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Dr. Benjamin Rush | AA Beyond Belief

“Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, was the first member of the (American) medical community to write about alcoholism and suggest it might be an illness… a ‘disease process’”. (The Roundtable of AA History, Silkworth.internet) This was absolutely 100 years before the illness idea of alcoholism was absolutely developed and articulated within the 1870s.

Rush was born on January Four, 1746, on a plantation, a dozen miles outdoors of Philidelphia. “His interest in alcohol and alcohol-related problems sprang from personal as well was professional experience. Rush’s father was an alcoholic whose drinking led to his parents’ divorce, and his mother’s second husband was a distiller who abused her.” (Silkworth.internet) His organic father died when the longer term founding father was 5 or 6.

On the age of eight, Rush was put beneath the tutelage of his uncle, the Reverend Samuel Finley, who would later grow to be president of the School of New Jersey, which later turned Princeton. There was some considered his turning into a lawyer, but after graduating with a B.A. from the School of New Jersey, Rush started an apprenticeship as a doctor’s assistant to Dr. John Redman.

In 1766, he went to review at the University of Edinburgh, the place he accomplished an MD degree in 1769. While in Europe learning and touring, the younger Pennsylvanian turned fluent in French Italian and Spanish. Returning to America, Rush arrange a medical follow and became North America’s first ever chemistry professor, when he started educating the subject on the School of Philadelphia’s medical division. He taught extra physicians than some other educator of his period.

Social Activism

Upon his return to America, Rush also turned lively as a publisher of tracts lobbying for the elimination of slavery. His social activism ultimately branched into different areas. He opposed slavery, advocated free of charge public faculties, sought improved schooling for ladies and a extra enlightened penal system.

“Rush was a prolific writer and social activist. If a health or social issue arose during this period, Benjamin Rush was likely to be in the middle of the debate. He was often called the ‘father of American Psychiatry’ and was unquestionably the first American authority on alcohol and alcoholism.” (Slaying The Dragon – The History of Habit Remedy and Recovery in America, William L. White, Second Version, p. 2)

In the course of the Revolutionary Conflict, Rush was within the area with the colonial army. On this capability, the physician’s first skilled recognition of the problem of alcohol concerned the level of drunkenness among soldiers of the Continental Military – a problem of concern to George Washington as nicely.

In 1777, Rush issued a robust condemnation of using distilled spirits that was revealed and distributed to all soldiers.This was adopted in 1782 with a newspaper article entitled ‘Against Spirituous Liquors,’ through which Rush beneficial that farmers stop the apply of offering every day rations of liquor to their laborers… Two years later, in 1784, Rush revealed a pamphlet entitled “An Enquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors Upon the Human Body, and Their Influence Upon the Happiness of Society”. This 36-page tract was reprinted by the hundreds and stands as probably the most influential piece of early American writing on alcohol and alcoholism.” (Dragon, p. 2)

Some Injudicious Criticisms

Dr. Rush appears to have been an outspoken man, probably lacking in political savvy. While representing Philadelphia at Pennsylvania’s own Constitutional Convention, he aroused controversy and a few antipathy when he criticized the brand new Pennsylvania Constitution.

Through the early levels of the Revolutionary Conflict, the Army Medical Service was in disarray as the results of the excessive degree of army casualties and deaths resulting from typhoid, yellow fever and different camp sicknesses. There were also political conflicts, and insufficient provides.

Then surgeon-general of the center division of the Continental Military, Rush sided with John Morgan in criticizing a one-time mentor William Shippen Jr., for misappropriating provides. When their grievance to George Washington was referred to Congress, they usually then sided with Shippen, Rush resigned in disgust.

The early prosecution of the struggle did not go nicely for the colonials, and lots of have been important of the generalship of George Washington. Some sought to have him changed. Rush penned two letters of criticism that he needed communicated orally to Washington, leaving Rush’s reproaches conveyed, but anonymous. Washington noticed the letters, acknowledged the physician’s handwriting, and Rush was compelled to sever himself utterly from the struggle effort.

In later years, Rush deeply regretted his criticisms of the national hero, and issued statements of nice reward of the army chief.

