Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Jones, Thomas B.||Carter, Paul A. (Paul Allen), 1926-2016

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of History


Spiritualism--United States


American Spiritualism is a religious philosophy which teaches that communication between the living and the dead is possible. Spiritualism first gained widespread popularity in the United States in the 1840's beginning with the revelations of the "Poughkeepsie Seer," Andrew Jackson Davis, and the communications of Margaret and Katherine Fox in Rochester, New York. The religious philosophy of Spiritualism evolved and expanded as its members grew and drew extensively on Protestant Christianity, Swedenborgianism, and contemporary adventist, utopian sects. Popular science fads such as phrenology, mesmerism, magnetism, and pathetism also were used in developing both the theory and practice of Spiritualism. Emphasizing the need for social reform in this world, Spiritualism claimed that the keys to developing a harmonious existence of all men could be learned through communications with spirits of the next world. Strains of contemporary reform crusades—temperance, pacifism, women's rights, penology, and educational reforms—were used to build a social philosophy in which a man would be in harmony with nature, God, and his fellow man. Because of its ties to Biblical Christianity, social reform movements, and popular science vogues, Spiritualism grew rapidly during the late 1840's in the East and expanded to the East in the 1850's. Using propagandist periodicals and V.I.P. converts effectively, Spiritualist mediums traversed the backcountry as well as urban areas and were highly successful evangelists. Itinerant mediums usually gave lectures on the essence of the new dispensation and the need for social reform in addition to holding seances in each town they visited. New York Senator Nathaniel P. Tallmadge, New York Appeals Judge J. W. Edmonds, and Horace Greeley were some of the more prominent men who were attracted to the religion, and the triumvirate of S.B. Brittan, William Fishbough, and La Roy Sunderland provided periodical power in The Shekinah, The Spiritual Telegraph, and The Spiritual Philosopher. John Humphrey Noyes, Robert Dale Owen, William Miller, and the Shakers all also contributed either ideas or members to the new religion. By 1854 a loosely organized National Convention of Spiritualists met in New York and adopted a constitution founding the Society for the Dispensation of Spiritualist Truths. The phenomenal growth and popularity of Spiritualism can be attributed to a judicious synthesis of popular science, liberal currents in American Protestantism, and secular reform movements. Spiritualism reflected both the discontent of antebellum Americans concerning social problems and their optimism concerning the possibility of successfully eliminating those ills.


Includes bibliographical references.


87 pages




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