The American Revolution: A History in Documents

By Steven C. Bullock | Go to book overview

Introduction
Madness
and the
Revolution

Benjamin Rush was the first pro-
fessor of chemistry in America and
the new nation's most important
physician. Rush's many articles
and pamphlets helped encourage
the adoption of the American
Constitution, the expansion of
education for women, and the end
of slavery in Pennsylvania and
the northern United States
.

Benjamin Rush, perhaps the most influential American physician of the late eighteenth-century, held an unusual view of the American Revolution. He thought that it caused mental illness. In an essay published in 1789, he argued that some supporters of the American side had become so obsessed with liberty during the war with Great Britain that they could not accept any form of government afterward. As a result, they developed a [species of insanity] that he called Anarchia, referring to [anarchy,] a society without government. Loyalists, people who had opposed independence, often suffered from another type of mental sickness caused by defeat, what he called Revolutiania.

Rush, a signer of Declaration of Independence and a professor of chemistry, did not believe that Americans were unusually unbalanced. On the contrary, people who had supported the Revolution had been especially healthy. Inspired by [the love of liberty and their country,] American soldiers had been able to endure [hunger, cold, and nakedness,] with [patience] and [firmness.] Patriotic civilians received similar benefits. They experienced [uncommon cheerfulness] and even increased fertility. Some formerly childless couples had even been able to conceive for the first time during the war. Rush believed that such unusual developments were not surprising, since the Revolution had naturally led to [effects … both upon the mind and body, which have seldom occurred.]

-11-

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