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Title pageAbout the Book

Rush, Benjamin.

Essays, Literary, Moral & Philosophical.


Philadelphia: Printed by Thomas and Samuel F. Bradford, 1798.



Benjamin Rush collected twenty-five of his previous writings and published them in Philadelphia in 1798 in a volume he titled Essays, Literary, Moral, and Philosophical. The famous doctor, philosopher, and patriot had published on a host of subjects in the previous decade. Many of these items had first been seen in pamphlet form, or in the pages of the American Museum and the Columbian Magazine, some years before. Two essays in the twenty-five had not previously been printed in any form. Though Rush published rich treatises on medicine, constitutional matters, and government, many of his essays served as an aggressive defense of his own opinions of the moment on various matters, great and small. One may assume that the pieces he chose for this volume represent the ideas that had remained important to him in the intervening years. They do include some of his most well known views on education, government, and slavery. Ever the apostle of the "useful," he was explicit in his hope that this republication would aid in advancing those causes still requiring action. But he also recognized advances. He left out two earlier essays on slavery, for example, saying that the matter was now closer to resolution worldwide and that anti-slavery societies in Great Britain were currently active in providing more valuable tracts condemning the trade.

The essays he did include are arranged as follows:

A Plan for establishing Public Schools in Pennsylvania, and for conducting Education agreeable to a Republican form of Government. Addressed to the Legislature and Citizens of Pennsylvania, in the year 1786. In this opening essay, one of his most famous, Rush advocates learning friendly to religion, liberty, law, manners, agriculture, and manufacture. His "simple plan" for the state advocates one university in the capital and four colleges (in Philadelphia, Carlisle, Lancaster, and Pittsburgh), together with free schools in every township in Pennsylvania. All of society would bear the cost, and all would be repaid through improvement in trade, manufacture, and order.

On the mode of Education proper in a Republic. Following on from his previous essay, Rush warns that the state's varied and numerous immigrants made success in public education vital. The young should be converted into "republican machines." He first drives home the importance of education grounded in New Testament religion, since, as he states, without virtue there is no liberty. Christianity teaches humility, self-denial, and brotherly love, all so important in the running of a republic. To cement love of country and liberty, citizens must believe that they are themselves "public property." The social life of students should be disciplined in diet (the broths of ancient Sparta or modern Scotland) and they should abstain from liquor and keeping long hours. He stands against boarding in dormitories, preferring the civilizing effect of local families. His curriculum would prefer active languages to "dead" ones - no degree would be awarded without facilities in French and German. The program would contain eloquence, a close attention to the English language, History, Commerce, and Chemistry. At some stage, there should be taught useful subjects such as agriculture, manufacture, inland navigation, and government, including attendance at county court sessions. Women should also be educated in government, liberty, and patriotism since they are the first teachers of young children.

Observations upon the study of the Latin and Greek languages, as a branch of liberal Education, with hints of a plan of liberal Instruction, without them, accommodated to the present state of society, manners and government in the United States. The theme of education continues with his hostility to the time and energies schools and scholars waste in the pursuit of "dead" languages, especially Latin and Greek, saying that there are "a hundred more useful subjects." The thrall under which liberal education suffers is a folly and should undergo radical reform. He attacks the defense put up that these studies enhance good English, taste, eloquence, and vocabulary. It is time in a new century to leave the often impious and immoral legends of the past; their studies are no longer needed. Abandoning them will purify English and revitalize and democratize schools. In this reform Rush would like to see children during the first eight years of life reading, writing, and speaking only English, followed by four years more of natural history and geography. French and German would follow at twelve years old, with arithmetic. From fourteen through eighteen years, students could turn to philosophy, grammar, rhetoric, logic, and history. "Moral Philosophy" would go, to be replaced with the teaching of Christianity. (Since this proposal met with a storm of correspondence when it was first published, Rush here includes support from a Virginia academy head in Alexandria, and his letter in answer.)

