Whom shall we thank? Standing here at the close of the nineteenth 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 houses 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 inventors, the discoverers, the thinkers. I thank Columbus
and Magellan. I thank Galileo, and Copernicus, and Kepler, and Descartes,
and Newton, and Laplace. I thank Locke, and Hume, and Bacon, and Kant, and
Fichte, and Leibnitz, and Goethe. I thank Fulton, and Watt, and Volta, and
Galvani, and Franklin, and Morse, who made lightning the messenger of man.
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 robe of
dreams. I thank the great inventors - those who gave us movable type and
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 saints.
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
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 fellowmen. Voltaire - a name that sheds light. Voltaire - a star
that superstition's darkness cannot quench.
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 moulded 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 those 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 all the great scientists - those who have reached the foundation,
the bedrock - who have built upon facts - the great scientists, in whose
presence theologians look silly and feel malicious.
The scientists never persecuted, never imprisoned their fellowmen. They
forged no chains, built no dungeons, erected no scaffolds - tore no flesh
with red hot pincers - dislocated no joints on racks - crushed no bones in
iron boots - extinguished no eyes - tore out no tongues and lighted no
fagots. They did not pretend to be inspired - and 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 and Tyndall. I thank Draper, Lecky and Buckle.
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 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.
I thank Crompton and Arkwright, from whose brains leaped the looms and
spindels that clothe the world.
I thank the brave men with brave thoughts. They are the Atlases upon
whose broad and might shoulders rests the grand fabric of civilization.
They are the men who have broken, and are still breaking, the chains of
superstition. They are the Titans who carried Olympus by assault, and who
will soon stand victors upon Sinai's crags.
With all my heart I thank them all.
- Robert G. Ingersoll, 1833-1899