Thomas Jefferson Papers

Benjamin Rush to Thomas Jefferson, 2 January 1811

From Benjamin Rush

Philadelphia Jany 2nd 1811

Dear Sir

Soon After I received your last & Affectionate letter, I have been visited by a deep domestic Affliction.1 My eldest son was brought home to me from new Orleans2 in a state of melancholy derangement induced3 by killing a brother naval Officer who was at the same time his most intimate friend, in a duel. Ragged Cloaths,—dishevelled hair,—long nails and beard,—and a dirty Skin,—with a dejected Countenance, accompanied with constant sighing, and an unwillingness to speak, or even to answer a question, and an apparent insensibility to the strongest expressions of parental and fraternal Affection, constituted the Object that was introduced into my family. Judge of the distress of every member of it! For some time, I was in a degree4 unfitted by it for study or business. In this depressed State of mind, I was unable to discharge my usual epistolary5 Obligations to my friends.—Time has lessened6 the distress I have described, & I have again resumed my intercourse with them. My Son is better.—He has become attentive to his dress, now and then opens a book, converses with a few people—but still discovers with a good deal of melancholy, alienation of mind upon several Subjects particularly those which associate with the cause of his derangement. He is now in a Cell in7 the Pennsylvania hospital, where there is too much reason to beleive he will end his days. Could he have been seen in the state I have described him when he was introduced first into his father’s house, by the assembly of your State when they deliberated upon the punishment for duelling, they would8 have classed it with the first of Crimes, and decreed a long-long season9 of confinement and labor to expiate it.

Pardon the length of this introduction to my letter, and forgive its relating wholly to myself. You are a father.—

I am now engaged in publishing a Volume of introductory10 lectures to my Courses of lectures upon the institutes of medicine. They will be 18 in number. Two will be subjoined to them upon the pleasures of the Senses and the mind delivered every year after considering the Senses & mind. I shall request you to accept of a Copy of them as soon as they are published. They are upon Subjects that will be interesting I hope to private Gentlemen as well as to Students and practitioners of medicine. One of them is upon that part of medical Jurisprudence which decides upon the State of mind which should disqualify a man from being a witness in a Court of law, making a Will, and which Should exempt him from punishment for criminal or felonious Acts.—

I send you herewith a draft of a Chair I have lately introduced into the Pennsylvania hospital to aid in the Cure of Madness.—

Have you found leisure to look into Dr Hartleys “Observations upon the frame, duties & expectations of man.” since your retirement to monticello? I envy the age in which that book will be relished11 and beleived, for it has unfortunately appeared a Century or two before the world is prepared for it. The Scotch philosophers of12 whom Dugald Stewart has lately become the Champion, abuse it in intemperate terms; but it is because they are so bewildered13 in the pagan doctrines of Aristotle & Plato that they do not understand it. Its illustrious Author has established an indissoluble Union between physiology—metaphysicks & Christianity. He has so disposed them that they mutually afford not only Support, but beauty and Splendor to each Other.

Your and my Old friend Mr Adams now & then drops me a line from his Seat at Quincy. His letters glow with the just14 Opinions he held and defended in the patriotic years 1774 1775 & 1776. In a letter which I have this day received from him there is the following paragraph. “The banking infatuation pervades a[ll]15 America. Our whole System of banks is a violation of every honest principle of banks. There is no honest bank, but a bank of deposit. A bank that issues paper at interest, is a pick pocket, or a robber. But the delusion will have its Course. You may as well reason with a hurricane. An Aristocracy is growing out of them, that will be as fatal as the feudal Barons, if unchecked in time. Think of the number, the Offices, Stations, wealth, piety and reputations of the persons in all the states who have made fortunes by the banks, & then you will see how deeply rooted the evil is. The numbers of debtors who hope to pay their debts with this paper, united with the Creditors who build palaces in our cities, and Castles for Country Seats, by issuing this paper, form too impregnable a phalanx to be attacked by Any thing less disciplined than Roman Legions.”—

