1859 National Spiritualist Convention

    This gathering was mentioned in Henry Childs brief description of the history of the National Organization of Spiritualists (in the 1871 Year-Book of Spiritualism, which gives more details about its officers and its resolutions) as a precursor to later organization.  It was held on August 5-7, 1859 in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Henry Gardner from Boston was President of the Convention; Henry Wright and James Loveland were two of the Vice-Presidents.  The Convention demonstrates that Spiritualists, even at this early stage, believed that Spiritualism was part of a comprehensive, progressive social reform program that tied in with other such reforms as temperance, abolitionism, the amelioration of prison conditions, and womens rights.  The marriage ceremony performed at the Convention also demonstrates how thoroughly Spiritualism identified itself with a critique of traditional marriage and with an advocacy of free love.  The Conventions adoption of a Spiritualist “creed” is ironic in the sense that many of the early leaders of the Spiritualist movement had recently been pushed out of their original denominations when they could not pledge their belief in creeds that the denominations had established to weed out the spiritualist followers of Andrew Jackson Davis et al and the followers of the Higher Criticism of the Bible, such as was exemplified by Unitarian Theodore Parker.  Many spiritualists had argued against any sort of creed altogether, as an infringement of their freedom of conscience.  For a Spiritualist Convention to struggle toward elucidating a creed, therefore, is interesting.

Note the first item, which attempts to define who Spiritualists are.  This is early evidence for a tug-of-war over the use of the word “Spiritualist.”  Evidently, even then, “Spiritualist” suggested someone who had a comprehensive philosophy or higher vision (as opposed to “Materialist,” say), whereas “Spiritist” suggested someone who merely practiced the conjuration of spirits.  The Spiritualists (at least in the United States and in Britain) referred to themselves as “Spiritualists,” even though others might designate them as mere “Spiritists.”

On Tuesday, August 2, immediately preceeding the Convention, the Plymouth Rock Celebration was held in Plymouth, for the purpose of laying the cornerstone of a “National Monument to the Forefathers” to mark the arrival of the pilgrims in this country, drawing to Plymouth “an immense concourse of people.”  The celebration was sponsored by the Pilgrim Society of Plymouth, and the laying of the cornerstone was done by Freemasons in a “grave” Masonic ritual.  The Spiritualists undoubtedly timed their convention to take advantage of the influx of people into the town for the other celebration.  Rather than a creed, therefore, we can imagine that the assembled Spiritualists believed they were formulating a kind of compact, and recapitulating the Pilgrimsestablishment of a “great work brought to them by the wisdom of inspiration” and “by the intervention of a higher than human power,” as Massachusetts Governor Banks described the events of 1620 during the Plymouth Celebration of 1859.

The Creed of the Spiritualists—At a Spiritualists’ Convention held at Plymouth, Friday, said to be a sort of national gathering, the following creed was reported from a Committee, of which Henry C. Wright was a member, and was discussed by the Convention:

 1. We recognize as Spiritualists all who profess to believe in spiritual demonstrations.  We call ourselves Spiritualists, and consider ourselves distinct from those who do not recognize a certain quality of truth, and who may be properly called Spiritists.

 2. What is Spiritualism?  We define the term as the true upbuilding of man’s highest spiritual welfare and destiny.

 3. We believe that Spiritualism should not be confounded with the harmonial philosophy of Andrew Jackson Davis, the deisms of Dr. Hare, nor the individual theories of any other writer, whether prominent among Spiritualists or not; nor even with the teachings of disembodied spirits themselves.

 4. The relations of Spiritualism to specific reform.  Since man’s Spiritual welfare is liable to be retarded by coming in contact with sensual things—we cannot, as earnest and consistent Spiritualists, fail to take an interest in all such objects as the following: 1—Physiological reform, dietetics and tobacco, to the end that our bodies may be made the more fit and useful instruments for the spirits; 2—Educational reform, that the body, mind and spirit may be made individually healthful; 3—Penitentiary reform; 4—The emancipation of woman in order that she may fulfill her mission by becoming the mother of capable offspring; 5—The abolition of slavery; 6—The establishment of universal peace; 7—Theological and ecclesiastical reform, because we believe in universal and human progress; 8—Social reform and the reorganization of the principles of brotherhood; lastly, in every other thing general or specific which commends itself to our judgment as tending to elevate mankind.

 The declaration was accepted, and the subject was then discussed.

The Waukesha (Wisconsin) Freeman, August 16, 1859, p. 2.


A Spiritual Wedding—The “more advanced” Spiritualists have outgrown the necessity of any form of marriage, but in deference to human weakness they think it best to retain something that will answer the purpose.  At the Spiritual convention at Plymouth, last week, a marriage took place, of which the following account is given:—

     “The declaration of sentiments having been got rid of, the next matter in order was the solemnization of marriage between Dr. Nathan C. Lewis and Mrs. Eunice A. Babbitt of Boston.  The lady was dressed in loose flowing robes of white, deeply trimmed in blue, and wore blue satin shoes.  Two little girls, her daughters by a former marriage, were dressed in exactly the same style, and followed her to the platform.  The bridegroom placed himself beside her.  Both had been married before, and are each about 35 years of age.  Mr. Loveland, who was formerly a Methodist minister, though he does not now appreciate the title of ‘reverend,’ addressing the congregation, said:

    ‘Although spiritualists in general do not accept, but are opposed to, the regulations that exist legally in regard to the subjugation of women in the marriage relations, still they do generally, if not universally, admit the propriety of making a public acknowledgment of their relations.’  Then, turning to the interested parties, he said: ‘My brother and sister, I ask you to make no promise, I impose upon you no obligation.  All the obligations you have, you have yourselves assumed in your own spirits.  I know your hearts.  You have already in your spirits consummated the union as far as it could possibly be.  I stand not here to marry you.  This congregation are not witnesses, and are not called upon to be witnesses of your marriage.  But I stand here to affirm legally the fact, and to ask this congregation to join with me in pronouncing a benediction and blessing on the union into which you have entered, which you here acknowledge, and which you here formally before the world complete.  In token, then, of this union, which you have cemented in your souls, and which you now confess before the world, please join your right hands.’  The happy couple complied with the request.  Then Mr. Loveland placed a hand on each of their heads, and blessed them in this form:—‘And now, in behalf of this audience, and in behalf of the attending spirits that are around us and with us, I bless this union; I bless you in their behalf, as you start together on the journey of life.’  This was the whole ceremony.  The bridegroom made a formal bow to the audience.  The bride, who had been quietly fanning herself throughout the performance, dropped a curtsey.  The pair, with their little attendants in white and blue, stepped off the platform, and the audience applauded so long that it seemed as if they wished the last scene encored.  Then Mr. Wright was called upon to say something on the subject of marriage and paternity.  He spoke for a few minutes, and ended by presenting to the couple a copy of one of his works, probably “The Unwelcome Child.”  Shortly afterwards the chairman was made the medium of handing to the bridegroom a bouquet, which he terms a volume of natural theology.  Dr. Lewis accepted the gift and promised to study it.  Thus ended the marriage scene.”

The Waukesha (Wisconsin) Freeman, Tuesday, August 23, 1859.


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