Delivered when Queen was 12 years old (1923)
In taking up this subject, "The Pioneers of Freethought," I want to treat it in the broadest and most scientific manner possible. Freedom of thought is of the utmost importance to man's economic, social, and political development. Without absolute freedom for the mind, man is only a miserable slave and a cringing, fawning, hypocritical coward. Without freedom to express the thoughts of the mind in spoken or written words, all social progress becomes impossible. All the freedom which we now have is due to the pioneers of free thinking and free living who have given their lives to making that freedom possible. All the freedom which your children will have in the future will be due to the fact that you have conserved the freedom of the past, added to it and handed it on to them.
There is a very ancient saying, to the effect that man appreciates the advantages of freedom of thought only after that freedom has been taken away from him. I want to tell you something of the bitter struggles of the pioneers of freethought in the past. I believe that if you know how hard they have had to fight to gain what freedom we now have, you will fight harder to keep it for yourselves. Those social forces which are opposed to freedom never sleep. They are always struggling to renew the slavery of the mind, always fighting and passing laws to chain up the brains of the human race. If we would be men and women, instead of apes and monkeys, we must think for ourselves; and if we would be free Americans, we must never let anyone take any of the freedom we have away from us. If we want to see the evolution of man continue onward and upward, then we must see to it that every year adds a little more freedom of thought to the world, and that every century sees a new emancipation of the brain of man from the chains which bind it to the ignorant past.
I do not know the name of the first freethinker in the world. I do know, however, that he was the first man that ever lived who was not afraid of what he could not understand ..... While his companions were afraid of the dark, he went boldly forth and gathered wood to keep their cave fire burning. While they shivered in terror at the moaning of the winds, and howled with fear when they heard the thunder and saw the lightning, this first freethinker was trying to discover what made the wind blow. While his friends fled from the graves of their dead comrades, he doubtless went to those same graves and ate up the food that his superstitious companions had placed there for the departed spirits. That first freethinker was a brave man, not a coward. He was ignorant, but he possessed the beginnings of knowledge. He had no respect for anything or anybody, no fear of popular opinion, and still less was he afraid of anything he could not see.
If his companions had listened to him, civilization would have been advanced several hundred thousand years. I do not know just how this first freethinker met his end, but I am sure that his companions killed him, and I am reasonably sure that they dined off his roasted flesh in true cannibal style. I believe this because history tells me that for an indefinite time -- for hundreds of thousands of years after that event took place -- the ignorant people killed everyone as soon as he displayed much more intelligence than they themselves possessed.
Man is like a lobster, or a crab, anyway. When a fisherman catches a bucket of these shellfish, he does not have to put a cover on it to keep them from escaping. As soon as one crawls up to the top of the bucket, and seems about to gain his freedom, all the other crabs and lobsters proceed to, grab hold of his legs and pull him back down into the bottom of the bucket. In this way they are all kept safe for the fisherman. They save each other from freedom, and ultimately all of them get boiled alive, because they did not have brains enough to help one another. Have you not seen men act just exactly like these lobsters? When a man, or a woman, or a child, advances a step further toward free development of the mind, are there not plenty of other men, and women, and children waiting, watching and trying by every means in their power to drag down the one who has made the upward advance? Why, that is what William J. Bryan is doing, what the preachers are doing all the time. The lobster nature, inherited from their shellfish ancestors, who lived a hundred million years ago, makes them try to drag down their fellow men into the mire of superstition, from which they themselves do not want to escape.
The first priest was the first man who was too lazy to hunt his own firewood, and too cowardly to catch his own meat. Because of this, he devised a scheme to prey upon the fears and superstitions of his fellows. He capitalized their ignorance, and they fed him, clothed him in skins, and dug a hole in the ground for him to live in. Even today, when a boy is too lazy to work and not clever enough to become a professional man, his parents solve the problem of his future career by sending him to a theological school. Being good for nothing, they make a preacher out of him. The first priest undoubtedly ate the tenderest portions of the first freethinker, for the priests have always, from that time to this, lived off the people. The priests of ancient times suppressed all forms of knowledge which might tend to free the people, while on the other hand, they monopolized all the knowledge which might tend to keep them enslaved.
