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Rush, benjamin - History

Rush, benjamin - History

Rush, Benjamin (1745-1813) Physician and Social Reformer: Benjamin Rush was born in Byberry Township, Pennsylvania, in December 24, 1745. His father died when young Rush was six years old. After graduating from the College of New Jersey (later called Princeton), Rush went to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland to continue his medical studies. Attending medical lectures in England, as well as France, where he met and befriended Benjamin Franklin, who helped him pay for his expenses. Rush returned to the United States in 1769, settling in Philadelphia and obtaining a position teaching chemistry in Philadelphia's Medical College. As the movement toward revolution began, Rush became a strong patriot. In addition, he published essays on slavery, temperance and health in 1771. A signer of the Declaration of Independence, he was appointed Physician-General, helping tend the wounded in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine and other battles. During the war, Rush wrote public letters against the Articles of Confederation. In 1778, Rush resigned from his military office because of the unfairness of the manner in which hospital stores were used for soldiers, as well as the ill feeling that had developed between himself and General George Washington. Returning to Philadelphia, Rush set up a medical practice, and resumed his duties as professor. For 29 years, he was surgeon to the Pennsylvania hospital, and served as port physician to Philadelphia from 1790 to 1793. Founder of Dickinson College and the Philadelphia Dispensary, he was a major proponent of public education, about which he wrote extensively. In 1787, he served on the Pennsylvania Convention which ratified the US Constitution, and was involved in the creation of the Pennsylvania Constitution, as well. In 1793, Philadelphia was struck by a severe epidemic of yellow fever. Rush was one of the few doctors who chose to remain in the city to help tend the sick. Due to his request, many African Americans also remained in the city to help the sick, some at the cost of their lives. From 1799 to the end of his life, Rush was the treasurer of the US Mint. In addition, he served as president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery; president of the Philadelphia Medical Society; vice-president and co-founder of the Philadelphia Bible Society; and vice-president of the American Philosophical Society. A renown lecturer in medicine, Rush made Philadelphia a center for medical studies in the United States. In addition to his many writings on philosophy, education, politics, and other social issues; he wrote extensively on medical topics. Rush died on April 19, 1813, in Philadelphia.


Rush was born the fourth child of seven. He lost his father, John, when he was five but was fortunate in having a sturdy, emotionally and religiously steadfast mother (Susanna Hall Harvey), who opened a grocery store to support her children. At the age of eight Rush was sent to the school conducted by his uncle, Rev. Samuel Finley, and there came under the sway of the “Great Awakening” sweeping the colonies. His religious views were extended and polished under President Samuel Davies at the Presbyterian College of New Jersey (later Princeton), where he received the bachelor’s degree in 1760. He remained devout throughout his life, viewing the world as a great unity, so constructed by a benevolent God that everything was comprehensible, meaningful, and existing for a purpose.

Under Davies’ influence Rush contemplated the law as a career but decided instead in favor of medicine. He apprenticed himself to Dr. John Redman in Philadelphia for the next five years and during that time also took courses at the newly founded College of Philadelphia. He was exposed to some chemistry in the lectures on materia medica by John Morgan, who encouraged him to continue his medical education at Edinburgh, with the prospect of an appointment to the chair of chemistry on his return.

Enrolling in the medical program at the University of Edinburgh late in 1766, Rush furthered his chemical career by attending the lectures of Joseph Black for two consecutive years. In preparing his doctoral dissertation Rush applied his chemical bent to a study of the digestive processes in the human stomach. After vigorous self-experimentation that included induced vomiting of special meals, he decided that the acidity of the stomach contents was caused by fermentation. Rush erred in his conclusion and realized it only in 1804, when faced with the new experimental evidence produced by his student John R. Young.

After his graduation Rush toured factories in England, investigating their use of chemical reactions, and visited leading French chemists: Baumé, Macquer, and Augustin Roux. On his return to America, he was appointed professor of chemistry on 1 August 1769 at the College of Philadelphia (today the University of Pennsylvania Medical College). The following year he issued the nowscarce Syllabus of a Course of Lectures on Chemistry. With the lectures presented in a medical context, it is not surprising that he devoted a quarter of this slim volume to pharmaceutical chemistry.

The appointment of Rush ushered in the formal beginnings of chemistry in America. Rush was pleased to accept this responsibility, not only for the increase in professional stature but also for the satisfaction he derived from following in the footsteps of two leaders of eighteenth-century medicine who also had been professors of chemistry: Herman Boerhaave of Leiden and William Cullen. He was determined that chemistry should be useful to the larger community, and therefore offered a course to the educated public in 1775 and to the students of the Young Ladies Academy of Philadelphia in 1787. In his teaching Rush closely followed the outlines of Joseph Black’s course but, unfortunately, did not follow his teacher’s penchant for experimental demonstrations.

Experimentation in general was not Rush’s forte he employed his chemical training only to expose the true nature of a quack cancer cure and to study the chemical composition and therapeutic effectiveness of various local mineral waters. He did use his knowledge to good avail during the Revolution, when he served on a governmental committee promoting the local manufacture of gunpowder at that time his instructions for the manufacture of saltpeter were widely reprinted.

Rush’s teaching of chemistry ended in October 1789, when his early mentor, John Morgan, died and Rush took over his position as professor of the theory and practice of medicine. Rush never lost interest in the selection of his successors, all of whom were his students: Caspar Wistar (1789–1791), James Hutchinson (1791–1793), James Woodhouse (1795–1809), and John Redman Coxe (1809–1818). Another student whom Rush encouraged was John Penington, who organized the first chemical society in the United States in 1789.

Rush began his practice of medicine in 1769. At first largely among the poor, it gradually grew to include a wide spectrum of society. Rush had been trained by Redman to honor the clinical observations and insights of Sydenham and to accept Boerhaave’s theoretical system but at Edinburgh he enthusiastically shifted his allegiance to Cullen’s theory. With his professorship of 1789 he again began to modify his theoretical focus, and a collegiate reorganization that made him professor of the institutes of medicine (physiology) and clinical practice in late 1791 forced further reconsideration of his views of basic physiological processes. Developed in his teaching during these academic years and in his medical experiences with the yellow fever epidemic of 1793, his ideas were fixed by 1795. Whereas Cullen had made the nervous system (its overenergetic or underenergetic reactions) the center of his theory, Rush narrowed his focus to the responsiveness of the arterial system. Using fever as his paradigm, he said that a state of motion (or what he called the convulsive or irregular action) in the arteries was the sole cause of disease. Since the majority of illnesses appeared to him to arise from increased tension, he logically but overenthusiastically applied bleeding and other depleting remedies to his patients. History has roundly but often excessively condemned him for the vigor of this treatment.

As a physician Rush also must be seen as a successful and popular teacher of some 3,000 students during the forty-four years of his career. Many did not accept his theories, and the doctoral dissertations written under Rush in his later years leave a clear impression that his pupils had outstripped him in their ability to appreciate the growing experimentation in the medical sciences. More important, however, he inspired them remained their medical consultant for life and taught them to be observant, dedicated to their patients, and aware of the nuances of the doctor-patient relationship.

