Some excerpts from Ingersoll’s Thanksgiving Sermon from 1897:
Whom, what, should we thank?
Let us be honest — generous.
Should we thank the church?
Christianity has controlled Christendom for at least fifteen
During these centuries what have the orthodox churches
accomplished, for the good of man?
In this life man needs raiment and roof, food and fuel. He
must be protected from heat and cold. from snow and storm. He must
take thought for the morrow. In the summer of youth he must prepare
for the winter of age. He must know something of the causes of
disease — of the conditions of health. If possible he must conquer
pain, increase happiness and lengthen life. He must supply the
wants of the body — and feed the hunger of the mind.
What good has the church done?
Has it taught men to cultivate the earth? to build homes? to
weave cloth? to cure or prevent disease? to build ships, to
navigate the seas? to conquer pain, or to lengthen life?
Did Christ or any of his apostles add to the sum of useful
knowledge? Did they say one word in favor of any science, of any
art? Did they teach their fellow-men how to make a living, how to
overcome the obstructions of nature, how to prevent sickness — how
to protect themselves from pain, from famine, from misery and rags?
Did they explain any of the phenomena of nature? any of the
facts that affect the life of man? Did they say anything in favor
of investigation — of study — of thought? Did they teach the
gospel of self-reliance, of industry — of honest effort? Can any
farmer, mechanic, or scientist find in the New Testament one useful
fact? Is there anything in the sacred book that can help the
geologist, the astronomer, the biologist, the physician, the
inventor — the manufacturer of any useful thing?
So whom shall we thank?
Standing here at the close of the 19th
century — amid the trophies of thought — the triumphs of genius
— here under the flag of the Great Republic — knowing something
of the history of man — here on this day that has been set apart
for thanksgiving, I most reverently thank the good men. the good
women of the past, I thank the kind fathers, the loving mothers of
the savage days. I thank the father who spoke the first gentle
word, the mother who first smiled upon her babe. I thank the first
true friend. I thank the savages who hunted and fished that they
and their babes might live. I thank those who cultivated the ground
and changed the forests into farms — those who built rude homes
and watched the faces of their happy children in the glow of
fireside flames — those who domesticated horses, cattle and sheep
— those who invented wheels and looms and taught us to spin and
weave — those who by cultivation changed wild grasses into wheat
and corn, changed bitter things to fruit, and worthless weeds to
flowers, that sowed within our souls the seeds of art. I thank the
poets of the dawn — the tellers of legends — the makers of myths
— the singers of joy and grief, of hope and love. I thank the
artists who chiseled forms in stone and wrought with light and
shade the face of man. I thank the philosophers, the thinkers, who
taught us how to use our minds in the great search for truth. I
thank the astronomers who explored the heavens, told us the secrets
of the stars, the glories of the constellations — the geologists
who found the story of the world in fossil forms, in memoranda kept
in ancient rocks, in lines written by waves, by frost and fire —
the anatomists who sought in muscle, nerve and bone for all the
mysteries of life — the chemists who unraveled Nature’s work that
they might learn her art — the physicians who have laid the hand
of science on the brow of pain, the hand whose magic touch restores
— the surgeons who have defeated Nature’s self and forced her to
preserve the lives of those she labored to destroy.
I thank the discoverers of chloroform and ether, the two
angels who give to their beloved sleep, and wrap the throbbing
brain in the soft robes of dreams. I thank the great inventors —
those who gave us movable type and the press, by means of which
great thoughts and all discovered facts are made immortal — the
inventors of engines, of the great ships, of the railways, the
cables and telegraphs. I thank the great mechanics, the workers in
iron and steel, in wood and stone. I thank the inventors and makers
of the numberless things of use and luxury.
I thank the industrious men, the loving mothers, the useful
women. They are the benefactors of our race.
The inventor of pins did a thousand times more good than all
the popes and cardinals, the bishops and priests — than all the
clergymen and parsons, exhorters and theologians that ever lived.
The inventor of matches did more for the comfort and
convenience of mankind than all the founders of religions and the
makers of all creeds — than all malicious monks and selfish
I thank the honest men and women who have expressed their
sincere thoughts, who have been true to themselves and have
preserved the veracity of their souls.
I thank the thinkers of Greece and Rome. Zeno and Epicurus,
Cicero and Lucretius. I thank Bruno, the bravest, and Spinoza, the
subtlest of men.
I thank Voltaire, whose thought lighted a flame in the brain
of man, unlocked the doors of superstition’s cells and gave liberty
to many millions of his fellow-men. Voltaire — a name that sheds
light. Voltaire — a star that superstition’s darkness cannot
I thank the great poets — the dramatists. I thank Homer and
Aeschylus, and I thank Shakespeare above them all. I thank Burns
for the heart-throbs he changed into songs. for his lyrics of
flame. I thank Shelley for his Skylark, Keats for his Grecian Urn
and Byron for his Prisoner of Chillon. I thank the great novelists.
I thank the great sculptors. I thank the unknown man who molded and
chiseled the Venus de Milo. I thank the great painters. I thank
Rembrandt and Corot. I thank all who have adorned, enriched and
ennobled life — all who have created the great, the noble, the
heroic and artistic ideals.
I thank the statesmen who have preserved the rights of man. I
thank Paine whose genius sowed the seeds of independence in the
hearts of ’76. I thank Jefferson whose mighty words for liberty
have made the circuit of the globe. I thank the founders, the
defenders, the saviors of the Republic. I thank Ericsson, the
greatest mechanic of his century, for the monitor. I thank Lincoln
for the Proclamation. I thank Grant for his victories and the vast
host that fought for the right, — for the freedom of man. I thank
them all — the living and the dead.
I thank the great scientists — those who have reached the
foundation, the bed-rock — who have built upon facts — the great
scientists, in whose presence theologians look silly and feel
The scientists never persecuted, never imprisoned their
fellow-men. They forged no chains, built no dungeons, erected no
scaffolds — tore no flesh with red hot pincers — dislocated no
joints on racks, crushed no hones in iron boots — extinguished no
eyes — tore out no tongues and lighted no fagots. They did not
pretend to be inspired — did not claim to be prophets or saints or
to have been born again. They were only intelligent and honest men.
They did not appeal to force or fear. They did not regard men as
slaves to be ruled by torture, by lash and chain, nor as children
to be cheated with illusions, rocked in the cradle of an idiot
creed and soothed by a lullaby of lies.
They did not wound — they healed. They did not kill — they
lengthened life. They did not enslave — they broke the chains and
made men free. They sowed the seeds of knowledge, and many millions
have reaped, are reaping, and will reap the harvest: of joy.
I thank Humboldt and Helmholtz and Haeckel and Buchner. I
thank Lamarck and Darwin — Darwin who revolutionized the thought
of the intellectual world. I thank Huxley and Spencer. I thank the
scientists one and all.
I thank the heroes, the destroyers of prejudice and fear —
the dethroners of savage gods — the extinguishers of hate’s
eternal fire — the heroes, the breakers of chains — the founders
of free states — the makers of just laws — the heroes who fought
and fell on countless fields — the heroes whose dungeons became
shrines — the heroes whose blood made scaffolds sacred — the
heroes, the apostles of reason, the disciples of truth, the
soldiers of freedom — the heroes who held high the holy torch and
filled the world with light.
With all my heart I thank them all.