Men did not begin to shake off the dominion of the priesthood until knowledge began to be general among the people.
The founders of modern science are the real pioneers of free thought as far as our own times are concerned. In ancient society, the common people did not need to know very much. If they could tend their sheep, herd their cattle, kill their enemies, and bring sacrifices to the priests, that was sufficient. As society advanced, man needed to know more. He had to develop sufficient brain matter to build a house for himself, to secure clothing to protect him from desert heat and winter cold. He had to learn to build cities and to live in them. He had to develop improved methods of killing off his enemies. The necessity to do these things developed his mentality, and helped to civilize him. The inability of some races to do these things caused them to be killed off -- to be wiped off the earth.
As civilization progressed, the common people had to know more and more, in order to live. The struggle for existence became so keen that the people were forced to develop their minds more and more in order to live at all. This general increase of knowledge was fatal to the priests and also to the political despots. They could not suppress the knowledge altogether, for if they had done so, the people would -- have been too ignorant to be even good slaves. So they resorted to every means to make people afraid to possess knowledge. What was true in the past is true today. The people must know enough to operate farms, and machinery, but they must not know enough so they will want to own those things themselves. They must know enough to weave beautiful silks and laces and other fine cloths, but they must not know enough to want to wear them. They must know enough to build fine homes, but they must not know so much that they will not let other people live in them.
This general spread of knowledge has made it extremely difficult for the kings and priests to save their position in society and they have resorted to the most cruel and hideous methods of maintaining their power. Their methods of doing this have changed, as conditions changed, but they have never ceased to make the way of the thinker as hard as possible. They have never ceased to persecute the brainy people of the world, though their methods of doing so have changed greatly in the last three hundred years.
In Greece, long before the Christian era, there were very many gods, a horde of priests, and many rich temples. The Greeks made many efforts to emancipate their minds from superstition, but the fear of public opinion was so great that no man dared fully and freely to express himself. Yet the Greeks had no Inquisition, no methods of torturing heretics. They merely made it unpleasant for the real freethinker to be alive and difficult for him to exist. There were so many gods in Greece, and so many Virgin Births, that at one time a law was proposed, making it a criminal offense for any girl to accuse a god of being the father of her child! If a man did not like one god, he might worship another. As long as he worshiped some god, he was considered a good citizen. It is that way in modern America. If you belong to any church, no matter how small it may be, or if you worship any kind of a god -- black, white, good or bad, cruel or merciful, then you -- are quite respectable. But if you do not cringe and bow the knee to some kind of a spook, then you are very, very bad.
The Sophists were possibly the first group of people whose ideas closely approached those of modern freethinkers. They taught that there is no god, that nothing is absolutely true or absolutely false, that right and wrong are fictitious terms devised by society, and that right is the will of the majority, or of the king, while wrong is wrong only because it has not the legal power to make people recognize it as right. "Might makes right," summed up their ideas. No one, they said, is either better or worse than anyone else. The minority are wrong today, but tomorrow, if they become the majority, they will be right. But even they, bold as they were, advised their followers to be cunning and hypocritical, that they might not make enemies. Anaxagoras was the first real atheist that we have any record of. He was tried, convicted, and narrowly escaped death. He was saved by Pericles, the head of the Greek Republic, who shared his views.
The only woman of Greece worthy of serious mention by the historian was of similar views. Aspasia, friend of all the wise men of her time, and the wife of Pericles in all but the legal title, was also tried for defaming the gods of her country. The eloquence of Pericles saved her life. Yet the priests triumphed in the end, and restored faith and failure to Greece. The age of PericIes is called by historians the Golden Age of Greece, because it was during his rule that Greek culture and civilization reached its highest point. The age of Pericles was also the Age of Atheism in Greece. With the restoration of superstition commenced the beginnings of the ruin of Greek civilization. They had achieved a measure of freedom, but they lost it all. Today, modern Greece is a desolate product of two thousand years of Superstition, Ignorance, Degradation and Fanaticism.