Rush’s restless mind explored many spheres: theory and practice, medical jurisprudence, the physiology of balloon ascents, transcultural and especially Indian medicine, geriatrics, dentistry, veterinary medicine. Although active in many areas, he was concerned primarily with medicine and became widely recognized as the leading physician in the United States.

In 1787 Rush was placed in charge of the insane at the Pennsylvania Hospital. Psychiatric reform was accelerating throughout the Western world and Rush was in step with such leaders as Vincenzo Chiarugi of Italy, Philippe Pinel of France and the Tuke family of Great Britain. Recognizing the need to see man as a whole, with body and mind “intimately united,” Rush was deliberately unorthodox in devoting a large part of his physiological lectures to a discussion of the operations and functions of the mind. As he passed from his physical theories to psychology, he developed a complex body of theory based on a mixture of associationism and faculty psychology. Rush’s practice and teaching of psychiatry culminated in the publication of Medical Inquiries and Observations Upon the Diseases of the Mind (1812), the first book on psychiatry by a native American. In this work he discussed, among many other topics, “moral derangements,” a concept that had concerned him as early as 1786, when he published An Enquiry Into the Influences of Physical Causes Upon the Moral Faculty. He realized that not only intellect but also behavior and the emotions can be disturbed, and his attempts at understanding these phenomena represent his most creative contribution to psychiatric thought.

A man of the Enlightenment, Rush evinced the best qualities of the age–humanism, optimism, and a fervent belief in the progress of knowledge. These traits were visible in his political reform activities: he signed the Declaration of Independence and fought for the federal constitution. He helped found Dickinson College, supported greater education for women, and called for a network of colleges culminating in a national university. He opposed slavery and capital punishment, supported temperance and penal reform. As a proselytizer and inspirational teacher Rush had a great impact on the American scientific scene. But for all his confidence in the clarity of his observations, Rush’s usual mode of validating his hypotheses was through analogy and he never came to appreciate the experimental method for its true worth. As a medical theorist he belonged ’much more to the eighteenth-century system builders. For the field of science his importance lies, as Lyman Butterfield has so aptly said, in his role as “an evangelist of science.”

'Rush': The Other Founding Father From Philadelphia Named Benjamin

Benjamin Rush, the medical doctor and Founding Father, took after the Renaissance-man civic participation of his mentor, Benjamin Franklin.

Charles Willson Peale/Courtesy of Crown

He is the lesser-known Founding Father from Philadelphia named Benjamin — the one whose face does not grace the $100 bill.

Benjamin Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was also a doctor — arguably the most famous doctor in America — who became known as the American Hippocrates. During the Revolutionary War, Rush was alongside Gen. George Washington when he crossed the Delaware he treated battlefield casualties behind enemy lines and later, became a pioneer in the field of mental health.

He was also a bold abolitionist, an advocate for public education — for women's education, in particular — and a prolific writer.

Stephen Fried tells the story of the man who became "a footnoted founder, a second-tier signer" in his new biography Rush: Revolution, Madness & the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father.

Interview Highlights

On how Rush's medical training shaped his later political views

Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father

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Rush was a blacksmith's son he did not have a lot of money. So he was the young star of that era, and tried to make a living as a doctor, which was hard. The good thing about him trying to make a living as a doctor is he had to treat poor patients — he had to treat patients of all races. So it's not surprising that he became the Founding Father most interested in diversity issues, because he was astonished at racial prejudice he was astonished at religious prejudice. And so he really paid attention to these things pretty early on, writing a paper that was not only against slavery, but he specifically talked about being against prejudice.

On how Rush's work in Pennsylvania Hospital, the first hospital in the country, shaped his views on mental illness

It was one of the first places that people with mental illness were treated away from their homes, and sadly, they had no idea how to treat people — they warehoused them, they locked them, they chained them to the floor, they slept on straw. It was believed then that people with mental illness were impervious to cold or heat, and actually after the Revolution — when he actually started taking control of what was going on here, both has a university professor and as a staff member here at the hospital — we can see him trying to get funding for better care, trying to get people to understand that both mental illness and addiction, which at that time was mostly alcoholism, were medical problems. This was a pretty new idea. And tried to destigmatize them and tried to get people in here for treatment. And I would argue that the history of modern mental health care starts here in this building with Rush.

On Rush signing the Declaration of Independence in what is now known as Independence Hall

As a young doctor, he gave inoculations here. And several years after that, he was in the Continental Congress signing the Declaration of Independence. He considered it to be a very solemn moment, a very scary moment. They were very cognizant, at least he was, that they were signing something that was treasonous and they could be taking their life in their hands. Rush really believed in equality, so I think that informed his decision to be in favor of independence. He was on line with independence very early on, even though this was dangerous for his career here in Philadelphia. Philadelphia had the largest percentage of Loyalists because they had the most to lose if in fact there was independence.

On the fact that Benjamin Rush, who called slavery a crime, owned a slave named William Grubber

We don't know why he bought a slave. It was in the later years of the War, and he had a slave for a number of years. And he freed him before the [Pennsylvania] Abolition Society became active again after Franklin came home [from Europe]. He didn't write about it, except to write about his freedom. And when William Grubber died, Rush had him treated at Pennsylvania Hospital and paid for his funeral he wrote about their relationship a little bit. So not every story is a straight-through story. It's not my place to apologize for anything he did, but just to show this was a very complicated man who made an enormous contribution to America.

On Benjamin Rush's death in 1813, at the age of 67

The funeral of Benjamin Rush is something that almost every civic group sent people to. It was described in the newspapers as being second only to [George] Washington's burial and [Benjamin] Franklin's burial. So Rush was not only one of the last of the signers of the Declaration who was still alive, but he was the most important doctor in America. So this was a very big thing.

Franklin's [grave] is the one that's probably visited the most, but I think that Rush's grave is the one that really, it provides the most thought. I do think that you can come here [Christ Church Burial Ground, in Philadelphia] and think about mental health advocacy and advocacy for addiction. You can come here and talk about public education because Rush was really one of the first people to talk about that. You can talk about religious freedom. So, there's a lot here to think about when you sit here thinking about Benjamin Rush.

On John Adams' appraisal of his good friend Benjamin Rush after Rush's death, when he wrote:

Dr Rush was a greater and better Man than Dr Franklin: Yet Rush was always persecuted and Franklin always adored. . Rush has done infinitely more good to America than Franklin. Both had deserved a high Rank among Benefactors to their Country and Mankind but Rush by far the highest.

I would of course agree with John Adams. John Adams was upset that Rush hadn't gotten his due. And Adams watched him grow into a patriot, into an incredibly important scientist and doctor. He was very close with Rush and very sad that Rush, he felt, would not get his due.

