Alleged Insanity

“The Case of Ira B. Eddy,” Spiritual Telegraph Papers, ed. S. B. Brittan, Vol. 1 (New York: Partridge & Brittan, 1853):437-443.

It seems quite unlikely that Samuel Brittan (since he refers below to unsympathetic newspaper coverage of these events) did not know about the irregularities at the Bank of Chicago, but he nevertheless worked himself into a high dudgeon about Ira Eddy on the dubious assumption that the only reason his relatives committed him to an insane asylum was that he was a Spiritualist, and likely to give his money to other Spiritualists.  To me, Eddy’s delusions are on obvious display in his letter to the Chicago Democrat, also reproduced below.—JB

Last week we published a letter from Chicago, signed by three gentlemen who reside in that city, giving a brief account of a high-handed outrage against the rights of Mr. Ira B. Eddy, one of the most peaceable and orderly citizens of that place.  It appears that the person of Mr. Eddy was suddenly and violently seized without any legal process, by several persons, among whom were Dr. John A. Kinnicott, a Mr. Starr Foot, one Freer, and another man (name not given); and, on the false pretense of his insanity, was tied, gagged, and borne away from his own house, he knew not whither!  No opportunity was given him to speak to a single friend, or to disclose to any one the knowledge of his wrongs.  We are sorry to record the alleged fact that even his wife did not attempt to prevent this ignoble deed, but silently complied with the request of those men in preparing his linen.  Mr. Eddy was taken to the railroad cars, but kept in ignorance of his destination until he arrived at the lunatic asylum in Hartford, Conn.  Dr. Kinnicott was introduced to the Superintendent of the Retreat by a letter—of which he was himself the bearer—from D. C. Eddy (brother of Ira B.), and the Doctor proceeded to introduce his associates “as medical men from the vicinity of Chicago.”*

* These medical gentlemen are said to be “horse-doctors.”

But Mr. Eddy was too much respected, and the injury was of too flagrant a character to pass unnoticed.  As soon as the nature of the case was fairly known, many persons of wealth and intelligence interested themselves in his behalf.  Letters were addressed to us, to Doctors John F. Gray, R. T. Hallock, and others, in this city, and a communication forwarded to A. J. Davis, Hartford, Conn., was signed by the Postmaster of Chicago, the proprietor of the Tremont House, and thirty-six other respectable citizens of that place, many of whom are not Spiritualists.  These all certified to the good character, sound mind, peaceable disposition, and business capacity of Ira B. Eddy.  At the same time, James A. Morrell and Nathan H. Bolles, residents of Chicago, and personal friends of Mr. E., went to Hartford to aid in procuring his release.  Accordingly, on Tuesday, the 19th instant, Mr. Eddy was brought before Judge Phelps on a writ of habeas corpus.  Dr. John S. Butler, of the Insane Retreat, Messrs. Morrell, Bolles, and others were summoned as witnesses.  The examination, the details of which will be found in subsequent pages, resulted in the liberation of Mr. Eddy.

We have a few earnest words to offer before we dismiss this case.  The facts elicited by the legal investigation are substantially as follows: Mr. Ira B. Eddy is an honest and worthy citizen, of sane mind, and “a good business man.”  Mr. Bolles, who has known him for fifteen years, declares under oath that the accused “has always conducted his business shrewdly and rationally.”  The witnesses further testify that Mr. Eddy, by his skillful management, has become the owner of an estate worth, perhaps, $80,000, and that some of his relatives, desiring to possess his property, have attempted to gratify their avarice by insisting that he is insane, and hence not only incompetent to manage his affairs, but unfit to enjoy his freedom.  No effort appears to have been made to introduce him into the lunatic asylum of his own State, where the circumstances of his case were quite likely to become known, but with his hands tied and his mouth stopped, like a condemned felon, he is dragged, by Dr. Kinnicott and a trinity of farriers, all the way to New England.  And these “medical men from the vicinity of Chicago”—self-appointed to protect the citizens of that place, and to restrain one of the most amiable and inoffensive men in the world from some act of violence which he was never expected to commit—pay no sort of respect to his manhood, but treat him with as little civility and tenderness as horse-doctors usually exhibit toward their patients.

