Good Law | Bad Law #98 -The forgotten founding father, Dr. Benjamin Rush. w/ Steve Fried
Aaron Freiwald: Welcome to Good Law Bad Law. On this episode I speak with Stephen Fried the author of a new biography on Benjamin Rush. Rush's friends in the 1770s, 1780s included Thomas Jefferson John Adams George Washington. He was a physician, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a real great and deep thinker on a whole broad variety of issues from mental health and medicine to slavery to the politics of independence from the British. It's such a well written book and our conversation with Steve is fascinating, enjoyable. I loved it. I know you will too. Stay tuned for this episode.
Aaron Freiwald: My guest today is Steve Fried an old friend and the author of the new book a biography on Benjamin Rush called Rush. Steve thanks for being on Good law Bad Law.
Stephen Fried: Thanks for having me.
Aaron Freiwald: Now Benjamin Rush is well-known in the colonial times for being an important physician and is involved in all kinds of ways in the development of medicine during the colonial time and this is a law show. So we'll maybe talk a little bit less about Dr. Benjamin Rush and a little bit more about Benjamin Rush who as I read your book is just involved in almost everything important that goes on in the in the days and weeks leading up to the Declaration of Independence and even afterwards so.
Stephen Fried: That's true. And I think since the law that he was involved with holds up a little better than the medicine. I think that will be fine. Which is true for all doctors during Rush's time not just Rush.
Aaron Freiwald: Which is a fascinating part of the story too which is how really just how primitive the medicine was and yet how prominent he became as a physician but we'll talk a little bit about his role in the development of mental health as an important area of medicine. As I do I do think that's fascinating but I said to you as we were getting started that he's he strikes me as sort of the Forrest Gump of the colonial era. You know I had no idea how important and central he was to so many of these important moments and we'll get into some of those stories Steve. First of all give us a little bit background on yourself as a writer some of the other projects you've done before coming to Rush and how you got into the subject of Benjamin Rush.
Stephen Fried: Sure. So I'm Stephen Fried I live in Philadelphia. I teach at the University of Pennsylvania and at Columbia University at the Graduate School of Journalism and in the psychiatry department and this is my seventh book. So the first books I did were contemporary journalism books I did the book on the model Gia that became that movie with Angelina Jolie. My claim to fame for that is I invented the word Fashionista in that book so I'm in the Oxford English Dictionary which may be my only contribution to literature.
Aaron Freiwald: It's a good one.
Stephen Fried: I wrote a book about the pharmaceutical industry and drug safety called Bitter Pills. I wrote a book about the retail business of religion following a big congregation as they replace their religious leader called The New Rabbi.
Aaron Freiwald: That was a synagogue out on the mainline.
Stephen Fried: Yes Har Zion synagogue and I used to do a column about my marriage for Ladies Home Journal so I published a collection of those columns called Husbandry and most recently I started writing history books so a lot of journalists when they reach that certain age start thinking about writing things that are other than contemporary journalism I've been going back and forth. So I wrote a historical biography of a guy named Fred Harvey who owned and ran all the restaurants and hotels along the Santa Fe Railroad during the opening of the West. People know him because of the movie The Harvey Girls with Judy Garland. It gave me a great opportunity to write about America post civil war when the Harvey company was the dominant food service company in America from the 1870s through the Second World War. So it was also a farce. And the Harby companies a little bit of a Gampian I would say that I sort of pick people who are at a lot of different places because they allow the reader to see a lot of different things they've heard of in history through a person's eyes.
Aaron Freiwald: Yeah.
Stephen Fried: I do think a lot of what we call Narrative History is about that it's about the characters but it's also what the characters can show us in a new way and Rush did a lot of things. Saw a lot of things had opinions about a lot of things and knew all the players. And what's also really interesting about him is that he was younger than all the other founding fathers so when he signed the Declaration of Independence he was 30 and he was the second youngest signer. And so he had relationships with Washington with Adams with Jefferson and with his mentor Benjamin Franklin. But he basically saw them through the eyes of somebody younger who was developing and I think when you're writing about a situation like that the younger characters sometimes is a better character to write from because they're trying to take in everything they're trying to join. So Rush for example goes from being a local doctor in 1774 when the First Continental Congress guys show up he meets Adam he's politically active a little bit. But his main involvement in the first Continental Congress is that some of the members come over to his house for dinner a lot because the doctors all hosted the Continental Congress members I guess they wanted the prestige they wanted their business as doctors while they were there.
Aaron Freiwald: He was building his practice.
Stephen Fried: Yes he was building his practice so then his real involvement with the buildings that later would become famous for the Continental Congress. At that time was that he would give away free inoculations at what became Independence Hall so two years later he was in the Continental Congress and he was signing the Declaration of Independence. But so that arc I think is really interesting and Rush is kind of always younger than the other people around him and he's also sort of an inconvenient truth teller and a very good writer a very kind of modern writer who likes to bring philosophical ideas to the public. So luckily for me his writing is still very accessible. It's fun. It's still funny where it's funny it's still unbelievably pointed where it's unbelievably pointed. He was fascinated with all kinds of public and social issues not just health issues. The first major thing that he wrote that mattered in 1773 when he was in his 20s was a very bold anti slavery pamphlet which hurt his business very much and he ended up being sort of the most visible founder who was really really activly against slavery. But interestingly he also in that pamphlet wrote about the psychological damage of slavery. So as a doctor he was interested in that and I think abolitionists like that when he would write about it he wasn't just writing from a legal perspective. A lot of the founders were lawyers. They were trying to pass laws to fix things. Rush was a doctor and he viewed society's problems differently the way a doctor did so in his writing about abolition of course he's saying that slavery should be illegal and of course that it should stop and there should be help for the people who had been enslaved but he also writes about what's it going to take for white people not to be prejudiced even against free blacks. And he's saying I'm a doctor. Many of my patients are black. I'm here to tell you they are no different than you. That's an incredibly bold thing to write in 1773. It's still an incredibly powerful thing to read today something that people should be reading today.
