Petitioning Congress: 1854 Memorial of the Spirit Rappers

Samuel F. B. Morse began petitioning the United States Congress in 1839 to fund a project to demonstrate the practical benefit and use of the electromagnetic telegraph.  Many members were somewhat skeptical of the project’s feasibility.  It seemed to them to involve ethereal, occult forces and to require an impossible “action at a distance.”

In 1843, Congress finally appropriated $30,000 so that Morse could string wires from Baltimore to Washington, with one terminus being in the Congressional chambers.  Nevertheless, in the debate on the bill in the House, some Congressmen’s skepticism about the reality of long-distance communication via electromagnetism was evident in an exchange, as reported in the Congressional Globe, February 21, 1843:

Mr. Cave Johnson [Dem., Tennessee] wished to have a word to say upon the bill.  As the present Congress had done much to encourage science, he did not wish to see the science of mesmerism neglected and overlooked.  He therefore proposed that one half of the appropriation be given to Mr. [Theophilus] Fisk, to enable him to carry on experiments, as well as Professor Morse.

Mr. [George Smith] Houston [Dem., Alabama] thought that Millerism should also be included in the benefits of the appropriation.

Mr. [Edward] Stanly [Whig, North Carolina] said he should have no objection to the appropriation for mesmeric experiments, provided the gentleman from Tennessee [Mr. Cave Johnson] was the subject. [A laugh.]

Mr. Cave Johnson said he should have no objection provided the gentleman from North Carolina [Mr. Stanly] was the operator. [Great laughter.]

Several gentlemen called for the reading of the amendment, and it was read by the Clerk, as follows:—

“Provided, That one half of the said sum shall be appropriated for trying mesmeric experiments under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury.”

Mr. S[amson] Mason [Whig, Ohio] rose to a question of order.  He maintained that the amendment was not bona fide, and that such amendments were calculated to injure the character of the House.  He appealed to the chair to rule the amendment out of order.

The Chairman said it was not for him to judge of the motives of members in offering amendments, and he could not, therefore, undertake to pronounce the amendment not bona fide.  Objections might be raised to it on the ground that it was not sufficiently analogous in character to the bill under consideration, but, in the opinion of the Chair, it would require a scientific analysis to determine how far the magnetism of mesmerism was analogous to that to be employed in telegraphs. [Laughter.] He therefore ruled the amendment in order.

The amendment was rejected, however.  The House voted the funds and so did the Senate.

The first telegraphic trial was held in 1844, and it was a success with its first message—“What hath God wrought?”  Indeed, according to the newspapers of the time, it seemed like He had wrought the “annihilation of time and space.”

After the “spirit rappings” began a few years later, many spiritualists convinced themselves that the invention of the electromagnetic telegraph had been an omen—perhaps engineered by the spirit of Benjamin Franklin via the mind of Samuel Morse—to announce and presage the establishment of an even greater wonder, a “spiritual telegraph” between Heaven and Earth.  They thought of the “ether,” that served as the “medium” of these communications as an invisible, subtle reality that could be investigated scientifically—and harnessed like the electromagnetic force.

Leading spiritualists decided to propose to Congress the investigation of spiritualistic phenomena by a Congressional committee that they hoped would fund a scientific demonstration and perhaps a prototype of a “spiritual telegraph.”  They expected Congressional skepticism at their proposal.  And they found that.  Their petition made its way to Congress along with other petitions, such as one asking for a repeal of the Missouri Compromise.

The petition drive was organized by spiritualist leaders based in New York City.  They would subsequently form the Society for the Diffusion of Spiritual Knowledge.  Notable among them were the publishers and editors of the spiritualist newspaper The Spiritual Telegraph, Charles Partridge and Samuel Byron Brittan.  To obtain signatures for the petition, Brittan and Partridge sent copies of the petition to their newspaper subscribers, asking them to solicit signatures.  Partridge and Brittan also secured the help of ex-Senator Nathaniel P. Tallmadge, who had become an ardent spiritualist, to sponsor the petition and to find one of his former colleagues to introduce the petition into Congress for its consideration.