But this isn't a scorecard here. All I would ever ask is that the two Benjamins be seen in their own importance. I think that Benjamin Franklin is seen as the most important figure in American history. He is unbelievably important. If Benjamin Rush was here, he would say, "You're going to question whether Benjamin Franklin was important?" Rush was Franklin's protégé he adored Franklin, and in Franklin's later years, Rush made sure that people paid attention to Franklin when he seemed too old and sick. He wasn't going to be a signer of the Constitution Rush insisted that the Pennsylvania delegation add him. So he was respectful to Franklin, but Franklin died in 1790, and Rush very much wanted, I think, to be the next Benjamin, and be the person who carried on the traditions of Franklin into the next century. And I think he did, as a scientist, as a teacher, as a writer. And I think Franklin would admit that.

Denise Guerra and Evie Stone produced and edited this interview for broadcast.

Facts about Benjamin Rush 9: good education

It seems that his parents concerned a lot with good education. Therefore, the young Benjamin had to live with his uncle and aunt to get good education. He was 8 years old at that time. Get facts about Benito Juarez here.

Facts about Benjamin Rush 10: the educational background

Rush got a Bachelor of Art degree from College of New Jersey. Then he got a M.D. degree from University of Edinburgh in Scotland after he studied there in 1766 till 1768.

Facts about Benjamin Rush

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Rush, Benjamin

(January 4, 1746 &ndash April 19, 1813) was a Founding Father of the United States and is known as the &ldquoFather of American Medicine.&rdquo Rush lived in the state of Pennsylvania and was a physician, writer, educator, humanitarian, as well as the founder of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and helped found 4 others. Rush signed the Declaration of Independence and attended the Continental Congress. He was a founding member of America&rsquos first Bible Society, is credited with helping begin the American Sunday School movement, helped organize America&rsquos first Anti-Slavery society and was a leader in the national abolition movement. He held multiple university professorships, and is properly titled &ldquoThe Father of Public Schools Under the Constitution,&rdquo being an advocate for free public schools for all youth. He published the first American textbook on chemistry and was active in the Sons of Liberty in Philadelphia.

In 1791, Dr. Rush wrote a lengthy piece providing a dozen or so reasons why America would continue teaching the Bible in our public schools. (To see a portion of the letter as it was printed by the American Tract society in 1830, visit Wallbuilder&rsquos website.) At the time of his death, Dr. Benjamin Rush &mdash along with George Washington and Benjamin Franklin &mdash was arguably one of America&rsquos three most notable men. He personally trained more than 3,000 medical students.

In June 1776, he was elected to attend the provincial conference to send delegates to the Continental Congress and was appointed to represent Philadelphia. In 1777, he became physician-general in the Continental Army but became critical of the administration of the army medical service and Dr. William Shippen, who was in charge of it. He complained directly to General George Washington who deferred to Congress. Congress supported Dr. Shippen, and Dr. Rush resigned. As the war continued, he tried repeatedly to get Washington removed as commander-in-chief. He even went so far as to write an anonymous letter to Virginia&rsquos governor, Patrick Henry. He was confronted by General Washington, and that confrontation caused him to remove himself from all war activities.

In 1789, he wrote in newspapers of Philadelphia advocating the adoption of the federal Constitution. He was elected to the Pennsylvania convention and had a hand in adopting it. From 1797 to 1813, he was treasurer of the US Mint.

On March 28, 1787, he wrote an open letter &ldquoTo the citizens of Philadelphia: A Plan for Free Schools&rdquo.

&ldquoLet the children&hellipbe carefully instructed in the principles and obligations of the Christian religion. This is the most essential part of education. The great enemy of the salvation of man, in my opinion, never invented a more effectual means of extirpating Christianity from the world than by persuading mankind that it was improper to read the Bible at schools.&rdquo

He continued in the same letter:

&ldquoThe only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty.&rdquo

Benjamin Rush

Few Americans today would doubt the greatness of George Washington. The first President of the United States, Washington has been called “the first of men,” and “the father of his country.” Yet in 1778, someone called for Washington’s removal as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in favor of Thomas Conway. Remarkable as it may seem today, that is precisely what Benjamin Rush recommended. Hated by his enemies and loved by his admirers and students, Philadelphia’s Benjamin Rush was the most famous American doctor of his generation, and a dedicated Patriot. He continuously applied the idealism of the Revolution to every area of his life, whether political, medical, or social however, Benjamin Rush also displayed an independency of thought and deed that often landed him in trouble.

Benjamin was born on Christmas Eve of 1745 to John and Susanna Hall Harvey Rush in Byberry, Pennsylvania. John Rush, a gunsmith and a farmer, died when Benjamin was just five years old. When Benjamin was eight he went to school under the care of his uncle, Samuel Finley. Benjamin eventually entered the College of New Jersey [now Princeton University], and graduated with an A.B. [Bachelor of Arts] in 1760. At first Benjamin wished to study law but soon became interested in medicine. From 1761 to 1766 he studied medicine in Philadelphia as an apprentice under Dr. John Redman. Benjamin expanded his education by attending lectures in the city, especially those of Dr. William Shippen and Dr. John Morgan at the College of Philadelphia. Benjamin took an interest in politics during the Stamp Act crisis, but advancement in his chosen profession occupied most of his energies. On the recommendation of Dr. Redman, Benjamin sailed to Scotland in 1766 and continued his training at the University of Edinburgh.

In Scotland, Benjamin dedicated most of his time to his studies, though he also debated the growing crisis in America with his fellow students. He received his doctorate in 1768, and went to London to finish his training at St. Thomas’s Hospital. While in London he became a friend of Benjamin Franklin, who helped secure the young doctor an appointment at the College of Philadelphia as Professor of Chemistry. After a short visit to Paris, the young doctor returned to Philadelphia in 1769. Within a year Benjamin published his first book, A Syllabus of a Course of Lectures on Chemistry it was the first American text published on that subject. He also practiced medicine in the city, at first concentrating on the care of the poor. By 1775, he was making a respectable income as a doctor.

Benjamin’s republican principles resurfaced in the early 1770s, and his rekindled interest in politics led him to other professional pursuits. He became a member of the American Philosophical Society, and helped organize the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. His books reflected these expanded interests he published Sermons to Gentlemen upon Temperance and Exercise in 1772, and An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, upon Slave-keeping in 1773. Absorbed in the idealism of the Revolution, Benjamin remained a committed abolitionist for the rest of his life. He wrote articles to local papers about the growing crisis with Great Britain, and maintained regular correspondence with Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.

Effects of Spirtous Liquors by Benjamin Rush

Benjamin also found time for a personal life amidst his political activity. He married Julia Stockton of Princeton, New Jersey, on January 11, 1776. The couple went on to raise thirteen children. In June 1776, Benjamin became a member of the Provincial Congress and a leading advocate of independence. A month later he joined the Pennsylvania delegation to the Continental Congress, and signed the Declaration of Independence.