Aaron Freiwald: That is a fascinating part of his coming into maturity as a real figure in this time is what he saw from his practice that he trained in Europe he went to Scotland to study went to England to study and then he comes back and he's really setting up a medical practice in colonial Philadelphia where I mean really it's about five square blocks down.
Stephen Fried: It is.
Aaron Freiwald: What we now call Old City. You know Jefferson goes to write the Declaration of Independence and to get away from it all he you know he's in a little apartment on 7th.
Stephen Fried: Yeah 7th is really the outskirts of town.
Aaron Freiwald: It's the outskirts of town. For those of us who know Philadelphia and that's really just a few blocks away.
Stephen Fried: Yes.
Aaron Freiwald: So and Rush is building his practice and it's fascinating to be reminded that one of the main sources of treatment that existed in those days was bloodletting where they actually would for a whole variety of things if they didn't want us to do they said well we'll take some blood out. And so he would have seen that you know a white person's blood and a black person's blood is the same blood.
Stephen Fried: He was actually criticized for that I mean I found clips in the paper from racist journalists saying you know I saw Benjamin Rush mentioned in a speech the other day that the same God created black people as white people. You know what a what a ridiculous thing for somebody to say. So people were quite open about this and yes he knew. It's interesting you did the whole thing of bloodletting is of course controversial and you got to keep in mind that in those times the bloodstream was one of the only things the doctors actually knew kind of how it worked. And also one of the only things they knew how to very rudimentary do something about. Bloodletting originally came from a system of humors which really was just sort of a crazy thing during Rush's time they were trying to medicalize bloodletting because they understood kind of what the blood system was. And since they didn't have other treatments that we have they didn't have antibiotics they didn't have a lot of things that we have. They believe that if the pulse was quick that was bad. And then to lower the quickening of the pulse you just took some blood out and the bloodletting had existed for many many years. And keep in mind that bloodletting was general practice for doctors up through the late 1800's. So Rush didn't invent it.
Aaron Freiwald: Yeah.
Stephen Fried: Rush did during a certain time especially during the yellow fever epidemic. Ask for people to use higher doses of it because he was utterly frustrated by all the other treatments. So the treatments they had during these time periods were fluids, ice baths.
Aaron Freiwald: Spirits.
Stephen Fried: Spirits yeah. Wine and and wine was a medicine. They had Peruvian bark that had some qualities of medicine they had purgatives which made you throw up or have bad things leave your body from other orifices. And and they had bloodletting. And so basically if things weren't going right and especially during the yellow fever epidemic you know 10 percent of the city's population in 1793 died in three months. So his attitude was if normal treatment doesn't work we give more. And so I get questions from doctors sometimes when I speak with this like how could they do this. And I said I say to them well have you ever worked with the treatment in your career that is now not used because I don't know I had an aunt who had breast cancer and she had stem cell transplants and now they don't do that because they know it doesn't work.
Aaron Freiwald: Right.
Stephen Fried: And I said it probably you did that too. So is it possible to not see this guy as a quack. But to see him is practicing whatever was the medicine of the most knowledgeable people and keep in mind that the fights they had about this stuff these doctors were unbelievably competitive they were unbelievably mean to each other. Rush came up if you want to talk about law and business because Rush writes about these things a lot. So Benjamin Rush was a young doctor, he was a brilliant young doctor and he was mentored by the young doctors of the day and John Morgan and William Shippen and were the two powerful doctors in the next generation of Philadelphia these two guys hated each other because John Morgan got to say that he started the first medical school in Philadelphia and William Shippen and wanted him to say they did it together and because of this they fought for years and not just personally Washington later put them in charge of the armies of the Revolutionary War and they fought each other there and almost destroyed the medical system just because of their own personal fighting. So Rush grew up watching mentors being incredibly mean to each other.
Aaron Freiwald: And he needed both of them.
Stephen Fried: Of course he needed both of them. Can you imagine being a teenager and trying to navigate the two most learned next generation doctors who you need both of and they hate each others guts. I mean Rush got in trouble because he put them in the wrong order when he thanked them on his dissertation. So he grew up watching battling so I must say that when he saw political infighting later when he saw sort of what it was like during the Federalist and Democratic Republican period when things when political divisiveness as we know it began. I don't think he was so surprised. I think he knew that he watched that growing up. So part of what I tried to do in the book is not to apologize for anything rushed did but I'm really trying to put everything he did in the context of his time because what's interesting is that no one asks whether John Adams was a good lawyer. Right. They asked whether the Constitution got through and whether we were free for some reason they keep focusing on whether Benjamin Rush's treatments during that time are still treatments we use today which I think is not a fair question. I think there are other questions to ask but it's really important to look at what was happening during these times Rush was mostly aggressively trying to move medicine into a medical world away from religion away from you know theories that came from non medicine so they were trying to make medicine medical. It's especially true for mental health because mental health was thought of as something that was because of demonic possession or because the people were just weak. Unfortunately you still hear people say that about people who have mental illness and people who have addictions they don't understand that these are illnesses. In Rush's writing you can see the beginning of people trying to explain this is a medical problem. We need to treat it as a medical problem we need to figure out what medicine helps. We need to get our institutions to spend money on this. I mean people in Philadelphia don't know. You know there's two wings of Pennsylvania Hospital the oldest wing is on eighth Street. That's the original wing. The newer wing on Ninth Street. That building was built in the 1790s because Benjamin rushed forced the hospital to build a separate building just for the modern treatment of mental health.
Aaron Freiwald: It is incredible. And the fact that he regarded mental health as something that could be treated was revolutionary. Right I mean you tell this story very early on and it also becomes important to his political connections later. But this gentleman he treats for you'll have to remind me what they thought he had but he had mania mania.
Stephen Fried: They think he was mad.
Aaron Freiwald: He was mad.
Stephen Fried: Yes.
Aaron Freiwald: And the treatment so to speak at the time as you describe it in what was the first hospital ever in the United States. You know Pennsylvania hospital was basically to chain them up in the basement of Pennsylvania hospital.