At the beginning of 1854, they entrusted the petition to Senator James Shields, who introduced it to the attention of the Senate.  As Emma Hardinge explained later, however, the Senate declined to refer it to any committee, but rather voted to table it, without further action, effectively voting to ignore it.

   Notes on the Transcription of the Petition Signatures

  List of Petitioners (this is a large file, almost one and a half Mbytes)

Emma Hardinge, Modern American Spiritualism, 128-133:


“Judas, betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?”
“Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”

    IT was in the year 1854, that a memorial was presented to Congress praying that honorable body to appoint a commission of investigation into the subject of modern Spiritualism.  As the grounds of the petitioners’ request, and a very fair summary of the aspect of the cause, is presented in the language of the memorial, we shall claim the privilege of placing it on record here, as much for the reasons assigned above as for the propriety of giving that document its legitimate place in these pages.  The memorial was signed by fifteen thousand persons, the name of ex-Governor Tallmadge, of Wisconsin, United States Senator, etc., standing at the head of the list.  Rev. S. B. Britain was intrusted with the difficult task of drawing it up, and at the request of Governor Tallmadge, General Shields, U. S. Senator, agreed to present it, with a view of urging the nomination of a select committee to consider the subject.


    “To the honorable, the Members of the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, in Congress assembled:

    “YOUR Memorialists, citizens of the Republic of the United States of America, most respectfully beg leave to represent before your honorable Body, that certain physical and mental phenomena, of questionable origin and mysterious import, have of late occurred in this country, and in almost all parts of Europe, and that the same are now so prevalent, especially in the Northern, Middle, and Western sections of the Union, as to engross a large share of the public attention.  The peculiar nature of the subject to which the Memorialists desire to solicit the attention of your honorable Body, may be inferred from a partial analysis of its phenomenal aspects which are imperfectly comprehended in the following brief generalization:
    “First.  An occult force exhibited in sliding, raising, arresting, holding, suspending, and otherwise disturbing numerous ponderable bodies, apparently in direct opposition to the acknowledged laws of matter, and altogether transcending the accredited powers of the human mind, is manifested to thousands of intelligent and discriminating persons, while the human senses have hitherto failed to detect to the satisfaction of the public, either the primary or proximate causes of these phenomena.
    “Second.  Lights of various forms and colors, and of different degrees of intensity, appear in dark rooms, where no substances exist which are liable to develop chemical action or phosphorescent illumination, and in the absence of all the means and instruments whereby electricity is generated or combustion produced.
    “Third.  Another general class of the phenomena which we desire to bring to the notice of your august Body, is presented in the variety of sounds which are now extremely frequent in their occurrence, widely diversified in their character, and more or less significant in their import.  These consist, in part, of certain mysterious rappings which appear to indicate the presence of an invisible intelligence; sounds such as are occasioned by the prosecution of several mechanical and other occupations, are often heard; there are others which resemble the hoarse voices of the winds and waves, with which, occasionally, harsh, creaking sounds are mingled, similar to those produced by the masts and rigging of a ship while it is laboring in a rough sea.
    “At times powerful concussions occur, not unlike distant thunder or the discharge of artillery, accompanied by an oscillatory movement of surrounding objects, and in some instances by a vibratory or tremulous motion of the floor of the apartment; or it may be, of the whole house wherein the phenomena occur.
    “On other occasions harmonic sounds are heard as of human voices, but more frequently resembling the tones of various musical instruments, among which those of the fife, drum, trumpet, guitar, harp and piano have been mysteriously and successfully represented, both with and without the instruments; and in either case, without any apparent human or other visible agency.
    “These phenomena appear to depend, so far as regards the process of their production, on the acknowledged principles of acoustics.
    “There is obviously a distinction of the sensational medium of the auditory nerves, occasioned by an undulating movement of the air, though by what means these atmospheric undulations are produced does not appear to the satisfaction of acute observers.
    “Fourth.  All the functions of the human body and mind are often and strangely influenced in what appear to be certain abnormal states of the system, and by causes which are neither adequately defined nor understood.  The invisible power frequently interrupts what we are accustomed to denominate the normal operation of the faculties, suspending sensation and the capacity for voluntary motion, checking the circulation of the animal fluids, and reducing the temperature of the limbs and portions of the body to a death-like coldness and rigidity.  Indeed, in some instances respiration is entirely suspended for a season—it may be for hours or days together—after which the faculties of the mind and functions of the body are fully restored.
    “It is, moreover, confidently asserted that these phenomena have been succeeded, in numerous cases, by permanent mental and physical derangement, and it is positively affirmed and believed that many persons who were suffering from organic defects, or from protracted and apparently incurable diseases, have been suddenly relieved or entirely renovated by the same mysterious agency.
    “It may not be improper to observe, in this connection, that two general hypotheses obtain with respect to tle origin of these remarkable phenomena.
    “The one ascribes them to the power and intelligence of departed spirits, operating on and through the subtile and imponderable elements which pervade and permeate all material forms; and this, it should be observed, accords with the ostensible claims and pretensions of the manifestations themselves.
    “Among those who accept this hypothesis will be found a large number of our fellow-citizens who are alike distinguished for their moral worth, intellectual powers and attainments, as well as for their eminent social position and political influence.
    “Others, not less distinguished in all the relations of life, reject this conclusion, and entertain the opinion that the acknowledged principles of physics and metaphysics will enable scientific inquirers to account for all the facts in a rational and satisfactory manner.  While your memorialists cannot agree on this question, but have honestly arrived at widely different conclusions respecting the probable causes of the phenomena herein described, they beg leave, most respectfully, to assure your honorable Body, they nevertheless most cordially concur in the opinion that the alleged phenomena do really occur, and that their mysterious origin, peculiar nature, and important bearing on the interests of mankind demand for them a patient, thorough, and scientific investigation.
    “It cannot reasonably be denied that the various phenomena to which the memorial refers are likely to produce important and lasting results, permanently affecting the physical condition, mental development, and moral character of a large number of the American people.
    “It is obvious that these occult powers do influence the essential principles of health and life, of thought and action, and hence they may be destined to modify the conditions of our being, the faith and philosophy of the age, and the government of the world.
    “Moreover, deeming it to be intrinsically proper, and at the same time strictly compatible with the cardinal objects and essential spirit of our institutions, to address the representatives of the people, concerning any and every subject which may be fairly presumed to involve the discovery of new principles, which must or may issue in momentous consequences to mankind, we, your fellow-citizens, whose names are appended to this memorial, earnestly desire to be heard on this occasion.
    “In pursuance, therefore, of the objects contemplated by the present memorialists, and in view of the facts and reasons herein contained or referred to, your fellow-citizens most respectfully petition your honorable Body for the appointment of a scientific commission to which this subject shall be referred, and for such an appropriation as shall enable the commissioners to prosecute their inquiries to a successful termination.  Believing that the progress of science and the true interests of mankind will be greatly promoted by the proposed investigation, the undersigned venture to indulge the hope that their requests will be approved and sanctioned by the wisdom of your honorable Body.
    “And to this end the petitioners will ever pray.”

