Thomas Jefferson Papers

James Smith (of Baltimore) to Thomas Jefferson, 28 March 1818

From James Smith (of Baltimore)

Baltimore 28. March 1818.

Respected Sir

I hope your well known philanthropy will find an excuse for a Citizen Who wishes to present you with one of the first Copies of his Plan to render Vaccination more universal and better understood in the United States. I beg you will do me the honor to peruse it, and if approved I will be much gratified to record your Name on the Books of this Institution as one of its first Founders.

Any Suggestion to improve or render my Plan more useful which your better information may enable you to give on a Subject of So great importance to the Community would be most thankfully received

With great veneration most respected Sir I remain Your most Obedient and Humble Servant

James Smith

RC (MoSHi: TJC-BC); endorsed by TJ as received 2 Apr. 1818 and so recorded in SJL. RC (DLC); address cover only; with PoC of TJ’s Statement of Account with Philip Mazzei’s Estate, 5 Apr. 1818, on verso; addressed: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Monticello Virginia”; franked; postmarked Baltimore, 28 Mar.

James Smith (ca. 1771–1841), physician and vaccination advocate, was born in Cecil County, Maryland, graduated from Dickinson College in 1792, and studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He established a medical practice in Baltimore by 1797 and was among the founders of that city’s dispensary, where he also worked as an attending physician, 1801–07. A strong supporter and popularizer of Edward Jenner’s discovery that cowpox lymph could be used to prevent smallpox, Smith opened a vaccine clinic for the poor of Baltimore in 1802 and operated it, largely at his own expense, for many years. He served as Maryland’s vaccination agent, 1809–32, and was appointed federal agent of vaccination by President James Madison in 1813. In the latter capacity Smith was responsible for the preservation of the vaccine supply and for providing it to any doctor or private citizen who needed it. He supervised some twenty agents nationwide, who inoculated around 100,000 people over the following decade. In 1814 Smith also became the vaccine agent for Virginia. The death of several persons in Tarboro, North Carolina, who were mistakenly treated with specimens of smallpox instead of cowpox, led to his dismissal as national agent early in 1822. Thereafter Smith continued to tend the sick in Baltimore and advocate for increased vaccination. He died in Baltimore County (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Whitfield J. Bell, “Dr. James Smith and the Public Encouragement for Vaccination for Smallpox,” Annals of Medical History, 3d ser., 2 [1940]: 500–17; John R. Quinan, Medical Annals of Baltimore [1884], 155–6; George Leffingwell Reed, ed., Alumni Record, Dickinson College [1905], 42; American and Baltimore Daily Advertiser, 7 Dec. 1801; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 2:806–7 [27 Feb. 1813]; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 31 Mar. 1813; Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser, 9 Feb., 5 June 1822; Baltimore American & Commercial Daily Advertiser, 14 June 1841).

The plan to render vaccination more universal and better understood was probably Smith’s prospectus Of a Permanent National Vaccine Institution, to be Established in the City of Washington, District of Columbia (Baltimore, 1818), which lamented that the American people did not have “a sufficiently free access to the genuine Kine Pock” (p. 3); offered a lifetime supply of the vaccine to any doctor or citizen who paid $10 during the course of 1818; called for donations with which to purchase a lot in the nation’s capital and erect a building to house the proposed establishment; included testimonials signed by nine physicians and eight clergymen of Baltimore; related the history of smallpox and progress of vaccination in the United States; described the recent actions of the Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia legislatures on this score; printed Smith’s 10 Jan. 1818 petition urging Congress to offer “a free supply of the Vaccine Matter to every citizen of the U. States, who may wish to use it” (p. 30); and reported its unwillingness to do so. Most likely also sent to TJ at this time was a printed circular letter from Smith, Baltimore, 20 Mar. 1818 (DLC: Rare Book and Special Collections), presenting the above prospectus, stating that the proposed institution aimed to eliminate smallpox by disseminating knowledge and increasing access to the vaccine, and requesting the recipient’s aid in gathering subscriptions and donations for its support.

On this day Smith also sent copies of his prospectus to John Adams (MHi: Adams Papers) and James Madison (Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 1:241).

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and J. Smith’s proposed National Vaccine Institution search
  • Congress, U.S.; petitions to search
  • cowpox search
  • health; cowpox search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and J. Smith’s proposed National Vaccine Institution search
  • Maryland; legislature of search
  • medicine; smallpox vaccination search
  • Pennsylvania; legislature of search
  • smallpox; vaccinations search
  • Smith, James (of Baltimore); and proposed National Vaccine Institution search
  • Smith, James (of Baltimore); identified search
  • Smith, James (of Baltimore); letter from search
  • subscriptions, non-publication; for proposed National Vaccine Institution search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search