, and a lagoon. I’m headed toward the statue and monument to Ingersoll near the southernmost end of the park at Abington Street and Perry Avenue.

It’s a handsome statue, portraying Ingersoll in his maturer years as a portly man with a very round belly. As far as I could tell from photos, Ingersoll was never particularly slim, though he was more so when he was younger and I think when he was in his last year or so, based on facial portraits. His fleshiness gave him a very youthful look for most of his life, and I think a cheerful one. Especially then, being on the fatter side indicated that you led a happy life of plenty. The face of his statue, tilted slightly downwards, appears more serious than any photo I’ve seen of him in his later years. This, with his arms-akimbo stance, can at first glance seem an almost stern portrayal, as if he’s looking at you or something just beyond you reprovingly. But after studying the sculpture, I think it’s meant to convey Ingersoll in deep thought, perhaps walking back and forth with his hands on his hips as so many of us do when we’re working out some problem in our own minds, or when trying to recall some important fact or idea. Most photos of Ingersoll show him with a little smile on his lips, highlighted by his somewhat dimpled mouth and cheeks. He has the face of a ready and kindly friend.

Bradley & Rulofson, “Robert Green Ingersoll,” Chronicling Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

I drive next to Peoria Historical Society’s Flanagan House Museum at 942 NE Glen Oak Ave. I had emailed their office yesterday in hopes of making an appointment but haven’t heard back yet. My research revealed that they have a portrait of Ingersoll on display. Since it’s close enough to being on my way to my next destination, I swing by to see if someone happens to be around. No such luck.

I continue on to the Local History and Genealogy Collection at the Peoria Public Library, 107 NE Monroe street. There’s a manuscript there by Romeo B. Garrett called The Negro in Peoria, I believe the only or one of very, very few copies, in which I’m seeking more details than I have about Frederick Douglass’ visits to Peoria. This manuscript served as Garrett’s doctoral dissertation, I believe. Dr. Garrett was the first African-American professor at Bradley University.

The people who work in this collection are very helpful, particularly Chris Farris, who is there most of the time I am. I find nearly everything I’m seeking and more that I didn’t know to look for. Thank you, Chris, for all the help and interesting conversation! You’re the best.

I spend several fascinating hours here and discover much about Ingersoll, Lincoln, and Douglass in Peoria. My time in this city is a rich one, and I visit so many places linked to interesting stories that I’ll break this up into a two- or three-parter. The next will begin with the sites I visit once I leave the library. To be continued…

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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Sources and inspiration:

Bierce, Ambrose. ‘What I Saw of Shiloh.’ 1881

Blassingame, J. (Ed.). The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. 4 volumes, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979-1999

Burlingame, Michael. Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume 1. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, November 2012

Bust of Lincoln – Peoria Heights, IL – Abraham Lincoln‘, posted by NoLemon on Waymarking.com

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1881.

Garrett, Romeo B. The Negro in Peoria, 1973 (manuscript is in the Peoria Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Collection)

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

History of Dr. Romeo B. Garrett.‘ Bradley University website.

Hoffman, R. Joseph. ‘Robert Ingersoll: God and Man in Peoria‘. The Oxonian, Nov 13, 2011

Jacoby, Susan. The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought. New Naven: Yale University Press, 2013.

Kelly, Norm. ‘Peoria’s Own Robert Ingersoll‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2016

Leyland, Marilyn. ‘Frederick Douglass and Peoria’s Black History‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2005

Lehrman, Lewis E. Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois. Website, National Park Service

Mcmillan, Brad. ‘Lincoln’s Strong Ties to the Peoria Area‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2012

Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.

Peoria City‘ from Peoria County Atlas 1873, Illinois. Published by A. T. Andreas in 1873, posted in Historic Map Works

Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854‘. Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois website, National Park Service

Robert Ingersoll Collection. From Chronicling Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Robert Green Ingersoll Family Papers, 1854-1970 (bio)Chronicling Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Simon, Paul. Lincoln’s Preparation for Greatness: The Illinois Legislative Years. University of Illinois Press, 1971

Smith, Edward Garstin. The Life and Reminiscences of Robert G. Ingersoll. New York: The National Weekly Publishing Co, 1904

Swaim, Don. ‘The Blasphemer Robert G. Ingersoll and Why He Mattered to Ambrose Bierce.’ 2012, Donswaim.com

Wakefield, Elizabeth Ingersoll, ed. The Letters of Robert Ingersoll. New York: Philosophical Library, 1951

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, W. Virginia, July 24th, 1899. From Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress

O.P. Recommends: Model Hallucinations by Philip Gerrans

Brain illustration from The Principles and Practice of Medicine...' by W Osler, 1904, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Brain illustration from The Principles and Practice of Medicine…’ by W Osler, 1904, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Psychedelics have a remarkable capacity to violate our ideas about ourselves. Is that why they make people better?

