Edmonds’ Contribution to Legal Knowledge Despite Spiritualism

face of a prisoner

Even after he began communicating with spirits in 1851, John W. Edmonds contributed significantly to legal knowledge. In the introduction to a book that he published in 1863, Edmonds observed that persons seeking to know the law of New York had to search for statutes through fifty volumes “with slovenly indexes” and uncover relevant adjudications in two hundred volumes of reported cases. Edmonds condensed the statutes into five topically organized volumes that included references to relevant adjudications. Edmonds described the enormous work involved:

the perusal of some 45,000 pages of Statute law, about one half of which I have gone over eight or ten times, and the examination of some 25,000 reported cases – half of which I have had to examine twice over.^

While leading public authorities regarded his spiritual communication as incredible, absurd, and perhaps a sign of insanity, Edmonds’ compilation of law became the standard authority:

So accurately and systematically was the work performed that it at once superceded the former editions of the Statutes and was adopted as the standard authority. He has since added two supplemental volumes and an index.^

Edmonds had served as a state circuit judge in 1845-47 before he went on to serve on the Supreme Court of New York State in 1847-52 and on the Court of Appeals for New York State in 1852-53. Other than his spiritualist claims, Edmonds was a highly credible legal authority.

Edmonds wrote other important legal reference works in addition to his condensed laws of New York State. In 1868, Edmonds published a 631-page volume reporting selected cases that had come before him as circuit judge, but which heretofore had not been reported or reported only partially. At Edmonds’ death in 1874, a second, unfinished volume of such cases was in progress through the press. This volume, of 493 pages, was published in 1883 along with republication of the first volume.^ Edmonds’ case reports were not merely vanity publications. They contributed to legal knowledge.

Edmonds practiced law successful as a spiritualist. Well after Edmonds became a leading exponent of spiritualism, he continued to work as a name partner at the New York law firm Edmonds, Bushnell, & Hamilton. Edmonds about 1860 provided an important legal opinion concerning the disposition of dividends by the New York Life Insurance Company, a leading insurance provider.^ Edwards spiritualist beliefs were incredible. His outstanding record as a lawyer and jurist was beyond question. In technical matters of law, his spiritualist beliefs seemed to have mattered little.

Leave a comment (will be included in public domain license)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *