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Robert Ingersoll
by [?]

This love of argument and contention among country people finds vent in lawsuits. Pigs break into a man’s garden and root up the potatoes, and straightway the owner of the potatoes “has the law” on the owner of the pigs. This strife is urged on by kind neighbors who take sides, and by the “setters” at the store, who fire the litigants on to unseemliness. Local attorneys are engaged and the trial takes place at the railroad-station, or in the schoolhouse on Saturday. Everybody has opinions, and overrules the “jedge” next day, or not, as the case may be.

This petty strife may seem absurd to us, but it is all a part of the Spirit of the Hive, as Maeterlinck would say. It is better than dead-level dumbness–better than the subjection of the peasantry of Europe. These pioneers settle their own disputes. It makes them think, and a few at least are getting an education. This is the cradle in which statesmen are rocked.

And so it happened that no one was surprised when, in the year Eighteen Hundred Fifty-three, there was a sign tacked up over a grocery in Shawneetown, Illinois, and the sign read thus: “R. G. & E. C. Ingersoll, Attorneys and Counselors at Law.”

* * * * *

Shawneetown, Illinois, was once the pride and pet of Egypt. It was larger than Chicago, and doubtless it would have become the capital of the State had it been called Shawnee City. But the name was against it, and dry rot set in. And so today Shawneetown has the same number of inhabitants that it had in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-five, and in Shawneetown are various citizens who boast that the place has held its own.

Robert Ingersoll had won a case for a certain steamboat captain, and in gratitude the counsel had been invited by his client to go on an excursion to Peoria, the head of navigation on the Illinois River. The lawyer took the trip, and duly reached Peoria after many hairbreadth ‘scapes on the imminently deadly sandbar. But a week must be spent at Peoria while the boat was reloading for her return trip.

There was a railroad war on in Peoria. The town had one railroad, which some citizens said was enough for any place; others wanted the new railroad.

Whether the new company should be granted certain terminal facilities–that was the question. The route had been surveyed, but the company was forbidden to lay its tracks until the people said “Aye.”

So there the matter rested when Robert Ingersoll was waiting for the stern-wheeler to reload. The captain of the craft had meanwhile circulated reports about the eloquence and legal ability of his star passenger. These reports coming to the ears of the manager of the new railroad, he sought out the visiting lawyer and advised with him.

Railroad Law is a new thing, not quite so new as the Law of the Bicycle, or the Statutes concerning Automobiling, but older than the Legal Precedents of the Aeromotor. Railroad Law is an evolution, and the Railroad Lawyer is a by-product: what Mr. Mantinelli would call a demnition product.

It was a railroad that gave Robert Ingersoll his first fee in Peoria. The man was only twenty-three, but semi-pioneer life makes men early, and Robert Ingersoll stood first in war and first in peace among the legal lights of Shawneetown. His size made amends for his cherubic face, and the insignificant nose was more than balanced by the forceful jaw. The young man was a veritable Greek in form, and his bubbling wit and ready speech on any theme made him a drawing card at the political barbecue.

“Bob” at this time didn’t know much about railroads–there was no railroad in Shawneetown–but he was an expert on barbecues. A barbecue is a gathering where a whole ox is roasted and where there is much hard cider and effervescent eloquence. Bob would speak to the people about the advantages of the new railroad; and the opposition could answer if they wished. Pioneers are always ready for a picnic–they delight in speeches–they dote on argument and wordy warfare. The barbecue was to be across the river on Saturday afternoon.