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Robert G. Ingersoll's Response to Delaware Grand Jury

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13, 1882 -- No attack upon Col. Ingersoll has attracted so much attention as the recent charge of Chief Justice Comegys to the Delaware grand jury. Every one has been looking to the eloquent radical for a reply. For several days he has been silent, too much occupied with his large law business to give the subject attention. This morning the Time's correspondent succeeded in persuading Col. Ingersoll to make his answer to the Delaware judge through the columns of the Times.


"Have you read Chief Justice Comegys' compliments to you before the Delaware grand jury?"


"Yes, I have seen his charge, in which he relies upon the law passed in 1740. After reading his charge, it seemed to me as though he had died about the date of the law, had risen from the dead, and gone right on where he left off. I presume he is a good man, but compared with other men something like his state when compared with other states. A great many people will probably regard the charge of Judge Comegys as unchristian, but I do not. I consider that the law of Delaware is in exact accord with the bible, and that the pillory, the whipping-post, and the suppression of free speech, are the natural fruit of the Old and New Testament. Delaware is right. Christianity cannot succeed, cannot exist, without the protection of law. Take from orthodox Christianity the protection of law, and all church property would be taxed like other property. The Sabbath would be no longer a day devoted to superstition. Every one could express his honest thought upon every possible subject. Every one, notwithstanding his belief, could testify in a court of justice. In other words, honesty, would be on an equality with hypocrisy. Science would stand on a level, so far as the law is concerned, with superstition. Whenever this happens, the end of orthodox Christianity will be near. By Christianity I do not mean charity, mercy, kindness, forgiveness; I mean no natural mercy, because all the natural virtues existed and had been practiced by hundreds and thousands of millions before Christ was born. There certainly were some good men even in the days of Christ in Jerusalem, before His death. By Christianity I mean the ideas of redemption, atonement, a good man dying for a bad man; and the bad man; getting a receipt in full. By Christianity I mean that system that insists that in the next world a few will be forever happy, while the many will be eternally miserable.


"Christianity, as I have explained it, must be protected, guarded and sustained by law. It was founded by the sword -- that is to say by physical force -- and must be preserved by like means. In many of the states of the Union an infidel is not allowed to testify. In the state of Delaware, if Alexander Von Humboldt were living, he could not be a witness, although he had more brains than the state of Delaware has ever produced, or is likely to produce as long as the laws of 1740 remain in force. Such men as Huxley, Tyndall, and Haeckel could be fined and imprisoned in the state of Delaware, and, in fact, in many states of this Union. Christianity, is order to defend itself, puts the brand of infamy on the brow of honesty. Christianity marks with a letter 'C,' standing for 'convict', every brain that is great enough to discover the frauds. I have no doubt but that Judge Comegys is a good and sincere Christian. I believe that he in his charge gives an exact reflection of the Jewish Jehovah. I believe that every word he said was in exact accord with the spirit of orthodox Christianity. Against this man personally I have nothing to say. I know nothing of his character except as I gather it from this charge, and after reading the charge I am forced simply to say, Judge Comegys is a Christian.


"It seems, however, that the grand jury dared to take no action, notwithstanding they had been counseled to do so by the Judge. Although the judge had quoted to them the words of George I. of blessed memory; although he had quoted to them the words of Lord Mansfield, who became a judge simply because of his hatred of the English colonists, simply because he despised liberty in the new world; notwithstanding the fact that I could have been punished with insult, with imprisonment and with stripes, and with every form of degradation; notwithstanding that only a few years ago I could have been branded upon the forehead, bored through the tongue, maimed and disfigured, still, such has been the advance even in the state of Delaware, owing, it may be in great part to the one lecture delivered by me, that the grand jury absolutely refused to indict me. The grand jury satisfied themselves and their consciences simply by making a report in which they declared that my lecture had 'no parallel in the habits of respectable vagabondism;' that I was an 'arch blasphemer and reviler of God and religion,' and recommended that should I ever attempt to lecture again I should be taught 'that in Delaware blasphemy is a crime punishable by fine and imprisonment.' I have no doubt but what every member of the grand jury signing this report was entirely honest; that he acted in exact accord with what he understood to be the demand of the Christian religion. I must admit that for Christians the report is exceedingly mild and gentle. I have now in the house letters that passed between certain bishops in the fifteenth century, in which they discussed the propriety of cutting out the tongues of heretics before they were burned. Some of the bishops were in favor of and some against it. One argument for cutting out their tongues which seemed to have settled the question was that unless the tongues of heretics were cut out they might scandalize the gentlemen who were burning them by blasphemous remarks during the fire. I would commend these letters to Judge Comegys and the members of his grand jury.


I want it distinctly understood that I have nothing against Judge Comegys or the grand jury. They act as most anybody would, raised in Delaware, in the shadow of the whipping-post and the pillory. We must remember that Delaware was a slave state; that the Bible became extremely dear to the people because it upheld the peculiar institution. We must remember that the Bible was the block on which mother and child stood for sale when they were separated by the Christians of Delaware. The Bible was regarded as the title papers to slavery, and as the book of all books that gave the right to masters to whip mothers and to sell children. There are many offenses now for which the punishment is whipping and standing in the pillory; where persons are convicted of certain crimes and sent to the penitentiary, and upon being discharged from the penitentiary are furnished by the state with a dark jacket plainly marked on the back with a large Roman 'C,' the letter to be of a light color. This they are to wear for six months after being discharged, and if they are found at any time without the dark jacket and the illuminated 'C,' they are to be punished with twenty lashes upon the bare back.


The object, I presume, of this law is to drive from the state all the discharged convicts for the benefit of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland -- that is to say, other Christian communities. A cruel people make cruel laws. The objection I have to the whipping-post is that it is a punishment which can not be inflicted by a gentleman. The person who administers the punishment must, of necessity, be fully as degraded as the person who receives it. I am opposed to any kind of punishment that cannot be administered by a gentleman. I am opposed to corporal punishment everywhere. It should be taken from the asylums and penitentiaries, and any man who would apply the lash to the bare back of another is beneath the contempt of honest people."

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