Thoughts upon the amusements and punishments, which are proper for Schools is a reply Rush wrote in August 1796 to George Clymer, a well-known Philadelphia merchant who signed the Declaration of Independence, was a Pennsylvania representative to the first U. S. Congress, and first president of the Philadelphia Bank. Clymer had asked his opinion, and Rush was specific in his response. Amusements should be strictly supervised and should include agriculture (growing vegetables, for example) and manufactures (like carpentry). Punishments of the type now usual in schools were disgraceful, he said. Corporal punishment of any kind should be abolished. Physical punishment hurts mind, body, and drives children from the love of learning. Better would be a graduated system of reproach that moves from private admonition, confinement after school, then the mark of a small sign of disgrace held before the whole school, and finally expulsion. He refuses to apologize for his idealism since schoolmasters, along with mothers, are the first to form citizenship in young Americans.

Thoughts upon Female Education, accommodated to the present state of society, manners, and government, in the United States of America is another well-known set of Rush opinions, given in July 1787in his address to the Young Ladies Academy in Philadelphia, which he had helped to found. He begins by holding that education should match the individual society it serves. The earlier marriage, working conditions, and duties of motherhood in the United States force different considerations than in Britain, for example. Here, women's education needs to be concentrated and should include excellent English, figures and book-keeping, a general knowledge of history, science, and geography sufficient to be a "good companion" to a learned man, together with vocal music, and Christianity. He would encourage this education, and says that it is time to break away from Great Britain in this; women of knowledge would reform society and domestic life.

A defense of the Bible as a School Book, written first in March 1791, is a lengthy answer to Reverend Jeremy Belknap, the Boston Unitarian minister and historian to whom Rush had long promised to explain his thoughts on this matter. One of Rush's great disappointments was the banishment of the Bible as a lesson book in public schools. For this he blamed the Deism then popular. Here, he lays down his belief that "Christianity is the only true and perfect religion" and the Bible is the best way to learn that faith since it contains more necessary knowledge than any other book. A child's memory is suited to religious knowledge, the stories are interesting, and if one reads the Bible when young, one will continue to do so later in life. He also sees its use as God's command and notes that the qualities he sees in the Quakers, Germans, Scots, and Jews - whom he discusses at length - come from the centrality of the Bible in their education. He concludes with a typical hyperbolic claim that Bible based education in schools will, in two generations, eliminate infidelity and render civil government "scarcely necessary."

An address to the Ministers of the Gospel of every denomination in the United States upon subjects interesting to morals was originally written in June 1788. The piece takes the form of a warning of the types of immorality that can doom the young nation "to misery and slavery." Noting that all denominations can unite on this, he goes on to describe public and private habits drawing the nation down. Among public follies, he begins with the drinking of distilled spirits, something that he feels states should not permit, noting that the taxes they generate are not worth the damage. He moves on to militia gatherings, so usually a scene of drunkenness and carousing, and declares that the militia should be abolished as unnecessary in a time of peace. Fairs at which people gather are likewise no longer needed and promote immorality. He includes "law suits" on his public list, holding that "they are highly disreputable between persons who profess Christianity." The "licentiousness of the Press" is a shelter for cowardly libel and injury and needs somehow to be curbed. Horse racing and cock fighting should be outlawed, while all male clubs, and any Sunday amusements also earn his condemnation. In domestic affairs, he cites the habit of leaving children and servants to run wild when the heads of the house engage in long absences from home. Too frequent and lavish entertaining, and hiring children all are as damaging. He recommends annual contracts for all domestic staff. For all of this, he proposes his solution to be a "Christian Convention" set up as an official branch of the federal government to advance morals. To this group each sect would appoint a representative to create unified action. With this office in place, he reasons, the United States will continue, "to teach mankind."

