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Benjamin Waterhouse to Thomas Jefferson, 26 March 1813

From Benjamin Waterhouse

Boston 26th March 1813

Dear Sir,

Your letter of the 9th inst opened1 to my mind such a train of interesting ideas, that I could not resist writing you this, & enclosing you one of our Boston newspapers, containing a peice under the signature of an “Independent Whig.” It will tend to confirm your opinion of our pretended fautores of science. More than a dozen numbers have preceeded this, some of them calculated to expose the persecuting spirit of our priesthood. While these numbers have been read with avidity, they have stirred up the malice, & given additional venom to the persecution of the author.

Our college at Cambridge is under the absolute direction of the Essex Junto, at the head of which stands chief Justice Parsons, the Goliah of the Massachusetts Gentile-army, a man as cunning as Lucifer, & about half as good. This man is also at the head of the Corporation of the college. He is not only the soul of that body, but he is the evil councellor, the Ahithophel of the high federal party, while H. G. Otis is the Absalom.

I rashly ventured to attack this champion2 of the Phillistines. Nay, I told the Senate, the popular branch of the college government in so many words, in a memorial, that “I hoped to find a stone in the brook for the forehead of my enemy.” The consequence has been that I have been secretly & slowly divested of every college emolument & office, under pretences purely jesuitiene. A medical combination joined this political & college party, & together they have treated me as a similar combination treated our friend Dr Rush, before Porcupine was driven from Philadelphia. This induced me to come forth with a plain narrative of facts in “the Boston Patriot”; and I have enclosed one of the papers, where you will see3 the fate of my intended publication in London. all these things have perhaps wound up my mind to a pitch of resentment, that none but a rich man can express with safety.

The Medical Society of Massachusetts thwarted my efforts in diffusing vaccination, as early as 1803; & at the head of this opposition stood Dr Eustis. He did & said every thing to discourage the practice. The enmity of this gentleman was blown into rage when you gave me the marine-hospital, & this accounts for all that followed. The confluence of this medical & political enmity has formed a current too strong for me to stem. I cannot live in it; and therefore some of my friends have, without any solicitation on my part, written to President Madison, to know if something cannot be done for my relief: of these Mr Adams & Mr Gerry have been the most zealous. I have not had the courage myself to make any application to the President, from knowing that Dr Eustis had made an impression on his mind to my disadvantage. Still I am aware that if something be not done my enemies will triumph. When Dr Rush was encompassed by his enemies Mr Adams gave him the Treasury of the mint. By the help of this anchor he rode out the storm. Now I, & my friends are thoroughly convinced that unless I have some such anchor, the strong blast from the coast of Essex will drive me on a Bar where I may be wrecked. I never coveted money. I never wished to be rich. I never loved company or parade. I have devoted my time & powers to matters of public benefit rather than personal advantage. I began the medical school at Cambridge; & commenced & compleated their mineral cabinet. I introduced vaccination, & defended it, in its disputed march, through an host of enemies; & established it in America 30, or 40 years sooner than it would have been;—I reformed a marine hospital that was a sink [of]4 filth, drunkenness & disorder; I rendered it a suitable pattern for all others in the country. I encreased the value of the hospital property, & made a saving to its funds of full half my salary annually. I never had a bill, that I approbated, ever refused payment; and yet I have been represented to President Madison as little better than a peculator; & treated accordingly. And now, in the 60th year of my5 life, I find myself persecuted by the college, by my medical brethren here, and regarded unfavourably by the administration; that very administration, that I have defended unceasingly for four years past with my pen; while those whom it feeds & cloathest never moved a finger in its support! The federalists have scoffingly remarked these things to me & said—see Republican gratitude! To which I have replied—See how it is possible for a man to sacrifice his interest to his principles!—

Amidst6 these trials, I have my consolations. My children are every thing a parent can wish; giving their parents a satisfaction beyond any thing that riches can procure. Another source of consolation is the correspondence of great7 & good men. Among these is the Sage of Quincy, the venerable Adams. We exchange letters every week or two. In one received lately he says “your enemies are, in their hearts, Rush’s enemies; and for the same reasons medical & political. But you are both too fluent & dextrous8 with your pens. They dare not attack you openly. They dare not meet you in the field of controversy9 They have recourse to their sappers & miners. But for this cowardice, you10 would soon see Rush’s treatise, attacked from all quarters,11 as well as your numbers of the Independent whig.”12—He then adds—“I know no two characters more alike than Rush’s & yours. I know not two more13—nor two better informed men: nor two better men: yet see the fortunes of you both! The Kingdom of virtue is not of this world: no! nor the Kingdom of science, nor the Kingdom of merit.”—No production literary or philosophical is patronized in Boston, if not written by a federalist.14

We have but one good republican paper in Boston viz the Patriot and altho’ we have several good writers among the Republicans, scarcely one of them will take the pen even to expose falsehood or repel scandal, or correct misrepresentation. I have, for 4, or 5 years past, endeavoured to pour a stream of republican principles upon the wheels of government. The piece signed “Sallust which happens to be in the enclosed paper may serve as a specimen. We suffer at this head quarters of (Hamilton’s) good principles for want of [a] good newspaper, constantly supplied with warm & glowing sentiments from the honest American heart; but we are in a degree smothered & overpowered by the English influence, which operates like a deleterious air on our senses.