There is another woman of ancient times, whose name ought never to be forgotten by anyone who loves freedom, or who values knowledge. Her name was Hypatia, and for forty years she taught such truths as were then known. I want to tell you about her, but before I do so, I must tell you about the great college wherein she taught.
Several hundred years before the Christian era an Egyptian king, Ptolemy Soter, founded a college and library in the city of Alexandria. Almost all of the dynasty of kings known as Ptolemies were interested in promoting scientific knowledge. They added to this library from time to time, until, shortly before it was destroyed by a mob of Christians in the year 391, it possessed seven hundred thousand volumes of manuscripts. Every student or learned man who came to Egypt was asked to set down in writing his knowledge, that they might preserve it for all time. Every foreigner who brought into Egypt a manuscript from any other country was obliged to lend it to the library, while they made a copy of it for preservation. At Alexandria were collected all the known works of all the writers and philosophers of the ancient world. Part of this library was accidentally destroyed by Julius Caesar. His successor, Antony, presented to Cleopatra the great collection of Pergamos, to take the place of the works destroyed.
In connection with this library, which was kept in two great buildings, a great university was maintained. Ten thousand students were accommodated. Anyone who felt he had a message to deliver, or who wished to teach, went to one of the great courtyards, and sat, or stood, with his students around him, as long as they cared to listen. Learning was free. Anyone might teach, and anyone might come to study. Poor students were fed at public expense. Anyone might, if he chose, sleep on the floor at night. Any subject might be taught by anyone. In other words, the Alexandrian college was a great, free open forum. If you can imagine Los Angeles Street multiplied twenty-five times, and if you can imagine it without any Christian or other religionists, and if you can picture a library of three-quarters of a million books accessible to the public free of charge, and if you can picture what all this would be like if we possessed absolute freedom of speech -- then you will have a fair idea of what the university and library of ancient Alexandria was like. The modern world has no such place of learning as that.
In the year 391 a mob of fanatics, recently washed in the blood of Jesus, led by sanctified bandits and monks, destroyed the larger wing of the library, with more than half of the priceless manuscripts possessed by the institution. This act of vandalism was instituted by the great Christian emperor, Theodosius, and carried out under the direct supervision of Theophilus, Christian bishop of Alexandria. Theophilus said: "If these books disagree with the bible, they are heretical, and ought to be burned. If they agree with the bible, they are useless, and ought to be burned." So he burned them, anyway. He was a true Christian, carrying out god's command to Adam, "Of the tree of knowledge thou shalt not eat." But the college still remained, and possibly a third of the books which were in the other building were preserved.
In this college, at this very time, lived and taught Hypatia, the greatest woman philosopher of which history has told us. She was the daughter of the great Cleon, an astronomer and mathematician. It is said that in her infancy she showed proof of rare genius, an that accordingly her father educated her with great care. While no more than a child, she mastered the different languages of antiquity, and while still a young girl, took her place as a teacher of the school.
In those days women were kept in seclusion, and it is said that the beauty and youth of Hypatia made so great an impression upon the men who were unaccustomed to see women in public places, that Hypatia usually wore a heavy veil, that her students might not have their attention distracted by her face. Her lectures drew all the educated people of the city to the school, as well as regular students. People came from all over the Roman world to listen to her wisdom and eloquence. She was held in such high regard that the judges of the city took their difficult cases to her for judgment. Theophilus, holy father, saint, and bishop, hated her intensely, but he felt she was too powerful for him to attack. The Christians were not yet sufficiently powerful to force their dogmas on the government of Alexandria, for that city was the last stronghold of Science and Reason. But when his nephew Cyril became bishop, the end of freedom came. Dirty -- he never bathed -- filled with fanaticism and holy fervor, he set out to make Alexandria saintly, Christian and ignorant. It is said by some historians that he became jealous of Hypatia, because the people flocked to her lectures instead of coming to his church. He preached to monks and empty seats, while thousands attended the lectures of Hypatia. However that may be, Cyril and his crazy monks seized Hypatia as she was riding through the streets, tore the clothing from her body, dragged her at the end of a rope through the city, and brought her to Cyril's own church. They took her inside, to the foot of their Christian altar, and with hands and teeth and knives, those Christian savages tore her body to pieces. Pieces of her flesh were distributed among the mob as souvenirs. Cyril thus became supreme. Science was intimidated and destroyed. Cyril was a saint, and superstition held sway without opposition for more than a thousand years, as far as the Christian world was concerned. Christianity teaches that Hypatia, the woman who taught Truth for forty years, went to hell, and that Cyril, the saintly bishop who murdered her, went to heaven.