In April 1777, Congress appointed Benjamin as its surgeon-general for the Middle Department [middle states]. He found the medical service in wretched condition, and accused director-general Dr. Shippen of maladministration in an impolitic manner. He wrote a letter of complaint to George Washington, who passed the letter on to Congress. Congress found Shippen to be competent, and Benjamin resigned his commission in protest. Passing the letter on to Congress was an appropriate action, but Benjamin felt abandoned by his commander-in-chief. When Washington was defeated at the Battle of Brandywine in 1777, Benjamin’s resentment turned to active questioning of Washington’s command.

On January 12, 1778, Benjamin wrote an anonymous letter to Governor Patrick Henry of Virginia, suggesting that Washington be replaced by either General Thomas Conway or General Horatio Gates. Ever since Washington assumed command of the army in 1776, disgruntled New Englanders had tried to replace him with a New England general. As Thomas Conway often emerged as a favored candidate, the conspiracy became known as the “Conway Cabal.” The effort was largely limited to New England, but the attempt to involve Governor Henry threatened to make the isolated conspiracy into a national movement. Unfortunately for Benjamin, Patrick Henry was devoted to Washington, and passed the letter to the commander-in-chief. Washington immediately recognized the surgeon-general’s hand-writing, and accused him of disloyalty. This public disclosure strengthened support for Washington in Congress, and the affair ended Benjamin’s military career. In 1778, Benjamin returned to his private medical practice in Philadelphia.

In 1780 Benjamin began delivering lectures at the newly built University of the State of Pennsylvania, which would merge with the College of Philadelphia in 1791 [The united institution was renamed the University of Pennsylvania]. In 1783, he became a member of the staff at Pennsylvania Hospital and served there for the remainder of his life. His experiences at the hospital renewed his interest in social reform and care for the poor he encouraged Presbyterians to open Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and in 1783 became one of the school’s founding trustees. He opened America’s first free dispensary in 1786, and when elected to the Pennsylvania ratifying convention, he and James Wilson led the movement in Pennsylvania to adopt the Federal Constitution in 1787. In 1789, Benjamin teamed with James Wilson once again to secure a more liberal state constitution for Pennsylvania.

When Washington’s administration ended in 1797, Benjamin re-entered Federal service as Treasurer of the United States Mint. In 1803, he was elected President of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, but his life remained primarily dedicated to the medical profession. In his 1789 landmark text Medical Inquiries and Observations , Benjamin claimed that all diseases resulted from an excessive excitability of the blood. He recommended bleeding and purging as a cure for every ailment, a practice known as “heroic” medicine. This theory underwent a major test during the 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic Benjamin claimed that his methods worked when properly employed, but he neglected to keep detailed records of his own cases. A critic, William Cobbett, pointed out a correlation between the increase in bleeding and the increase in mortality, and “heroic” medicine quickly lost favor in the American medical community. Nevertheless Benjamin survived the epidemic with his reputation unscathed, and he continued to employ “heroic” techniques long after others abandoned the approach. In his final years, however, Benjamin turned his attention to mental illness. His 1812 book, Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind , showed a compassion for the mentally ill and anticipated some aspects of psychoanalysis. Benjamin died on April 19, 1813, at the age of sixty-seven.

Medicine Chest from the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation

Primary Source Documents: Benjamin Rush

The following passages are taken from Carl Binger, Revolutionary Doctor: Benjamin Rush, 1746-1813 , (New York: W.W. Norton, 1966).

Benjamin Rush’s comments upon visiting the English House of Commons from a 1768 letter to Ebenezer Hazard.

I went a few days ago in company with a Danish physician to visit the House of Lords and the House of Commons. When I went into the first, I felt as if I walked on sacred ground. I gazed for some time at the Throne with emotions that I cannot describe. I asked our guide if it was common for strangers to set down upon it. He told me no, but upon my importuning him a good deal I prevailed upon him to allow me the liberty. I accordingly advanced towards it and sat in it for a considerable time. . .

From this I went into the House of Commons. I cannot say I felt as if I walked on ‘sacred ground’ here. usurping Commons first endeavored to rob the King of his supremacy over the colonies and to divide it among themselves. O! cursed haunt of venality, bribery, and corruption! In the midst of these reflections I asked where Mr. Pitt (alas ! now Lord Chatham) stood when he spoke in favor of repealing the Stamp Act. ‘Here,’ said our guide, ‘on this very spot.’ I then went up to it, sat down upon it for some time, and fancying myself surrounded with a crowded House, rose up from my seat and began to repeat part of his speech. . .

Benjamin Rush delivered his lecture on “The Practice of Physic” many times during the early 1770s. It contained the following lines, which proclaimed his basic view on the causes of disease.

I have formerly said that there was but one fever in the world. Be not startled, Gentlemen, follow me and I will say there is but one disease in the world. The proximate cause of disease is irregular convulsive or wrong action in the system affected. This, Gentlemen, is a concise view of my theory of disease . . . I call upon you, Gentlemen, at this early period either to approve or disapprove of it now . . .

In a letter to the Pennsylvania Journal for October 20, 1773, Benjamin Rush spoke out against the tea tax. He warned that the tea then bound for America aboard English ships, was cover for a British plot against the colonies.

The baneful chests [of tea] contain in them a slow poison in a political as well as a physical sense. They contain something worse than death–the seeds of SLAVERY. Remember, my countrymen, the present era–perhaps the present struggle–will fix the Constitution of America forever.

Letter of October 10, 1777 from Benjamin Rush to John Adams, complaining about Dr. Shippen’s administration as Director General and the sickly condition of the army.

Our hospital affairs grow worse and worse. There are several hundred wounded soldiers in this place who would have perished had they not been supported by the voluntary and benevolent contributions of some pious whigs. The fault is both in the establishment and in the Director General [Dr. William Shippen]. He is both ignorant and negligent in his duty.

Letter of January 12 1778 from Benjamin Rush to Patrick Henry, Governor of Virginia. Rush called for replacing George Washington with either Horatio Gates, Charles Lee or Thomas Conway as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Rush sent the letter unsigned to conceal his identity. Patrick Henry, despite Rush’s declared wishes, forwarded the letter to Washington.

The common danger of our country first brought you and me together. I recollect with pleasure the influence of your conversation and eloquence upon the opinions of this country in the beginning of the present controversy. You first taught us to shake off our idolatrous attachment to royalty, and to oppose its encroachments upon our liberties with our very lives. By these means you saved us from ruin . . .

But, sir, we have only passed the Red Sea. A dreary wilderness is still before us, and unless a Moses or a Joshua are raised up in our behalf, we must perish before we reach the promised land. We have nothing to fear from our enemies on the way. General Howe, it is true, has taken Philadelphia but he has only changed his prison. His dominions are bounded on all sides by his outsentries. America can only be undone by herself. She looks up to her councils and arms for protection, but alas! . . . Her army–what is it? A major general belonging to it called it a few days ago in my hearing a mob. Discipline unknown, or wholly neglected. The quartermaster’s and commissaries’ departments filled with idleness and ignorance and peculation. Our hospitals crowded with 6,000 sick but half provided with necessaries or accommodations, and more dying in them in one month than perished in the field during the whole of the last campaign . . .