An inquiry into the consistency of Oaths with Christianity Rush completed in January 1789. He states his objection, in reason and in religion, to the demand that people should be required to guarantee truth in civil affairs with a sworn oath. This sets up levels of truth, and reason dictates that there can be only one truth. In the Bible, only people in denial, like Peter who swears three times he does not know Christ, use the oath, and passages in Matthew and James explicitly forbid swearing an oath. The Apostles did not swear oaths to take up their duties. He recommends banishing oath-taking from public life, saying that we should speak under oath always or not at all. (Four months later, George Washington and John Adams took the oath as first president and vice-president under the new Constitution of the United States.)

An enquiry into to Effects of Public Punishments upon Criminals, and upon Society was presented at a meeting of the Society for Promoting Political Enquiries at the home of Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia on May 9, 1787. The meeting was among those the society called to examine the state of prisons and punishment in the city. Philadelphia had, to the dismay of many, begun to use chain gangs of prisoners working on public streets under a 1786 law reform that allowed the substitution of "hard labor" for death in certain felonies, like burglary and sodomy. Rush began his thoughtful and reasoned protest against public punishments by confirming his belief that punishment must be aimed at reformation of the criminal or the removal of the intractable offender from society. To those in many nations who say that punishment should be public, through hanging, corporal punishment, or disgracing public labor, Rush says that all public punishments make bad men worse and actually increase crime. In the criminal, it builds fearlessness and a sense of revenge while destroying his sense of shame. In the observer, it creates admiration for the criminal suffering with courage, pity for the man breaking down under punishment, and eventual insensibility through familiarity to human suffering of all kinds. Finally, using criminals in public labor makes all such tasks a disreputable calling, especially in public works. A better solution would be to build a large state "house," complete with apartments, a religious hall, and solitary cells (then largely unknown) for those who need it. Vary the punishment with the crime and the criminal, and keep secret from the inmate the duration of his sentence. The courts would visit twice a year to review the sentences and prisoners' progress. All this would be designed to inflict thoughtful and reforming punishment on the mind of the criminal, teaching him to value his liberty. (A few months later, Rush and several prominent Quakers founded the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons and began to lobby for improved conditions at the overcrowded Walnut Street Gaol, then the only prison in the state. This resulted in 1790 in a new extension at the jail with solitary confinement cells and a gathering area such as Rush had recommended. From these Philadelphia Quakers came the term "penitentiary," and this extension's design instituted the cellblock design of modern prisons.)

An enquiry into the consistency of the Punishment of Murder by Death, with Reason and Revelation Rush finished on Independence Day, 1797, ten years after taking up the matter of public punishment at Franklin's house. He had spoken against capital punishment then, and in this pamphlet he laid out his lifelong and powerful objections to the judicial taking of a human life. Capital punishment is indeed "unreasonable" to Benjamin Rush. It lessens the horror of ending life and leads to more murders, it acts as state sponsored suicide, and justice becomes more difficult to apply as lawyers will plead down and juries will fail to convict. Capital punishment also violates "divine revelation." It usurps God's authority and bears the stain of folly and revenge. To those who say that the laws of Moses justify execution, he responds that God only meant that code to remain until man could move on into civilization and grace - God intended improvement in man. If the ancient laws of Leviticus are to be applied equally, the United States must execute people for adultery and blasphemy, he reasons. The Bible, after all, contains many who killed but escaped the wrath of God, including Moses himself, and David. Christ's appearance was crucial because he came to save and not to kill, proving , Rush says, that the world is improving according to God's plan. Now, modern man protects women and children and civilians in war and we "decline all wars to be unlawful but such as are purely defensive." Society moves on and legislators should be careful of daring to go against Christ and his Gospel. (The death penalty in Pennsylvania had, under William Penn, been applied only in cases of murder. Later, many other crimes were made punishable by death. The 1786 reforms restored the original policy, reserving death for murder and treason. Pennsylvania was the first state to develop "degrees" of murder and the application of the death penalty in 1793 as a compromise with Quaker demands for abolition. Michigan, in 1846, became the first state to abolish the death penalty for murder.)