The next attempt to revive learning, to resurrect Science, and restore Reason, occurred in Spain during the rule of the Mohammedan Moors. Mohammedanism sat lightly on many of its followers. Only for a few hundred years fanaticism existed. After that, the Mohammedan rulers encouraged the study of Science. The ruling class of Moors in Spain were nearly all atheists, agnostics, or pantheists. They built up a splendid civilization in Spain. They built fine cities, laid out irrigation ditches and wonderful gardens, and built the great university at Cordova. It is said that over a half a million books were accumulated, and that twelve thousand students could be accommodated at a time. To a great extent the Alexandrian method of teaching was followed. At this time the Christian world was unbelievably ignorant. The kings of France and England and Austria were clothed in velvet gowns -- but they had no shirts. It was four hundred years after this time before a French monarch had a bathtub.
The Moors had clean streets and a water system. For five hundred years after this, the Christians of Paris and London dug their wells, and emptied their sewage in the streets, or in their back yards. Until two hundred years ago, hogs belonging to the order of the Monks of St. Anthony were allowed to run wild in the streets of Paris. Hundreds of years before that, the Moors burned their garbage, invented tablecloths and silverware for their tables, and made linen underclothing for themselves. They were infidels, but they bathed daily in public or private swimming pools. The French and English seldom, if ever, bathed. They slept in soft beds, while for hundreds of years after that their Lordly Christian neighbors slept on their tables or under them. They had carpets for their floors a thousand years ago, but in England, the most advanced Christian country, in the time of Queen Elizabeth, the great castle halls were carpeted with straw, and the refuse from the dining table was thrown upon the floor. When the floor became dirty, fresh straw was piled on top of the old.
A Christian army under Ferdinand and Isabella drove the Moors out of Spain at the end of the fifteenth century. They destroyed the college and burned the great library at Cordova. Once more Science was crushed out. Once more reason was dethroned and superstition given the supreme power. To complete the work, Ferdinand and Isabella established the first Inquisition, and in the next ten years Torquemada, Grand Inquisitor of Spain, tortured or burned alive at the stake, a hundred thousand of the most intelligent people of Spain. Those are his own figures. Superstition has ruled Spain for four hundred years, and today it is the most ignorant, degraded, and religious country in all Europe.
The revival of learning in Europe came about in a peculiar manner. The Christian world was afraid to investigate anything scientifically. It was fearful of all the so-called sciences. The first sign of increasing brain development in Christian countries took the form of making splendid swords, steel armor for the human body, building churches, and painting pictures of saints to put in them. However, the forces of evolution were at work, and some few men began seriously to study into the causes of things. Most of them professed adherence to the church, to save their lives. The beginning of modern scientific discovery in Christian countries was due most of all to Giordano Bruno. He was an Italian monk who spent his whole life in trying to resurrect the scientific knowledge of the ancients, and to add to it. His studies led him to deny the authority of the church in matters of reason, and to disbelieve in divine revelation, the immortality of the soul, heaven, hell, and purgatory. If he was not an atheist, he was very close to being one. He wrote freely, and circulated his writings even among the priests and cardinals of Rome. He was so honest that he believed everyone else was honest. He believed he could convince the pope, the cardinals, the priests and even the Inquisitors, that he was right and that they were wrong. He believed they would be glad to acknowledge their errors and reconstruct society and give freedom to the minds of men. They imprisoned him, convicted him of heresy, and burned him at the stake. Other martyrs have died, expecting to go from the stake to heaven. Bruno was greater than any of these, for he died knowing that this one life was all he had to live. Today, if the pope looks out of the windows of the Vatican in a certain direction, he must gaze upon a monument to Bruno erected by Roman citizens after the Revolution of 1848 took away the city from the rule of the church.