Stephen Fried: Well this guy because he didn't want to be in the hospital they replicated what they did in the hospital and they chained him to the floor in a house on the side of his mansion away from his family.
Aaron Freiwald: That was regarded as what you would do.
Stephen Fried: Yes you chained him to the floor. They slept on straw on the ground. The belief was that people with mental illness couldn't feel heat or cold. So this treatment was in the summer. But at Pennsylvania hospital they didn't heat the cells of the patients were in in the winter because they didn't believe they could feel cold and they you know they just sort of didn't know what to do and interestingly everything in Rush's life is sort of partly medical and partly political so we were able to find this gentleman Captain McPhearson this is a case that was mentioned in one sentence in Rush's log books and we worked backwards from it and realize that not only was he the first mental illness case that Rush saw right after he came back from medical school. But McPhearson was best friends with John Dickinson who was the most important lawyer in Pennsylvania. Probably the most overlooked legal character in the entire story of the Declaration because he wouldn't sign it because he felt that they were asking for independence too soon.
Aaron Freiwald: Right. He wasn't against independence he just thought.
Stephen Fried: Right because.
Aaron Freiwald: We weren't ready.
Stephen Fried: Because we have a kind of a half assed version of history what we learn in school was sort of the not even the Reader's Digest version. John Dickinson becomes something different than what he is. The relationship between Dickinson and Rush is really interesting. And of course you know Rush meets Dickinson because Dickinson's best friend is this guy Macpherson. MacPherson in his in his insanity accuses Dickinson of trying to steal his wife trying to steal his money and Dickinson has to they take away all his guns because they're afraid is going to hurt himself and he gets better. But he insists that there had never been anything wrong with him. He writes two private books trying to prove that there had never been anything wrong with him. And so this was a very instructive case for Rush early on and I think that the world in Philadelphia learned a lot about this too but it was kind of there to be researched and we worked backwards from it. I've had some students from Penn help me with this book. And one of them got very involved in researching this whole case and it's really interesting. I mean you can write about the improvements in mental health care and the people who've got better but a lot of what mental health was today and still this was then still is today is people denying that there is mental illness people denying that they have mental illness not wanting to take treatment because they don't like the idea of treatment. So we think of these as fairly modern ideas but what's cool about the whole story of Rush is that a lot of things we think happened in America. Recently in the 20th century. You know whatever they actually started the minute America started and the minute we were not under Britain the minute we did not have a state religion, certain decisions had to be made about what it was like to be a good American. About what the price of religion was going to be without a state religion about for Rush also what health things would the community take care of what public education there would be. So Rush saw these things from the very beginning and he started writing especially very aggressively after the war. About all the issues both the things that were going to end up in the Constitution and the things that he knew the Constitution wasn't going to be able to fix but that society was going to have to address what does it mean to be. He referred to Americans as Republican machines because he felt that each of us were going to have certain responsibilities. Now the country was independent to be what was necessary to be a free American.
Aaron Freiwald: He was. He was young. As you point out for the time and especially for the role that he takes on and very idealistic and maybe you might even say at times naive because of his youth. But he also had incredible insight and instinct. And I wonder you tell this fantastic story of when John Adams comes to town for the first Continental Congress and Rush is one of the few people that goes to meet Adams before he actually enters Philadelphia. And this is I guess instinctual insight that he has about what's to come when all the delegates get together in the advice he gives to John Adams I wonder if you would tell that story. It's really how do you think he. He was so smart about that. That was really important actually.
Stephen Fried: I think first of all Rush was a pretty fearless guy. He was fearless with words. He was fearless with writing and fearless around people. And I think people he was kind of blown away people were blown away by that. So he came. So Rush's involvement with politics with the political world just to backtrack. So he was a doctor trying to make a living. He wrote this treatise on slavery which hurt his career. But he kept going. He then got involved with the people who wrote the proclamation against tea coming into the country.
Aaron Freiwald: That right.
Stephen Fried: That led to the Boston Tea Party. I think that most people don't understand his role in this but just so you understand the Boston and Philadelphia and New York were all going to get the shipment of tea each of the cities was trying to figure out what to do about it because they were against the tea tax. So the Philadelphia group wrote a proclamation which Rush wrote with others at the London coffee house you know and they put it in the newspaper and the people in Boston who get more credit with this because they actually threw the tee off the boat put that proclamation in their newspapers too to set off the Boston Tea Party because they said the Philadelphia proclamation is great we don't need to write another one. So Sam Adams and all those guys they put that in the paper so that technically is what sets off the Boston Tea Party.
Aaron Freiwald: And it got to Boston first right. There were ships bearing the taxed tea.
Stephen Fried: Oh the tea was coming to Philly too. Yeah. So they threw all the tee off in Boston and then when the guy started coming to Philly they actually stopped him. Early on he was coming up the Delaware River and said look you don't want to do this. And they sort of let them know that he'd be tarred and feathered if you tried to bring the tea into Philadelphia. And he finally turned around and went back and the Philadelphia Tea Party was sort of a non-party.
Aaron Freiwald: Right.
Stephen Fried: Because they didn't have to throw the tea. Right. And so that was Rush's first involvement with these with these guys. So that meant that he was technically in the Philadelphia group of the Sons of Liberty. These are groups that didn't have the cards and t shirts and secret handshakes back then. They were just a handful of people mostly in Boston but those who in the other cities who are interested in independence so when the Massachusetts delegation came for the Continental Congress the Philadelphia guys went out to meet them in Frankfurt because they wanted to talk to them before they came into town and Rush wrote about this, at the time. Adams wrote about it a little bit at the time and wrote about it again later when he understood the significance of it but they brought them in and and they told them a couple of things that they were really shocked at because of course the people in Boston were already being attacked. And they figured they would be leading.
Aaron Freiwald: Well they had notoriety now because of the Boston Tea Party right.
