Benjamin Rush - Encyclopedia

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BENJAMIN RUSH (1745-1813), American physician, was born in Byberry township, near Philadelphia, on a homestead founded by his grandfather, a Quaker gunsmith, who had followed Penn from England in 1683. In 1760 he graduated at Princeton. After serving an apprenticeship of six years with a doctor in Philadelphia, he went for two years to Edinburgh, where he attached himself chiefly to William Cullen. He took his M.D. degree there in 1768, spent a year more in the hospitals of London and Paris, and began practice in Philadelphia at the age of twenty-four, undertaking at the same time the chemistry class at the Philadelphia medical college. He was a friend of Franklin, a member of Congress for the state of Pennsylvania in 1776, and one of those who signed the Declaration of Independence the same year. He had already written on the Test Laws, "Sermons to the Rich," and on negro slavery; and in 1774 he started along with James Pemberton the first anti-slavery society in America, and was its secretary for many years. In 1787 he was a member of the Pennsylvania convention which adopted the Federal constitution, and thereafter he retired from public life, and gave himself up wholly to medical practice. In 1789 he exchanged his chemistry lectureship for that of the theory and practice of physic; and when the medical college, which he had helped to found, was absorbed by the university of Pennsylvania in 1791 he became professor of the institutes of medicine and of clinical practice, succeeding in 1796 to the chair of the theory and practice of medicine. He gained great credit when the yellow fever devastated Philadelphia, in 1793, by his assiduity in visiting the sick, and by his bold and apparently successful treatment of the disease by bloodletting. He died in Philadelphia on the 19th of April 1813, after a five days' illness from typhus fever. His son Richard is separately noticed. Another son, James (1786-1869), was a physician, and author of various books, such as Philosophy of the Human Voice (1827) and Analysis of the Human Intellect (1865).

Benjamin Rush's writings covered an immense range of subjects, including language, the study of Latin and Greek, the moral faculty, capital punishment, medicine among the American Indians, maple sugar, the blackness of the negro, the cause of animal life, tobacco smoking, spirit drinking, as well as many more strictly professional topics. His last work was an elaborate treatise on the Diseases of the Mind (1812). He is best known by the five volumes of Medical Inquiries and Observations, which he brought out 'at intervals from 1789 to 1798 (two later editions revised by the author).

See eulogy by his friend Dr David Hosack (Essays, i., New York, 1824), with biographical details taken from a letter of Rush to President John Adams; also references in the works of Thacker, Gross and Bowditch on the history of medicine in America. His part in the yellow fever controversies is indicated by La Roche (Yellow Fever in Philadelphia from 1699 to 1854, 2 vols., Philadelphia, 1855) and by Bancroft (Essay on the Yellow Fever, London, 1811). His services as an abolitionist pioneer are recorded in Clarkson's History of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade.

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