It is to modern scientists and discoverers that the world owes its present freedom of thought. Scientists who have not directly attacked religious creeds have undermined their foundations. As long as all men believed this earth is the only planet, and that the whole system of sun and stars is of secondary importance, it was fairly easy for most men to accept the idea that a god made it, managed it, and was continually meddling with its affairs. When Copernicus proved that the sun, and not the earth, is the center of our solar system, god was moved farther away. When astronomers proved that the number of stars, and suns, and planets, apparently was limited only by the magnifying power of the telescopes, god began to get entirely lost. When an astronomer points his telescope at a star which is so far away that its rays of light have been traveling more than two thousand years in order to reach our earth, then it becomes necessary to keep moving heaven farther and farther away. The early Christians said it was three miles, straight up, to heaven. No telescope has ever been able to locate it, however. Astronomy gives many a rude shock to the Christian who has always believed that his god made the sun, moon, "and stars also," all in one day.
When Galileo proved the world to be round, he rediscovered a truth which bad been known to the ancient Egyptians eighteen hundred years before. He thus demonstrated that Jesus could not have stood upon a mountain and looked over the whole earth; he proved the earth did not have four corners, and that four angels did not hold up the sky on their shoulders at those four corners. He proved, although he probably had no idea that he was so doing, that the god who inspired the bible had forgotten how he made, the earth before he got around to putting the account in writing. He proved that comets are not proofs of the wrath of god and knocked away a great many more of the foundation stones of belief.
Sir Isaac Newton professed to accept the religion of his country. He expressed no doubt on the subject. But when he discovered the law of gravitation, and proved its universal application, Newton did away with the need for a god. He left god nothing to do, as far as regulating the universe is concerned. We can now calculate the height of the tides for any part of the world at any given time. No longer does a god have to regulate tidal waves. Science has analyzed everything down to its elementary parts. It has taken minerals apart and put them together again. It has photographed the atom. And it has found no proof that anything like a god exists. It can not find any kind of a god, anywhere, except in the imaginations of godly men and women. It can weigh the heaviest ore or the lightest gas, but it can not find that there is the slightest difference between the weight of a man's body before he dies, and afterwards. They cannot prove that he has a soul. What scientists can not prove to exist, they do not believe exists. They take nothing on faith; they accept no revelation, and are not afraid of things which they can not understand. They are true freethinkers, but many of them are afraid to speak too loud, or too plainly, for fear they may lose what income they now have. Modern society may not burn, or torture, or imprison its thinkers. It merely starves them and worries them until they are worn out and ready to give up the fight. Only the strong and brave thinkers can survive. When Charles Darwin started on his scientific researches, he was a
church member. Shortly before he died, he acknowledged himself an atheist. Darwin was not inclined to engage in a controversy with anyone. He wrote down what he had learned, and left it to anyone to accept or reject as he pleased. His theory of Evolution, demonstrated by Haeckel, Huxley, and those who have come after them to be not a theory, but an established fact, proved to thinking people that the whole story of creation is a myth, the fall of man a humbug, and the plan of salvation a ridiculous yarn.
The man who sprang from an ape could not have been made in the image of any kind of a god; evolution made even the human mother of Jesus a mere descendant of an ape, thereby proving that if Jesus was god, then god himself must have descended, least upon his mother's side, from the lower animals. With the plan of salvation thus knocked out by Darwin, what was left? They had no longer any need for heaven or hell. There was nothing to save people from -- there was no longer any need for a priest or preacher. These are some of the reasons why almost all churches are bitterly fighting the teaching of evolution in the schools today. They are fully alive to the fact that the teaching of scientific truth makes faith in all revelation impossible. When the people have lost faith in gods, they naturally will lose faith in the preachers, and the preachers will lose their fat salaries and have to go to work. No priest ever liked a thinker.
