Robert G. IngersollRobert G. Ingersoll, (1833-1899) American lawyer, Civil War veteran, political leader, orator of United States during the Golden Age of Free Thought, nicknamed "The Great Agnostic"

Robert G. Ingersoll Quote

“Every crime is born of necessity.  If you want less crime, you must change the conditions.  Poverty makes crime.  Want, rags, crusts, misfortune - all these awake the wild beast in man, and finally he takes, and takes contrary to law, and becomes a criminal.  And what do you do with him?  You punish him.  Why not punish a man for having consumption?  The time will come when you will see that that is just as logical.  What do you do with the criminal?  You send him to the penitentiary.  Is he made better?  Worse.  The first thing you do is to try to trample out his manhood, by putting an indignity upon him.  You mark him.  You put him in stripes.  At night you put him in darkness.  His feeling for revenge grows.  You make a wild beast of him, and he comes out of that place branded in body and soul, and then you won't let him reform if he wants to.”

Robert G. IngersollRobert G. Ingersoll
~ Robert G. Ingersoll

A Lay Sermon, 1886

Ratings and Comments

Mike, Norwalk

Though the result of the quote is accurate enough, the foundational premise is incorrect. Poverty does not make crime. I have heard great stories from the great depression on how people helped people and honesty was held sacrosanct. I've told my story here often, when my young family and I didn't have as much as a car to sleep in, no one in my family resorted to criminal activities to fill the necessities.

J. B. Wulff, Bristol, CT

Mike has it exactly correct. Dealing with the necessities of life is the first focus for most people. Left alone, the vast majority if not all, will do their absolute best to survive and keep their family together. The problem begins when some agitator suggests that the problem they have can be blamed on someone else. This is appealing. It is how revolutions begin. It is the very reason that "fair share" is such an evil tactic today. When the people are incited to protest, riot, etc.; society is in trouble. Playing the blame game, as Obama delights in doing, cannot turn out well. Castro in Cuba is a tragedy we all watched. There was great popular support for the overthrow of the dictator Batista. The end result has only made things worse for the people of Cuba. Now we watch to see how the transition of power will take place. After the people fighting for the revolution bring it about by shedding their blood in the streets, some one else shows up and hijacks the revolution for different ends. Russia and Lenin is the classic.

Bill, Holland, PA

Criminals are criminals because they are criminals. Just like Ayn Rand wrote and quoting Aristotle, A is A, Criminals are criminals. They alone are responsible for what they do. Should society be compassionate about criminals? that's not up to society. There is no such thing in existence. There are only individuals. Individuals are compassionate but that a different issue than criminal behaviors.

Medtary, Rochester

Read the whole "A Lay Sermon" by Ingersoll. There is a lot more stupid where this came from. Every crime a necessity? Tell that to a woman who has just been raped or a child that has been molested. Poverty makes crime? Really? If that is the case, the poorest countries in the world would have the highest crime rates, which is obviously not the case. If this guy were alive today he'd be a college professor or in the Obama administration. Someone educated beyond their ability to think.

Stew, Fredericksburg, VA

Poor Bernie Madoff - just had to steal to keep body & soul together.

jim k, Austin, Tx

The first 3 lines of this quote are exactly 180 degrees wrong. As I read further I thought of all the people in jail for doing nothing more than smoking marijuana, a substance far less harmful than tobacco and alcohol. They now have a prison record and will have a near impossible task of finding a job. This stupid war on drugs ruins many more lives than it could ever possibly save. Some day we may have the wisdom to send it the way of alcohol prohibition which lasted from 1920 to 1933. We can at least hope. We can only hope.

Scott Lloyd, Rumford, RI

"Every crime is born of necessity." Balderdash! Crime and criminality is a culture, a lack of the proper moral standards that guide people's actions. If I had no money, I might shop-lift to feed my family, but I would first exhaust every opportunity to sell my labor or forage through trash bins, or take charity before resorting to that behavior.

Mike, Norwalk

Notice, it is only the atheistic socialists that give this quote full stars. It is one of their primary dogmas for justifying rape, pillage, plunder, and advancing a class war.

Val, Lexington, GA

If poverty were the source of crime, there would be no "white collar crime", which is committed by people who are NOT living in poverty. I'm sure you can find case studies featuring individuals who stole out of desperation, but the overwhelming majority of crime born of a lack of morals.

Carol, Georgia

Crime is committed by criminals. Simple enough to understand. I agree with Scott and Val. Desperation to feed one's family would be the only thing that should drive a person to take what does not belong to them (after all other efforts are exhausted) and then only what is needed. The caveat being it must be paid back as soon as personal circumstances allow. Ingersoll would fit right in with our present socialist leaning government. His is the sort of mindset that brought about the present corruption we see in this administration.

dick, fort worth

One of the brightest and best minds of any time.

Anonymous, Bristol


Byron, Fort Collins

That's the excuse the British media makes for rioters and looters in the summer 2011 London riots. Apparently, now, imprisoning burglars is no longer de facto practice in Britain.