But is our case desperate? By no means. We have wisdom, virtue, and strength enough to save us if they could be called into action. The northern army has shown us what Americans are capable of doing with a GENERAL at their head . . . A Gates, a Lee, or a Conway would in a few weeks render them an irresistible body of men . . . You may rest assured of each fact related in this letter. The author of it is one of your Philadelphia friends. A hint of his name, if found out by the handwriting, must not be mentioned to your most intimate friend [Washington]. Even the letter must be thrown into the fire. But some of its contents ought to be made public in order to awaken, enlighten, and alarm our country. I rely upon your prudence . . .

Letter from Benjamin Rush to his wife, Julia Stockton Rush, January 15, 1778. Rush relates his feelings about appearing before Congress to accuse Dr. William Shippen of negligence.

“. . . It will be a disagreeable task to accuse him [Shippen] publicly of ignorance and negligence of his duty. But the obligations I owe my country preclude all other ties. I shall act strictly agreeable to the dictates of my conscience, and if the system is altered and Dr. Shippen can be restrained by proper checks from plundering the sick, I shall not resign my commission but shall serve another campaign. This resolution is taken not only from a sense of duty and a love of country, but in consequence of the advice of some very worthy members of Congress, who assure me that a contrary step will be ascribed to want of perseverance or to downright disaffection . . .”

Letter from George Washington to Patrick Henry, March 27, 1778, in reply to Rush’s anonymous letter to Henry of January 12, 1778.

“. . . Being intimately acquainted with the man I conceive to be the author of the letter . . . and having always received from him the strongest professions of attachment and regard, I am constrained to consider him as not possessing, at least, a great degree of candor and sincerity, though his views in addressing you should have been the result of conviction and founded in motives of public good. This is not the only secret, insidious attempt that has been made to wound my reputation.”

Letter from George Washington to Patrick Henry. March 28, 1778, continuing his reply to Rush’s letter to Henry of January 12. 1778.

“ . . . The anonymous letter, with which you were pleased to favor me, was written by Dr. Rush, so far as I can judge from a similitude of hands. This man has been elaborate and studied in his professions of regard for me . . . I cannot precisely mark the extent of their views, but it appeared in general, that General Gates was to be exalted on the ruin of my reputation and influence . . . General Mifflin, it is commonly supposed, bore the second part in the cabal and General Conway I know, was a very active and malignant partisan but I have good reason to believe, that their machinations have recoiled . . .”

Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush was born on January 4, 1746, in Byberry, Pennsylvania, and was raised by his mother in Philadelphia. He was an excellent student and graduated with an A.B. from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) at age 14. He then studied medicine with a practicing physician in Philadelphia, but in 1766 left for Scotland, then the medical capital of the world. Rush remained there two years and was awarded a M.D. degree. Rush traveled to London and later Paris, and found the opportunity to meet such prominent personalities as Franklin, Diderot and Samuel Johnson. In 1769, Rush received an appointment to the faculty of the College of Philadelphia and became America's first professor of chemistry. He built a highly successful medical practice, but became involved in other endeavors, most notably in founding an anti-slavery organization. Rush also became politically active, working with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. It was Rush who urged Thomas Paine to write a justification for American independence and he who suggested the title "Common Sense." In 1776, he attended the Second Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence. During the War for Independence, Rush served as the surgeon general of the Continental Army he complained unsuccessfully about army hospital conditions to his superior, Dr. William Shippen. In December, 1777, he later took his concerns to George Washington, who passed the matter on to Congress. After investigating the matter, Congress found in favor of Shippen and Rush resigned. He harbored a grudge against Washington for his lack of support, and wrote an anonymous letter to Patrick Henry, suggesting that the Southern branch of the Continental Army should be placed under the command of a Southerner. Although he clearly told Henry to burn the letter, lest somebody figure out who wrote it, Henry instead passed it along to Washington who recognized Rush as the author. Rush retreated to private medical practice in Philadelphia and became a participant in the nebulous Conway Cabal. He would later express his regret and become an ardent supporter of Washington in the 1790s. Rush attended the Pennsylvania state convention in 1789 and worked on behalf of the ratification of the new constitution. Returning to the College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania), Rush combined teaching with a new cause, providing assistance to the poor. He encountered professional criticism from his colleagues for the continued use of bloodletting and mercury purging, especially during the severe yellow fever outbreak of 1793. Benjamin Rush was particularly concerned with the development of Public Education in the new republic. What he wrote in 1798 regarding the role of education in the "melting pot" of America foreshadowed arguments that would be made a century and more in the future:

The Dickinson Story

This portrait of Dr. Benjamin Rush by Thomas Sully, known as the greatest American portrait artist of his era, was donated to the college's Trout Gallery.

The Birth of a New College

Revolution was in the air when Benjamin Rush, a prominent Philadelphia physician, prepared the charter for Dickinson College in 1783. A grammar school founded in Carlisle in 1773 served as the foundation of the new college. In the decade prior to laying the groundwork for Dickinson, Rush had marched alongside the American army, signed the Declaration of Independence, served as a physician to the Philadelphia community and maintained his eminent position among the progressive political and intellectual minds of the budding nation. He was a revolutionary in the midst of a revolution.

At his core, Rush believed in freedom&mdashfreedom of thought and freedom of action. And he believed fully in America's potential for unprecedented achievement. But Rush also believed that the American Revolution did not end when the muskets stopped sounding that, he felt, was only the beginning. Now that America had fought for its liberties, Americans needed to maintain a nation worthy of those liberties. Rush knew that America could only live up to its own expectations if it was a country built of an educated citizenry. So seven years after he met with other members of the Continental Congress to add his signature to the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush signed the charter of a new college on what was then the American frontier. On September 9, 1783, a struggling grammar school in Carlisle was transformed into Dickinson College. Less than a week earlier, the Treaty of Paris had officially ended the Revolution and guaranteed international recognition of the United States of America. Dickinson was the first college charted in these new United States.

Tuta libertas. Those were the words that John Dickinson used to describe the new college. Tuta libertas: "A bulwark of liberty." To further his educational enterprise, Rush asked that Dickinson&mdashknown widely as the "Penman of the Revolution" and the governor of Pennsylvania&mdashlend his support and his name to the college that was being established in the western frontier of his state. Dickinson was easily convinced, and together he and Rush set about the task of devising a seal for the college. The image they created&mdashfeaturing a liberty cap, a telescope and an open Bible&mdashremains the official college seal today. It represents a mission that has been ingrained in Dickinson College for more than two centuries: to offer students a useful and progressive education in the arts and sciences&mdashan education grounded in a strong sense of civic duty to become citizen-leaders.