I might go on and show you, if I had time, how every new invention, and every new discovery has helped to make religion unnecessary. Every bit of progress involves an advance toward greater freedom of thought. But I want to tell you about another class of pioneers of freethought. I want to tell you about the great agitators. You know what an agitator is. It is a person who stirs things up -- especially, it is a person who stirs up the brains of the people and thus sets them to thinking. The agitator takes the work of the scientists and brings it to the people in such form that they can understand it. Darwin, for instance, was a scientist; Haeckel was a philosopher of science and an agitator, but Ingersoll, Paine, and Voltaire were agitators.
There have been many other great agitators besides these three. There have been many who have written books, and given lectures, many who have braved public opinion and financial hardship in order to indulge in the luxury of telling the truth and living according to their convictions. But I have space to mention only the three greatest agitators.
Robert Ingersoll sacrificed his political ambitions for the sake of telling the truth about the bible. Had he been a Christian, he would have been president of the United States. The Republican party of Illinois offered to make him their candidate for governor of that state on condition that he did not talk about religion during his campaign speeches. He refused, saying that he would not allow anyone to limit his freedom of speech. He was an agnostic, not an atheist. He did more than any man in America to make freedom of thought popular. He made it almost seem respectable. He made the people wake up. He was not too scientific for the ordinary person to understand, and he was so eloquent that those who heard him were convinced against their will.
Thomas Paine fought for political freedom, and for the freedom of the mind as well. He fought in Europe and in America. The Age of Reason, which he wrote, has made more freethinkers than any one book ever published. Anyone who can read that work and still believe the bible must have something the matter with his head. Paine died before Darwin was born. He had not the benefit of modern scientific discoveries. This probably accounts for the fact that he always believed in some sort of a god. He could not, however, accept any sort of revelation, or believe that his god ever had a son.
I have saved for the last, the greatest agitator of all time, Voltaire. He was born in 1694. For a thousand years the church had ruled France. The land belonged to the priests and nobles and the people were serfs upon the land. Louis the Fourteenth, called by his followers the Grand Monarch, had been king for fifty-one years. He lived in a magnificent palace, surrounded by all that wealth could produce. His people dwelt in ignorance, poverty, filth, and superstition. The streets of Paris were never cleaned, and there was no sewer or water system. Even in the great palace, there was no such a thing as a bathtub. Eclipses, comets, and pestilences were driven away by the ringing of church bells; disease was considered a visitation from god which only an impious man would attempt to cure or prevent. This was at the height of what is called the "Golden Age of the Church," in which her rule was unquestioned.
Into this world of superstition, Voltaire was born. His father was devout churchman and business man of no particular consequence. His mother was one of the most remarkable women of her time. His education, we are told, was in the hands of a friend of his mother, the Abbe Chateauneuf, a man who lived off the revenues of the church, and openly flouted his disbelief in its teachings. As Voltaire's godfather, the abbe solemnly promised to "faithfully instruct the child in the principles of religion, and in the laws and usages of the Catholic church." He fulfilled his promise so well that his pupil never had any faith in any religion. He taught him, when only three years old, to repeat for the amusement of his mother's friends, some verses ridiculing Moses. With this teaching, Voltaire's mother was in full accord.