    General Shields having cheerfully undertaken to comply with Governor Tallmadge’s request, proceeded to execute his commission in the following speech, which is a verbatim report from the National Intelligencer of Washington, bearing date April, 1854.
    Hon. James Shields said:
    “‘I beg leave to present to the Senate a petition with some fifteen thousand names appended to it upon a very singular and novel subject.
    “‘The petitioners represent that certain physical and mental phenomena of mysterious import have become so prevalent in this country and Europe as to engross a large share of public attention.”
    “[Hardinge excised this portion of Shields’ presentation.  It is replaced here, from the transcription in The Washington Daily Globe, April 17, 1854:
    A partial analysis of these phenomena attest the existence:
    First.  Of an “occult force,” which is exhibited in sliding, raising, arresting, holding, suspending, and otherwise disturbing ponderable bodies, apparently in direct opposition to the acknowledge laws of matter; and transcending the accredited powers of the human mind.
    Secondly.  Lights of various forms and colors, and of different degrees of intensity, appear in dark rooms, where chemical action, or phosphorescent illumination, cannot be developed, and where there are no means of generating electricity, or of producing combustion.
    Thirdly.  A variety of sounds, frequent in occurrence, and diversified in character, and of singular significance and import, consisting of mysterious rappings, indicating the presence of invisible intelligence.  Sounds are often heard like those produced by the prosecution of mechanical operations—like the hoarse murmers of the winds and waves, mingled with the harsh creaking noise of the masts and rigging of a ship laboring in a rough sea.  Concussions also occur, resembling distant thunder, producing oscillatory movements of surrounding objects, and a tremulous motion of the premises upon which these phenomena occur.  Harmonious sounds as of human voices, and other sounds resembling those of the fife, drum, trumpet, &c., have been produced without any visible agency.
    Fourthly.  All the functions of the human body and mind are influenced, in what appear to be certain abnormal states of the system, by causes not yet adequately understood or accounted for.  The “occult force” or invisible power, frequently interrupts the normal operation of the faculties, suspending sensation and voluntary motion, and reducing the temperature of the body to a death-like coldness and rigidity; and diseases hitherto considered incurable have been entirely eradicated by this mysterious agency.
    The petitioners proceed to state that two opinions prevail with respect to the origin of these phenomena.  One ascribes them to the power and intelligence of departed spirits, operating upon the elements which pervade all material forms; the other rejects this conclusion, and contends that all these results may be accounted for in a rational and satisfactory manner.
    The memorialists, while thus disagreeing as to the causes, concur in opinion as to the occurrence of the alleged phenomena, and in view of their origin, nature, and bearing upon the interests of mankind, demand for them a patient, rigid, scientific investigation; and request the appointment of a scientific commission for that purpose.]
    “‘I have now given a faithful synopsis of this petition, which, however unprecedented in itself, has been prepared with singular ability, presenting the subject with great delicacy and moderation.
    “‘I make it a rule to present any petition to the Senate which is respectful in its terms; but having discharged this duty I may be permitted to say that the prevalence of this delusion, at this age of the world, among any considerable portion of our citizens, must originate, in my opinion, in a defective system of education, or in a partial derangement of the mental faculties, produced by a diseased condition of the physical organization.  I cannot, therefore, believe that it exists to the extent indicated in this petition.
    “‘Different ages of the world have had their peculiar delusions.  Alchemy occupied the attention of eminent men for several centuries, but there was something sublime in alchemy.  The philosopher’s stone or the transmutation of metals into gold; the elixir vitæ which would preserve youth and beauty, and prevent old age, decay and death, were blessings which poor humanity ardently desired and which alchemy sought to discover by perseverance and piety.
    “Roger Bacon, one of the greatest alchemists and greatest men of the thirteenth century, while searching for the philosopher’s stone, discovered the telescope, burning-glasses, and gunpowder.
    “‘The prosecution of that delusion, therefore, led to a number of useful discoveries.  In the sixteenth century flourished Cornelius Agrippa, alchemist, astrologer, and magician, one of the greatest professors of hermetic philosophy that ever lived.  He had all the spirits of the air and demons of the earth under his command.