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Psychedelic drugs are making a psychiatric comeback. After a lull of half a century, researchers are once again investigating the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin (‘magic mushrooms’) and LSD. It turns out that the hippies were on to something. There’s mounting evidence that psychedelic experiences can be genuinely transformative, especially for people suffering from intractable anxiety, depression and addiction. ‘It is simply unprecedented in psychiatry that a single dose of a medicine produces these kinds of dramatic and enduring results,’ Stephen Ross, the clinical director of the NYU Langone Center of Excellence on Addiction, told Scientific American in 2016.

Just what do these drugs do? Psychedelics reliably induce an altered state of consciousness known as ‘ego dissolution’. The term was invented, well before the tools of contemporary neuroscience became available, to describe sensations of self-transcendence: a feeling in which the mind is put in touch more directly and intensely with the world, producing a profound sense of connection and boundlessness….

Read this excellent article in full at Aeon: committed to big ideas, serious enquiry and a humane worldview

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

 

New Podcast Episode: The Love of Possession is a Disease With Them

Lakota giveaway ceremony, photo origin unknown

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

In my recent readings in the history of the Lakota and other native peoples of America’s Great Plains, I’ve been struck by descriptions of their giveaway ceremonies. They remind me of another practice I had learned of before, and which I believe is more generally familiar: the potlatch, a related custom practiced by Native Americans of the Northwest. Potlatches generally came with strict expectations of giving the gifts away again promptly, and then some. These exchanges cemented power relations and were often aggressively competitive; they’re better understood as tactical, sociopolitical transactions rather than simple acts of generosity.

Lakota giveaway ceremonies, however, are much more altruistic in the sense that we commonly understand the term. The gifts are given freely with no expectation of payback; in fact, the resulting impoverishment itself is a badge of honor. That’s why I chose a quote by Sitting Bull, the great Hunkpapa Lakota chief, to introduce this essay. He once illustrated the contrast between Lakota and white attitudes towards property by telling how his poverty aroused the admiration of his people, rather than the disdain most white people feel toward such a state. To those who share Sitting Bull’s impression of the invaders of his homeland, the driving need to amass and own material goods can be a sign of spiritual poverty…. Read the written version here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois – Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas Debate

Knox College, George Davis Hall at E. South and S. Cherry Streets, Galesburg, Illinois

Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, July 27, 2017

After exploring Fort Robinson for a couple of hours yesterday morning, I washed my face, changed my clothes, ate a hearty cooked breakfast in the restaurant in the main lodge, and drove east across Nebraska.

The drive was beautiful, vast blue-blue-blue skies with towering puffy clouds and occasional gray ones that blew through and dropped a little rain on the way. Rainbows faded in and out of view. The green and gold fields sometimes laid flat and sometimes rolled over gentle slopes and undulations. The road ran straight and wound among them accordingly. Tidy farmhouses were scattered across the land, and silos and grain elevators rose high near little town clusters, some full of quiet life on this warm summer afternoon, some nearly or entirely abandoned and decayed. I drove through the early evening until I decided I could no longer do without a nice shower and a proper bed. So I found a little hotel in Missouri Valley, Iowa and got a good night’s rest. I linger until nearly noon to finish writing up and publishing one of my pieces for this series.

Looking through the windshield on Highway 20, headed east through Nebraska farmland, 2017 Amy Cools

Lincoln Douglass debate plaques on Old Main, Knox College. The debate plaque on the bottom engages in a bit of romanticism: the words could not echo ‘from these walls’ since it was held outside. Perhaps they could have echoed from the outer east wall, but ‘blowing’ is the key word here: the chilly wind that day would have likely rendered any echo inaudible.

I continue east towards Peoria, and about an hour before I reach that city, I spot a highway sign for an Abraham Lincoln historical site in Galesburg, Illinois. I turn off the highway and follow the signs to Knox College.