Stephen Fried: So they figured they'd be leading all this. The Philadelphia people you know including Rush they sort of sit them down in a room they have drinks and they say look look you I know you guys want to be in charge of this whole Continental Congress. But if you do it won't work. So two things you have to think about. One you can't say the word independence in Philadelphia because people will go nuts.
Aaron Freiwald: This is 1774.
Stephen Fried: 1774. Because keep in mind that Philadelphia is the most conservative city in the country. It is the most popular the most populous the most economically important city in the country with the most to lose if the revolution fails or even if it succeeds because the people there are making very good money being in business with the British. So there's a lot of loyalists in Philadelphia. Philadelphia also has an unusual number of Quakers who are against war. So they are kind of against it for that reason. So Rush is telling them look you can't say independence out loud in Philadelphia if you want to do this we have to sort of talk about this a different way. And he said the other thing is you really are going to have to defer to the people from Virginia because to make a deal with everybody you know the North and the South has to make a deal. And Pennsylvania is kind of in the middle of all this. So you know I think that they all thought like oh my God what are you talking about. But they listen to him. They were interested in this and then when they finish this little meeting Rush arranges that he can sit in a carriage with John Adams and somebody else takes his horse home. So in the carriage he starts telling him about the people he's going to meet in Philadelphia who are going to do a lot of backslapping and make him seem like they're really behind him but they're really loyalists and that he has to understand that he has to understand what's really going on in Philadelphia because there aren't that many people in Philadelphia yet who really are ready to say we are ready for independence.
Aaron Freiwald: So he had really valuable intel for these important figures coming in to town,.
Stephen Fried: I will say honestly what's interesting about the Adams Rush relationship is that the two of them wrote incredible numbers of letters. They also did incredible amount of writing themselves so they retold these stories lots of times. And I think each time they told them over time they understood their significance better. There are some historians who would say Oh you only can go by what they wrote at the time. And I've seen people argue that I would say the opposite I think you have to take into consideration everything they wrote. So Adams came to appreciate what happened. He later much later after Rush was dead wrote and said what these guys told us in Frankfurt that day. You know it actually is sort of the turning point of all this. If they hadn't forced us to do this. Maybe Washington wouldn't have been the general maybe Jefferson wouldn't have written the Declaration of Independence. Maybe we wouldn't have won because they were definitely coming down there to be leaders.
Aaron Freiwald: So you had you had at the time the folks like John Adams and Sam Adams from Boston who were very gung ho about independence.
Stephen Fried: Yes.
Aaron Freiwald: And Philadelphia you describe is really more more mixed. You have a mix of political leanings.
Stephen Fried: Yeah and you have to keep in mind one thing I think that I think people never teach in school. Is that a lot of people just didn't want change.
Aaron Freiwald: Yeah.
Stephen Fried: It's not like everybody was on one side or the other. That's not the nature of the American Revolution. I think that happened later. But for a long time I think people were just afraid like you're going to blow this whole thing up you're going to sever this relationship. It wasn't you know they were looking for a negotiated settlement. It's like OK we only want to do this because these taxes you put on us are wrong. And if you're not going to take them off then we have to go all the way. It's not like people were saying before those taxes we have to separate from you.
Aaron Freiwald: Well how important do you think is Rush's early thinking about slavery and writing about it as he was writing about black slavery in the United States or in the colonies. I guess at that point but obviously there's an analogy to the slavery to the king and to England.
Stephen Fried: Well they used the word slavery very metaphorically all over the place and Rush loved the metaphor of slavery. And besides writing about slavery of black slavery from Africa and some of it from the West Indies he definitely considered they would use that rhetoric and they felt that they were described themselves as being slaves which I have to say in retrospect is somewhat politically incorrect. You know when you compare that to people who were actually slaves for them to say oh because you have to pay a tax your enslaved but those you know.
Aaron Freiwald: But it was an important metaphor though.
Stephen Fried: Right. So what's interesting is you don't ever see any evidence that anybody called that out at that time. But slavery is a term that Rush used a lot in describing this but the truth is that the abolition movement took a back seat once the independence movement were moved forward. Honestly it was much more political and the abolition movement became somewhat moribund during the Revolutionary period and then it came back during the 1780s after the war was won. So there isn't much the Pennsylvania abolition society was the leading abolition society in the country and it did. It was not really active once they were heading into war. So and honestly through the declaration even through the constitution they sort of kicked slavery you know down the road. So I would say that they fought against it but they didn't make a whole lot of progress.
Aaron Freiwald: Well that was I mean obviously that's that was the most terrible compromise between North and South ultimately.
Stephen Fried: Absolutely. Absolutely. But even that compromise came know almost 20 years after what we're talking about here.
Stephen Fried: In the Constitution itself.
Aaron Freiwald: So Rush you know he he was involved in this. He came the Continental Congress came again. His only involvement with it was gossip. People came to his house. He loved this stuff. He Adams would tell them stories. Adams wasn't sure what his deal was. But he was kind of interested in him and he could see that he was somebody who was interesting in Philadelphia the doctors in general were the intellectuals of the city. And so the Continental Congress came here. They didn't accomplish a ton. And by the time they came back for the second time the world was a different place. So by that time Rush was working with Thomas Paine because he talked Thomas Paine into writing Common Sense.
Aaron Freiwald: Another Forrest Gump moment.
Stephen Fried: Well it's little more than Forrest Gump I mean Forrest Gump was there at things. I mean Rush actually.
Aaron Freiwald: That's true. That's true. I don't mean to diminish it by saying it's just it's just Thomas Paine gets all the credit but it wouldn't happened without Rush.
