The Selected Writings of Benjamin Rush

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Read Books, 2008 - Biography & Autobiography - 452 pages
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EDITED BY DAGOBERT D. RUNES PHILOSOPHICAL LIBRARY NEW YORK --l, f Z rt r f r i, - . -, -- - -, jj JU I- - 1 - f - . . r -., .. ifHtf ORIGINAL AT THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, IN PHILADELPHIA. EDITORS PREFACE U F A GREAT MAN DIES, there is a hole in the world. Time may do much to fill that hole on the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Rush, for example, few memorials echoed his name in this great land. Yet few were as fiery as he, or more influential, in the vehemence of protest that brought this country into being and few held the standards of its early learning and culture as high as he held them. Only Thomas Paine a close friend could match Benjamin Rush in uncompromising revolutionary spirit. Rush, incidentally, suggested the title for Paines historic pamphlet, Common Sense. Together, they ploughed the field for revolution in Colonial America. And only Benjamin Franklin, in the young United States, had the humane versatility, the many-sided in terests, the wide learning, of Benjamin Rush. The interests of Dr. Rush were varied, but their direction was unwaveringly toward the betterment of mankind. His scientific and medical investigations, as well as his social studies and en deavors, were interfused with deeply religious and ethical feeling. In science and medicine, he sought along the frontiers of knowl edge. In the quest for social and political justice, he fought on the side of the weak. Alexander Hamilton blocked his appointment to the medical faculty of Columbia College, on the ground of his too radical beliefs. He was considered by many the great physician of his coun try and time. Perhaps he was not. Medicine, in his day, was still groping in the dark.The bacterial nature of diseases was as yet unknown as yet undiscovered was the application of anaesthesia, the door to surgery. Yet Benjamin Rush was the first in America to employ oc- See frontispiece facsimile of Diary. vi EDITORS PREFACE cupational therapy in the treatment of mental ills, and to en courage anticipating modern methods analytical conversation with the patient. There can be no doubt as to the depth of Rushs burning patriotism, his hatred of the British oppression, of all tyranny. His signature on the Declaration of Independence was by no means a merely formal one. It signified not only his peoples fight against British domination, but his continuing resolve to battle tyranny, intolerance, and suppression in his native America. Benjamin Rushs pamphlets, articles, letters, and speeches mount into the thousands. He pleaded for the abolition of slavery. He urged the removal of the death penalty. He argued for the amelioration of the lot of civil prisoners, who, often jailed for no worse crime than debt, were sent to labor in city-streets chained down with heavy iron balls. He advocated the establishment of special hospitals for the insane, then confined in vermin-infested stables, at the mercy of ignorant and brutal guards. There was no current cause worthy of support that did not benefit from the warm heart, the outstretched hand, and the uplifted voice of Benjamin Rush. It was inevitable that so staunch a fighter should rally around him many friends and supporters, but also unite against him many who preferred or profited by the status quo. Conscious of the great opportunities of the new country, Rush was equally aware of its failings and insufficiencies. In his nationalpride and his forthright directness, he became the conscience of the new-born republic. Even before the birth of the new nation, during the events that led up to and that marked the American Revolution, this keen conscience of Benjamin Rush was a goad to his fellows. It must be remembered that a considerable body of business men and of politicians was at first entirely opposed to a War for Inde pendence, and during the War clamored for a policy of appease ment...

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