Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Rush, Benjamin

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RUSH, Benjamin, signer of the Declaration of Independence, b. in Byberry township, Pa., 24 Dec., 1745; d. in Philadelphia, 19 April, 1813. His ancestor, John, who was a captain of horse in Cromwell's army, emigrated to this country in 1683, and left a large number of descendants. Benjamin's father died when the son was six years old. His earliest instructor was his uncle, Rev. Samuel Finley, subsequently president of Princeton, who prepared him for that college. He was graduated in 1760, and subsequently in the medical department of the University of Edinburgh in 1768, after studying under Dr. John Redman, of Philadelphia. He also attended medical lectures in England and in Paris, where he enjoyed the friendship of Benjamin Franklin, who advanced the means of paying his expenses. In August, 1769, he returned to the United States and settled in Philadelphia, where he was elected professor of chemistry in the City medical college. In 1771 he published essays on slavery, temperance, and health, and in 1774 he delivered the annual oration before the Philosophical society on the “Natural History of Medicine among the Indians of North America.” He early engaged in pre-Revolutionary movements, and wrote constantly for the press on colonial rights. He was a member of the provincial conference of Pennsylvania, and chairman of the committee that reported that it had become expedient for congress to declare independence, and surgeon to the Pennsylvania navy from 17 Sept., 1775, to 1 July, 1776. He was then elected to the latter body, and on 4 July, 1776, signed the declaration. He married Julia, a daughter of Richard Stockton, the same year, was appointed surgri in-general of the middle department in April. 1777, and in July became physician-general. Although in constant attendance on the wounded in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, the Brandywine, Germantown, and in the sickness at Valley Forge, he found time to write tour long public letters to the people of Pennsylvania, in which he commented severely on the articles of confederation of 1776, and urged a revision on the ground of the dangers of giving legislative powers to a single house. In February, 1778, he resigned his military office on account of wrongs that had been done to the soldiers in regard to the hospital stores, and a coldness between himself and Gen. Washington, but, though he was without means at that time, he refused all compensation for his service in the army. He then returned to Philadelphia, resumed his practice and duties as professor, and for twenty-nine years was surgeon to the Pennsylvania hospital, and port physician to Philadelphia in 1790-'3. He was a founder of Dickinson college and the Philadelphia dispensary, and was largely interested in the establishment of public schools, concerning which he published an address, and in the founding of the College of physicians, of which he was one of the first censors. He was a member of the State convention that ratified the constitution of the United States in 1787, and of that for forming a state constitution in the same year, in which he endeavored to procure the incorporation of his views on public schools, and a penal code on which he had previously written essays. After that service he retired from political life. While in occupation of the chair of chemistry in Philadelphia medical college, he was elected to that of the theory and practice of medicine, to which was added the professorship of the institutes and practice of medicine and clinical practice in 1791, and that of the practice of physic in 1797, all of which he held until his death. During the epidemic of yellow fever in 1793 he rendered good service, visiting from 100 to 120 patients daily, but his bold and original practice made him enemies, and a paper edited by William Cobbett, called “Peter Porcupine's Gazette,” was so violent in its attacks upon him that it was prosecuted, and a jury rendered a verdict of $5,000 damages, which Dr. Rush distributed among the poor. His practice during the epidemic convinced him that yellow fever is not contagious, and he was the first to proclaim that the disease is indigenous. From 1799 till his death he was treasurer of the U. S. mint. “His name,” says Dr. Thomas Young, “was familiar to the medical world as the Sydenham of America. His accurate observations and correct discrimination of epidemic diseases well entitled him to this distinction, while in the original energy of his reasoning he far exceeded his prototype.” He was a member of nearly every medical, literary, and benevolent institution in this country, and of many foreign societies, and for his replies to their queries on the subject of yellow fever received a medal from the king of Prussia in 1805, and gifts from other crowned heads. He succeeded Benjamin Franklin as president of the Pennsylvania society for the abolition of slavery, was president of the Philadelphia medical society, vice-president and a founder of the Philadelphia Bible society, advocating the use of the Scriptures as a text-book in the public schools, an originator of the American philosophical society, of which he was a vice-president in 1799-1800. He taught, more clearly than any other physician of his day, to distinguish diseases and their effects, gave great impulse to the study of medicine in this country, and made Philadelphia the centre of that science in the United States, more than 2,250 students having attended his lectures during his professorship in the Medical college of Philadelphia. Yale gave him the degree of LL. D. in 1812. His publications include “Medical Inquiries and Obsvations” (5 vols., Philadelphia, 1789-'98; 3d ed., 4 vols., 1809); “Essays, Literary, Moral, and Philosophical” (1798; 2d ed., 1800); “Sixteen Introductory Lectures” (1811); and “Diseases of the Mind” (1812; 5th ed., 1835). He also edited several medical works. — His son, Richard, statesman, b. in Philadelphia, 29 Aug., 1780; d. there, 30 July, 1859, was graduated at Princeton in 1797, and admitted to the bar of Philadelphia in 1800, and early in his career won distinction by his defence of William Duane, editor of the “Aurora,” on a charge of libelling Gov. Thomas McKean. He became solicitor of the guardians of the poor of Philadelphia in 1810, and attorney-general of Pennsylvania in 1811, comptroller of the U. S. treasury in November of the same year, and in 1814-'17 was U.S. attorney-general. He became temporary U. S. secretary of state in 1817, and was then appointed minister to England, where he remained till 1825, negotiating several important treaties, especially that of 1818 with Lord Castlereagh respecting the fisheries, the northwest boundary-line, conflicting claims beyond the Rocky mountains, and the slaves of American citizens that were carried off on British ships, contrary to the treaty of Ghent. He was recalled in 1825 to accept the portfolio of the treasury which had been offered him by President Adams, and in 1828 he was a candidate for the vice-presidency on the ticket with Mr. Adams. In 1829 he negotiated in Holland a loan for the corporations of Washington, Georgetown, D. C., and Alexandria, Va. He was a commissioner to adjust a boundary dispute between Ohio and Michigan in 1835, and in 1836 was appointed by President Jackson a commissioner to obtain the legacy of James Smithson (q. v.), which he left to found the Smithsonian institution. The case was then pending in the English chancery court, and in August, 1838, Mr. Rush returned with the amount, $508,318.46. He was minister to France in 1847-'49, and in 1848 was the first of the ministers at that court to recognize the new republic, acting in advance of instructions from his government. Mr. Rush began his literary career in 1812, when he was a member of the Madison cabinet, by writing vigorous articles in defence of the second war with England. His relations with John Quincy Adams were intimate, and affected his whole career. He became an anti-Mason in 1831, in 1834 wrote a powerful report against the Bank of the United States, and ever afterward co-operated with the Democratic party. He was a member of the American philosophical society. His publications include “Codification of the Laws of the United States” (5 vols., Philadelphia, 1815); “Narrative of a Residence at the Court of London from 1817 till 1825” (London, 1833); a second volume of the same work, “Comprising Inridents, Official and Personal, from 1819 till 1825” (1845; 3d ed., under the title of the “Court of London from 1819 till 1825, with Notes by the Author's Nephew,” 1873); “Washington in Domestic Life,” which consists of personal letters from Washington to his private secretary, Col. Tobias Lear, and some personal recollections (1857); and a volume of “Occasional Productions, Political, Diplomatic, and Miscellaneous, including a Glance at the Court and Government of Louis Philippe, and the French Revolution of 1848,” published by his sons (1860). — Richard's son, Benjamin, b. in Philadelphia, 23 Jan., 1811; d. in Paris, France, 30 June, 1877, was graduated at Princeton in 1829, studied law, and in 1833 was admitted to the bar in Philadelphia. In 1837 he was appointed secretary of legation at London, where he served for a time as chargé d'affaires. He published “An Appeal for the Union” (Philadelphia, 1860) and “Letters on the Rebellion” (1862). — Another son of the first Benjamin, James, physician, b. in Philadelphia, Pa., 1 March, 1786; d. there, 26 May, 1869, was graduated at Princeton in 1805, and at the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania in 1809. He subsequently studied in Edinburgh, and, returning to Philadelphia, practised for several years, but afterward relinquished the active duties of his profession to devote himself to scientific and literary pursuits. He left $1,000,000 to the Philadelphia library company for the erection of the Ridgeway branch of the Philadelphia library. His publications include “Philosophy of the Human Voice” (Philadelphia, 1827); “Hamlet, a Dramatic Prelude in Five Acts” (1834); “Analysis of the Human Intellect” (2 vols., 1865); and “Rhymes of Contrast on Wisdom and Folly” (1869). —