A plan of a Peace Office for the United States was Benjamin Rush at his most vitriolic and passionate as he pleaded powerfully his deep beliefs against standing armies, and the taking of human life needlessly by any means. He did this with a detailed proposal for a "Peace Office of the United States" headed by a Secretary. This would match the recently founded War Office. The Secretary of Peace would be a true republican and a Christian who would be charged with establishing free schools in every U. S. community and overseeing the quality of teachers and curriculum. He would also be required to provide a copy of the American edition of the Bible to every family in America. He would venerate human life and repeal all death penalties, what Rush calls "murder in cold blood." In fact, the legend "The Son of Man Came into the World not to destroy men's lives, but to save them" would be inscribed in gold above every public building in the nation. The department would set out to make war less popular with the abolition of the militia, all military parades, and all uniforms in peacetime. The office would have for its symbols a lamb, a dove, and an olive branch and would house a collection of ploughshares and pruning hooks made from swords. The War Office, on the other hand, would have signs announcing it as "An Office for butchering the human species" and "Widow and Orphan making office" and "An office for creating poverty and the destruction of liberty, and national happiness." Its lobby is to be adorned with paintings of the horrors of war and suffering civilians headed with the words, in blood red, "NATIONAL GLORY."

Information to Europeans who are disposed to migrate to the United States of America is a response to a letter from a Quaker friend in London requesting information on the subject. The unnamed friend wrote in August 1789, and Rush answered in April 1790. Rush intends to update Franklin's Advice those who would remove to America (1782) and begins with a description of those who should not come, including the idle rich, full time literary men, and all professors of the fine arts except music masters. Those who would benefit would be farmers, mechanics, laborers, those poor willing to become indentured servants, and men of learned professions, providing they do not underestimate the advances the United States has made in this area. The opportunities are limitless for the right kind of person. Rights of religion are guaranteed - he notes that three Catholics already sit in Congress - birth outside the United States is not a limit on any office but president, and there is solid loyalty to the republic, and therefore tranquility rules. States vary in their suitability, and he pleads Pennsylvania's case as the most appreciative and welcoming to the immigrant, saying confidently that Pennsylvania will always be the leading state in the union.

An Account of the Progress of Population, Agriculture, Manners, and Government, in Pennsylvania, in a letter to a friend in England is an essay outlining in lengthy detail the manner in which the settlement of Pennsylvania takes place, especially in social and economic terms. Rush describes first settlers as solitary families building a small cabin, cultivating maize and surviving through hunting. The first settler lives much like the Indians and enjoys hunting, fishing, and liquor till he gains other settler neighbors. This brings the restrictions of law and the Gospel that eventually lead to his selling up and moving to fresher territory. The second type of settler improves the land further, planting orchards and adding wheat and rye. He is usually short of cash and cannot keep up his improvements. He is not a churchgoer and will not pay taxes; he prefers rough company and heavy drink. He gets into debt and is forced to sell up, as well. The third type is the permanent developer of the area, a man of property and character with skill in agriculture. He builds a stone barn, uses stoves for heat, and is self-sufficient in most products. He likes government and willingly pays his taxes and supports schools and churches. Rush says this third type now numbers about two-thirds of all Pennsylvania farmers.

An Account of the manners, of the German Inhabitants of Pennsylvania is an essay that reveals Benjamin Rush's deep admiration for the character and faculties of Pennsylvania's German settlers. He outlines how Germans arrive, often in groups with their clergyman, mostly as farmers but also as skilled tanners, butchers, and sugar bakers. They are fine agriculturalists. Rush notes that Germans choose good land, build good fences, replant trees, and live soberly and frugally in large, happy families. Collectively, the Germans of the state support churches, schools, and the Constitution. They excel in music, especially in church. He describes them as mostly Lutheran, together with sizeable numbers of German Presbyterians, and small groups of Mennonites, the Moravians of Bethlehem - whom he explains at length - and Catholics in Philadelphia. Rush asserts that all Pennsylvanians can learn from the one third of the people in their state who are now German. The state and its citizens should continue to help Franklin College in Lancaster, cherish German religious sects, and relieve them from militia laws.