Stephen Fried: Rush. Actually Rush started a pamphlet on independence but he wasn't sure that it was safe for him to publish. He met Paine who was much less well known and a very good writer and you know he gave him sort of a backhanded compliment of saying you know well if you write this thing and it all goes to hell then you know you've much less to lose than me. You know I have a practice and all this kind of stuff. So again this is Rush's version of it. Paine never told the story of that. The whole making of Common Sense was all sort of kept very secret. And even Rush talked about it more later after Paine was gone. But so they sat. They edited for months while Paine was a much slower writer I mean I joke in the book that if Rush had actually written the pamphlet Rush is a really fast writer and he believed in first drafts he would just like he'd push send really fast. It was really a hallmark of his career and he got in trouble for doing that. But he was a very fast writer and wrote very eloquently and but pain was pretty laborious. The whole fall 1775 they were working on what became Common Sense and what most people forget is the first part of Common Sense is considered like one of the most amazing pieces of writing ever really inspired all these people to do stuff. The second and third parts of Common Sense are much more controversial. They're much they go much further to to suggest that there shouldn't be a king and there should be religion and all these things that many people including Rush would not have really agreed with but the first you know luckily people only read the beginning of anything right. So the first part of Common Sense you know did its business. What's interesting about Rush's life is of course Rush other things were happening in Rush's life he was treating patients, he was doing other stuff. He was also courting his wife. So he fell in love with Julia Stockton who was the daughter of the most powerful lawyer in New Jersey, Richard Stockton, who's a judge by that time and he also became a signer. So Rush's wife is the only person who was married to assigner whose father was inside her. She was 16 years old. So they were courting. And we have all their courtship letters. During the same time that Rush and Paine are working on Common Sense. So what's nice in a book like this. I mean in most cases people a historian would only care about what they're doing with Common Sense or maybe some historian would be interested in Rush's family but you know historians are sometimes are not so interested in the family. I love to have the family stuff in there but to show these things happening together is really kind of cool because Rush gets married on a certain day in January and then two days later Common Sense comes out and he and Thomas Paine are watching as this thing just explodes.
Aaron Freiwald: And the numbers are. I mean any writer whose book got the kind of numbers that Common Sense got at that time would be thrilled.
Stephen Fried: His Amazon rankings would have been unbelievable.
Aaron Freiwald: Right. And it's impressive that it spread that quickly.
Stephen Fried: I think you know we tend to focus on the changes in technology and media during our time and think that the biggest changes that change everything and ruin everything. But every generation has a thing that changes in the media that changes the landscape. So during that time pamphlet writing was becoming a new medium where you could write something if it was popular you put out a pamphlet you sold it independently you made money and you could advertise it in newspapers you could send copies of it overseas and send it there. It was a new way of getting ideas across just as people forget in the 1790s when the U.S. Capitol was in America was in Philadelphia. That's really the first time there were a lot of daily newspapers and a lot of partisan daily newspapers so there had been weekly newspapers before but they hadn't. There had not been so many daily newspapers especially in the big cities. But at that time that's when that exploded. So I can make the argument that that change probably in its time was in the ballpark of significance of what the change is to go to the internet. Yeah it's so much more media at one time and people can control it however they want. And the growth of partisan media and frankly the original fake news because some of that partisan media was just made up stuff so that people would read it think it was funny and pay for it. So Rush lived through those times and pamphleting became known in part because of the great success of Common Sense. And so six months later you know Common Sense is is incredibly famous book and they're about to sign the Declaration of Independence. And Rush is involved in state politics because keep in mind there is no federal politics yet the main politics is state politics and what Rush is fighting at the time is the state constitution of Pennsylvania which he is terribly upset by because they only want to have one house of legislature which he thinks is ridiculous. And they don't believe necessarily in separation of church and state which he does. He is a Christian who believes in separation of church and state. Which all his life puts him in a funny situation. A lot of scientists that he deals with are atheists or deists. So he has to deal with the fact that a lot of scientists are not men of faith but he is. But he's trying to figure out how to deal with religious freedom because he was a Presbyterian in Philadelphia when Philadelphia was controlled by Quakers and the Church of England which became the Episcopal Church. And so he sees racial religious prejudice within Christianity too. So he believes in a very elevated idea of separation of church and state and religious freedom. And he is shocked that the people in Pennsylvania want to put an oath in the Pennsylvania Constitution that says if you hold office in Pennsylvania you have to swear an oath to Jesus and you have to swear that you believe in the absolute truth of the old and new testament. OK. These words are in the Pennsylvania Constitution and Rush is like no this is not what religious freedom is. I mean religious freedom is that everybody is free to believe what they want. I mean even if I believe that you cannot put that in the Constitution. So he was fighting those battles. And you always have to keep in mind when you think about federal versus state the federal state thing started from the very beginning it's always there.
Aaron Freiwald: Well and it's interesting too well. While Thomas Jefferson is writing the Declaration of Independence for all of the.
Stephen Fried: Yes.
Aaron Freiwald: Colonies. Each state also had somebody working on a state declaration.
Stephen Fried: And Rush was writing the Pennsylvania one.
Aaron Freiwald: He wrote the one for Pennsylvania which I guess was important because like you say there was no federal union yet. So each state being a separate colony had to also declare independence.
Stephen Fried: There was like a loose confederation that had come out of the first Continental Congress. But no there was not a federal thing as we knew it. So but I love the image of like all of you know Jefferson is in one building he's writing the federal declaration of independence and Rush is like down the street. He's writing the Pennsylvania one.
Aaron Freiwald: And they're all circulating drafts.
Stephen Fried: Other states have already written theirs or they're writing them because they all have to keep in mind for the states to ratify the declaration they have to agree at the state level that they're supporting independence. So it all comes together then it's very dramatic because the head of the Pennsylvania delegation won't sign. And so he John Dickinson so he eventually steps aside and they have an election and they elect Rush to fill his space. And so Rush comes in and in early August keep in mind the declaration was not signed on July 4th I know it breaks everybody's hearts. It was ratified on July 4th it was signed on August 2nd. And Rush wrote about what it was like to be in the room. His description is actually one of the only real time descriptions of both the feeling of how dangerous what they were doing was and also the risk but also the humor he tells a funny story about how one very heavy delegate joked to one very skinny delegate. He said well we're all hanging at least when I hang I'll go really fast.
Aaron Freiwald: Because he's heavy.
Stephen Fried: Because he's heavy and you'll just dangle it and said there was a little bit of that humor.