Knox College was chartered in 1837 by the Illinois state legislature while Lincoln was a member. It was founded by New York minister George Washington Gale and a group of fellow idealists and reformers. They were, among other things, dedicated to training people in self-sufficiency and the practical arts, to opposing slavery, and to providing women with a full education. So the twenty-one-year-old college no doubt enthusiastically welcomed the rising young anti-slavery politician already widely known for his unique combination of eloquence and broad knowledge, and his awkward, homespun, frontier appearance. He was engaged in a series of seven debates with the well-dressed, polished, canny career politician Stephen A. Douglas, who Lincoln was hoping to replace as Illinois Senator in the 1859 election. (At this time, senators were still elected into office by the state legislatures rather than by popular vote.)

The fifth debate of the series was held here at Knox College on October 7, 1858, on the east lawn of the newly constructed Main building, now called Old Main. Plaques of Lincoln and Douglas are placed on the east wall of the Old Main to commemorate the event. This building, in fact, is the only remaining original building associated with these famous Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Old Main, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. The east lawn, where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglass debated, is on the right side of this building, to the left looking at the photo. You can see the two tall plaques commemorating the debate on either side of the side door

Abraham Lincoln plaque on the east wall of Old Main, Knox College

Since it was a cold and blustery fall day, the debate was moved from an open lawn to a spot at the side of the Old Main building where the stage was sheltered from the wind; it couldn’t be moved inside because there were 10,000-20,000 people there, depending on which newspaper account you read. All agree that the audience was enormous.

Lincoln climbed through a window to reach the debate platform and as he did, he reportedly quipped ‘Well, at least I’ve gone through college.’ We tend to think of him as a somber man, ever dignified, ever noble in his comportment. He has attained such a mythical status as a moral leader and shepherd of our nation through our most severe national crisis, and his image in photographs, portraits, and sculpture are almost as invariably solemn, stately, unsmiling, his face often drawn with sorrow, as he appears in our collective imagination. But, he was actually quite playful and even goofy sometimes, a joker and teller of humorous, sometimes bawdy stories. If you’ve watched the excellent Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln, you’ve seen that delightful scene where he tells a naughty joke about a painting of George Washington and an outhouse. In case you want to know how the joke goes, well, I’m not going to tell you. Not because I mind telling naughty jokes (I love ’em!) but because if you’ve seen the film, you likely remember it, and if you haven’t, it’s high time you did, and I hope your curiosity becomes one more incentive to do so.

Lincoln-Douglas debate plaques on either side of the door in the east wall of Old Main, Knox College

As they debated here, one of the main points on which Douglas attacked Lincoln was his alleged sectionalism. He argued that the Republican party platform was all about appealing to extremist adherents to regional political doctrines that the Northerners subscribed to, but not the South. But he, Douglas claimed, was the true believer in a universal principle: popular sovereignty. The states and all new territories that were admitted to the Union should each vote on whether to allow slavery within their own borders. After all, wasn’t the United States founded on the idea that people had the right to govern themselves? And, it was sectionalists like Lincoln who were worsening the growing pains of our nation. The national debate over slavery was dividing the nation ever more sharply was new territories were added, and with each new addition, North and South worried anew over the resulting balance of power between free and slave slaves.

Stephen Douglas plaque on the east wall of Old Main, Knox College

Lincoln, however, turned this argument right back on Douglas. Lincoln argued that slavery was wrong while admitting that the Constitution allowed for it to continue in the South where it had already existed. He further argued that the law must be obeyed as it stood. But he also believed that some of the slave-owning founders of our nation, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, as well all of the non-slave-owning founders, believed that slavery was a moral evil and hoped it would die out or be abolished over time. Lincoln pointed out unlike the founders, Douglas refused to take a moral stand on slavery; he insisted it should be a matter of popular sovereignty, up to the states to decide for themselves. In short, Douglas believed that sectional interests should decide the matter. Lincoln pressed Douglas on this point throughout the debates, especially at Knox: either slavery is right or it is wrong, and as such, it should not simply be up to local popular vote. After all, this was a moral matter about the human rights such as those enumerated in the Bill of Rights. It was not merely a practical matter of ‘domestic affairs’ as Douglas put it, such as apportioning funds for regional projects, administering local public institutions, or community policing.

