J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Afterlife of John Quincy Adams

There’s a pretty fierce competition for the strangest Revolution-related book that I’ve encountered this year, but one very strong competitor is Twelve Messages from the Spirit of John Quincy Adams, through Joseph D. Stiles, Medium, to Josiah Brigham, prepared for the press by Allen Putnam and published in Boston in 1859, eleven years after Adams’s death.

At the beginning of the book Brigham attested:
The messages contained in this book, coming from the immortal spirit of John Quincy Adams, were written out in manuscripts, at various times, at my house in Quincy, Mass., and at the house of my son-in-law, C. F. Baxter, Boston, during the last four years, through the hand of Joseph D. Stiles, medium, when in an entranced state, and who, at the time of writing them, was unconscious of what was being written.

The whole was written in an almost perfect fac-simile of that peculiar, tremulous handwriting of Mr. Adams in the last years of his earthly life,—a handwriting which probably no man living could, in his natural state of mind, so perfectly imitate, and which is wholly unlike the usual handwriting of the medium.

The writing of these messages in manuscript was commenced in August, 1854, and closed in March, 1857. The medium (in trance] commenced copying and revising them for publication about the first of April following, and finished in June, 1858, making some additions and some omissions.
So what did the spirit of John Quincy Adams have to say? The book explains that he has discovered a “Celestial Telegraph” which works as “a thin line of clarified electricity” extending from a “Spiritual Circle” and lets him visit Earth through various mediums. (Media?)

Other figures from the American Revolution show up in the book, rather like the Florentines whom Dante meets in Hell. None other than John Hancock welcomes Adams to the afterlife. John and Abigail Adams are pleased to see him as well but don’t say anything particularly parental at first—they must have moved beyond earthly concerns.

Then two more spirits appear “in full military costumes, similar to those worn by the soldiers during the Revolutionary War”—none of those white robes. One comes forward and turns out to be…Lafayette! Adams was President when Lafayette made his return tour of America in the 1820s, after all.

Adams gets to meet Christopher Columbus and “Americus Vespucius,” which leads to a long discussion of scientific discoveries, such as spiritualism. For example, “The so-called Salem Witchcraft” turns out to have been “the attempt of spirits to manifest their presences to earth’s children.” Too bad about the people who were hanged and crushed to death.

Back to Revolutionary celebrities: John André, “dressed, not in a flowing robe, but in a British uniform”! Joseph Warren! Patrick Henry! Benedict Arnold!

Benedict Arnold? “Desiring to eradicate, as far as possible, the sins of his mortal career, and to become a useful member of Celestial Society, he earnestly sought the instruction of Higher Minds, and other means necessary to insure happiness and a perfect unfoldmept of his spiritual faculties.” So this book offers hope for everyone.

And the sight of a repentant Arnold leads swiftly to a condemnation of “the Fugitive-Slave Bill” and what it says to people seeking freedom:
No! Massachusetts cannot give
The boon thy soul doth fondly crave;
The poor and panting fugitive
Must on her soil Remain a slave!

Her Bunker Hill, where patriot blood
In freedom’s cause was freely spent,
Cannot a shelter give to thee
Beneath its tow’ring monument!
There’s a lot of anti-slavery rhetoric in this book, and a lot of poetry, too. Which makes perfect sense, since John Quincy Adams did devote a lot of time to both activities.

After some mild adventures, Adams and Lafayette ascend higher, thus reaching the same sphere as “William Penn, Shakspeare, Mary Washington, Augustine Washington, Martha Washington, Hannah More, Felicia Hemans, Jane Grey, Josephine, Elizabeth Frye, John Howard, Peter Whitney.” Followed by “Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, Israel Putnam.”

Then Napoleon, the Duke D’Enghein, Joan of Arc, Peter Melanchthon, William Ellery Channing, Confucius, François de Fenelon, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elias, and, high above the others, Christ. Followed by Mary and Joseph.

But whom haven’t we heard from yet? Finally in the ninth message George Washington appears to speak to Adams—though their conversation gets interrupted by Martin Luther, of all people. Adams rhapsodizes about Washington:
Can any one doubt but that spirits from the immortal world sustained him through all the disheartening trials and almost unendurable sufferings of Valley Forge,—cheered his heart, and those of his desponding soldiers when they were so heroically laboring to release their dear native land from the clutches of a tyrannical potentate and his myrmidons?
Myrmidons including, you know, André.

TOMORROW: But wait, there’s more! We’re only up to Message IX.

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