Speech and Hearing Sciences ETDs

Publication Date



The purpose of this thesis was to present a rhetorical analysis of Robert G. Ingersoll's lectures on religion. Twelve of his lectures, spanning his career as a proponent of rationalism, free thought, and agnosticism were studied as a representative sampling of his public speaking. This rhetorical analysis of Ingersoll's lectures reveals that his popularity was not the product of calculated rhetorical chicanery or sophistry. Such an approach would have been unsuccessful, since his audiences had every reason not to listen and many persons were constantly looking for faults in his lectures. Caught up in an era of sweeping social changes, he was in the forefront of the battle for complete freedom of thought and speech. He was a champion of the suffering minorities, a nineteenth century Moses trying to lead his people out of bondage. He espoused the cause of the Negroes, the campaign to win the vote for women, and the drive to achieve complete separation of church and state. Though he himself was popular, he stood more often than not on the unpopular side. This study has revealed several factors which contributed substantially to his rise to fame. It has shown that he was an independent, honest, and outspoken thinker. Whether on the offensive or defensive, he rested his arguments upon the usually solid ground of his own logical reasoning. Many persons did not agree with his conclusions, but few questioned his integrity. Furthermore, he was a perceptive discerner of the needs, prejudices, hopes, fears, and aspirations of his fellow men. His climb up the ladder of success began on a low rung. He knew what it was like to be poor, persecuted, and fearful. This identification with the common people enabled him to speak to his audiences, not at them. Moreover, so great was Ingersoll's desire to communicate his message to his listeners that he poured vast amounts of sweat, blood, and tears into the preparation, organization, and delivery of his lectures. His almost unlimited vocabulary, his sparkling wit and imagination, and his magnetic personality were clearly expressed through his distinctive style and unique delivery. The fact that one or more of his speeches may be found in most modern speech anthologies is mute testimony to their ageless qualities and to Ingersoll's exceptional ability as a platform artist.

Degree Name

Speech-Language Pathology

Level of Degree


Department Name

Speech and Hearing Sciences

First Committee Member (Chair)

Wayne C. Eubank

Second Committee Member

George Winston Smith

Third Committee Member

John Douglas Gibb



Document Type