National Liberal League

A Rift Develops among Liberalists between Spiritualists on one side and Atheists and Materialists on the Other.

George E. Macdonald, Fifty Years of Freethought: Being the Story of the Truth Seeker, with the Natural History of Its Third Editor (New York: Truth Seeker, 1929), vol. 1, pp. 360-361.

[The divide within Liberalism that is alluded to here, between spiritualists and materialists, persisted throughout the history of spiritualism.  The divide was evident, for example, in the Rutland Reform Convention in 1858, in which Progressive reformers were divided among themselves into Atheists and materialists, such as Ernestine Rose, and spiritualists, such as Andrew Jackson Davis.  By the turn of the twentieth century, the organizational divide was almost complete, with political and social radicals turning more and more to Continental Atheism, Communism, and radical socialism.—JB]


    Messrs. Wakeman and Leland gave notice that they should not be candidates for reelection as president and secretary of the National Liberal League.  The Truth Seeker nominated Samuel P. Putnam. It was also proposed that the League drop divisive issues, like prohibition, and confine itself to the Nine Demands of Liberalism.  The proposition was hotly debated. More than the usual friction could be noticed between Spiritualists and Materialists.  Some of the “hard-headed” ones seemed to exert themselves to make impossible the cooperation heretofore practiced by the two divisions of Liberalism.  The Truth Seeker took no editorial part in that debate.  The Spiritualists were loyal and practical Secularists. After a manner, it seemed to me, they contributed to the cause a feminine element of rare value.  The women who at a Spiritualist gathering were liable to go into a trance and deliver an inspirational address knew how to leave out the spirits when speaking before the Liberal Leagues.  The Truth Seeker carried a full column of meeting notices, about half of which were Spiritualist.  Announcements of deaths were equally impartial.  It was deemed no unusual thing to see a death notice begin “passed to spirit life.”  Twenty-five per cent. of the readers of The Truth Seeker were Spiritualists, and ninety per cent. of the Spiritualists of the country were with Bennett in his fight for free press and mails.

    Other nominations for next president of the National Liberal League included George Chainey, by Putnam, with the endorsement of the Boston Investigator.  No one hastened to demand that the nomination be withdrawn when the news appeared that Chainey had been converted to Spiritualism.  The eighth congress of the League met, September 8 and 9 1884, “on the grounds of the Cassadaga Lake (N.Y.) Free Association, to which it had been invited by the officers of the Association.”

    That is to say, the hosts of the Congress were Spiritualists, and Cassadaga Lake was the Spiritualist camp-meeting ground.  George Chainey had gone early, attended the camp-meeting, and to the surprise of the Liberal world experienced conversion to Spiritualism. Proceeding to a confession, he declared that “the horizon of his mind had previously been bounded by the limits of this mundane life; now his mental vision pierced beyond the grave, and in the abyss of eternity he saw gleaming the star of immortal life.” His speech at the Congress demanded a reply, and a reply, he got from T.B. Wakeman and Charles Watts. These speakers expressed as they would not otherwise have done their unflattering view of Spiritualism in general.  And all this on the grounds the Spiritualists had invited the Freethinkers to occupy.

    I suspect that the other-world people thereupon walked out on the Congress, which then went into executive session.  The Committee on Platform reported a short program inoffensive to Prohibitionists or “modificationists” of the Comstock law.  The Congress proposed to change the name of the organization to the AMERICAN SECULAR UNION, elected Ingersoll president, Putnam secretary, Charles Watts first vice-president, and Courtlandt Palmer treasurer. It raised $1,200 on the spot and voted to put Putnam and Watts into the field at salaries of $1,500 each. (T.S., Sept. 20, 1884.)


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