Kimo, USA
  • Reply
Kimo, USA    8/19/11

Well, I'm definitely NOT for obammy, but, has the current system worked?? No, it has not. I am a law abiding person, but i do see things are NOT getting better, I'm sorry I'm with Jim from Austin to the tea..The war on drugs is a miserable failure, all it has done is create more jobs, more prisons, and more hate, and further separation.The first 3 lines i differ with, but the rest, well, are obviously the truth.

E Archer, NYC

I am a big fan of Ingersoll, and this quote surprised me. I found the whole essay ( ) written in 1886, and frankly, those giving the thumbs down seem to have missed the point and assumed incorrectly Ingersoll's context. The quote seems to defend the leftist argument, but Ingersoll was NEVER for government dictates to solve the problem of poverty and the resulting 'crime.' "Whenever any man advocates justice, and robbery as the means, I suspect him," says Ingersoll. Ingersoll's focus was upon INDIVIDUAL responsibility to take care of oneself and if there is some surplus, to help others and save for the 'winter of old age.' I think it is also important to consider the times, too, in which this was written.

Waffler, Smith

White collar criminals should be treated just as harshly as the $500 dollar convenience store stick up man.

Kimo, USA
  • Reply
Kimo, USA    8/23/11

Mike, that's because you, and i and many, have morals, yes, i would ASK for food if i were starving, i would have a hard time stealing. many of us have had the fortune, to be raised with morals, and the full knowledge of right and wrong. What scares me about our current society, is a man can be laying on the side of the road, dying, and people just pass by. America, so blessed, now, in trouble, I refuse to give up on it. It WILL return to sanity. The answer for me is simple, WORK, the current admin, does not see, that small buss, IS the backbone of this country. if we continue down the current path, we are sunk. hurry elections. Educating our youth, to think they are "owed" something, will definitely lead to more crime, more trouble. Discipline, hard work, and the satisfaction of earning ones money, there is no greater feeling. Money changes everything. This quote, out of most all i can remember, made me stop, and think hard. To the person who says to me, "it takes a village to raise a child" well, that is a pure socialist communist comment. America is founded on freedom of the individual.

Patrick Henry, Red Hill

Every crime is born of sin, not of necessity.

The inverted order that generally prevails on the planet is an effect or an effect of an effect, not a cause.

E Archer, NYC

"If you want less crime, you must change the conditions."  Does that mean build more prisons?  Gun control?  The old adage is still true: "A hungry man is dangerous."  What are the conditions in the most criminal neighborhoods?  Crime is the business of politicians  without it, they are unnecessary.  The police state thrives on 'crimes' with new crimes invented every day.

Crime is not born of sin, it is the sin.  Are all sins crimes? Are all crimes sin?  And where is the authorization of our government to legislate morality and punish sins?  This is nothing but a religion, then.  'Judge not lest ye be judged.'  Man playing God  the oldest racket in humanity.

E Archer, NYC

Ingersoll's point is even stronger considering the majority of the US prison population is incarcerated for non-violent, victimless 'crimes' like marijuana possession in order to "trample out his manhood, by putting an indignity upon him.  You mark him.  You put him in stripes.  At night you put him in darkness.  His feeling for revenge grows.  You make a wild beast of him, and he comes out of that place branded in body and soul..." 

Urban black neighborhoods know very well "the Man" and is the source of great anger against police and 'authority.'  You can thank the Drug War for the rise of the Nation of Islam and Black Lives Matter.  Prisons are BIG business, and they lobby Congress constantly to keep these 'laws' on the books.  There's your justice for you!

David Lee, Oakland`,tn

One of the stupidest statements I've read but what do you expect from a lawyer.

E Archer, NYC

[Sorry for the multiple posts] When we remember from whence the source of government authority comes, we must acknowledge that the government cannot do what the individual citizen cannot do.  In Nature, each has the 'right' and 'duty' to defend itself from predators.  But what may I do to the thief?  I suppose I could kill him at the moment or give him a good beating.  But do I then have the right to chain him up in the basement for a couple years?  It's neither Christian nor reasonable to assume this works.  And for that very reason, legislation is to be negativist (thou shall not do) rather than positivist (thou shall do) because the power to enslave is not to be used lightly.  While the punishment ought to fit the crime, the avidity to punish is to be kept in check.

jim k, austin

E Archer has caused me to change my view of this quote. I give it 4 stars now and maybe 5.

Ronw13, OR
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Ronw13, OR    7/12/18

"Let us not therefore judge one another anymore: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way." Romans 14:13. With that being said, good conditions create the best outcome. Secured personal property and person, avoid chains of forced servitude and resentment instilled. Economic liberty for the "unprivileged sovereign" afford happiness, though to some might appear poor. A simple life is a good life to some. It is the dupe of corrupt statesmen who would belittle the yoemen farmer or those who seek not to be rich, but to meet their needs of necessity, which needs no extra burden. To ask of people to be sedentary, then jerk the rug or bed out from under their feet, is a gross evil of greed. Socialism is greed that plays both ends of ignorance against the middle. Thinking oneself to be free, when being a slave, is a trap/net/snare for fools 

Ronw13, OR
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    Ronw13, OR    7/12/18

    Archer, thank you very much, for your call to sanity. The high horse of morality without humility is as nothing before the eyes of the poor and needy. Causing resentment for those of "low estate". 

    Ebeneezer, ND

    "Poverty causes crime."


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