The boy, though frail in body, displayed an astonishing brilliancy of mind. He wrote poems and plays while only a boy. He was only twenty when he was confined in the Bastille for a year, by order of the king. He had ridiculed the king's mistress in a poem. In his early manhood and middle-age, he wrote a great many plays, most of which were successful when produced. In everything he wrote, someone, some class of people, or some established institution was made a target for his ridicule. Voltaire laughed at the court; he laughed at the church, and he made the people laugh at them, too. He always wrote with censorship in mind. He was the greatest master of irony the world has ever known. Practically every play and every prose paragraph, as well as every poem, had a kick or a knock for someone concealed within its lines. I have known modern radicals who were shocked by the powerful thrusts of Voltaire. If he praised a priest, he made him ridiculous forever. If he professed faith in some popular superstition or dogma, he did so in such a manner that everyone else lost his faith. He soon became so obnoxious that the king banished him from the country.
Voltaire lived for a time at the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia. He tried to teach that prince to avoid war and to live in peace with his neighbors. He, himself, despised war, made fun of the soldiers of his own as well as of other kings, ridiculed nationalism -- and supplied the king's army with food at great profit for himself. He needed money, for he was always dodging some government or other. During the last years of his life he lived most of the time at Ferney, in France, close to the Swiss frontier. At times France became uncomfortable for him, and he frequently fled across the frontier town to Geneva, where he maintained another residence, or to a third home, a few miles away, on German soil. The authorities of Geneva once ordered his arrest for the crime of having private theatricals in his own house.
He needed vast sums of money with which to carry on the various propaganda which interested him. He spent tens of thousands of dollars in freeing the family of Jean Calas, and in helping other victims of religious persecution. All his life he waged a campaign for abolishing the torture of convicts. Not until 1780 was torture finally abolished in France. He provided homes for twelve hundred watchmakers exiled from Geneva by the fanaticism of that Protestant community. He fought all forms of slavery. He published and gave away innumerable pamphlets. When nearly sixty years old, at a time when most men would be ready to retire, he started the most serious portion of his life work. He determined to bend all his energies toward the destruction of the church. He constantly referred to it in his letters as "the Monster." In place of "yours truly" at the close of his letters, he invariably wrote, "Ecrasez l'Infame!" -- Crush the Monster. He commenced work upon his "Philosophical Dictionary," every page of which is filled with fact and argument against superstition and the church, and in favor of reason and science. In this, as in his preceding works, he employed most effectively the weapons of irony and ridicule. He lived long enough to see his work produce results.
When Voltaire was eighty-two years old, he returned to Paris. The decree of banishment against him was still in force. He went openly and without fear, making no attempt to secure the king's permission, knowing that the government would not dare to molest him. He went there to produce a play which he had recently completed. The government dared not arrest him, for all Paris looked upon Voltaire as a far greater person than the king. Not only did he produce his play successfully, but at a meeting of the French Academy, at which he and Benjamin Franklin, the great American scientist and pioneer freethinker, were the honored guests, Voltaire induced the academy to undertake the task of compiling the first encyclopedia. A letter was assigned to each member, Voltaire taking the letter "A," because, as he explained, that letter involved the most work. His only regret when he came to die, was that his work was not finished. He desired to live longer, in order that he might have time to deliver a last, powerful blow at religion.
Voltaire died in May, 1778. Although the hero of Paris, and perhaps because of that, the church refused to permit him to be buried. He had died without making his peace with church and god. When a priest forced his way to the bedside of Voltaire, the aged agitator rose up in bed and pushed him away, and told him to "Go." As the church had a monopoly on all the burial grounds in the country, it was necessary for the friends of Voltaire to secretly remove his body to a small town a hundred and ten miles from Paris in order to provide burial. The church controlled death as well as life. The priest who permitted the burial, although ignorant of the identity of the body, was excommunicated.
Eleven years after Voltaire died, the great French Revolution broke out, and the Bastille was destroyed by an angry people. To them the Bastille was a symbol of ages of oppression. It was a special prison in which enemies of the king were confined. At some time or other practically every intellectual man in France had been confined within its walls. Voltaire, as I have said, lived there as a guest of the king for nearly a year. Some prisoners were kept there for so long that they forgot even their own names. All that the Bastille symbolized went down in a few months. On June 1, 1791, Louis the Sixteenth, king in name only, was forced to sign a decree, passed by the new National Assembly, ordering that the remains of Voltaire should be brought in state to Paris, there to rest in the Pantheon. As the procession passed each village, says Victor Hugo, mayors and other officials, and soldiers turned out to march a part of the way. The road, for a hundred and ten miles, was strewn with flowers. Bands played the Marseillaise. The people of France felt that they had gained their liberty, and they gave the credit to Voltaire.