    “‘Paulus Jovius says ‘that the devil, in the shape of a large black dog, attended Agrippa wherever he went.’  Thomas Nash says, ‘at the request of Lord Surrey, Agrippa called up from the grave several of the great philosophers of antiquity, amongst others, Sully, who he caused to re-deliver his celebrated oration for Roscius.’  To please the Emperor Charles the V., he summoned King David and King Solomon from the tomb, and the Emperor conversed with them long upon the science of government.
    “‘This was a glorious exhibition of spiritual power compared with the insignificant manifestations of the present day.  I will pass over the celebrated Paracelsus for the purpose of making allusion to an Englishman, with whose veracious history every one ought to make himself acquainted.
    “‘In the sixteenth century, Dr. Dee made such progress in the ‘Talmudic Mysteries,’ that he acquired ample power to hold familiar converse with the spirits and angels, and to learn from them all the secrets of the universe.  On one occasion the angel Uriel gave him a black crystal of a convex form, which he had only to gaze on intently, and by a strong effort of will, he could summon any spirit he wished, to reveal to him the secrets of futurity.
    “‘Dee, in his veracious Diary, says, that one day while he was sitting with Albertus Laskin, a Polish nobleman, ‘there seemed to come out of the oratory a spiritual creature like a pretty girl of seven or nine years old, attired on her head, with her hair rolled up before, and hanging down behind; with a gown of silk of changeable red and green, and with a train.  She seemed to play up and down, and seemed to go in and out of the books, and as she went, the books displaced themselves and made way for her.’
    “‘This I call spiritual manifestation of the most interesting and fascinating kind.  Even the very books felt the fascinating influence of this ‘spiritual creature,’ for ‘they displaced themselves and made way for her.’
    “‘Edward Kelly, an Irishman, who was present, and who witnessed this beautiful apparition, verifies the Doctor’s statement; therefore it would be unreasonable to doubt a story of which the witness was an Irishman.  (Laughter).  Doctor Dee was the distinguished favorite of kings and queens—a proof that spiritual science was held in high repute in the good old days of Queen Elizabeth.
    “‘But of all the professors of occult science, hermetic philosophy, or spiritualism, the Rosicrucians were the most exalted and refined.  With them the possession of the philosopher’s stone was to be the means of health and happiness; an instrument by which man could command the services of superior beings, control the elements, defy the obstructions of time and space, and acquire the most intimate knowledge of all the secrets of the universe.  These were objects worth struggling for.  The refined Rosicrucians were utterly disgusted with the coarse, gross sensual spirits who had been in communion with man previous to their day, so they decreed the annihilation of them all, and substituted in their stead a race of mild, beautiful, and beneficent beings.  The spirits of the olden time were a malignant and mischievous race, and took especial delight in doing mischief; but the new generation is mild and benignant.
    “These spirits, as this petition attests, indulge in the most innocent amusements and harmless recreations, such as sliding, raising, and ‘tipping’ tables, producing pleasant sounds and variegated lights, and sometimes curing diseases which were previously considered incurable; and, for the existence of this simple and benignant race, our petitioners are indebted to the brethern of the ‘Rosie Cross.’
    “‘Among the modern professors of spiritualism, Cagliostro was the most justly celebrated.  In Paris his saloons were thronged with the rich and noble.  To old ladies he sold immortality, to young ones he sold beauty that would endure for centuries; and his charming countess gained immense wealth by granting attendant ‘sylphs’ to such ladies as were rich enough to pay for their services.
    “‘The ‘Biographie des contemporains,’ a work which our present mediums ought to consult with care, says, ‘there was hardly a fine lady in Paris who would not sup with the shade of Lucretius in the apartments of Cagliostro.  There was not a military officer who would not discuss the art of war with Alexander, Hannibal, or Cæsar, nor an advocate or counsellor who would not argue legal points with the ghost of Cicero.”’
    “‘These were spiritual manifestations worth paying for, and all our present degenerate mediums would have to hide their diminished heads in the presence of Cagliostro.
    “‘It would be a curious inquiry to follow this ‘occult science’ through all its phases of mineral magnetism, animal magnetism, mesmerism, etc., until we reach the present latest and lowest phase of all, ‘spiritual manifestation’; but I have said enough to show the truth of Burke’s beautiful aphorism, ‘The credulity of dupes is as inexhaustible as the invention of knaves.’