Thoughts on common sense Rush wrote in April 1791 to dethrone popular "common sense" in favor of reason. He defines common sense as that which most believe and feel during a certain era. This, of course, changes across time and place. The certainty of common sense, therefore, does not accord with reason, he writes. For Rush, common sense "is characteristic only of common minds." He concludes this short piece with the visionary's oft noted lament, that men of reason generally are not appreciated for generations because they in their own time contradict the common sense of their age.

An Account of the Vices peculiar to the Indians of North America is Rush's effort to counterbalance the effects of popular romantic opinions of the "noble savage" on the minds of "weak people." Any virtues Indians possess - and others admire - he says stem only from necessity. Completing the "natural history," Rush lists Native American vices, from uncleanness to cruelty, from drunkenness to treachery, and from idleness to the "degradation of women." He completes his description with praise for a vibrant civil government in the United States that is committed to eliminating such vices amongst all Americans.

Observations upon the influence of the Habitual use of Tobacco upon Health, Morals, and Property sees Rush return somewhat to medicine, although his essay also touches upon the social and moral damage of what he calls this "addiction." The habit begins as any other, slowly and insidiously. He calls it completely artificial, noting that no person has been born with a craving for tobacco. It causes loss of appetite, incomplete digestion, tremors, lost teeth, and lip cancer. Typically, he dismisses advocates of tobacco's usefulness by asserting that habitual use destroys any medical efficacy. What is worse, tobacco leads to immorality. It increases thirst and therefore encourages heavy drinking. He sees it promoting idleness, uncleanness, and rudeness. Animals will not touch it, confirming its status as a poison. He concludes with a quote from Benjamin Franklin, a non-user, who said that in his long life he never met a single smoker who recommended the use of tobacco to him.

An Account of the Sugar Maple Tree of the United States comprises Rush's answer in July 1791 to a request for information from Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State. In a long and detailed letter, Rush displays both his breadth of interests as a naturalist and his typical idealism concerning the future of the newly independent United States. His gathering of facts is comprehensive. He relates the character of the tree itself, gives a complete description of the tapping process, and the refining of sugar from the raw product. He tells that the average tree, carefully treated, will produce 20-30 gallons of sap annually from which five or six pounds of sugar may be refined. In debating the matter of a central refinery being more efficient, he decides that the individual farming family is the better manufacturer, noting that one man sold 600 pounds of sugar in one season recently. Seeing maple sugar as a powerful future benefit to the United States, he argues that its quality is better than cane sugar, and that potential production could supply the entire population and even provide valuable exports. He sees health benefits in the increased use of sugar in the American diet. Interestingly, he brushes aside what would be modern concerns to this, saying that some do believe "that sugar injures the teeth, but this opinion now has so few advocates that it does not deserve a serious refutation." Finally, he hopes that the dominance of maple sugar will destroy the basis for slavery in the sugar islands of the Caribbean. (Rush and Jefferson were corresponding at a time when hopes of alternatives to British sugar imports where high. Quakers were also explicit in their hope that slavery would thus be damaged as an institution on the sugar plantations.)

An account of the life and death of Edward Drinker, who died on the 17 of November, 1782, in the 103 year of his age sees Rush's skills of observation and curiosity again in action. The subject here was born and grew up before Philadelphia was a city, and saw Indians fishing where the docks of the city now stood. He worked in Boston as a cabinetmaker and returned to Philadelphia in retirement in 1745. Rush relates Drinker's habits, strengths, and infirmities in these later years, noting his cheerful and pious nature and his temperate behavior as keys to his longevity. He concludes with more reflections of the history that Drinker had lived as an American.