In many ways, Benjamin Rush&mdashthe man who set this enduring mission in place&mdashwas a man before his time. He was an outspoken opponent of slavery, a vocal proponent of equal education for women, a supporter of the rights of the mentally challenged and a generous provider of health care to the indigent in Philadelphia. His voice was strong and distinctive, and he believed that the students at Dickinson College could, like him, develop their own voices and positions on issues of the day. They could be leaders and shapers in the new nation.

The Shape of the Story

As the site for this endeavor, Rush chose Carlisle, a town founded in 1751 as the seat of Pennsylvania's Cumberland County. Though a center of government, Carlisle was also a frontier town, located about 25 miles west of the Susquehanna River&mdashat the time, an outpost of westward expansion (unlike today, when Carlisle sits at a central transportation crossroad, with Washington, D.C. Baltimore and Philadelphia just two hours away). It's safe to assume that this combination of activity and uncertainty would have attracted a man with Rush's educational sensibilities.

From the first, Carlisle was seen as a sort of laboratory for learning&mdasha place, for instance, where Dickinson students could venture from campus to the nearby county courthouse to watch the new American judicial system in action. But it was also a place where, a few decades later, science students could study ecology by actually examining the wilderness of the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. (Dickinson was the first college to introduce field studies into its science curriculum.) These sorts of firsthand experiences, Rush believed, would foster the minds that would lead the next generations of Americans. Time has not diminished Rush's ambitions. Today, this engagement with the wider world continues to guide Dickinson&mdashthrough internships, field studies, workshop science and one of the most extensive global education programs in the nation.

In 1784, at the first official meeting of the college's trustees in Carlisle, a Scottish minister and educator named Charles Nisbet was elected the first principal, or president, of Dickinson College. Nisbet had been a supporter of the American Revolution and was well known among America's intellectual circles as an impressive man of learning. Sometimes called a "walking library," Nisbet established high standards of education and scholarship for Dickinson students. Because of these unbending expectations, the college can list among its earliest graduates a U.S. president, a pair of college presidents, two justices of the Supreme Court, a governor, a founding father of the Smithsonian Institution and at least two abolitionists.

Old West was designed by Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the United States Capitol.

The Dawn of a New Century

Old West was designed by Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the United States Capitol. As the college grew in population and prominence, Nisbet and the other college leaders decided to construct a new "edifice" to serve as the center of campus&mdashand to allow Dickinson to move out of the old grammar school that had been its home since its founding. Called "New College," the building was constructed slowly, over a period of four years. In 1803, as the college prepared to settle into New College, a blustery snowstorm pushed through the Cumberland Valley, stirring some smoldering ashes in the building's basement. The ashes began to flame, and before long the building had burned to the ground.

Despite the initial despair (Col. John Montgomery, a U.S. Congressman and longtime Dickinson trustee, wrote to inform Rush of the fire, lamenting that all of their hopes "were Blasted in a few minutes"), hints of good fortune soon began to ameliorate the situation. For instance, Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol, offered to draw up plans for a new college hall. And private donations from individuals such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison ensured the reconstruction of Dickinson College in swift fashion. Though Charles Nisbet would not live to see its completion, West College&mdashor Old West, as it's commonly called&mdashhosted its first classes in November 1805.

After his death, Nisbet was remembered as one of the most successful college presidents of his day. It's not surprising, then, that his standards of excellence held strong after his passing. His sensibilities remained integral in the life of the college. In 1812, for example, the college trustees authorized the purchase of Joseph Priestley's scientific equipment, which gave Dickinson state-of-the-art research capabilities in the sciences. (One of the pieces, a lens, is believed to have been used by Priestley in the discovery of oxygen.) It was this dedication to excellence and innovation in education that enticed the world-renowned chemist and social reformer Thomas Cooper to join the faculty as Dickinson's first chemistry professor. Thomas Jefferson, a contemporary, remarked that Cooper was "the greatest man in America in the powers of the mind and in acquired information, and that without exception."

Academic prowess, however, was not necessarily aligned with economic and political prosperity. A combination of financial straits and faculty dissention led to a college closing from 1816 to 1821. Over the period of several years, the trustees managed to overcome both of these hurdles. Barely a decade later, however, strife hit the college again. In the midst of the ongoing financial pressures of the early 19th century, Dickinson's faculty launched into a heated, often bitter, debate about the shape of the college's curriculum. In 1832, when the trustees were unable to resolve the issue, they ordered Dickinson's temporary closure.

Spencer Fullerton Baird, class of 1840, was a professor of natural history and science at the college. He became assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institute in 1850 and was later promoted to secretary of that institution.

Shortly after doors closed at Dickinson, the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Episcopal (now United Methodist) Church approached Dickinson&rsquos trustees about reopening as a Methodist-affiliated college. Seeing the opportunity to continue operations, the existing Board of Trustees agreed to dissolve during its June 1833 meeting and handed over the keys to a newly constituted board. On June 7, 1833, the new board elected John Price Durbin as president of the college and chairman of the Board of Trustees.

In 1835, the Baltimore Conference began making an annual contribution to the college, which continues today and helps support the Center for Service, Spirituality & Social Justice .

Under the leadership of John Price Durbin, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Dickinson College was revitalized. Teaching innovations, like Spencer Fullerton Baird's natural-science field trips (Baird, an alumnus and professor, later helped establish the Smithsonian Institution) and Charles Francis Himes' use of photography to teach chemistry, continued to enhance and distinguish the college's curriculum. Dickinson's law department, which was established in 1833, became the Dickinson School of Law in 1890 (and since 1917 has been independent of the college).

This track record of innovation has continued into Dickinson's modern history&mdashfor instance, in the 1980s Dickinson physics professor Priscilla Laws worked with colleagues to develop the widely used "workshop science" curriculum, in which hands-on learning and experimentation (rather than a steady diet of lectures) is at the core of classroom activity. And these innovations know no boundaries. In 1965, for example, Dickinson established a college-run study-abroad program in Bologna, Italy. Since then, Dickinson has sculpted one of the nation's most extensive global education programs, currently consisting of 39 programs in 24 countries on six continents.

Since its early years, the college has emphasized the importance of learning&mdashacademically and socially&mdashbeyond the classroom. Nineteenth-century students were involved in athletic clubs, social clubs and Greek letter societies. In fact, the first Pennsylvania chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was started at Dickinson in 1886. The college's first Greek fraternity was chartered in 1852. The college's student newspaper, The Dickinsonian, was founded 1872, placing it among the oldest ongoing newspapers in Pennsylvania. And the college's first intercollegiate football game was played against Gettysburg in 1879.

The Growth of a College

During the first half of the 20th century, Dickinson College weathered&mdashwith firm resolve&mdashthe difficulties posed by World Wars I and II and the Great Depression. Through curricular changes, the faculty found new ways to challenge its students, including one professor who began teaching a course on World War II a year before the United States even entered the conflict&mdasha risky enterprise, considering the national sentiment, led by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that America would not get involved in the war. In the midst of the cultural maelstrom, the college trustees found the means to help Dickinson grow, more than doubling the size of the campus and increasing the student enrollment fourfold. During these years of international caution and isolationism, Dickinson developed exchange programs to bring foreign students to Carlisle, and likewise the college began to send Dickinsonians abroad.