    “This speech was received with considerable attention, but was frequently interrupted by laughter.

    “Mr. [John B.] Weller [Dem., California]—What does the Senator propose to do with the petition?
    “Mr. [John] Pettit [Dem., Indiana]—Let it be referred to the three thousand clergymen. (Laughter.)
    “Mr. [James] Shields [Dem., Illinois]—I present the petition.
    “Mr. [Charles] Sumner [Free Soil, Massachusetts]—To what committee is it to be referred?
    “Mr. Weller—I suggest that it be referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.  (Laughter.)
    “Mr. Shields—I am willing to agree to the reference.
    “Mr. Weller—It may be that we may have to enter into diplomatic relations with these spirits.  (Laughter.)  If so, it is a proper subject for the consideration of that committee.  It may be necessary to ascertain whether or not Americans, when they leave this world, lose their citizenship.  It may be expedient that all these grave questions should be considered by the Committee on Foreign Relations, of which I am an humble member.  I move its reference to that committee.
    “Mr. [James Murray] Mason [Dem., Virginia]—I really think it has been made manifest by the honorable Senator who has presented the petition, that he has gone further into the subject than any of us, and that his capacity to elucidate it, is greater than that of any other Senator.  I would, therefore, suggest that to him it should either go to a select committee on his motion, or be referred to the Committee on Military Affairs, of which he is chairman.  Certainly the Committee on Foreign Relations has nothing to do with it.  Perhaps it would be better to allow the petition to lie on the table.
    “Mr. Shields—This is an important subject, and should not be sneered away in this manner.  (Loud laughter.)  I was willing to agree to the motion of the Senator from California, but I do not wish the petition to go to the Committee on Foreign Relations unless the chairman of that committee is perfectly satisfied that he can do the subject justice.  (Laughter.)
    “I had thought of proposing to refer the matter to the Committee on the Post Offices and Post Roads, because there may be a possibility of establishing a spiritual telegraph between the material and the spiritual world.  (Laughter.)
    “Mr. Mason—I move that the petition lie upon the table.
    “Mr. Shields—I am willing to allow it to lie on the table for the present.
    “The motion was agreed to; and the petition was ordered to lie on the table.”

