Rush, Benjamin

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Rush, Benjamin

Benjamin Rush, a physician, teacher and political activist, is best known for being a member of the Continental Congress and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. His controversial medical theories showed forward vision on some subjects, but remarkably unenlightened views on others. His confidence in his own judgment led him to question the military strategy of General George Washington.

Rush was born into a strongly religious family on December 24, 1745, in Byberry Township, near Philadelphia. He was educated at a private academy and then sent to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). He graduated at age 14 in 1760 and then began the study of medicine. After six years as a medical apprentice in Philadelphia, Rush finished his education at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, where he received his medical degree in 1768. He undertook further training at a hospital in London, England and attended medical lectures in Paris, France, where he made the acquaintance of Benjamin Franklin. Returning to America in 1769, Rush became, at age 23, a chemistry professor at the medical school that was part of the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania). In 1770, he began a prolific writing career when he published the first American textbook on chemistry. He also began publishing essays on topics relating to health as well as temperance, Capital Punishment, and Slavery. In 1774, Rush co-founded one of America's first anti-slavery societies.

Rush's prodigious schedule as a physician, teacher, writer, and lecturer did not prevent him from also becoming an ardent political activist. He published numerous tracts on colonial rights and became a member of the provincial confer ence of Pennsylvania. In 1776, Rush was elected to the Continental Congress, the body of delegates that met to create the political roadmap for the American colonies. As a strong advocate of the radical view that the colonies should control their own destinies, Rush was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The proclamation, largely crafted by Thomas Jefferson, was approved on July 4, 1776. In 1777, Rush was appointed Surgeon General of the Middle Department of the Continental Army. He resigned the appointment early in 1778 because he disagreed with the way the military hospitals were being run by his superior, who retained the support of General Washington. In return, Rush publicly questioned Washington's military judgment, giving brief support to a group who sought to replace Washington with another leader. Rush later expressed regret over his opposition to Washington.

Rush resumed his work as a physician, teacher, and lecturer. In 1783, he helped to found Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and became one of its trustees. In 1786, he founded the Philadelphia Dispensary, a clinic that provided free medical services to poor people. He advocated limitations on the use of alcohol and tobacco, encouraged the use of clinical research and instruction, and advanced proposals for the study of veterinary medicine.

Rush's greatest accomplishments were in the area of mental health. He worked for years with insane patients at the Pennsylvania Hospital and sought humane treatment for them on the theory that insanity could be assuaged by medical treatment. He also deduced that many mental disorders had physical causes. His significant contributions to the study of mental illness and its causes led to Rush's appellation as the "Father of American Psychiatry". While showing considerable enlightenment on the topic of insanity, Rush espoused support for methods of treating physical ailments that were not only controversial, but also often fatal. Rush's approach to pathology was more theoretical than scientific. He was a proponent of bloodletting, purging, and other treatments that usually weakened patients and sometimes killed them.

"I anticipate the Day when to command Respect in the remotest Regions it will be sufficient to say I am an American."
—Benjamin Rush

In 1787, Rush was a member of the Pennsylvania delegation that ratified the U.S. Constitution. Ten years later, in 1797, President John Adams appointed him as Treasurer of the U.S. Mint. Rush retained the position until his death in Philadelphia on April 19, 1813.

Further readings

Barton, David. 1999. Benjamin Rush. Aledo, Tex.: Wallbuilder Press.King, Lester. 1991. Transformations in American Medicine: From Benjamin Rush to William Osler. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Hawke, David Freeman. 1971. Benjamin Rush: Revolutionary Gadfly. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merill.

References in periodicals archive ?
Benjamin Rush was born December 24, 1745, in Byberry, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia.
Leaders like Benjamin Franklin, Noah Webster, and Benjamin Rush all agreed that there was no intrinsic conflict between liberal, useful and even popular education.
Debates over the etiology of alcoholism go back to ancient Rome, but the modern conception of alcoholism as a disease is usually attributed to the nineteenth-century theories of Benjamin Rush (1745-1813).
The two men were Benjamin Rush, a medical doctor who signed the Declaration of Independence, and Benjamin Banneker, a surveyor, astronomer, mathematician and editor.
Tom Wolf is to sign this morning in Benjamin Rush State Park in Philadelphia, would supersede an executive order signed by former Gov.
Benjamin Rush (1745-1813) of Philadelphia, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
8221; He has been honored with numerous awards including, The Benjamin Rush Gold Medal for Best Scientific Exhibit and the 1998 Distinguished Scientist Award of the Sleep Research Society.
To be sure, religion takes some people the other way; it inspired Benjamin Rush to reject capital punishment and Sister Helen Prejean to console prisoners on death row.
Brieger, former professor at the John Hopkins School of Medicine and editor of the Bulletin of the History of medicine has collected a number of articles on American medicine from people as diverse as Benjamin Rush and Oliver Wendell Holmes.
These sarcastic words were penned by Benjamin Rush, then Physician General of the Continental Army's Middle [Medical] Department, to General Nathanael Greene in 1777.
Medical personnel, including the famed physician Benjamin Rush, could do no better than bleed their patients, ply them with laxatives, and recommend that floors be coated with two inches of new soil, Most who had resources fled to the countryside, but a few, including some political leaders and black persons from the Caribbean, many of whom were immune, stayed to nurse and help in any way they could.