Abolition, Indiscretion, and inconsistency

Dr. Benjamin Rush vociferously opposed slavery, and argued scientifically that Negroes were not, by nature, intellectually or morally inferior. Sadly, he went into higher element. “In 1792, Rush read a paper before the American Philosophical Society which argued that the ‘color’ and ‘figure’ of blacks were derived from a form of leprosy. He argued that with proper treatment, blacks could be cured and become white.” (Racial Formation in america, M. Omi and H. Winant, 1986)

Say whaaaaaat?????

The physician’s conclusions have been based mostly, at the least partially, by his assessment of the case of Henry Moss, a slave who had misplaced his dark pores and skin shade, in all probability on account of vitiligo.

“Despite his public condemnation of slavery, Dr. Rush purchased a slave named William Grubber in 1776. To the consternation of many, he still owned Grubber when he joined the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1784.” (African American Lives, Clayborne Carson, p. 119)


Rush the Physician

Rush thought that illness was the results of imbalances within the physique’s bodily system and was brought on by malfunctions in the brain. He harassed diligence in private hygiene, and a clear setting. The colonial physician was overly enamored of bleeding and purges using calomel and different poisonous substances. The pressured blood loss was thought to relieve strain to the mind.

The Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 introduced nice acclaim to the doctor. He was seen as brave for remaining on the town, and treating up to 100 patients per day. Unfortunately, a large number of these sufferers died. In fairness to Benjamin Rush, this was an period during which the healer was typically more dangerous than the affliction.

Not all have been enthralled by his efforts. Journalist and pamphleteer, William Cobbett attacked Rush’s excessive use of bloodletting, a follow more and more being deserted by lots of his fellow physicians on the scientific grounds of its danger and ineffectiveness.

Cobbett accused Rush of killing more sufferers than he saved. Rush sued and gained a judgment of $eight,000, his victory partially probably being because of his complainant being a controversial determine, and an brazenly British sympathizer. Cobbett soon fled to New York, then Halifax, and again to England, still owing the lion’s share of the penalty.

Notwithstanding this “moral victory”, Rush’s follow waned as he continued to advocate for leeches and purges, much to the chagrin of his good friend Thomas Jefferson.

Conception of Drunkenness

Rush first advised that persistent drunkenness was a progressive medical condition… He referred to as the process by way of which the drunkard turned progressively addicted to and eventually destroyed by alcohol a ‘disease of the will.’ Rush further recognized that the tendency toward drunkenness was transmitted intergenerationally inside families.

Rush’s belief that distilled spirits have been the reason for most drunkenness was so robust that he miscalculated the potential for comparable effects from wine and beer…. (His) essay, which steered that alcoholism ought to be seen as a self-contained disease, broke from the normal view that extreme consuming was either a reflection of moral depravity or a trigger or symptom of mental sickness.

Disease references helped buttress the move toward complete abstinence from alcohol…

Rush referred to the illness of drunkenness as “suicide perpetrated gradually” – an concept that Dr. Karl Menninger would revive and elaborate on 152 years later… some individuals’s drunkenness sprang from a hidden want for self-injury…” (Dragon, pp. Three-4)

Cottons in Their Ears

Cautions relating to the risks of distilled spirits seems to have found an audience with cotton in their ears, and corn liquor jugs at their mouths. Considerable segments of the inhabitants have been consuming, and at a pace that continued a startling escalation.

At a time when the newly born nation “was reveling in its newfound freedom, Rush challenged in his tract that ‘a nation corrupted by alcohol can never be free’”. (Dragon, p. 3) The citizens of the new republic continued to run up this “corruption” to unprecedented levels. By 1810, the per capita consumption of pure alcohol per individual was virtually double the 1792 figure, and by 1830, it was triple.

This 40 yr interval of the very best alcohol consumption in America’s historical past brought with it quite a lot of social issues, and prompted a strengthening of the countering forces of temperance. The forces of temperance reacted surprisingly properly to the “disease concept”. With out surrendering their primary “Satan and sin” message, the disease concept buttressed the transfer towards complete abstinence from alcohol.