I have never seen major Stoddert’s book. It has never made its way to Boston. I was surprized to hear that you had so little to do, or say with the mountain of salt. It rested on my mind that it came from your pen. What reliance have we on past history, if the occurrences of our own days be thus involved in uncertainty?

Through all the changing15 Scenes of my doubtful future life, to hear of your health & your happyness will be a cordial to your steady friend

Benjn Waterhouse

RC (DLC); edge chipped; at foot of text: “Honbe Thos Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 7 Apr. 1813 and so recorded in SJL.

The enclosed newspaper was probably the Boston Patriot, 10 Mar. 1813, in which a peice penned by Waterhouse as independent whig detailed his role in the assembling of a mineral collection in collaboration with John Coakley Lettsom, a British physician and fellow champion of smallpox vaccination, and its subsequent donation to Harvard University; described the disappearance of a large body of correspondence between the two men that had been intended for publication in London; and questioned the university’s decision to move Waterhouse’s lectures and collection from the philosophy chamber to the anatomical chamber. fautores: “supporters or patrons.” In the Bible, David kills the Philistine champion Goliath (goliah) with a stone (1 Samuel 17), and ahithophel and his unscrupulous partner absalom later plot to overthrow him as king of Israel (2 Samuel 15). The Federalist newspapers conducted by William Cobbett as Peter porcupine contained severe attacks on Benjamin Rush. Waterhouse quoted from a 16 Jan. 1813 letter received lately from John Adams (RC in MHi: Adams-Waterhouse Collection; FC in Lb in MHi: Adams Papers). Waterhouse’s piece signed “sallust” in the Boston Patriot of 10 Mar. 1813 ruminated on a recent proclamation by the British governor of Bermuda related to the British Orders in Council of October 1812 authorizing the distribution of trading licenses to “friends and favorites dwelling in the ports” on the Eastern seaboard, concluding that both he and President James Madison would deem any American providing supplies to the enemy in time of war to be a traitor.

1Manuscript: “opended.”

2Manuscript: “chanpion.”

3Waterhouse here canceled “how it.”

4Omitted word editorially supplied.

5Waterhouse here canceled “age.”

6Manuscript: “Amidts.”

7Manuscript: “grea.”

8Preceding two words not in Adams-Waterhouse RC or FC.

9Preceding two words not in Adams-Waterhouse RC or FC.

10Manuscript: “cowardice, & you.” Adams-Waterhouse RC and FC: “Cowardice you.”

11Adams-Waterhouse RC and FC here add “as Refinement, Vision, Whim.”

12Preceding nine words not in Adams-Waterhouse RC or FC.

13Adams-Waterhouse RC and FC here add “ingenious Men.”

14Superfluous closing quotation mark editorially omitted.

15Manuscript: “chaning.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; friendship with B. Waterhouse search
  • Adams, John; mentioned search
  • Bible; 1 Samuel referenced search
  • Bible; 2 Samuel referenced search
  • Cobbett, William; as “Peter Porcupine,” search
  • Essex Junto search
  • Eustis, William; opposes B. Waterhouse search
  • Gerry, Elbridge (1744–1814); and B. Waterhouse search
  • Hamilton, Alexander (1757–1804); mentioned search
  • Harvard University; B. Waterhouse’s professorship at search
  • Lettsom, John Coakley; collaboration with B. Waterhouse search
  • Madison, James; and charges against B. Waterhouse search
  • Otis, Harrison Gray; criticism of search
  • Parsons, Theophilus; criticized by B. Waterhouse search
  • Rush, Benjamin; compared to B. Waterhouse search
  • Rush, Benjamin; mentioned search
  • salt; mountain of search
  • Sketches, Historical and Descriptive of Louisiana (Stoddard) search
  • Stoddard, Amos; Sketches, Historical and Descriptive of Louisiana search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; alleged misconduct at Marine Hospital search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; and mountain of salt search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; compared to B. Rush search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; defended by E. Gerry search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; defended by J. Adams search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; family of search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; letters from search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; writes anonymous newspaper articles search