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Benjamin Rush (1745-1813) was a colonial physician known as the "Father of American Medicine." He was Founding Father who signed the Declaration of Independence, he served as the Surgeon General of the Continental Army, and he opened the first free medical clinic at the Pennsylvania Hospital, and made significant contributions to the philosophy of the American Enlightenment. Rush rejected the liberal portions of the European Enlightenment movement.
He also founded the Philadelphia Bible Society and was an abolitionist who founded the Society for the Abolition of Slavery. In 1808, he founded the Philadelphia Bible Society and was an abolitionist who founded the Society for the Abolition of Slavery. Rush did not attend the Constitutional Convention, but he and James Wilson encouraged their state of Pennsylvania to quickly ratify the new U.S. Constitution, the second state to do so.
Early life and education
Raised in northeast Philadelphia, Rush's father was a farmer and gunsmith who died when Benjamin was only six years old. His mother supported her family by running a Philadelphia grocery, and homeschooled Benjamin until age eight, when he was enrolled along with his brother in their uncle Samuel Finley's West Nottingham Academy in Rising Sun, Maryland. At age 13 Benjamin was admitted as a junior to what later became Princeton University. He graduated at age 14 as its youngest graduate ever, having already mastered its 5-year curriculum that required fluency in Greek and Latin.
Benjamin Rush, like many of the Founders, served during the Continental Congress. Rush wrote of one time where he let his worries about the war with Britain be openly discussed, where he recalled a conversation with fellow Founder John Adams:
Upon my return from the army to Baltimore in the winter of 1777, I sat next to John Adams in Congress, and upon my whispering to him and asking him if he thought we should succeed in our struggle with Great Britain, he answered me, "Yes - if we fear God and repent of our sins." This anecdote will, I hope, teach my boys that it is not necessary to disbelieve Christianity or to renounce morality in order to arrive at the highest political usefulness or fame.
Yellow Fever Outbreak
Father of American Psychiatry
Benjamin Rush is generally referred to as the Father of American Psychiatry. He started the reform in treating the insane, not as demon-possessed individuals who should be chained and locked in cells, but people who simply had a disease of the brain.
Mistaken view of bloodletting
Unfortunately, Benjamin Rush was an advocate of the mistaken theory of arterial localization of disease, which led to overuse of now-discredited bloodletting, and also calomel (mercurous chloride), to combat the yellow fever epidemics of the 1790s.
Rush Medical College in Chicago received its charter in March 1837, the same year as the city.
- An oration, delivered before the American Philosophical Society: held in Philadelphia on the 27th of February, 1786; containing an enquiry into the influence of physical causes upon the moral faculty
- Medical inquiries and observations
- Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind
- Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical
- A Defense of the Use of the Bible in Schools
- Of the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic
"I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am as perfectly satisfied that the Union of the United States in its form and adoption is as much the work of a Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament".
Rush felt that education must be based on the foundation of religion:
"I proceed ... to inquire what mode of education we shall adopt so as to secure to the state all of the advantages that are to be derived from the proper instruction of the youth; and here I beg leave to remark that the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid on the foundation of religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments. ... But the religion I mean to recommend in this place is that of the New Testament... Its doctrines and precepts are calculated to promote the happiness of society and the safety and well-being of civil government."
Rush believed that Republicanism was rooted in Biblical principles.
"We profess to be republicans, and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government, that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by the means of the Bible. For this Divine Book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and those sober and frugal virtues, which constitute the soul of republicanism."
Physicians like to quote what Dr. Benjamin Rush reportedly said about the Constitution around 1787:
"The Constitution of this Republic should make special provision for medical freedom. To restrict the art of healing to one class will constitute the Bastille of medical science. All such laws are un-American and despotic. ... Unless we put medical freedom into the constitution the time will come when medicine will organize into an undercover dictatorship and force people who wish doctors and treatment of their own choice to submit to only what the dictating outfit offers."
He also believed that abolishing slavery was consistent with Christian principles:
"Domestic slavery is repugnant to the principles of Christianity. It prostrates every benevolent and just principle of action in the human heart. It is rebellion against the authority of a common Father. It is a practical denial of the extent and efficacy of the death of a common Saviour. It is an usurpation of the prerogative of the Great Sovereign of the Universe, who has solemnly claimed an exclusive property in the souls of men.
But if this view of the enormity of the evil of domestic slavery should not affect us, there is one consideration more which ought to alarm and impress us, especially at the present juncture.It is a violation of a divine precept of universal justice which has in no instance escaped with impunity."
- In GOD We Trust: George Washington and the Spiritual Destiny of the United States of America
- Letters of Benjamin Rush: 1761-1792, p. 534
- Benjamin Rush: Patriot and Physician
- American journal of psychiatry, Volume 64
- To Elias Boudinot on July 9, 1788. Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Butterfield, ed., (Princeton, NJ: American Philosophical; Society, 1951), Vol. I, p. 475.
- Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic (1786)
- Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical (Philadelphia: Printed by Thomas and William Bradford, 1806), p. 93-94
- An historical memoir of the Pennsylvania Society: for promoting the abolition of slavery; the relief of free negroes unlawfully held in bondage, and for improving the condition of the African race