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137677Misquoting the Founders.

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  • William
    Sep 4, 2012
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      While on the subject of attempting to qualify the quote attributed to Washington at Yorktown, there is the more contemporary phenomena of deliberately misquoting Founders in order to support positions in modern political debates.

      The Owen Bill to establish a federal health department in 1916 revitalized a recent and deliberate misquote of Dr. Benjamin Rush. This misquote has more recently surfaced in the debates over Obamacare.

      Google Books and several other sources which facilitate OCR (Optical Character Recognition) make it possible to compile a history of the quote. The same technique is also helpful in examining other issues; I have used this since 2005 in an effort to identify the authors of pseudonymous pieces in 18th century newspapers and pamphlets. (Much more efficient and less time-consuming than a manual comparison.)

      In the case of the spurious Benjamin Rush quote (and many others, whether Washington, Jefferson or even Lincoln), the language and terminology is anachronistic; never mind the quote itself sounds nothing like the established writings of the man to whom it is attributed.

      The spurious Benjamin Rush quote:

      "The Constitution of this Republic should make special provision for medical freedom. To restrict the art of healing to one class will constitute the Bastille of medical science. All such laws are un-American and despotic. ... Unless we put medical freedom into the constitution the time will come when medicine will organize into an undercover dictatorship and force people who wish doctors and treatment of their own choice to submit to only what the dictating outfit offers"

      Two recent internet appearances:



      An compilation from Google Books: 1905 origin?

      History of Osteopathy: And Twentieth-century Medical Practice By Emmons Rutledge Booth (1905):


      The revolution in medical practice: a treatise on modern curative methods By Louis Blumer (1909):


      Eclectic medical journal, Volume 72 By Ohio State Eclectic Medical Association, Worthington College Ohio (1912):


      Journal of zoƶphily, Volumes 24-25 By American Anti-Vivisection Society, Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (1915):


      Hollywood (1922):


      The actual quotes from which the spurious paraphase was derived:

      Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical. By Benjamin Rush, M.D. Second Edition, with Annotations. Philadelphia, 1806.

      An Eulogium upon Dr. William Cullen, Professor of the Practice of Physic, in the University of Edinburgh; Delivered before the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, on the 9th of July, agreeaby to their Vote of the 4th of May, 1790, and Afterwards Published at their Request. pp. 316-334.

      p. 333:

      Perhaps no system of medicine can be perfect, while there exists a single disease which we do not know, or cannot cure. If this be true, then a complete system of medicine cannot be formed, till America has furnished descriptions and cures of all her peculiar diseases. The United States have improved the science of civil government. The freedom of our constitutions, by imparting vigor and independence to the mind, is favourable to bold and original thinking upon all subjects. Let us avail ourselves therefore of this political aid to our researches, and endeavour to obtain histories and cures of all our diseases, that we may thereby contribute our part towards the formation of a complete system of medicine. As a religion of some kind is absolutely necessary to promote morals; so systems of medicine of some kind, are equally necessary to produce a regular mode of practice. They are not only necessary, but unavoidable in medicine; for no physician, pay more, no empire, pracitices without them.

      Medical Inquiries and Observations. By Benjamin Rush, M.D.
      In Four Volumes, Volume 1. The Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged by the Author. Philadelphia, 1805.

      An Inquiry into the Natural History of Medicine among the Indians of North-America and a Comparative View of their Diseases and Remedies with those of Civlized Nations.

      Read before the American Philosophical Society, held at Philadelphia, on the 4th of February, 1774.

      Pp. 44-45

      It is in consequence of this fluctuation in the principles and practice of physic, being so necessarily connected with the changes in the customs of civilized nations, that old and young physicians so often disagree in their opinions and practices. And it is by attending to the constant changes in these customs of civilized nations, that those physicians have generally become the most eminent, who have soonest emancipated themselves from the tyranny of the schools of physic; and have occasionally accommodated their principles and practice to the changes in diseases. This variety in diseases, which is produced by the changes in the customs of civilized nations, will enable us to account for many of the contradictions which are to be found in authors of equal candour and abilities, who have written upon the materia medica.

      Six introductory lectures to courses of lectures upon the institute and practice of medicine [microform] delivered in the University of Pensylvania by Benjamin Rush

      On the Vices and Virtues of Physicians, Delivered November 2d, 1801.

      p. 152:

      22d. Conferring exclusive privileges upon bodies of physicians, and forbidding men of equal talents and knowledge, under severe penalties, from practising medicine within certain districts of cities and countries. Such institutions, however sanctioned by ancient charters and names, are the bastiles of our science.

      It is remarkable how common these misquotes are: a local newspaper recently repeated a clearly spurious quote with the name Abraham Lincoln underneath. While Google Books and other sources can be used to study such quotes, it is also amazing how many people will respond in this way: (an actual response by someone after I pointed out a demonstrably spurious Jefferson quote: "It's been attributed to Jefferson. I Googled it.")

      In the case of quoting Rush in context, there can be no argument that the spurious quote was a paraphrase reflecting Rush's views. This is true in almost every case of spurious or distorted quotes used in these political arguments.

      ~ William Myers, independent historian.
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