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Benjamin Rush

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

BENJAMIN RUSH was born December 24, 1745 in Byberry Township near Philadelphia. When Benjamin was six years old his father died and his mother and stepfather raised him. His earliest instructor was his uncle, Reverend Samuel Finley, who subsequently became the president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) and prepared young Benjamin for that college (Just a quick note. I enjoyed your excellent site on Dr. Benjamin Rush and thought I'd pass this along. You mention his early education under the tutelage of Dr. Samuel Finley. Rush was, in fact, a graduate of Finley's West Nottingham Academy, as was Richard Stockton. the school still stands today as the oldest boarding school in the U.S. - Rusty Eder History Chair, West Nottingham Academy). He graduated in 1760, with plans ok being a lawyer. However, he changed his mind and began to study medicine in Philadelphia and completed it in Edinburgh and London. He attended medical lectures in England and in Paris, where he enjoyed the friendship of Benjamin Franklin, who advanced money to pay Rush's expenses. In August 1769, Rush returned to America, settled in Philadelphia and became the most famous American physician and medical teacher of his generation.

Upon his return to America, Benjamin Rush engaged early 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. He manifested his enthusiasm for the colonial cause by riding out to meet the Massachusetts delegates to the first Continental Congress in 1774. He established during the next few years the deepest and most cherished of his friendships with John Adams.

On January 2, 1776, Dr. Rush married Julia Stockton, daughter of fellow Signer, Richard Stockton. He was elected to Congress on July 20, 1776, after the declaration had been adopted, but there was probably no one who signed the document with greater satisfaction. While he was devoted to his patients' welfare, Dr. Rush would accept any duty that might lead to independence for the colonies. He was resolute in his prediction that "Britain and America will hereafter be distinct empires. America is the only vivid principle of the whole world."

After some months in Congress, he became in April 1777, surgeon general of the armies of the Middle Department but resigned after less than a year during a controversy over the administration of military hospitals. Rush, who was a very impatient man, a problem noticeable to all including John Adams, was led into indiscreet remarks about General Washington, which clouded his fame to some extent over time. His own correspondence remained unpublished for the most part until the middle of the twentieth century – chiefly because his family did not want to advertise old indiscretions and revive old controversies. 

He was impulsive and indiscreet, but his zeal for the public good was limitless. He taught at the College of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.  He was a believer in "blood-letting" for many illnesses and was criticized strongly for this belief. He attacked slavery and strong drink, classical education and tobacco, carrying on a ‘one-man crusade' and undoubtedly spending himself in too many causes. In 1793, Dr. Rush was credited with curing the epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia. The King of Prussia, the Queen of Etruria,and the Emperor of Russia honored him for his replies to their questions on yellow fever. Rush never convinced his scientific friend Thomas Jefferson that the doctors of their time did more good than ill.

Dr. Benjamin Rush was at the height of his fame in 1813 when he died in Philadelphia in his sixty-eighth year. His beloved wife, Julia, who was not yet seventeen when he married her, bore him thirteen children. Two of them gained enduring distinction: Richard Rush, the diplomat; and James Rush, who followed his father in the medical profession.

Diploma from the University of Pennsylvania granting Joseph G. Shippen the degree of medical doctor, in Latin, dated 1810. Signed "Benj. Rush, MD: Inst. Et prof:Med Prof'r."; also by Philip Syng Physick, known as the "Father of American Surgery." Nice example of a man more well known for his medical accomplishments than for his political ones.   

Benjamin Rush - Signer of the Declaration of Independence - A Stan Klos Website

Benjamin Rush
Edited Appleton's American Biography Copyright© 2001 by TM

RUSH, Benjamin, signer of the Declaration of Independence, born in Byberry Township, Pa., 24 Dec., 1745' died in Philadelphia, 19 April, 1813. His ancestor, John, who was a captain of horse in Cromwell's army, immigrated 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  (Just a quick note. I enjoyed your excellent site on Dr. Benjamin Rush and thought I'd pass this along. You mention his early education under the tutelage of Dr. Samuel Finley. Rush was, in fact, a graduate of Finley's West Nottingham Academy, as was Richard Stockton. the school still stands today as the oldest boarding school in the U.S. - Rusty Eder History Chair, West Nottingham Academy). He was graduated in 1760, 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 surgeon-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 four 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 coldness between himself and General 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 Poreupine's Ga­zette," was so violent in its attacks upon him that it was prosecuted, and a jury rendered a verdict of 85,000 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 (his 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 text­book 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 Observations" (5 vols., Philadelphia, 1789-'98; 3d ed., 4 vols.. 1809) ; "Essays, Literary, Moral, and Philo­sophical" (1798 ; 2d ed., 1806) ; "Sixteen Introduc­tory Lectures" (1811); and "Diseases of the Mind" (1812; 5th ed., 1835). He also edited several medical works.

His son, Richard, statesman, born in Philadelphia, 29 Aug., 1780; died there, 30 July, 1859, was graduated at Princeton in 179'7, and admitted to the bar of Philadelphia in 1800, and early in his career won distinction by his defense of William Duane, editor of the "Aurora," on a charge of libeling 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-'51, 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 defense 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 cooperated 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 Incidents, 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 chance at the Court and Government of Louis Philippe, and the French Revolution of 1848," published by his sons (1860).

Richard's son, Benjamin Rush, born in Philadelphia, 23 Jan., 1811; died 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 chargd 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; died 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, practiced 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).—

Edited Appleton's American Biography Image Copyright© 2001 by TM

His wife, Phoebe Ann, born in Philadelphia in 1797; died there in 185'7, 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, born in Byberry township, Pa., in 1746; died 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 Cabinet 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). - Edited Appleton's American Biography Copyright© 2001 by Stan TM

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National Archives and Records Administration


Control Number NWDNS-148-CP-200
Media Photographs and graphic materials
Descr. Level Item
Record Group 148
Series CP
Item 200
Title Rush, Benjamin (3/4 length)
Sample Record(s) (larger access file - 83213 bytes)
Format black & white.
Record Type/Genre Paintings
Variant Control# REVWAR #109
Contributors Artist, attributed to John Neagle from painting by Thomas Sully
See Also Series Description
Subject Ref. Portraits of Colonial Patriots; Revolutionary War
Items 1 image(s)
Contact Still Pictures Branch (NWDNS), National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001 PHONE: 301-713-6660 FAX: 301-713-7436

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