When American Independence Rank, a comprehensive lockdown and mass vaccinations battled an outbreak of smallpox


from Woody Holton, University of South Carolina

Many Wilhelminian Americans condemned government tyranny, celebrated the Declaration of Independence – and preferred bans and mass vaccinations to fight a viciously contagious disease.

Not marked, smallpox kills more than one in ten of its victims, leaving many of the remainder blind, disfigured, and sometimes sterile. Many historian say the reason George Washington never had children was his near-fatal attack of smallpox in 1751.

The summer of 1776 was a time of crisis for the emerging republic. A Outbreak of smallpox in the Continental Army Hundreds killed. And when the soldiers came home from a failed invasion of Canada, they brought the disease to Boston.

But the country urgently needed healthy men: The British landed on Staten Island on July 2nd, on the same day Congress declares independence.

A perfect solution beckoned: vaccination, the precursor to vaccination from the 18th century. As The historian Elizabeth Fenn explains, the doctor would make small incisions in the patient’s skin and then insert scabs or pus from a person with smallpox. The vaccinee would then become infected with a mild form of the virus that is only one-tenth as deadly as the accidentally acquired version.

It would be 20 years to become an English scientist Edward Jenner Pioneered the immunization of people against smallpox with the similar cowpox virus, which is harmless to humans. Since the Latin word for cow is “vacca”, this process became known as vaccination.

In colonial times, people who were vaccinated were usually grouped to keep costs and logistical complications down. For the weeks that they remained contagious, they took over a house or a tavern and proclaimed it as Smallpox Hospital: taboo for everyone except vaccinates.

Impose lockdown

Boston and other cities required that people who had to get a vaccination stay indoors and after red warning flags around the vaccination site. Sometimes, however, restless people would slip out and endanger neighbors who either couldn’t afford the expensive procedure or would not have undergone it. Even if vaccinated people stayed indoors, townspeople were so afraid of contracting this terrible disease that they often did rioted against doctors who set up vaccination centers.

But by the early summer of 1776, the majority of the unvaccinated Bostonians were eager for the procedure – as were many outsiders. Abigail Adams, famous today for pleading with the Continental Congress, “Think of the ladies“Acted quickly to vaccinate herself and her children. When she traveled to Boston from the nearby town of Braintree for treatment, she wrote to her husband, future President John Adams, “Our little ones survived the Mannvoll operation … The little ones are then very sick and throw up every morning, but afterwards they feel good. “

Others refused, however, and the Boston electors (city council) could not just let everyone decide for themselves. A patchwork of families, some of whom get vaccinated and some refuse, would surely have sparked an epidemic. So the Massachusetts lawmakers made one brave decision. Since most Bostonians wanted to be vaccinated, they didn’t have to limit themselves to smallpox hospitals as usual.

Instead, they would have the run of Boston, and the anti-vaccinators would be the ones who had to either lock up or get out of town before vaccination started.

Until the city was deemed safe, guards would be posted on the only street and several ferry docks that connect Boston to the world. Only those who already had smallpox were allowed to enter, and no one could leave until the chosen ones declared them smallpox-free.

When Col. Thomas Crafts stepped onto the balcony of the Massachusetts State House on July 18 to read the newly received Declaration of Independence, none of those in attendance needed to be afraid of catching smallpox or giving it to anyone else.

A painting of a woman

Abigail Adams noticed the cheering crowd in a locked Boston.

Benjamin Blyth via Wikimedia Commons

Abigail Adams was one of the “Variety“who attended the reading. When Crafts finished the Declaration of Independence and shouted,” God save our American states, “Adams reported,”the bells rang … the cannons were fired, the trains followed and all faces were happy. ”

As late as August 26, the Boston leaders tried to eradicate the remains of the smallpox virus, but their bold action had prevented an epidemic. Almost 5,000 people had been vaccinated. That was equivalent to a Third of the population of Bostonalthough about half of the inoculae were actually non-residents such as the Adams family.

Contradicting ideas about freedom

There were five newspapers in Boston at the time, but no one used their pages to complain about the lockdown and other enforcement actions.

Some people have taken their belief in individual responsibility to the community to extremes. The claim that “Every man in a republic is public property“Did not come from a crazy utopian, but from Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. And Benjamin Franklin admitted in a Christmas letter of 1783 in which he campaigned for federal taxes to pay off the debts of the War of Independence that citizens have the right to keep enough property for their survival and for “the reproduction of species.” But he added: “all property that is superfluous for such purposes is the property of the public. “

Few Americans today would go as far as Rush and Franklin, but their comments, like Boston’s July 1776 decision to transform itself into a giant vaccination site, remind us of the American revolutionaries’ provocative belief that communities have rights too.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter.]The conversation

Woody Holton, Professor of History, University of South Carolina

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.

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Thank You For Reading!

Reference: www.healthywomen.org

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