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Dispatches from America - August 2009
By:The Reverend John E. Otey, NST CM

July 4th, 2009 was the 233rd Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It is important to bear in mind that this event was heretofore unprecedented in which a colonial possession took up arms and revolted to throw off the yoke of the sovereign. July 4th, the term in common usage to identify the holiday marking this momentous event, serves to diminish the significance of the signing of the declaration. Truly July 4th is America’s Independence Day and not merely the fourth day of July.

Revolution was not the intended or original course of action when the First Continental Congress met in Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia beginning early September of 1774 with the purpose of drafting a list of grievances to be presented to King George III. These grievances became known as the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress and were transmitted to the Crown. George III paid no heed to the correspondence from the restive American colonies and the situation continued to worsen in the American colonies.

A year later in 1775, the Second Continental Congress was convened in May, once again in the city of Philadelphia, following the events of Lexington and Concord and the famous ride of Paul Revere and William Dawes. Revolution was not a foregone conclusion but the possibility of open rebellion against the Crown was discussed.

To prepare for such an eventuality the Second Continental Congress provided for the formation of the Continental Army under the command of General George Washington, of Virginia. This in and of itself could be viewed as a bellicose act against the sovereign so the Congress made one final attempt to reconcile with the Crown by issuing the Olive Branch Petition, a direct appeal to the King. Once again the King refused to receive the petition and in return for such colonial audacity, King George III responded by issuing the Proclamation For Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition issued August 1775. The proclamation found that a state of rebellion existed in the American colonies and the path to insurrection became a certainty.

The Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in June 1776 and soon received Richard Henry Lee’s resolution urging Congress to declare independence. Thomas Jefferson began to draft what was to become the Declaration of Independence on June 12, 1776. Following vigorous debate considering Jefferson’s draft, Congress declared independence on July 2nd and the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4th, 1776.

John Dunlap printed 24 copies of the Declaration, known as the Dunlap Broadsides and these copies were distributed throughout the Thirteen colonies. Delegates returned to Philadelphia on August 2nd, 1776 to begin to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Five years of bloody battle followed until the forces of Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marques Cornwallis, KG were surrounded at Yorktown, Virginia and were compelled to surrender on October 19, 1781.

The Treaty of Paris signed on September 3, 1783 formally ended the Revolutionary War and gained America’s independence.

Many of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence lost life or property during the long struggle for freedom. One such individual, the wealthy Virginia planter, Thomas Nelson, Jr.’s plantation home was occupied by General Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown. Mr. Nelson reportedly encouraged General George Washington to bombard his home to rout Cornwallis. Mr. Nelson’s home was destroyed and he died bankrupt.

America owes a debt of gratitude to the men and women who fought and died during the American revolutionary war to secure our freedom.

America’s constitution was ratified in 1792, nine years after the peace treaty, to replace the Articles of Confederation which served rather poorly as the new nation’s code of law.

Only twenty years after the adoption of its constitution, the new nation of the United States found itself once again fighting for its survival against its old colonial master. The War of 1812 had several causes, among them trade tensions, impressments of US citizens by British naval forces, and British support of armed indigenous peoples in the northwest frontier region that inhibited American expansionism. American troops invaded Canada, and British forces returned the favor by invading America. Of particular note during the three year conflict was the British sacking of the new American capital of Washington, DC. The first Lady, Dolley Madison, reportedly fled the burning White House carrying a portrait of America’s first president.

The birth of Modern Spiritualism was no less revolutionary than the rebellion leading to America’s independence.

It was a spiritual insurrection that declared independence from dogmatic belief and broke the chains of creed.

This revolution of thought began at the unlikeliest of places, a small humble cottage in the rural community of Hydesville, New York. Two young sisters, Kate and Margaretta Fox, were engaged in play with an entity to whom they referred as “Mr. Splitfoot” on the pivotal evening of March 31, 1848. Kate Fox said to the entity, “Mr. Splitfoot, do as I do” and she clapped her hands twice, to which the entity responded with two loud raps that shook the cottage. Not to be outdone, sister Margaretta said to do as she did, and she feigned clapping her hands twice, to which the entity again responded with two loud raps, proving that not only could it hear, but also see, what the little girls were doing.

With the help of their mother, they developed a rudimentary tap code, a spiritual telegraph, which allowed the entity, later to be identified as the spirit of the murdered peddler, Mr. Charles B. Rosna, to give more detailed messages in response to questions.

The following message, with the impact of the Declaration of Independence, issued forth from the spirit, “Dear friends, you must proclaim these truths to the world. This is the dawning of a new era. You must not try to conceal it any longer. When you do your duty, God will protect you and the good spirit will watch over you.”

Word of the Fox Sisters spread like wildfire throughout western New York state and the first public meeting demonstration of Spiritualist phenomena was convened at Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York in November 14, 1849.

Home circles, green shoots of Spiritualist growth, sprung up across America, and then crossed the Atlantic and found fertile soil in Great Britain.

Just as America’s founding fathers experienced hardship and depravation during America’s revolutionary war, the Fox Sisters also experienced their share of toil and treatment that bordered on persecution. They were often treated rudely, sometimes made to disrobe before demonstrating, and always bore the ire of sceptical crowds and felt denominationalist anger. Their maltreatment weighed heavily on them with each battling drink in later life, and both dying penniless like Thomas Nelson, Jr.

Spiritualism did not expire with the Fox Sister’s transition but continued to grow. Upwards of 10,000,000 people practiced Spiritualism around the end of the 19th century.

One could argue that the later part of the 20th century which saw the decline of those who claimed any religious affiliation in general, and total numbers of practicing Spiritualist’s in particular constituted Spiritualism’s equivalent of the War of 1812 in which Spiritualism’s survival was challenged.

Many fear that organised religion or government intervention would be the end of Spiritualism, but the threat comes from within.

The decline in the number of churches and in the number of Spiritualist adherents must be arrested, and the alarming trend reversed. Perhaps there are many causes of this decline; however, regardless of cause a call to action must be issued. We must do all that we can humanly do to instill in our membership the sense of commitment so that they will not only regularly attend our services and functions, but also bring along guests.

We must reach out to the young and find a way to broaden our appeal throughout all sectors of society.

Above all else, we must strive to transform our churches and centres from being just a place where people occasionally go to get a message to the vibrant heart of the spiritual community. Our workers must continually hone their skills, refine their abilities, and seek opportunity for growth and unfoldment. Our ministers, platform and healing mediums must rededicate themselves to become better servants so that we may meet the spiritual needs of our membership and spiritual community.

We must appeal to the disaffected denominationalists who are fleeing organised religion in large numbers and find some way of bringing to them our message of truth and continuous life.

Now is the time for action, and act we must.

Spiritualists owe a debt of gratitude, not only to the Fox Sisters, but also to our early pioneers as well as to our present workers who serve the cause of truth. We owe it to those who have gone before us to grow this important movement as we declare our spiritual independence and proclaim the victory of continuous life over death.