Remedy of Drunkards

As did other physicians of the day, Dr. Rush “believed that health and disease were determined by the relative balance or imbalance of the body’s four humors (fluids): blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile… re-establishing the balance… by sweating, bleeding (via lancing or leeches), purging… blistering the skin, or ingesting various drugs… Many of his ‘heroic’ methods were clearly harmful”. (Dragon, p. 4)

The refusal to change his aggressive remedies led to a collapse of his apply, and financial disaster was averted by his appointment as Treasurer of the US Mint in 1797, a position he held till 1813, the yr of his passing.

On the plus aspect, he “was the first American physician to posit that continued abstinence from alcohol was the only hope for the confirmed drunkard”. (Dragon, p. Four) This concept didn’t achieve a broad acceptance until the “AA era” was firmly established.

In a single case, Rush produced a “cure” by inducing vomiting via an emetic combined with alcohol, primarily inventing “aversion therapy” 156 years before Dr. Walter Voegtlin. He additionally had some success with what would a lot later be referred to as “occupational therapy”. Those assigned menial every day duties did better of their recuperation than those left idle.

At a time when drunks, unwed mothers, STD victims have been seen as agents of their very own misfortune, unworthy of group hospital care, Rush pushed for the creation of a “Sober House” where inebriates might be medically handled and rehabilitated. It was a visionary proposal.

The Weird and the Fantastic

Perhaps nearly all of human beings are a mixture of the bizarre and the fantastic, the stories of these in “high profile” remaining within the public consciousness. “A wildly popular and much beloved man, he was nonetheless a fallible character.” (ushistory.org) That he practiced extensively among the many poor, and lobbied for the overall betterment of the working class, he was, to some extent, a champion of the plenty. This was the person risking his personal life to help others, in the 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic.

He made clear political errors. Both Benjamin Franklin and John Adams had some harsh observations to make about Rush. He had a status for gossip, and he was fast to pronounce judgments on others. While he thought-about himself scientific, he clung tenaciously to the previous concepts of medical follow that others saw as out of date.

He was supremely confident of his personal opinion and selections, yet shallow and unscientific in apply.” (ushistory.org)

His resolute abhorrence of distilled spirits, probably rooted in unpleasant experiences with a liquor-producing step-father, tempered his name for drunkards’ “total abstinence”, typically prescribing  wine, beer, cider and opium as replacements.

He lobbied for blacks to not be seen as inferior, but theorized that their “negroidism” was a curable disease.

He was an abolitionist who owned a slave.

America’s most well-known doctor’s follow was so diminished that his acceptance of a political appointment was, at the least partially, motivated by financial issues. Nonetheless, in some circles he remained a lot admired. Several of his college students established Rush Medical School in Chicago, naming it in his honor.

Two notable graduates have been the very entrepreneurial Leslie Keeley, and a lanky Vermonter, Robert Holbrook Smith.

The Disease Concept

His advocacy for viewing inebriety as an sickness was a brave one. A spiritual man himself, he understood the risks of lobbying for the medical remedy of “sin”.

”I’m conscious that the efforts of science and humanity, in making use of their assets to the remedy of a disease induced by a vice, will meet with a cold reception from many individuals.”

The fashionable illness/not illness debate is a posh one based mostly largely on technicalities and terms of definition. The talk of Rush’s time was illness vs. “moral depravity.” The AA period moves forward in a now much simpler battle.

The wisdom gleaned from William White’s four many years of experience emerges in these words: “We have both an individual and collective need for this concept to be ‘true,’ regardless of its scientific status… Science is unlikely to destroy the popularity of the disease metaphor, but a better metaphor could.” (Dragon, p. 512)

As the first American doctor to challenge the previous, intractable metaphor of dysfunctional consuming as “moral degeneracy”, Dr. Benjamin Rush merits a nod from AA.

Concerning the Writer

Bob Okay. lives within the Metropolitan Toronto space, and has been a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous since 1991, and an out-of-the-closet atheist for that whole time. He has been a daily contributor to the AA Agnostica web site for almost 5 years, and in January, 2015, revealed Key Gamers in AA History In 2013, he co-founded the Whitby Freethinkers assembly.

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