Remarkable circumstances in the constitution and life of Ann Woods, an old woman of 96 years of age continues Rush's observations on aging, a study he was actively pursuing in the summer of 1788 and which was published later in the second volume of his gathered Medical Enquiries and Observations. He chronicles the case of Ann Woods, an old woman who came to his door begging food. From her he ascertained her extremely interesting medical history. She had arrived in Philadelphia from England at ten and had lived there ever since. She had married twice, for the second time at age sixty, and had children from both marriages. She had lost all her teeth in her fifth decade of life, her hair having turned gray a little earlier. Her menstrual cycle had flowed from around nineteen to aged eighty, and she had her last child at sixty-one. She had been a washer woman and suffered from rheumatism, followed a simple diet, and never used spirits. She had been bled often over the years. He noted admiringly that she was a cheerful woman who counted her blessings. Rush made his observations on the facts he had gathered both on childbearing and the menstrual cycle. He concluded that chronic diseases, if treated, do not shorten life; nor does motherhood, when temperance and less than the hardest work moderate its effects. Finally, in her cheerfulness he finds a possible addition to her longevity, calling her an example to all who complain about their lot in life.

Biographical Anecdotes of Benjamin Lay, written in February 1790, relates aspects of the life of this famous Philadelphia Quaker and fiery anti-slavery campaigner who had died decades before. Benjamin Lay (1682-1759) was an English Quaker who had settled first in the West Indies and then, appalled by slavery, moved to Abington around 1830. He scorned nearby Philadelphia for its own legal Negro servitude. From there, he embarked on an infamous career as an agitator against slavery, first among the Quakers of the area, and then more broadly. He disrupted meetings and made ironic demonstrations on the evils of the trade. His activities took on even greater impact from his appearance and his character. He was a small, physically deformed man who eschewed any extravagance, and who ate only vegetables and drank only water. Rush relates all of this, including his misguided attempt to emulate Christ and fast for forty days and forty nights, almost dying in the process. Rush estimates that Lay's temper and methods may have not been the best means to achieve his ends, but praises his efforts at drawing attention and beginning a movement now of increasing power.

Biographical Anecdotes of Anthony Benezet, which Rush had first written in July 1788, follows his essay on Lay and maintains the anti-slavery theme. Anthony Benezet (1713-1784) was born a Huguenot in northern France, was educated in England, and traveled with his family to Philadelphia in 1731. He joined the Pennsylvania Quakers, became a schoolteacher in Germantown, and later taught at the famous Friends' English School in Philadelphia. He became a fierce advocate for the end of slavery and published widely on the subject. His influence was especially strong in his former home of Britain. In Philadelphia, he was famous for his evening classes for black children, set up in his own home. He founded the first girl's school in the city in 1754, and in 1770, with Quaker help, he established the Negro School of Philadelphia. Rush concentrates mostly upon Benezet's character and his efforts on behalf of others, including his role as the American representative in prisoner exchanges with the British in Philadelphia. His funeral after his death in May 1784, Rush relates, had "many hundred" black mourners.

Paradise of Negro Slaves - a dream continues this section attacking slavery. Rush tells us that after reading Thomas Clarkson's (1760-1846) essay on slavery, he fell asleep and dreamed a dream so striking that he must relate it. (Clarkson was the British abolitionist made famous through his pamphlet An essay on the slavery and commerce of the human species, particularly the African, published in 1786.) In his dream Rush is in a scenic and idyllic land filled exclusively with black inhabitants who are happy and content. They are all former slaves now in a privileged afterlife that God has provided as they wait for Judgment Day. The people tell Rush that God has done this as recompense for their earthly suffering. He hears stories of forgiveness of cruel masters who have embraced remorse for their actions, as well as warnings to others to repent for the suffering they have caused before it was too late. These tales were suddenly interrupted when cheers and shouts arose for another white man who was arriving. Rush recognizes him as Anthony Benezet. He is awakened by these shouts and finds himself returned to his bedroom in Philadelphia. (Rush, as a pioneer of psychology, was interested in the observation of dreams, and he would often relate his own to his closest friends, such as he did in letters to John Adams.)

