Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Millar, 18 April 1803

From John Millar

Shepherd Street May Fair
April1 18th. 1803


In the year 1797 having occasion to investigate the means of subuing and preventing Contagious Fevers, that which had proved so fatal to the Citizens of Philadelphia, became of course, a subject of consideration. The Book was sent to Dr Rush by Mr Perry and I have observed that he had in some subsequent publications retracted some opinions he formerly held on that subject, and with great pleasure I have observed that the rage of that destructive pestilence has since been restrained.

I humbly submit to your consideration a Copy of that work, and if it has, formerly, or should, in future, contribute, in any degree to the safety and preservation of the worthy Citizens of Philadelphia, I shall esteem it the best reward of my Labours. With the highest respect and Esteem, I have the Honour to be

Your Excellencys most Obedient & most Humble Servant

John Millar

RC (MHi); endorsed by TJ as a letter of 18 Apr. 1804 received 14 May 1804 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Millar’s Observations on the Change of Public Opinion in Religion, Politics, and Medicine; on the Conduct of the War; on the Prevailing Diseases in Great Britain; and on Medical Arrangements in the Army and Navy, 2 vols. (London, [1803]); Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 928.

Born in Scotland, John Millar (1733–1805) trained as a doctor at the University of Edinburgh and earned positive attention for his work Observations on the Asthma and on the Hooping Cough (London, 1769). In 1774, he was named physician at the Westminster General Dispensary in London, where he became an active member of the city’s recently established medical society (DNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, In Association with The British Academy, From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000, Oxford, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ).

Millar was an outspoken critic of intensive purgation and venesection in the treatment of contagious fevers, advising instead the use of Peruvian bark, an opinion squarely at odds with the practice developed by Benjamin rush during Philadelphia’s yellow fever epidemic of 1793 and to which Rush remained committed throughout his career (Paul E. Kopperman, “ ‘Venerate the Lancet’: Benjamin Rush’s Yellow Fever Therapy in Context,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 78 [2004], 553, 572–4; The British Critic, and Quarterly Theological Review, 25 [1805], 411–13).

Given the time necessary for transporting something from London to Washington, it is unlikely that Millar misdated the letter. London publications, nevertheless, did not begin to take notice of Observations on the Change of Public Opinion in Religion, Politics, and Medicine until near the end of 1804, when The Monthly Magazine; or, British Register included it among its list of new publications. One reviewer chastised the work, which appears to have compiled several of Millar’s writings, some previously published, for its many attacks on individuals who Millar believed had either ignored or plagiarized his findings (The British Critic, 411).

1Month written over an illegible word.

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