When I consider your early Attachment to Mr Adams, and his—to you—when I consider how much the liberties & Independance of the United States owe to the Concert of your16 principles and labors, and when I reflect upon the sameness of your Opinions at present, upon most of the Subjects of Government, and all the Subjects of legislation, I have ardently wished a friendly and epistolary intercourse might be revived between you before you take a final leave of the Common Object of your Affections. Such an intercourse will be honourable to talents, and patriotism, and highly useful to the cause of republicanism not only in the United states but all over the world. Posterity will revere the friendship of two Ex presidents that were once opposed to each Other. Human nature will be a gainer by it. I am sure an Advance on your Side will be a Cordial to the heart of Mr Adams. Tottering over17 the grave, he now leans wholly upon the Shoulders of his old revolutionary friends The patriots generated by the funding System &c18 are all his enemies. ADieu! my Dr friend & beleive me to be yours truly & Affectionately

Benjn Rush

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 9 Jan. 1811 and so recorded in SJL.

Rush’s eldest son John Rush (1777–1837) killed Benjamin Taylor, a fellow gunboat commander in New Orleans, in a duel on 1 Oct. 1807. He did indeed end his days at the Pennsylvania Hospital (George W. Corner, ed., The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush [1948], 369–71; Princetonians description begins James McLachlan and others, eds., Princetonians: A Biographical Dictionary, 1976–90, 5 vols. description ends , 1791–94, pp. 429–39). Rush’s volume of lectures was entitled Sixteen Introductory Lectures, to Courses of Lectures upon the Institutes and Practice of Medicine, with a Syllabus of the Latter. To which are added, Two Lectures upon the Pleasures of the Senses and of the Mind; with an Inquiry into their proximate Cause. Delivered in the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1811; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 961). The enclosed draft of a chair, not found, probably drew on Rush’s letter of 24 Sept. 1810 to the Managers of the Pennsylvania Hospital calling for more humane treatment of persons under the care of that institution who had been “deprived of their reason.” Rush proposed the erection of separate buildings for those “in the high and distracted state of madness”; separation of patients by gender; provision of “labor, exercise, and amusements” as a form of therapy; employment of “an intelligent man and woman” to look after such patients; a requirement that all visits to the mentally ill by anyone, even family, be approved by the attending physician, and that no one be “exposed as a spectacle” to idle and impertinent visitors; and improved furnishings and sanitary facilities (Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush [1951], 2:1063–6).

1Preceding eight words interlined in place of “was called upon to witness a most distressing Scene.”

2Preceding three words interlined.

3Reworked from what appears to be “brought on.”

4Preceding three words interlined.

5Word interlined.

6Manuscript: “lessned.”

7Preceding three words interlined.

8Word interlined.

9Reworked from “decreed <the> a long season.”

10Word interlined.

11Preceding two words interlined in place of illegible word.

12Word interlined in place of “among.”

13Word interlined in place of “swamped.”

14Word interlined.

15Word, frayed at margin, supplied from John Adams to Rush, 27 Dec. 1810 (MBPLi; printed in John A. Schutz and Douglass Adair, eds., The Spur of Fame: Dialogues of John Adams and Benjamin Rush, 1805–1813 [1966], 189–90).

16Preceding four words interlined in place of “your mutual.”

17Preceding two words interlined in place of “& with One foot in.”

18Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and B. Rush search
  • Aristotle; and Scottish philosophy search
  • books; on insanity search
  • dueling search
  • Hartley, David (ca.1705–57); Observations on man, his frame, his duty, and his expectations search
  • health; mental illness search
  • Observations on man, his frame, his duty, and his expectations (D. Hartley) search
  • Pennsylvania; Hospital search
  • Pennsylvania Hospital search
  • Plato; and Scottish philosophy search
  • Rush, Benjamin; and Pennsylvania Hospital search
  • Rush, Benjamin; and resumption of correspondence between TJ and J. Adams search
  • Rush, Benjamin; and son’s mental health search
  • Rush, Benjamin; letters from search
  • Rush, Benjamin; Sixteen Introductory Lectures search
  • Rush, John; described search
  • Rush, John; insanity of search
  • Sixteen Introductory Lectures (B. Rush) search
  • Stewart, Dugald; criticizes D. Hartley search
  • Taylor, Benjamin (d.1807) search