    It is almost unnecessary to state that the conduct of General Shields, in following up the memorial which he had undertaken to present by a speech which was calculated to destroy every vestige of interest or importance contained in that document, excited the just indignation of the memorialists, and called forth a scathing protest from Governor Tallmadge.  To this General Shields replied by a few lines of defence on the strictly Congressional character of his proceedings.  Courtesy, honor, sincerity, a love of science or respect for religion, making no part in his conduct on the occasion, of course found no place in his defence; he had acted within the rules and privileges of the Senate, and so the matter terminated.  The memorial was, as ordered, “laid upon the table;” but according to the law in such cases provided, it is still preserved in the national archives, where it remains as an evidence that in those days there were at least fifteen thousand persons in the land who were better informed on the philosophy of mental science and the high interests of immortality than their elected representatives.

Advertisement in The Washington Daily Globe, March 21-23, 1854:


A LECTURE on “SPIRITUALISM” will be delivered at Carusi’s Saloon, on Thursday and Saturday evenings, March 34 and 25, at 7 ½ o’clock, by Professor BRITTAN, of New York.  The high character of Professor Brittan as a scholar and lecturer, as well as the intrinsic merits of the subject, cannot fail to command the attention of all who felt an interest in knowing something of the most extraordinary phenomena of the present or of any preceding age.  Admission, 25 cents, to cover expenses of the hall, &c.  Tickets to be had at the door.

N[athaniel] P. TALLMADGE,
J[oshua] R. GIDDINGS,
C[ranston] LAURIE,

The New-York Daily Times, Wednesday, April 19, 1854:

Senatorial Spirit-rappings.

     Some rascal, of a waggish turn, sent to General Shields, a few days since, a memorial purporting to be from fifteen thousand believers in Spiritual Manifestations, and gravely asking the Senate to devote their entire energies to a “patient, rigid, scientific investigation of the phenomena.”  It was presented by the General on Monday last, and on the first announcement of what he had done, in the First Evening Edition of the Daily Times, we were—and his forgiveness is requested for its unkindness—we were of the opinion that the generally shrewd General had been hoaxed.  But a perusal of his elaborate speech on the subject afforded satisfactory evidence that he had only seized the opportunity presented in the petition, for the purpose of confounding his fellows by a display of extraordinary familiarity with the peculiar delusions of different ages of the world.  He was successful.  He made his speech; Senators did nothing but listen to it for an entire day, which must be viewed as an unusual courtesy; and he had the pleasure of seeing it in the Association newspapers, with the names of Cornelius Agrippa and Paulus Jovious, King David and King Solomon, and a host of others of various reputations, all printed in what the printers call “small caps,” to obtain which they are obliged to extend their nimble fingers to the topmost bound of their cases.  Surely Senator Shields is satisfied.  That was glory enough for one Senator to obtain in a single day.
     A modest display of historical learning is excusable on almost any occasion—the above, however, was an exception: and the honest reader will doubtless be at some loss to divine how it happened that while matters of the utmost importance are awaiting the action of Congress, Senators were willing to while away so much time in listening to a speech upon a subject on which they had not the least intention of acting, and which, if “the believers” are to be credited, is beyond their control.  We are unable to give a favorable explanation.  It certainly is not the credit of the Senator that such a matter could, at such a time and place, be foisted upon their attention.  It was probably the reputed fondness of gentlemen residing in Washington for spirits, that induced the presentation of the petition, and perhaps led its author to hope for an investigation; but the subject is too ethereal, and if the believers desire the undivided attention of the powers, they must present spirits with more body in them.  The Misses Fox may be able to “call spirits from the vasty deep” by some mysterious agency, but that is of no particular interest to Congressmen, for a majority of them see tumbler after tumbler come forth every night of their session by a simple up-and-down motion of the handle of a beer-pump.  They have a reverence for ancient usages, relating to the manner of obtaining the presence of spirits at their tables, which the most ardent of “the believers” cannot shake.  If the believers, through their mediums, could only induce them to feel half the reverence for national compacts, some good would follow, and a multitude of citizens would ever after look kindly upon what they now esteem the most ridiculous of all delusions.