In the latter part of the 20th century, Dickinson College continued to enhance its liberal arts curriculum, diversifying traditional disciplines to allow a wide variety of interdisciplinary and area studies opportunities. The college is home, for example, to one of the only community studies centers in the nation, where students can perform field research and take oral histories in local communities from different academic perspectives. Also, Dickinson houses the national headquarters of the Oral History Association and is home to the preeminent study-abroad journal Frontiers.

The college's cross-disciplinary approach has led to strengths in international education, the natural and mathematical sciences, the arts and pre-professional preparation. The curriculum has been further enriched by First-Year Seminars, internships/externships and student-faculty research and publishing. Over the past 10 years, 61 percent of all student-faculty research at Dickinson has resulted in published papers in professional journals, and 28 percent of those findings were presented at national and international conferences.

An Eye on the Past, a Foot in the Future

Proud of its heritage and true to the vision of its founders, Dickinson College remains committed to its historic mission: to prepare young people, by means of a useful and progressive education in the liberal arts and sciences, for engaged lives of citizenship and leadership in the service of society. As it looks toward the future, Dickinson is ever mindful of its revolutionary roots: unafraid to take risks, to speak out on important issues, to remain decisive, competitive and committed to its own brand of the liberal arts&mdashacademically rigorous, useful and unapologetically engaged with the world.

Learn more about the history of Dickinson on the Archives & Special Collections website.

Deep roots

Even when Chicago was just a village of 4,000 people, Rush’s founders recognized the need for quality medical care.

In 1837, the Illinois state legislature chartered Rush Medical College, just two days before the city of Chicago was incorporated. The school was founded by Daniel Brainard, MD, a distinguished surgeon and scientific investigator, and was named for Benjamin Rush, MD, a physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Many great names in the history of American medicine — William Heath Byford, Christian Fenger, Nicholas Senn, Ludvig Hektoen, Frank Billings, James Bryan Herrick and Arthur Dean Bevan, to name a few — have served as faculty here, contributing to the understanding of diseases and the development of treatments, as well as raising medical education standards.

In addition, Rush Medical College awarded David Jones Peck, MD, a doctor of medicine degree in 1847, making him the first African-American man to receive this distinction from an American medical school.

Rush, benjamin - History

The fourth of John and Susanna (Hall) Rush's seven children, Benjamin was raised and spent most of his life in the Philadelphia area. His mother, a Presbyterian, at first supervised her young son's religious education at home. After the death in 1751 of her Episcopalian husband, she and Benjamin regularly attended the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. There young Rush was greatly influenced by its minister, Gilbert Tennent, a leader in the Great Awakening then sweeping the northeast. Exposure to Calvinist teachings continued during his student years at West Nottingham Academy in Maryland and at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). He accepted these doctrines, he later wrote, "without any affection for them."

After earning an A.B. in 1760 from the College of New Jersey, Rush studied medicine, 1761-66, under Dr. John Redman in Philadelphia. On Redman's advice, he continued his studies at the University of Edinburgh, where he received an M.D. degree in 1768. He did further training at St. Thomas's Hospital in London, 1768-69. In Edinburgh he embraced a new explanation of disease, taught by the prominent instructor, Dr. William Cullen. Rejecting the older theory, based upon the balancing of the four humors, Rush believed that the root cause of disease was "irregular convulsive or wrong action," especially of the blood vessels. The therapy he recommended to restore the circulatory system to normal was blood-letting. Although from the vantage point of two hundred years Rush's ideas on the origin and treatment of diseases seem poorly founded, in his time they represented advanced thinking and a scientific challenge to traditional medical wisdom.

Returning to America, he joined the faculty of the College of Philadelphia as professor of chemistry. In 1789 he became professor of the theory and practice of medicine. When the college became part of the University of Pennsylvania he was appointed chair of Institutes of Medicine and Clinical Practice, 1791, and chair of Theory and Practice of Medicine, 1796. He was immensely popular with his students his lectures drew large crowds. His fame drew many students to Philadelphia to study medicine.

In 1776 he married Julia Stockton the couple had 13 children, nine of whom survived him. Their son James (1786-1869) followed his father into medicine and wrote notable studies of the human voice and of psychology.

Rush was a delegate to the Continental Congress convened in 1775 and a signer of the Declaration of Independence the following year. During the Revolutionary War he served briefly as surgeon-general of the armies of the Middle Department. Finding the army hospitals corruptly and incompetently managed and frustrated that his office did not give him power to reform them, Rush wrote letters of complaint to Congress and to General George Washington. He resigned after Washington accused him of personal disloyalty.

In 1787 Rush and James Wilson led the Pennsylvania convention that ratified the federal constitution two years later they led a successful campaign to develop a more liberal and effective state constitution. This was Rush's last involvement in politics, for which he had developed an intense dislike. A decade later President John Adams appointed him Treasurer of the United States Mint, a position he held until his death.

As a physician Rush strove to promote the general health of the citizenry. In 1786 he established the first free dispensary in the country. During the great yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793 Rush worked tirelessly and heroically to care for patients and to curb the spread of the disease, at the same time keeping detailed records. In the face of widespread criticism he persisted in promoting drastic purgation and radical blood-letting as a means of treatment. "The more bleeding, the more deaths," one critic complained, not without cause. Nevertheless Rush was convinced that his treatment was successful and had it applied to himself. His popular and accessible book, An Account of the Bilious Remitting Yellow Fever, as It Appeared in the City of Philadelphia, in the Year 1793, 1794, brought him international fame.

Rush made many contributions to medicine that have stood the test of time. He advocated the simplification of diagnosis and treatment of disease. "Let us strip our profession of everything that looks like mystery and imposture," he wrote. He was an early advocate of preventive medicine. In particular, he pointed out that decayed teeth were a source of systemic disease. He promoted innoculation and vaccination against smallpox.

A pioneer in the study and treatment of mental illness, Rush insisted that the insane had a right to be treated with respect. He protested the inhuman accommodation and treatment of the insane at Pennsylvania Hospital. When he received an inadequate response to his complaints from the hospital's Board of Managers, Rush took his case to the public at large. In 1792 he was successful in getting state funding for a ward for the insane. He constructed a typology of insanity which is strikingly similar to the modern categorization of mental illness and studied factors—such as heredity, age, marital status, wealth, and climate—that he thought predisposed people to madness. One of many causes of insanity he noted was intense study of "imaginary objects of knowledge" such as "researches into the meaning of certain prophecies in the Old and New Testaments."