But it may be interesting to inquire how Mr. Eddy conducted himself under these trying circumstances.  Did he act like a madman?  No.  On the contrary, he is represented by Dr. Butler as “uniformly quiet,” and “very courteous and gentlemanly in his conduct.”  The other witnesses affirm that he has on all occasions manifested great forbearance toward his enemies, never resenting their injuries in a revengeful spirit, and only desiring the undisputed possession of his most sacred rights.  But his persecutors did act like mad men, or we have no correct idea of what constitutes madness.  Indeed, they can hardly hope to be excused by a righteous public sentiment, unless they can urge the plea of insanity in their own behalf.

But who is chiefly responsible for this daring attempt to rob Mr. Eddy of his freedom as well as his property?  We answer, THE OPPOSITION PRESSES OF THIS COUNTRY COME IN FOR THE LARGEST SHARE OF THAT RESPONSIBILITY, and an honest judgment will assign the next place to a portion of the clergy—those who will have it that every Spiritualist is either insane or possessed of a devil.  The press and the pulpit, unconsciously it may be, labor to excite the vulgar prejudices of the ignorant, and thus unscrupulous men are led to trample on the rights of others.  If public journalists and clergymen had never insisted that the believers in Spiritualism were “monomaniacs,” no man who valued his own freedom would have ventured to participate in such a transaction.  What has Ira B. Eddy ever done to provoke such an attack?  Why, he has openly acknowledged that he believes in Spirits.

“The very head and front of his offending
Hath this extent, no more.”

And for this alone he is spoiled of his goods, and treated like a culprit, while men who talk eloquently of the value of civil and religious liberty, and offer up prayers for a price that the boon may be extended, yet dishonor their professions by a cowardly silence.  It is impossible to disguise the fact that there are great interests and the most sacred obligations involved in this case; and yet not a word of condemnation or reproof emanates from one in ten of the secular or religious journals of this country.  Why is this?  Is their pretended devotion to Republican and Protestant principles a mere pretense?  Let the chief priests and scribes decide, and in their deeds rather than their words shall the answer be recorded.

Notwithstanding the persons interested in Spiritualism, in North America alone, are estimated to number one million already, and although many among them are known to be persons of the most exalted minds and morals, yet scarcely a day passes that does not bring to us a fresh copy of the stereotyped slander that “the Spiritualists are all monomaniacs,” or that they are given over to be deceived by diabolical agents.

Thus the press and the pulpit are mainly responsible for the existence of a perverted public sentiment, which is depended on to countenance such acts of oppression as we are now called to record.  Does any man in his sober senses believe for a moment that Ira B. Eddy would have been disturbed in the first instance, if he had not been a Spiritualist?  We presume to say, No!  All that he has ever done to promote Spiritualism, he might have done to oppose it, and no one would have questioned his sanity.  The case before us discloses the whole philosophy of this species of insanity.  If one is known to be a believer in Spirits, he is declared to be a madman, at a venture, though he may be one of the most peaceable and praiseworthy men in the community; but if, on the contrary, a man is opposed to Spirits, he may even enter the house of a quiet citizen, seize him in a ruthless manner, drag him from beneath his own roof, and among the thousands who propagate and nurse this false public opinion, or worship the unclean thing, not one will suspect that the lawless perpetrator is mad.  And this vitiated public sentiment—this foul monster, begotten of ignorance and prejudice—is the god of half the people in the United States; and the press is prostituted to the unholy purpose of sealing them with the mark of the beast!  It is for this reason that thousands conceal their real sentiments and stifle their deepest convictions.  They find it necessary to devote themselves, at least in appearance, to some form of popularized error, in order to be esteemed as men and honored as saints, while they are assured that devotion to an unpopular truth will render them heretics, and the offspring of Satan.  What is our religious liberty but an empty name or a bitter mockery, if a man must be gagged for it?  Answer, ye who honor liberty with your lips, while, Judas-like, ye betray her cause for money.

