Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Crawford to Thomas Jefferson, 17 December 1811

From John Crawford

Baltimore 17th Decr 1811

Highly respected Sir!

In 1808 I did myself the honour to forward to you a periodical paper, the Observer, then published here, in which I made some communications on the cause and seat of diseases. I have been engaged with that subject ever since, in composing Lectures which I hope to deliver this winter. I presume to think I have brought it to a considerable degree of perfection and trust I shall be able to offer what will prove generally useful. The inclosed is a copy of my first Lecture, which contains the plan I propose to pursue. If you should honour it with a perusual, you will not meet with any of the technical language which renders medical works so revolting to those who are not of the profession. You will perceive Sir! that I have experienced the fate of nearly all who have endeavoured to accomplish reformation, or direct the views of men from a path, to which they have been long accustomed. Although I have held situations highly lucrative, the disposition of my mind has not led me to profit by them. Had I possessed such a disposition, I should have been unfitted for my present undertaking. I am however, urged by a spirit of perseverance in pursuit of the course I have adopted, and if I am enabled to develop the truth, hitherto concealed, its irresistable influence must, in the end prevail.

When I did myself the honour to address you in 1803, on the state of public affairs, I took the liberty to suggest my views of the principles on which they were founded. The intervening period has presented nothing to invalidate those views. The catastrophe is hastening to completion; the fate of England can not remain long undecided. Her exclusion of foreign commerce is now retorted on her whilst her own is verging fast to destruction; and the war she is carrying on in Portugal and Spain, notwithstanding momentary appearances, affording not a shadow of ultimate success, must So exhaust her tottering resources that it certainly requires no great depth of wisdom to foresee an event which is advancing with so much rapidity.

My ideas also1 respecting the fate we are to experience from our Slaves appears to be but too well founded. I find the expected crisis is now freely spoken of in Congress, and yet no attempt is made to obviate the storm. On the contrary, the steps pursued are directly calculated to accelerate its approach. The most worthless and the most audacious are daily sent from this and perhaps some of the states in the vicinity to the Southward, where the embers of conflagration, at present couvered by the slightest tissue, will probably, by these be quickly blown into a flame which will consume all to whom it can have access. I have been long satisfied we shall not have a war with any European power. We can not, if my conception of the present trans-atlantic conflict be correct: the seperation of the temporal from the ecclesiastical power; this has been effected here, I am therefore to presume we shall feel no other consequence of it than in our commerce: on this the finger of Heaven seems now to be placed, on account of the prostration of morals it has entrained. Retribution awaits us where we have been still more culpable—I fear with you Sir! there is not virtue enough in those who are the objects of suffering, to induce their resort to any measures which might have a tendency to mitigate or avert the threatened evil. These are truly awful prospects on which it is distressing to dwell; but they are so continually presented to our view that the reflecting mind can not resist the impulse they excite.

May you highly respected Sir! long live in safety, to enjoy the exulting reflection of having saved your country when threatened with desolation, and receive the final reward of the multiplied benefits you conferred on those over whom you So honourably presided. Accept this tribute from him who is, with veneration yours most faithfully

John Crawford

RC (MHi); endorsed by TJ as received 29 Dec. 1811 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Crawford, A Lecture, introductory to a Course of Lectures on the Cause, Seat and Cure of Diseases proposed to be Delivered in the City of Baltimore (Baltimore, 1811; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library [1829] description ends , 5 [no. 198]).

John Crawford (1746–1813), physician, was a native of northern Ireland. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he worked as a surgeon in Barbados and Demerara, the latter while it was still under Dutch rule. Crawford received medical degrees from the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland in 1791 and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands three years later. In 1796 he immigrated to Baltimore, where he soon established himself as an innovative medical practitioner. Crawford assembled a large reference library (acquired after his death by the University of Maryland in Baltimore), wrote on yellow fever and tropical diseases, doubted the efficacy of quarantines, and expounded the controversial belief that parasites and insects, some invisible to the naked eye, cause human diseases. He also helped to found the Maryland Society for Promoting Useful and Ornamental Knowledge and was heavily involved in the local dispensary, library, and penitentiary. Crawford was a consulting physician to the city hospital, a member of the board of health, an officer of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of the State of Maryland, and a prominent Freemason (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Eugene Fauntleroy Cordell, The Medical Annals of Maryland, 1799–1899 [1903], 758–70; Julia E. Wilson, “An Early Baltimore Physician and His Medical Library,” Annals of Medical History, 3d ser., 4 [1942]: 63–80; Raymond N. Doetsch, “John Crawford and His Contribution to the Doctrine of Contagium Vivum,” Bacteriological Reviews 28 [1964]: 87–96; Baltimore Patriot, 10 May 1813; Tobias Watkins, An Eulogium on the Character of Brother John Crawford, M.D. [Baltimore, 1813]).

In 1807, not 1808, Crawford sent TJ copies of the Baltimore Observer containing medical pieces he had written. His lengthy 1803 letter to TJ on the state of public affairs argued for gradual emancipation of our slaves (Crawford to TJ, 18 Oct. 1803, 18 Aug. 1807, 1 Dec. 1808 [DLC]).

1Manuscript: “also also.”

Index Entries

  • A Lecture, introductory to a Course of Lectures on the Cause, Seat and Cure of Diseases (Crawford) search
  • Baltimore, Md.; newspapers search
  • Crawford, John; A Lecture, introductory to a Course of Lectures on the Cause, Seat and Cure of Diseases search
  • Crawford, John; identified search
  • Crawford, John; letters from search
  • Crawford, John; on slavery search
  • Great Britain; financial situation of search
  • Great Britain; military operations of in Spain and Portugal search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Maryland; newspapers in search
  • medicine; works on, forwarded to TJ search
  • newspapers; Baltimore Observer search
  • Observer (Baltimore newspaper) search
  • Portugal; relations with Great Britain search
  • slavery; dangers of search
  • Spain; relations with Great Britain search