Eulogium upon Dr. William Cullen was delivered on July 9, 1790 before the College of Physicians in Philadelphia. Rush was a suitable candidate for this honor, having been one of Cullen's students in Edinburgh who had helped spread his ideas to the United States. William Cullen (1710-1790), born in Lanarkshire, was a student of Alexander Munro at Edinburgh, helped found the Glasgow Medical School, and from 1755 to the end of his career was an outstanding professor at Edinburgh. His fame spread and attracted students from all over Europe, helping to make his medical school the most famous in Europe. Linking disease to the nervous system, he coined the word "neurosis." Rush concentrates his eulogy on the period that he had known Cullen as a teacher and mentor in Scotland. With fulsome praise, Rush describes Cullen as a great and original genius who had perfected "peculiar and useful" learning. His mind was expansive, and he valued literature (Shakespeare was his favorite), history, and geography. His thoughts rejected everything not useful and instead embraced all ideas and facts of value. "His memory had no rubbish in it," says Rush. As a teacher, he was eloquent and approachable. He charged his students to doubt, lecturing and discussing in simple terms, having led the fight - Rush notes with emphasis - to instruct in English rather than Latin at the university. He was tall, slender, and with blue eyes. He worked almost to the end of his life and died that January, having saved many lives around the world and having spread learning across the oceans. While Rush concludes by saying that Cullen is "medicine's Newton," he warns not to place the great man beyond question. Cullen himself would see that as folly, for improvement of knowledge is all.

Eulogium upon David Rittenhouse reprints the eulogy that Benjamin Rush was selected to give before the American Philosophical Society on December 17, 1796 in honor of its late departed president. David Rittenhouse (1732-1796) was born near Germantown and educated himself as both a clock and instrument maker and astronomer. He became one of the most valued scientists and surveyors of the early United States. He was also a public man, serving the Committee of Public Safety during the American Revolution. He helped to rewrite the state constitution, was an active Anti-Federalist, and acted as state treasurer for twelve years. His last public position was as director of the U. S. Mint. Rush's tone hints at the loss the Society has suffered. He wonders at the mind that educated itself with just a few books to the point where it produced a model of the solar system fine enough to sit in the two great American universities of the day. (His "orrery" is still held at the University of Pennsylvania today.) Rush relates Rittenhouse's career as an observer of the passage of the planets, reading off his long list of publications on the subject. He also praises his work across the northeast, before and after the Revolution, as a border surveyor and arbitrator of territorial disputes between states. Rush, as was usual for him in these public tributes, cannot resist airing his own ideas about the classical bent of liberal education, saying that Rittenhouse never wasted time with Latin and Greek, but spoke German, French, and Dutch. Rush also admired his "superlative modesty," his piety, his republican values, and his attachment to family. He had deservedly succeeded Benjamin Franklin to the presidency of the American Philosophical Society in 1791. His death the previous June had been a blow for all the scientific community - he now rests fittingly, Rush relates, in the simple monument of his observatory.

Rush's collection of essays provides a rich treasure trove of the ideas, controversy, and boundless optimism represented in the new United States in the decade surrounding the ratification of the new Constitution. Many of the famous doctor's idiosyncrasies are represented here, along with evidence of the remarkable energies he poured into his many causes; education, penal reform, temperance, and the abolition of slavery all are illuminated in these essays. Rush also brings his famous powers of observation and detail to smaller matters, now forgotten, such as ways in which the frontier was settled, or the dream of self-sufficiency in sugar production. His descriptions of Pennsylvania, its population and their strengths and weaknesses, are invaluable first hand glimpses of a tumultuous and heroic period in the life of the Commonwealth. These essays indicate that perhaps only Franklin and Jefferson can teach us as much, and in such great variety and detail, about the early days of the new nation as can Benjamin Rush.

Researched and authored by John Osborne, Ph. D.


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