Part of Rush's treatment of the mentally ill was based upon his idea of the cause of physical disease. One of his prescriptions for a patient was "bleeding . . . strong purges—low diet—kind treatment, and the cold bath." Anticipating Freudian analysis by a century, Rush also listened to his patients tell him their troubles and was interested in dreams. He recommended occupational therapy for the institutionalized insane. His Medical Inquiries and Observations, Upon the Diseases of the Mind, 1812, a standard reference for seventy years, earned him the title of "the father of American psychiatry."

Around 1780 Rush read what he described as "Fletcher's controversy with the Calvinists in favor of the Universality of the atonement." Soon after he heard Elhanan Winchester preach. According to Rush Winchester's theology "embraced and reconciled my ancient calvinistical, and my newly adopted [Arminian] principles. From that time on I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men." Like Winchester, Rush was what was later termed a Restorationist: "I always admitted . . . future punishment, and of long, long duration."

Rush frequently attended Winchester's Universal Baptist church, and he and Winchester became close friends. After Winchester left Philadelphia in 1787, they corresponded. In 1791 Rush wrote Winchester, then in England, "The Universal doctrine prevails more and more in our country, particularly among persons eminent for their piety, in whom it is not a mere speculation but a principle of action in the heart prompting to practical goodness."

In addition to Winchester, Rush was acquainted with a number of prominent Universalists and Unitarians. When the first general convention of Universalists was held in Philadelphia in 1790, Rush, although not an active participant, played an important part in organizing the convention's report in its final form. It was then that he first met John Murray, the Universalist leader, and his feminist wife, Judith Sargent Murray, who shared Rush's interest in dreams. (Judith told him of a dream in which she saw her first husband, "easy and happy," at the exact reported time of his death in the West Indies, where he had fled to avoid debtor's prison.) Over the next few years Rush and Murray met several times when Murray visited Philadelphia, once "at the President of the U.S."—that is, at the home of their mutual friends, John and Abigail Adams. They also corresponded with each other, their letters dealing chiefly with the hypochondrical Murray's health concerns.

In 1794 when Joseph Priestley came to America, Rush welcomed him at once, and a close friendship developed. Both scientists were interested in religion, believed in universal salvation, and held progressive social views. Later, when Priestley and his wife Mary settled in Northumberland, it was on land purchased with Rush's help.

When Thomas Jefferson came to Philadelphia as the newly-elected Vice President in 1797, he and Rush renewed a friendship that had begun in the days of the Revolution. For several years they carried on private conversation on religious matters, a subject that Jefferson ordinarily refused to discuss. In 1804 this dialogue, but not their friendship, was terminated because of unreconcilable differences over the nature of Jesus: Rush regarded him as a savior, Jefferson as a man. During 1812 Rush, inspired by a dream, initiated an exchange of letters between Jefferson and Adams. The exchange quickly brought about a reconciliation after a long period of mutual hostility and non-communication.

Rush's universalism, though for the most part overlooked by his biographers, has been a source of pride to Universalists down through the years—he was the best known national leader to espouse universal salvation. His connection with organized Universalism, however, was only peripheral. He never joined Winchester's Universal Baptist church, and during the 1790s his interest in all institutional religion waned. With Winchester's death in 1797, his main link to the Universalist movement was severed.

Although at various times a member of Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches, Rush generally eschewed formal denominational connections. In his later years he confided to John Adams: "I have ventured to transfer the spirit of inquiry (from my profession) to religion, in which, if I have no followers in my opinions (for I hold most of them secretly), I enjoy the satisfaction of living in peace with my own conscience, and, what will surprise you not a little, in peace with all denominations of Christians, for while I refuse to be the slave of any sect, I am a friend of them all. . . . [My own religion] is a compound of the orthodoxy and heterodoxy of most of our Christian churches."

Rush's shift from Calvinism to universalism was profoundly influenced by the social changes of the Revolutionary era. He embraced republicanism as an essential part of Christianity. For him a world attuned to God would be one which encouraged people to choose virtue over vice. To create this world it would be necessary to improve the conditions under which all the people lived. At first he envisioned the new American republic as playing the leading role in this transformation. Disillusioned by politics, he concluded that the actualization of the this-worldly millennium was a religious task. Rush's universalism inspired his work as social reformer. "No particle of benevolence, no wish for the liberty of a slave or the reformation of a criminal will be lost," he wrote in 1787, "for they all flow from the Author of goodness, who implants no principles of action in man in vain."

In his time Rush had no peer as a social reformer. Among the many causes he championed—most of them several generations in advance of nearly all other reformers—were prison and judicial reform, abolition of slavery and the death penalty, education of women, conservation of natural resources, proper diet, abstinence from the use of tobacco and strong drink, and the appointment of a "Secretary of Peace" to the federal cabinet.

In 1813 Rush died suddenly after a brief illness. He was buried in the graveyard of Christ's Church in Philadelphia, the same church whose pastor had christened him 67 years earlier. On learning of his death Jefferson wrote Adams: "Another of our friends of seventy-six is gone, my dear Sir, another of the co-signers of the Independence of our country. And a better man than Rush could not have left us, more benevolent, more learned, of finer genius, or more honest." Adams, grief-stricken, wrote in reply, "I know of no Character living or dead, who has done more real good in America."

The papers of Benjamin Rush are stored at the Ridgway Branch of Philadelphia Library Company, the Pennsylvania. Historical Society, the University of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia College of Physicians, the New York Academy of Medicine, the New York Historical Society, and the Library of Congress. His correspondence has been published as Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush, (1951). He was a prolific writer, the author of over 80 published works, including articles and the texts of lectures, addresses, orations, letters, and eulogies. The majority of these were in the field of medicine others dealt with social issues, education, and government. Among the most important are An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, upon Slave-keeping (1773) Medical Inquiries and Observations, 4 volumes (1789-1815) and Essays, Literary, Moral & Philosophical (1798).

Rush's own version of his story is preserved in George W. Corner, ed., The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush: His "Travels through Life," Together with His Commonplace Book for 1789-1813 (1948). Biographies include Nathan G. Goodman, Benjamin Rush: Physician and Citizen (1934) and Carl Binger, Revolutionary Doctor: Benjamin Rush, 1746-1813 (1966). Among many short biographical articles are those by Richard H. Shryock in Dictionary of American Biography (1935), John H. Talbott in A Biographical History of Medicine (1970), and Robert B. Sullivan in American National Biography (1999). Charles A. Howe, "Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush: Christian Revolutionaries," Unitarian Universalist Christian (Fall/Winter, 1989) and Robert H. Abzug, Chaos Crumbling (1994) give accounts of Rush's religious views. Russell E. Miller, The Larger Hope, volume 1 (1979) and George Hunston Williams, American Universalism: A Bicentennial Historical Essay (1976) portray Rush in a Universalist context. Also important is Donald J. D'Elia, "Benjamin Rush: Philosopher of the American Revolution," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1974).

All material copyright Unitarian Universalist History & Heritage Society (UUHHS) 1999-2020 Links to third-party sites are provided solely as a convenience. The DUUB does not endorse materials on other sites.

Watch the video: Rush (January 2022).