Freethought of the Day

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There are 2 entries for this date: Graham Wallas and Walt Whitman
Graham Wallas

Graham Wallas

On this date in 1858, political scientist, public official and educator Graham Wallas, the son of a puritanical clergyman, was born in Sunderland, England. He studied at Corpus Christi College at Oxford where he abandoned religion and converted to rationalism. To avoid participating in communion, he resigned in 1885 from his teaching post at Highgate School in London, where he was president of the Rationalist Press Association. In 1886, Wallas joined the Fabian Society, and befriended George Bernard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and co-founded the London School of Economics with them. He was an outspoken critic of the misuse of Darwin's work by the proponents of the then-popular "social Darwinism." He also believed very strongly in representative government, and, in the face of great opposition, said the solution was not to do away with representative government but to increase participation by citizens. Wallas resigned from the Fabians in 1904, over political disagreements. He joined the faculty of the London School of Economics in 1895, and taught there until his retirement in 1923. He served on the London County Council from 1904 to 1907, was a member of the Council's Education Committee from 1908 to 1910, chaired the school of management committee of the London School Board, and in 1914 became a professor of political science at the University of London. Among Wallas's many publications: Property Under Socialism (1889), Human Nature in Politics (1908), a pioneering work on applying psychology to political analysis, The Great Society (1914) and The Art of Thought (1926). Wallas wrote in Human Nature in Politics: "Plato . . . proposed that the loyalty of the subject-classes in his Republic should be secured once for all by religious faith. His rulers were to establish and teach a religion in which they need not believe. They were to tell their people 'one magnificent lie'; a remedy which in its ultimate effect on the character of their rule might have been worse than the disease which it was intended to cure." D. 1932.

“In the same way when we dream we draw absurd inferences by association. Even when men are awake, those parts of their mind to which for the moment they are not giving full attention are apt to draw equally unfounded inferences. People in a state of strong religious emotion sometimes become conscious of a throbbing sound in their ears, due to the increased force of their circulation. An organist, by opening the thirty-two foot pipe, can create the same sensation, and can thereby induce in the congregation a vague and half-conscious belief that they are experiencing religious emotion.”

—Graham Wallas, Human Nature in Politics, "Non-Rational Inference in Politics," 1908

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

On this date in 1819, Walt Whitman was born on Long Island. After working as clerk, teacher, journalist and laborer, Whitman wrote his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, pioneering free verse poetry in a humanistic celebration of humanity, in 1855. Emerson, whom Whitman revered, said of Leaves of Grass that it held "incomparable things incomparably said." During the Civil War, Whitman worked as an army nurse, later writing Drum Taps (1865) and Memoranda During the War (1867). His health compromised by the experience, he was given work at the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. After a stroke in 1873, which left him partially paralyzed, Whitman lived his next 20 years with his brother, writing mainly prose, such as Democratic Vistas (1870). Leaves of Grass was published in nine editions, with Whitman elaborating on it in each successive edition.  In the preface of the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, Whitman wrote, "This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God.” In 1881, the book had the compliment of being banned by the commonwealth of Massachusetts on charges of immorality. Whitman was at most a Deist who scorned religion. D. 1892.

“I think I could turn and live with animals, they're so placid and self contain'd...
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God..."

—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1891 edition

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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