On September 25, 1889, during his only return trip to the county of his birth, Robert Green Ingersoll gave a free lecture to a crowd of eight thousand persons at the Yates County Fair. Much of his oration's content was drawn from his 1877 speech "About Farming in Illinois," an apt choice for the rural audience. In an unusual turn toward religious imagery, he declared: "To plow is to pray, to plant is to prophesy, and the harvest answers and fulfills." But Ingersoll was not above engaging in some local puffery: "I want to congratulate myself that I was born in Yates County, the most beautiful spot in New York State, although I went away from here nearly fifty-six years ago. Since that time I have seen much of the world. I have been in many places and seen many people. As I come back again I will congratulate myself that I was born in such a splendid, lovely county."
He also made more substantive remarks while remaining in a jovial, celebratory register: "Let us congratulate each other again that we are citizens of such a great republic. I want to hasten the day when liberty will preside throughout the earth, when labor will be adequately rewarded, when there will be no more slavery, no more suffering, no more criminals, no more penitentiaries, nothing but happiness. The only thing in the world worth living for is happiness. I want to see the day when liberty, fraternity, and equality, like the rings of Saturn, shall encompass and surround this world of ours."
A local newspaper covered the event in ecstatic terms: "There is nothing that can compare with the original and the magnetic presence, voice, manner, and indescribable humor of the incomparable Ingersoll himself. He is a marvel of natural gifts, talents, and graces, and whatsoever his religious views and opinions may be, there are but few better men today on the face of our little planetary world."
Thanks to Richard MacAlpine for research assistance.