Appletons' Rush Benjamin - Phoebe Ann.jpg
Appletons' Rush Benjamin - Phoebe Ann signature.jpg

His wife, Phoebe Ann, b. in Philadelphia in 1797; d. there in 1857, was a daughter of Jacob Ridgeway. She was highly educated in early life, well versed in the languages and literature of modern Europe, and by her social tact and brilliant conversational powers became one of the most noted American women of her time. Her house in Philadelphia was one of the finest in this country, and her entertainments were on the largest and most luxurious scale. — A brother of the first Benjamin, Jacob, jurist, b. in Byberry township, Pa., in 1746: d. in Philadelphia, Pa., 5 Jan., 1820, was graduated at Princeton in 1765, settled in the practice of law in Philadelphia, was a judge of the high court of errors and appeals of Pennsylvania in 1784-1806, president of the court of common pleas of Philadelphia in 1806-'20, and at an earlier date was a justice of the supreme court of the state. In the controversy between Joseph Reed and John Dickinson as to the character of Benedict Arnold (q. v.). Judge Rush espoused the latter's cause. Princeton gave him the degree of LL. D. in 1804. His publications include “Resolve in Committee Chamber 6 Dec., 1774” (Philadelphia, 1774); “Charges on Moral and Religious Subjects” (1803); “Character of Christ” (1806); and “Christian Baptism” (1819). — His daughter, Rebecca, published “Kelroy,” a novel (Philadelphia, 1812).