But suppose that Mr. Eddy had expended one thousand dollars to advance Spiritualism, that would afford no proof of his alleged insanity.  We do not know that he has appropriated that amount, or any other sum, for such a purpose; but, if he has, who shall question his right?  Any conscientious man, who feels the force of religious obligation, would be quite likely to do the same thing.  Moreover, a man who belongs to any popular sectarian organization may give tens of thousands to disseminate his views, and it is all right.  No one is inclined to suspect that he is either insane or otherwise incapable of managing his affairs.  Indeed, he may give his whole estate to support Foreign Missions, or to publish orthodox tracts, and he will be eulogized by the press and canonized by the Church.  It perhaps never enters the head of any one to suspect that he is insane.  But because Mr. Eddy furnishes the Spiritualists with a hall to meet in, it is straightaway reported that “he is squandering his money,” and his brother is appointed conservator of his estate.  And yet this assumption is unsupported by so much as a shadow of evidence that we are able to perceive.  A man may spend his money for any purpose, except to support a truth that is despised by the sensuous world, and no questions will be asked.  He may squander his means in some ambitious scheme of personal aggrandizement, or to foster the pride and corrupt the morals of his children, and pass for a sane man.  There are many men in this city who occasionally spend a thousand dollars to entertain their friends at a bacchanalian feast, and get drunk themselves besides, and yet no one proposes to appoint conservators.  Some men lose half they are worth by betting on a horse-race or at a roulette table, and never so much as they their sanity called in question.  Nay, but such things are done by men who are rational, as the world goes.  Well, let the world go its own way, and falsely call things by other names than those they merit.  The true soul need not be deceived.  He is a man of stupid mind and half-awakened sense who can not penetrate the loose disguise and read the falsehood.

A closing word to the friends of Spiritualism, and we have done.  Be firm as truth itself, and let no fear of man prompt the humblest disciple to dishonor its claims.  But truth is always calm, and those who worship in her inmost temple are of a serene and tranquil spirit.  Therefore, let no emergency excite the baser passions, or provoke unrighteous resentment.  But be strong, and strike boldly!—not at the Humanity, but at the chains it wears.

S. B. B.

New York Daily Times, February 24, 1853

THE BANK OF CHICAGO—Mr. IRA B. EDDY, late President of this Bank, sends a letter to the Democrat, drawing a parallel between “mind” and “manure.”  He concludes as follows:

I have studied it deeply, and have applied it practically, and have set the wheels in motion in this city, and it has been pronounced “Lunacy.”  Now, why do so, when no one has been harmed and only a little frighted?  Common justice demands that I should be heard, and that I may explain the principles of this, apparently, new matter.  And I would gladly do so to the intelligent men of this city, at any time.

Now, I say that the Spiritual Bank—but called “The Bank of Chicago,” was never started for the purpose of Banking, as is generally understood by that term.  I could not arouse the minds in this city to reason with me, and I then engaged in the Bank to arouse the minds to thought at the proper time, by physical demonstrations upon this community.  I have now accomplished my object, and the mission of the Bank is ended for three days, with a handful of apparently ignorant persons, and without making known to my family or to the clerks of the Bank.  I have lashed this community into a perfect mob commotion—aroused mind to think both by commotion and by physical exchange, as well as bank exchange, by running the people through to the tops of their boot vent.  Not one of my earthly assistants were in the secret.  The work is now done.  The Bank can and will pay every dollar it owes to every honest man; and when this community are done punishing my hired assistants, the redemption shall take place.  The wise men of this city have let me free when I was the only man to punish, and are now persecuting my innocent and employed assistants.  Ye fools, how long will ye be fooled, and not reason as ye ought to reason.  Can a crazy man do what I have done with you?  Reason with me like men, and judge.



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