James Madison Papers

To James Madison from the Inhabitants of Milton, Massachusetts, 9 March 1812 (Abstract)

§ From the Inhabitants of Milton, Massachusetts

9 March 1812. Transmit an address to the president, adopted at a town meeting on 2 Mar., on the subject of vaccination,1 to which they add an expression “of their desire to contribute to the public welfare, of their devotion to the national cause, and of the sentiments of high respect, and consideration, which they entertain for the illustrious chief of the United States.”

RC and enclosure (DLC). RC and enclosure 4 pp.; docketed by JM, who added the notation “with answer.” For enclosure, see n. 1.

1The address, bearing eighty-three signatures, narrated a history of smallpox outbreaks in the Boston region beginning in the summer of 1809 and recorded the efforts of the inhabitants of Milton to counter the disease by “a publick vaccination for the common safety.” One-quarter of the town, 337 individuals, was inoculated with great benefit, whereupon they urged the selectmen and ministers of fourteen towns in Norfolk County, Massachusetts, to adopt “the same easy mode of excluding the dreaded pestilence.” Further experiments in October 1809 demonstrated the effectiveness of vaccination, and in January 1810 the town applied to the Massachusetts General Court “for their sanction to the propriety of making vaccination, a municipal measure, in all the towns of the Commonwealth.” An act to that effect was passed in the same session. Some towns, in and beyond the state, acted in conformity with the law, but others did not and were “surprised, last summer, by the sudden appearance of the Foe, & paid an afflicting tribute of some valuable lives.”

The inhabitants then alluded to the prospect of war, recalled “with painful emotions, the distresses of the army under General Thomas in 1776,” and anticipated “the recurrence of a similar national disaster.” They therefore forwarded to JM “a collection of the papers relative to the transactions of [their] town, to diffuse the benefit of vaccination,” and suggested “the expediency of some provision being made, to secure the armed force of the United States, against small pox infection.” They also enclosed duplicate copies of their transactions for the vice president, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and officers of the administration. The address concluded with expressions of “unfeigned attachment to the national cause,” of wonderment at the rising prospects of the New World, and of concern that “the rights of our present & future generations” might disappear “before the diplomacy of Courts.” “Let Europe, therefore, Keep back her hands stained with blood, for Ours is the refuge of Man, & the dawn of a more happy dispensation; If the God of peace has directed our Councils, so may his awful Spirit lead our Host in the time of trial.” The inhabitants also offered JM their “sincere wishes for [his] personal happiness, & the prosperity of [his] Government.”

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