Edmonds’ Empirical Validation of Spiritualism

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Although the eminent nineteenth-century public figure John Edmonds began spiritual communication with his wife, he soon expanded spiritual communication beyond ordinary communication with family and friends. Edmonds studied spiritual communication with all the earnestness of a modern, professional scholar:

To that inquiry I have directed my earnest attention, devoting to the task for over two years all the leisure I could command, and increasing that leisure as far as I could by withdrawing myself from all my former recreations. I have gone from circle to circle, from medium to medium, seeking knowledge on the subject wherever I could attain it, either from books or from observation, and bringing to bear upon it whatever of intelligence I have been gifted with by nature, sharpened and improved by over thirty years’ practice at the bar, in the legislature, and on the bench.^

Professed doctrine on spiritual communion was to Edmonds conflicting and unsatisfying. He sought evidence from primary sources and carefully assembled documentation and references:

It was in January, 1851, that I first began my investigations, and it was not until April, 1853, that I became a firm and unquestioning believer in the reality of spiritual intercourse. During twenty-three months of those twenty-seven, I witnessed several hundred manifestations in various forms. I kept very minute and careful records of many of them. My practice was, whenever I attended a circle, to keep in pencil a memorandum of all that took place, so far as I could, and, as soon as I returned home, to write out a full account of what I had witnessed. I did all this with as much minuteness and particularity as I had ever kept any record of a trial before me in Court. In this way, during that period, I preserved the record of nearly two hundred interviews, running through some 1,600 pages of manuscript.^ (cf. ^)

With skepticism and concern for fraud, Edmonds carefully evaluated experience specifically organized to demonstrate spiritual communion. He began with the Rochester Knockings that the Fox sisters conducted.^ ^ Edmonds soon became engaged in communication with the dead spirits of prominent U.S. public figures: Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Benjamin Franklin, and John C. Calhoun. He also communicated extensively with Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth-century Swedish scientist, philosopher, and mystic. Underscoring his interest in empirical science, Edmonds engaged in spiritual communication with Francis Bacon, an early seventeenth-century philosopher who contributed greatly to the development of empirical science.

Late in 1853, Edmonds, along with his principal co-investigator, George T. Dexter, published Spiritualism. This 505-page book provided a verbatim text of what they claimed to be their communication with eminent public figures. Edmonds was the primary author of this book. The first eighty pages consist of Edmonds’ introduction and his appeal to the public (dated Sept. 1, 1853). Dexter provided a second, nineteen-page introduction. Edmonds edited and wrote out in full all the communications with spirits that made up the rest of the book. This book attracted widespread attention, sold briskly, and went through at least nine printings by 1854.

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