Saturday, July 21, 2007

July 21, 1899:

Robert G. Ingersoll Dies

Largely forgotten now, Robert G. Ingersoll (pictured, left) was famed in his day -- the late 19th century -- as a politician and freethinking agnostic. He also had a walk-on part in presidential history. In 1876, he made a famed nominating speech on behalf of James G. Blaine of Maine (pictured, right). Blaine came within a whisker of being nominated by the Republican National Convention that year -- short 28 votes at one point -- but ultimately lost out to Rutherford B. Hayes. Blaine was nominated in 1884, but lost the election to Grover Cleveland.

Ingersoll's nominating speech is known as the "Plumbed Knight Speech," a fine example of high Victorian oratory. The last part of it went as follows: "This is a grand year—a year filled with the recollections of the Revolution; filled with proud and tender memories of the sacred past; filled with the legends of liberty; a year in which the sons of freedom will drink from the fountain of enthusiasm; a year in which the people call for a man who has preserved in Congress what our soldiers won upon the field; a year in which we call for the man who has torn from the throat of treason the tongue of slander—a man that has snatched the mask of democracy from the hideous face of rebellion—a man who, like an intellectual athlete, stood in the arena of debate, challenged all comers, and who, up to the present moment, is a total stranger to defeat.

"Like an armed warrior, like a plumed knight, James G. Blaine marched down the halls of the American Congress and threw his shining lances full and fair against the brazen foreheads of every defamer of his country and maligner of its honor. For the Republican party to desert a gallant man now is worse than if an army should desert their general upon the field of battle.

"James G. Blaine is now, and has been for years, the bearer of the sacred standard of the Republic. I call it sacred because no human being can stand beneath its folds without becoming, and without remaining, free.

"Gentlemen of the Convention, in the name of the great Republic, the only republic that ever existed upon this earth; in the name of all her defenders and of all her supporters; in the name of all her soldiers living; in the name of all her soldiers who died upon the field of battle; and in the name of those who perished in the skeleton clutch of famine at Andersonville and Libby, whose sufferings he so eloquently remembers, Illinois nominates for the next president of this country that prince of parliamentarians, that leader of leaders—James G. Blaine."

The entire speech is here.

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