Aaron Freiwald: The true gallows humor. Right. Right.
Stephen Fried: But we know those stories because Rush wrote them down and I think that part of his Forrest Gump thing is if Forrest Gump was a writer who had a good journal that would kind of be what it was because Rush was in a way Rush keeping like a burn book of the of the whole American Revolution process because he thought it was interesting.
Aaron Freiwald: Well he kept a journal and then he would rewrite his journals. And.
Stephen Fried: Yes.
Aaron Freiwald: He had a sense that he was living through and part of a really important time I mean that's.
Stephen Fried: He did one but two he also kept a lot of journals. He believed in commonplace books from the time he was a young man. He wrote on the right hand page. He left the left hand page blank so you could write notes in it. And then he would sometimes revise that and do it again. What he later gave his medical lectures that he did the same way his lectures were written down the right hand page and then he would take notes for what the students asked what he thought of and then he would revise but he really believed in rewriting things that that was a way of learning. When we ask ourselves now will when see things online then we don't write them down. We don't take notes. There are many educators who believe that that's a problem. Rush would really have agreed with that because he believed in memorization and you did that from writing things out. Rush also had an astonishing memory which is one of the first things people recognized about him. So he had a great memory and he made connections in a very fast way between legal ideas medical ideas philosophical ideas and so even when he was very young and poor and didn't have standing people recognized that he had that.
Aaron Freiwald: I have to ask you about one more story while we still have a few minutes because it's another great turning point in the founding and creating of our country and brings together Rush's medical background with this with this growing network of political connections that he had. And that is Rush's key role in George Washington's pushing back the British when when Washington crosses the Delaware and the and the and the battles that followed in Trenton and Princeton Rush has a key has a key part in that story too right.
Stephen Fried: Yeah it's actually it's a very cool thing and it's and it's actually right in his journals. But no one had really spent a lot of time trying to cross-reference it. A lot of what I tried to do was take the writing that Rush did then cross reference it with the best writing about these battles. Even if that writing didn't include Rush or just mentioned the medical people in passing but what's cool about the crossing of the Delaware and the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton is that Rush wasn't technically there as a doctor. He was still in Congress. He basically left Congress. He left his pregnant wife who he had squirreled away at a family home in Maryland.
Aaron Freiwald: Who had lived in Princeton.
Stephen Fried: Well she lived in Philadelphia her family was in Princeton. He made sure she was in Maryland because the the British were coming down through Princeton. In fact they had already taken over. He went to the College in New Jersey that became Princeton and they were occupying Julia Stockton's family's house and Nassau Hall. So Rush came to the banks of the Delaware where Washington's troops were in one place and there were three other battalions that were along the Delaware in different places. He went to the Pennsylvania troops and then he went up to where Washington was he knew Washington they were friendly they were socially friendly from when Washington had been in Philadelphia and Rush was the head of the Medical Committee for the army. So he was and he was in Congress who's was technically Washington's boss at that point. And he went up to see Washington and he just happened to go up and see Washington the night they were getting ready to cross the Delaware. So he spent an hour with him in his tent and he described Washington having these little slips of paper in his hand. And one of them fell to the ground and he saw that he had written victory or death on it. Now I mean we we know the stories we hear them in school. I don't think we always understand that we know them because of these little descriptions that are in somebody's journal. So Rush talks to Washington. Washington sends some orders back with him back to the Pennsylvania people who are just a couple miles down the river and they're all ready to go. And then it gets delayed and darkness comes And rain and ice come and you have these descriptions of each of the battalions trying to get across. Now Rush isn't with Washington's Group he's with general Cadwalader group from Pennsylvania down the river. So he's there and watches them try to get across a couple of them actually physically the guys get across the crawl over the ice that's flowed up against it. But of course you know they have to bring boats across they have to bring horses across they have to bring their armaments across. It's not enough that the guys can crawl across. So they crawl back and try to wait for orders and they later hear that of the four groups Washington's group got over they got over because people close to Washington where Washington was got everybody there to bring all their little boats. It's almost like Dunkirk.
Aaron Freiwald: Yeah.
Stephen Fried: Right. So all that everybody who had a boat there was near where Washington's group was brought the boat and they got them over before all the ice came and in some cases after because the ice kept going down the river and made it harder. So we had these great descriptions of what it's like Rush describes going across he describes them going to Trenton. He treats patients at the Battle of Trenton. After the Battle of Trenton he meets General Hugh Mercer who's a very famous general and also a doctor. Rush tends to gravitate to the people who used to be docs and Mercer is one of them. So he meets Mercer for lunch he really likes Mercer and it's so dramatic because you know literally two days later Mercer is one of the most horrible victims of the Battle of Princeton. In the middle of the Battle of Princeton his battalion is beaten down he surrenders and the British still bayonet him seven more times in the chest and slam a gun butt at his head and leaving him near dead and Rush tries to bring him back to life. This guy who he had just had lunch with two days before.
Aaron Freiwald: Well that's also an interesting moment too because Rush is thinking about the law of the battlefield at this time too, the torture of prisoners. And you know obviously this is a battle to you know Washington says this is a battle to the death. But but the treatment of soldiers on the battlefield. And codes of conduct.
Stephen Fried: Right because the rules of engagement in the battlefields is after the battle is over the doctors from both sides come in to take care of their wounded and dead and they're supposed to respect each other and if there's no doctor from the other side there you treat the enemy. So the doctors had a different relationship obviously than the combatants did. And Rush got in trouble for that later because he saw the difference between how organized it organized machine the British army was and how this war. I mean the American army was not well clothed. It was not well there was not well anything. I mean it got better. But at this time was pretty ragtag. So at a medical point Rush was trying to say to Washington and the others like we have to be better. We can't be losing soldiers to disease in our hospital because we're not well organized. Look at how the British are and I think that they thought that that meant that he was pro British or something which he really wasn't he was trying to force the system to learn. He was trying to force them to spend more money to make sure that the soldiers were taking care of. He also was interested in preventive medicine for soldiers because like the soldiers didn't know they shouldn't go to the bathroom near where their tents were. He actually had to write a paper describing how that might be a good thing for them to go to the bathroom further away and they wouldn't have as many diseases. And that paper that he wrote he published in the newspaper and Washington had it created as a pamphlet and given out to all the soldiers so there was a huge learning curve. And Rush left the whole thing before they learned it. So he was in the first three years of all this. He became increasingly upset that we were losing. I mean he was there during the time we were losing. And I mean we won the battle of Princeton we won the battle of Trenton but then we lost a lot of battles. He was at the Battle of Brandywine which we lost terribly and he was briefly captured. He was at the Battle of Germantown which was a massacre. And by the end of 1777 things looked pretty bleak and Rush was really freaked out that we were like hey we're losing.
