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American History: Benjamin Rush 1745 – 1813

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Benjamin Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, however it seems as though that is just a small footnote on what was a fruitful life.

Rush was born to John Rush and Susanna Hall. His father died when he was only six years old. His maternal uncle picked up where his father left off. The Reverend Samuel Finley became a great influence in the life of young Rush.

By the age of fifteen Benjamin Rush was finishing up his degree at the College of New Jersey, what is now Princeton University. He then began studying medicine under John Redman. Through the influence of Redmen, Rush attended the University of Edinburgh in Great Britain. It was here that he became multi-lingual in French, Spanish, and Italian. He finished his studies by the age of 24 and returned to the colonies.

Once arriving in the colonies he became a staunch supporter of independence. Rush consulted Thomas Paine after writing the influential pamphlet, Common Sense. He was an active Son of Liberty and was voted as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He accomplished all of this and managed to also write the first American textbook on chemistry. Rush was a man of many talents.

American History: Benjamin Rush 1745   1813

He, along with John Adams , Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and the many other signers of the Declaration of Independence , declared Independence from Britain. In 1777 he served as Surgeon General to the Continental Congress. He resigned the post in 1778. It was during this time that he along with others of the Conway Cabal actively campaigned for the dismissal of General George Washington. He did go on to regret those actions as he stated in a letter to John Adams in 1812.

Benjamin Rush served on the staff of the Pennsylvania Hospital from 1783 until his death. He also was appointed treasurer of the U.S Mint in 1797, taught medical theory at the University of Pennsylvania, he was an abolitionist, devout Christian who wanted the Bible to be taught to children in their education, and the father of Modern Psychiatry. He also trained Lewis and Clark in frontier illness before their exploration of the Louisiana Purchase.

In his personal life he was engaged to Sarah Eve who died two weeks before their marriage. After surviving the tragedy Rush married Julia Stockton. Julia Stockton was the daughter of Richard Stockton, who was another signer of the Declaration of Independence. Together the couple had 13 children, 9 of those children survived the first year.

He died at the age of 68 at his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Contributions to Medical and Mental Science

Benjamin Rush erroneously was an advocate of bloodletting and other primitive practices.

However, Rush did do quite a bit of research in the causes of certain diseases, especially yellow fever. Rush kept a journal of the yellow fever that swept through Philadelphia in 1793. He treated hundreds of patients during this time and wrote was is the first report on the dengue fever.

Rush’s main influence was in the area of mental health. He was the first to diagnose alcoholism as a disease and treat it as a mental problem. He was also was the first to describe the Savant Syndrome and was a pioneer in the area of addiction. His discoveries in the field of mental illness led to him being called “The Father of Modern Psychiatry.” Many of his ideas are still used today.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson

With all that he accomplished, Rush is probably known by most as the man who reconciled John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Dr. Rush was friends with both of the men and wrote letters to each of them. He encouraged the two men to write letters to each other, which they did. They reconciled in 1812 and Rush died in 1813.