Now, of course, we would press Lincoln today just as he pressed Douglas on this point: if slavery was as wrong as Lincoln said it was for the reasons he said it was, then it would be intolerable anywhere it existed. Lincoln, in this, was as inconsistent as he accused Douglas of being. Slavery consisted of the imprisonment of the innocent, rape, child abduction, forced labor, wage theft, torture, even murder: all incompatible with the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence. Now Lincoln knew this, and pointed out in an earlier speech, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.’ Yet, very much a border state man of his time, it took him a long time to reconcile the complex socioeconomic issues surrounding slavery with the convictions of his reason and conscience. He may have been willing to allow slavery to continue if that’s what it took to preserve the Union, but as he himself more than hinted at, this would be futile anyway. Either slavery would dissolve away on its own, which the Missouri Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1954, and the Dred Scott decision of 1857 made appear a more distant and unlikely outcome than ever; or, it needed to be abolished. It would take Lincoln quite some time to fully evolve in the courage of his convictions and work to stop slavery everywhere it existed.

Abraham Lincoln’s walking stick, Mary Todd Lincoln’s gift to Frederick Douglass at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington, D.C. Lincoln and Douglass were often at odds on matters of policy but became friends and allies during the Civil War. Douglass was unsparing in both praise and criticism of Lincoln as he believed it was deserved. Lincoln had the integrity to not let this interfere with his cordial treatment of Douglass, including his warm welcome of Douglass at the reception following his second inauguration.

The argument that we should have allowed slavery to continue in the South in the expectation that it would gradually fade away on its own, to preserve the Union and avert the terrible and bloody Civil War, has always appeared to me at least extremely odd, if not morally repugnant. It especially disturbs me when I hear otherwise reasonable people make it, especially those who I otherwise admire and respect. After all, as I point out above and as I’ll repeat, slavery was imprisonment of the innocent, forced labor, destruction of families, and wage theft, and rife with rape, child abduction, torture, and murder, institutionalized with the blessing of the slave states. If slaveowners were kind to their slaves as far as the institution would allow, this rested entirely on their own good will. Even where laws existed to protect slaves from the worst abuses, such as murder, rape, and egregious physical punishment, enforcement of these laws were rare, and the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision effectively erased the right for wronged black people, free as well as slave, to take their cases to court. To drive this point home, Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote in his majority opinion that black people ‘had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.’ And slave families were necessarily torn apart on a regular basis since most slaveowners could not afford to maintain growing slave populations as they increased through childbirth. Would anyone seriously advocate, in any other case, that we should permit rape, and murder, and torture, and tearing children from their families, and systematic imprisonment of the innocent to continue unabated in order to avoid war? Aren’t these the very sort of things that the only wars we call just are fought to prevent?

Lincoln was awarded Knox College’s first honorary degree in 1860. Barack Obama was accorded that same honor in 2005, and I think Knox College’s progressive founders would be proud. Though Lincoln sometimes revealed that he had as many racial prejudices as a typical man of his time, opposing slavery but not believing that black and white people were fully equal or could live together in harmony, his thoughts and feelings in these matters this seemed to change. As the Civil War went on and he was forced to confront issues of race head-on, he demonstrated growth in his understanding of the evils not only of slavery but of racism generally. So much so, in fact, that when Frederick Douglass met Lincoln in person, he had a very positive impression of him, though Douglass had been his long-time, often severe critic. They still did not agree on many matters of policy, but Douglass was impressed with Lincoln’s courteous treatment of him and his apparent lack of interpersonal racial prejudice. So I think that Abraham Lincoln, after getting used to the idea and observing the proof that it was slavery, not biology, that created the cultural gulf between white and black people, would also be proud that Obama is a fellow honoree and a fellow president, and of his own contributions to making that possible.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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Sources and inspiration:

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Fifth Debate – Galesburg, October 7‘. History of the 1858 Debates: Lincoln-Douglas Debate Communities, from Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition website

Galesburg, Knox College, October 7, 1858.’ Mr. Lincoln and Freedom by The Lehrman Institute

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

Holzer, Harold. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The First Complete, Unexpurgated Text. New York: Fordham University Press, 2004

Knox College & Lincoln‘ from Lincoln Studies Center: About Knox, Knox College website

Knox College Circular & Plan‘ from About Knox: Our History, Knox College website

Oakes, James. The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007

Scott V. Sandford | 1857‘. Landmark Cases: Historic Supreme Court Decisions, C-SPAN’s 12-part history series produced in cooperation with the National Constitution Center