James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Smith, 28 March 1818

From James Smith

Baltimore 28th. March 1818

Dr. Sir

I would be very inexcusable should I neglect to send you one of the first Copies of my Prospectus of a permanent national Vaccine Institution.1

Should any leisure hour permit you to examine the Plan which I have proposed, it would afford me great pleasure to learn your approval of it. And it would always be considered among the highest gratifications I would wish to enjoy, to be permited to record your Name on the Books of this Institution as one of its first Patrons.

Mrs. Smith joins me to request you will have the Goodness to present our most sincere regard to Mrs. Madison with our best Wishes for your own & her health and happiness. With sentiments of the highest Respect I am your most obedient Humble Servant

James Smith2

RC (NN). Addressed to JM “Orange County Virginia,” and franked. Cover docketed by JM.

1The enclosure (1 p.; DLC: Madison Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division) was a printed prospectus from Smith, dated 20 Mar. 1818, proposing “to establish a permanent national Vaccine Institution” in Washington, D.C. The aim of the institution was to eradicate smallpox, by “the more general diffusion of a correct knowledge of the true Vaccine process,” and the provision of “a more free and immediate access to this remedy, with proper directions for its use.” Smith requested JM’s patronage as well as his help in obtaining subscribers and collecting donations for the institution.

2James Smith (1771–1841) was a Baltimore physician, a student of Benjamin Rush, and a crusader in the fight against smallpox. In 1813 he was appointed by JM “agent to preserve the genuine vaccine matter, and to furnish the same to any citizen of the United States.” When congressional support for Smith and his network of subagents ran out in 1818, he decided to create the National Vaccine Institution. The organization survived on private funding until it was linked to the deaths of smallpox victims in Tarboro, North Carolina, in 1821 (Smith to JM, 26 Feb. 1813 [PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (6 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984—). description ends , 6:72 and nn. 1 and 3]; Joel N. Shurkin, The Invisible Fire: The Story of Mankind’s Victory Over the Ancient Scourge of Smallpox [New York, 1979], 194–98).

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