The mayor of Paris, and a large delegation of city officials, and other organized bodies, met the procession at the gates of Paris, and escorted it to the site of the fallen Bastille. Upon the spot on which had stood the tower in which Voltaire had been confined, a pile was erected from the stones of the ruined prison. Upon that crude altar, for a night and a day, rested the body of Voltaire, poet, thinker, philosopher and humanitarian. He was the greatest agitator the world has ever known. More than anyone else he had helped to overthrow the old order of society. The people knew this, and they placed his body in state. Not long after this they cut off the head of their king and threw his body into quicklime.
The kings knew and understood his part in preparing the minds of the people to shake off their shackles. When the Bourbons were restored to the throne of France in 1814, the bones of Voltaire and Rousseau were removed from the Pantheon, by order of the king, dumped into a pit on the outskirts of Paris, and destroyed with quicklime. In this petty, spiteful manner, royalty took revenge on all that was left of the greatest thinker France ever produced. But in spite of kings and priests, the thoughts of Voltaire live on. His power is limited only by the ignorance of the people.
I have not the time, or the strength to tell you today of all the many other people who have battled for freedom of thought. I have not had time to tell you of Rousseau, the French atheist author, or of Victor Hugo, or of Charles Bradlaugh, the man who was five times elected to the British Parliament, and who was four times refused his seat in that body on the ground that he was an atheist. Hundreds of men and women of prominence have given all, or a part of their lives to the struggle to emancipate the human mind. Thousands and tens of thousands of others have fought the same battle, and the world does not even know their names today.
There is one point which I must call your attention to, however, and perhaps it is of more importance than all the rest. Every country which history tells us of, has enjoyed, at some time in its history, a large amount of freedom of thought. Greece had her time of freedom, and so did Rome. Egypt had her age of science, and even Spain once enjoyed a period of intellectual freedom and glory. At the present time, the United States is supposed to be at the height of its scientific age. Now, notice this fact. Every one of those nations which I have mentioned, had their freedom, and they lost it. They lost it because that intellectual freedom, that development of the mind, was a monopoly of a small portion of the peoples of those nations. A small class of the people made themselves intellectually free, while the great mass of the people were steeped in superstition and wallowed in ignorance and fanaticism. In time, in each and every case, the ignorant, stupid, brutal majority triumphed over the intellectuals of their country, and destroyed their science, and their freedom.
In America today, we have a large minority who are intellectually free. We also have a large majority who are ignorant, superstitious and fanatical. In almost every state in America the religious, the fanatical, and the ignorant, are trying by legal force to suppress the teaching of scientific truth, to forbid the teaching of the evolutionary doctrines of science, and to enforce the teaching of religion, mythology, and fairy tales in the schools. Large organizations exist solely to finance the passage of such laws, and other organizations are in existence to compel the religious education of children, and to compel their elders to observe the sabbath in the Christian manner. A campaign to revive religion, and to resurrect mythology is well under way. Millions of dollars have been subscribed toward that end by great capitalists. Several states have passed such laws already. The president of the United States solemnly announces that "No nation can live without god" and the vice-president writes for the papers a statement that he would believe that Jonah swallowed the whale, if he found it in the bible. The forces of superstition are well organized, and they have unlimited money behind them. We have less freedom of thought today than we had a few years ago. In this country, as in Greece, and Rome, and Spain, and Egypt in the past, the fanatical, ignorant, superstitious majority are right now trying to take away from the thinkers of the nation their freedom.
Our only hope is to educate that class of people. We must bring science to the common people. We must bring philosophy to the workers. We must get the sawdust out of their heads and put some sense in its place. If we do not do this, they will forbid us to use our brains at all.