Aaron Freiwald: Yeah.
Stephen Fried: You know. And he knew Washington and he was worried about what was going on there was gossip among the generals that maybe either Washington should be replaced or Washington should put different people in below him and Rush heard this he was friendly with some of these generals. They knew him as a congressman and he made a terrible mistake which is he passed on that gossip to other people. He sent a letter about it to his wife which we just discovered which is really very in-depth in the people the Washington papers were quite fascinated by that hadn't seen it before. But the one that became known he sent an anonymous letter to Patrick Henry who he knew expressing his fear about how badly things were going and wondering if the things that were being said about Washington needed to be listened to. And this became part of the fear that there was going to be an uprising within the officers which did not happen. But the fact that Rush had written about it all became an issue because he sent this anonymous letter to Patrick Henry and he said please burn this letter. A lot of letters Rush wrote and with please burn this letter. The fact that I'm reading that means that people didn't.
Aaron Freiwald: Yeah.
Stephen Fried: Patrick Henry held onto the letter and as the fear that there was really a problem within the ranks continued he sent it to Washington. Two months later Rush actually probably forgot about this letter. Went on with his life. He actually had left the military service by that time over a fight about patient care. I'm not sure he realized at the time that Washington was ever going to see this letter.
Aaron Freiwald: And Washington didn't forget.
Stephen Fried: So Washington two months later got the letter he immediately saw that it was in Rush's handwriting because he knew Rush's handwriting he was friends with Rush. During the time of this letter Rush also sent him a lot of advice about how to make the medical corps a better which Washington was happy to have and accepted and did. So this is really like I do think it was like an e-mail you shouldn't push send on. But in this case no one read it for two months. And in that time two months was really two months. But Henry sent it to Washington and Washington was crushed because Rush was his friend and also Rush was a former congressman. So it probably made him wonder am I in trouble or not. Now I don't think any of this had anything to do with the fact that Washington and the troops really got their act together that time that was really because the French came in and because of everything that happened at Valley Forge. But it was all happening during the same time. And what it meant for Rush is that Rush ended up leaving public service at that time feeling that the politics of it were just not what he was good at. And he came home the British had just left Philadelphia and he spent the rest of the war trying to rebuild his practice raising his kids doing medical education. And when the war was over he his main goal was to focus on the social problems that he thought that he could change as a social reformer education, public health, racism, sexism. So he created Dickinson College which is the first rural college in America the first college that wasn't in the city. He put out programs for public education in the state of Pennsylvania. He and he put out ideas about what medicine should be. He grew in prominence a Pennsylvania hospital and but he was pretty much a private guy doing a lot of writing. And it was a very quiet time in politics and then Franklin came home in the mid 1780s and a lot of the intellectual things that Philadelphia had always stood for got restarted including the abolition society including the American Philosophical Society which was the leading Society for Science and would have these fascinating meetings where people would just put ideas forward. You know this is how we put ideas where here's an idea I think it's I think it could be right. You know I'm going to give a talk about this some of those ideas are the rightest ideas.
Aaron Freiwald: Like real world real think tank.
Stephen Fried: Yeah and some were just completely ridiculous. Some of them were reports from different countries you know. But the Philosophical Society in its day that we don't think about it so much now but it really was the central intellectual institution in America and what it did there was fascinating and Rush was involved and obviously Franklin was involved Jefferson was involved. And so it is at aps when they restart after Franklin comes back that Rush gives in 1786 his first lecture that leads to his theory of how mental illness should be viewed as medical. And this is a fascinating, startling talk very controversial in it's day. That also includes little things that no one ever sees. There's a sentence in it that stayed with me so much. He describes the challenge of America. He was very interested at this time with the challenge of America was going to be as balancing, science, religion, liberty and good government. And I have to say when I read those few words I thought you know what. That is the balancing act that we are still fighting with today. And it's so amazing that he sort of boiled it down to that but that's what he was trying to do. He was both trying to put forward these ideas about how more things that you would do that were aberrant or immoral could be caused by physical illness and not by immorality. So it's really trying to jump from religious and philosophical ideas to more medical ideas.
Aaron Freiwald: I mean I love being able to make the connections you know dipping deeply into this early part of our country.
Stephen Fried: It's so rich and the people are so interesting.
Aaron Freiwald: Yeah and by the way the way you write about it too is fantastic. I mean you're I mean it's beautifully written and people might think oh it's a biography or history but it's beautifully written and it's and it's so easy as a reader to get into it. And to come out of those times and come out of these moments and stories with some understanding of the time we live in today. Just point out this lecture and the balancing the values that we're trying to balance as Rush talked about it how do you I mean as a writer as a journalist as a thinker it is a beautiful time when people wrote you know they wrote and they read books and they sat around and talked about ideas that part of culture and life in Philadelphia and throughout the country seemed so different than what we experience today and a culture of Snap Chat and e-mails. And you know kids today communicate in pictures. Forget about talking on the phone. You know they don't even talk in words anymore. They talk pictures so.
Stephen Fried: I hear you. And there's a part of me that agrees and a part of me that always wants to have a certain reality check. First a very small percentage of people could read and write during this time.
Aaron Freiwald: OK.