The New-York Times, Thursday, April 20, 1854:

Letter from Ex-Senator Tallmadge.
From the Nat. Intelligencer of April 19.

    Messrs. Gales & Seaton:  My attention has been attracted to the proceedings of the Senate, published in the Intelligencer of this morning, on the presentation of a memorial by General Shields, signed by myself and thirteen thousand citizens of the United States, on the subject of “spiritual manifestations.”  The memorialists ask Congress to appoint a scientific commission to investigate these extraordinary phenomena.  General Shields has given a very good synopsis of the memorial, and had he stopped there, I should not have felt myself called upon for any remarks.  But, contrary to my expectations, the General has attempted to ridicule a subject which appealed to his better judgment, and which, according to my understanding, was to receive very different treatment at his hands.
     When I first spoke to Gen. Shields about presenting this memorial to the Senate he treated it with great courtesy, and expressed his willingness to move its reference to a Select Committee.  Without expressing any opinion in favor of the spiritual theory, he agreed with me that, whether spiritual or philosophical, it was worthy of investigation.  After this understanding.  I confess my surprise that he should have treated it as he did; that instead of an investigation by a Select Committee, of which, by parliamentary usage, he would have been Chairman, and where those who have investigated the subject could have been heard, he should have given in advance a rehash of what has so often been said before by the opponents of spiritualism!  My habitual respect for the honorable body of which he is a member will cause me to forgo any remarks upon the attempted criticisms of himself and others on this occasion.
     The General is pleased to characterize these manifestations as a “delusion.”  Now, I do not pretend to any extraordinary power to understand a subject more than other men whose position in life would indicate a talent, equal, if not superior, to my own.  Still I do pretend, that when I have investigated a subject which I have arrived, and I cannot consent to surrender my reason and the evidence of my own senses to their instincts.  I have made it a rule of my life never to write or speak on a subject about which I knew nothing.  That rule has saved me from much awkwardness and embarrassment, as it would also save others, were it adopted by them.
     But if it be a “delusion,” then the greater necessity of investigating it and showing it to be such.  I have as great an interest in ascertaining that fact as any other man.  If it be “spiritual,” there is much less necessity for its investigation, because its march will be onward, and no human power can resist it.  Do away with the “delusion,” if it be one, and you do away the insanity which it is sometimes alleged is consequent upon it; and although the honorable gentleman’s bill granting lands for insane asylums would still be necessary for the vast numbers rendered such by religious excitement, still they would have fewer inmates by reason of the humane principle adopted by this investigation, namely, of preventing instead of curing or palliating the disease.
     I hope, therefore, that the “lame and impotent conclusion” to which the Senate arrived of laying the memorial on the table may be reconsidered, and that it may receive that consideration which its importance demands.

Respectfully, yours,
Washington, April 18, 1854.

Eliab Wilkinson Capron, Modern Spiritualism, Its Facts and Fanaticisms, Its Consistencies and Contradictions (Boston: Bela Marsh, 1855), 375:

    It is not probable that any of the Memorialists expected more favorable treatment than they received.  The carpenters and fishermen of this world are the ones to investigate new truths, and make Senates and Crowns believe and respect them.  It is in vain to look for the reception or respect of new truths by men in high places.


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