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what is the meaning of "assert their claims to be considered sane" and "reduced to the limits of ruin"?

This has been a long but necessary digression from the account of the early days of American progress. Those early days were marked by great enthusiasm, much success, and also considerable persecution. All the leaders who had anything to lose lost it. Mrs. Hardinge says: Judge Edmonds was pointed at in the streets as a crazy Spiritualist. Wealthy merchants were compelled to assert their claims to be considered sane and maintain their commercial rights by the most firm and determined action. Professional men and tradesmen were reduced to the limits of ruin, and a relentless persecution, originated by the Press and maintained by the pulpit, directed the full flow of its evil tides against the cause and its representatives. Many of the houses where circles were being held were disturbed by crowds who would gather together after nightfall and with yells, cries, whistles and occasional breaking of windows try to molest the quiet investigators in their unholy work of "waking the dead," as one of the papers piously denominated the act of seeking for the "Ministry of Angels."

source:http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0301051h.html _ hos by acd

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...assert their claims to be considered sane...

This book is about spiritualism (and don't we know it - there's been dozens of questions about this book recently). Your quotation says that they were pointed at in the street and called "crazy", evidently because spiritualists behave in a way that appears mentally ill to the majority of onlookers. To assert means to forcefully and strongly claim something. So they had to strongly protest that they were sane, and not mental.

...reduced to the limits of ruin...

"Ruin" usually refers to financial ruin - the loss of one's money and other assets. When a situation has gradations of severity, we sometimes use words like "the edge", "the brink", or "the limit" to show that the absoluteness of it. "The limit of ruin" would be as close to complete financial devastation as one can get.

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  • The edge or the brink is the imminence or the beginning, not the end. – Anton Sherwood Apr 21 at 3:46
  • @AntonSherwood True, but when it comes to this kind of application, it usually IS the end of a period of financial difficulty. Someone might be "on the verge of bankruptcy" for many years, which means they are heading towards it. – Astralbee Apr 21 at 7:59
  • Heading towards something is not, to my understanding, the same thing as having completely suffered it already. — What do you mean by “this kind of application”, in contrast with what? – Anton Sherwood Apr 22 at 3:59
  • @AntonSherwood Have you read the question? It is actually about "the limits of...". If something has a limit, that is its capacity. You can't have more than the limit of something - it stops there. Likewise, the brink or the edge of something is its limit. The "application" is the context, which in the question is "financial ruin". People do suffer during the period leading up to, and after a bad situation. For example, if I said that you were "testing the limits of my patience", it would mean you are annoying me now. – Astralbee Apr 22 at 7:32
  • The brink or the edge of a vessel is its limit as seen from the inside, yes, but the word brink (unlike brim) is rarely if ever used with that viewpoint; rather, it is the edge from which one is in danger of falling into the chasm. The limit of your patience is like the cliff-edge of a plateau; the danger is that I could fall out of your patience, not into it. (Hence you did not say, even hypothetically, that I test the brink of your patience.) – Anton Sherwood Apr 23 at 5:26

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