Stephen Fried: So just keep in mind that and it's not like people don't read books today. And I mean I teach at two colleges we teach plenty of people who read books. So I think that in every generation including Rush's people are bemoaning the fact that kids aren't as smart as they used to be. And education isn't what they used to be so you know that's always the case. I tend to look at this a different way. I think that we have up to this point not been able to really access how interesting these times were because a lot of the writing about them is very reductionist very rah rah and they want to paint people you know certain you know all good or all bad and it's complicated.
Aaron Freiwald: Yeah.
Stephen Fried: And I have to say that I was what I was doing. Look I live down the street from the American Revolution and I have to say honestly before I wrote this book I didn't know as much as I really should have known. So even the order of events are something that people don't really know. If you show them it through the eyes of somebody who was there all of a sudden it sort of comes to life. But it took longer than you think. People were more confused about it than you think from the very beginning they knew what a challenge America was. And their early writing about it just informs the fact that these are the central challenges. You know the challenge between science and religion the challenge between liberty and good government. The challenge between religious freedom and the dominant religion wanting to win which Rush was afraid of even though he was in the dominant religion. But he understood because many of his patients were Jewish. Many of his patients were different branches of Christianity and he actually changed branches of Christianity because he would get mad at the clergy at his church and he would change so many religious scholars say well this is a big philosophical change on Rush let's let's write about this. I mean my view is that he was mad at the clergymen for some political fight they were having and he changed the way that any of us change churches or synagogue it's very American. Because keep in mind religion was becoming Americanized. Everything that we think of as being Americanized this is the first time it could be. This is the beginning of a Republican, a Republic.
Aaron Freiwald: Right. That's what you get with freedom.
Stephen Fried: And what's Rush's writing is so cool both his public writing and his letters and I must say since we're running out of time I really want to point out that in the last almost quarter of the book is this amazing late in life correspondence between Rush and Adams where they really know he and Adams didn't. When Adams lost the 1800 election which was the first horrible divisive election in America the first real old fashioned election like we have today in America. Adams didn't speak to Rush for five years and he didn't speak to Jefferson for 12 years. And these three had been really tight. And Adams reached out to Rush in 1805 after they had been with us for five years and said you know he wrote them a letter and said Look I think one of us shouldn't die before we say goodbye. And then over the next eight years they wrote hundreds of letters and these letters unbelievably funny cranky thoughtful. They replayed the entire revolution they played the whole history of the world. They go into unbelievable detail about each of their families and what's going on their families mean Adams loses a son alcoholism his daughter has breast cancer which Rush helps him with Rush's oldest son who was a take over his practice is in a duel with his best friend in the Navy. He was a Navy surgeon and becomes mentally ill and tries to kill himself and ends up becoming Rush's patient. So they're going through all this stuff and they're also revising the whole history of America. And during this whole time Rush is trying to get Adams and Jefferson to be friends again because he believes that these two Saigon's of the two political parties in America who were friends long before there were political parties. If they can't get back together as friends and have this history of American be a story that we tell together through both of them what does that say about the future of this country and the country is pretty young then they weren't so sure was going to make it.
Aaron Freiwald: Yeah.
Stephen Fried: I mean we didn't talk about American history back then they were sure that there's going to tell a history of so the fact that Rush spent several of his last years just trying to force Adams and Jefferson to start communicating again. And when they finally did it was this incredible breakthrough and of course Rush was younger then the two of them he thought he was doing this because one of them could die. But Rush died before both of them. Before he died, he went through two unbelievably powerful things. He had to check his son into the psychiatric hospital that he had created. And his son lived there for the rest of his life for the next 30 years and then he started doing he had done advocacy for mental illness before he had forced the hospital to do a lot of things but now he was saying look I've been asking you to do this even before this started affecting one of my family members. So he was actually the first person to say like I'm doing advocacy on behalf of my ill family member too. And he then wrote the first American textbook on mental illness which was written. It came out only months before he died. It's actually a really interesting very accessible book raises a lot of the questions that we raise today had lots of case studies. There's lots of crazy ideas in it too. But I mean there are crazy medical ideas of that time. But it's really interesting and it caps off just this fascinating counterintuitive all over the place life which you know I think is really symbolic of America. America is divisive, counter-intuitive all over the place huge, huge intellectually, huge geographically. And that's kind of what Rush's life is like. And to be able to wade through it and capture it and to meet all the people that he knew in a real personal way. He was their colleagues he was their doctor. He was their confessor in some cases. It was a real honor to do that. And now when I go to his grave which isn't very far from my house and you know his grave is right near Benjamin Franklin's all in the same graveyard a lot of the other signers are in there too. You really feel like you're you can know somebody and you know maybe we know Franklin but you know there's two Benjamins that really mattered in the revolution. And Benjamin Rush was active and younger for more of the revolution than Franklin was.
Aaron Freiwald: Right because Franklin was off in Europe for most of it.
Stephen Fried: And he was also ill. So like Rush would never abide me suggesting that what Rush that was more important than Franklin even though Adam said that. Because Rush you know worshiped Franklin and Franklin was his first mentor. But he certainly felt that when Rush when Franklin died that he wanted to be seen as the next person who did that who combined science and public mindedness and intellectualism. And he was there to do that and his writing is really what we have from that time period. Franklin died in 1790 and was ill for the last years of his life and he only signed the Constitution because Rush forced the Pennsylvania delegation to include him when they weren't going to and he because they thought he was too sick and he said what are you talking about this guy is Benjamin Franklin. You know he is going to be in this delegation. And so they had a fascinating relationship and I just think the history of this country seen through those two Benjamins is a great story.
Aaron Freiwald: It is a great story. And who and who knew and I'll tell you I've I've really enjoyed reading it myself. I got my wife reading it at home. It's a great story. Fascinating life really brilliantly told Steve Fried. Get the book, I'm plugging the book officially Rush Revolution Madness and the Visionary Doctor who became a Founding Father and really so much more. Great story. Thanks so much for being on Good Law Bad Law.
Stephen Fried: Thank you for having me.