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Category Archives: Natural history (science)

Any money must come from Pennsylvania, not the U.S.

Dr. Deveze, who is the subject of your letter of Mar. 3. had I believe great merit in the services he rendered in Philadelphia on the first visitation of the Yellow fever in 93. the courage with which he exposed himself to it, when it’s novelty frightened away the physicians & inhabitants of the place, marked a mind of superior benevolence … with respect to Dr. Deveze’s request of some acknolegement for his services … his application can of course be recieved by the government of Pensylvania … I hope Dr. Deveze will see … my personal sentiments & esteem I render him the justice he merits.
Thomas Jefferson to Pierre August Adet, June 29, 1806

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes, brave leadership goes unrewarded.
Dr. Deveze, a French refugee from Haiti, volunteered to serve in Bush Hill hospital during Philadelphia’s 1793 deadly yellow fever epidemic. His treatment, considerably gentler than other physicians’ (especially that of the city’s famed Dr. Benjamin Rush), resulted in a favorable recovery rate.

Jefferson noted that Deveze was among the first to recognize that yellow fever was not contagious. He also believed the “superior benevolence” of Deveze 13 years earlier merited reward. Adet now sought that reward for Deveze from the national government. The President declined, citing constitutional limitations, and directed Deveze’s case to the state where his services were rendered.

Although he could not authorize compensation from Washington, he asked Adet to convey his “personal sentiments & esteem.”

Read this excerpt from Deveze’s memoir for a detailed and sometimes grisly account of 15 case studies from the 1793 epidemic.

Mr. Jefferson will spare your audience the grisly details. Unless they ask …
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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Some will always argue with the facts!

altho’ these facts [about the nature of the yellow fever] are now palpable to every unprejudiced observer, yet the disposition in men to schismatize [divide into strongly opposed camps] & dispute, has produced some contradiction to them … among the advantages to be derived from the progress of science, I am happy to observe that chemistry promises a more speedy & effectual mode of disinfecting the air of contagious houses & vessels than the oppressive practice of Quarentine a barbarous continuation of antient ignorance & habit.
Thomas Jefferson to Giovanni Fabbroni, April 30, 1806

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders know facts won’t convince some people.
Fabbroni (1752-1822), was an Italian scientist with specialties in agronomy and chemistry. He and Jefferson had been friends and correspondents for 30 years. Jefferson offered what was known about the yellow fever in America, so Fabbroni could compare it with similar illnesses in Italy. Unfortunately, people had a natural inclination to ignore the facts and dispute those who disagreed.

Still believing the cause of the disease to be foul air, the science-minded Jefferson held that chemistry, an attempt to change the environment, would be a more effective cure than quarantine, an attempt to change human behavior.

Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak to your audience.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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Is it ethical to experiment on a condemned man?

with respect to the experiment whether Yellow fever can be communicated after the vaccine, which you propose should be tried on some malefactor [criminal], no means of trying that are likely to be within my power. during the term I have been in office, not a single conviction in any capital case has taken place under the laws of the general government. the Governors of the several states would have it most in their power to favor such an experiment.
To Edward Rowse, August 4, 1805

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time. This post is a repeat of August, 22, 2016.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Rowse wrote to Jefferson speculating on the connection between four diseases: cowpox, smallpox, plague and yellow fever. The smallpox vaccine had already proved effective against that disease and the cowpox. There was some speculation that it worked against the plague. Rowse wanted to know if it might also protect against yellow fever.

To that end, Rowse suggested an experiment be conducted on someone already condemned to die and asked Jefferson’s help. The President declined, not on moral grounds, but for lack of a subject. During his Presidency, no one had been convicted of a capital offense under federal law. Those convictions occurred under state laws. He suggested governors might be able to help Rowse with his experiment.

“I am pleased to give Patrick Lee my highest recommendation as a speaker.”
Executive Director, Wyoming School Boards Association
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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Do the locals have “herd immunity”?

the shade [of illness] next above it [yellow fever], called the stranger’s fever has been coeval [contemporary] with the settlement of the larger cities in the Southern parts, to wit, Norfolk, Charleston, New Orleans. strangers going to these places in the months of July, August or September, find this fever as mortal as the genuine yellow fever. but it rarely attacks those who have resided in them some time.
From Thomas Jefferson to Constantin François Chasseboeuf Volney,  February 8, 1805

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes,  leaders don’t understand what’s happening or why.
Excerpted from a longer, complicated passage in this letter to his French scientist/philosopher friend, the President introduced a malady called “stranger’s fever.” Very much like the yellow fever in its symptoms and mortality, it attacked only newcomers, i.e. strangers, to southern coastal cities. The locals were rarely affected. The yellow fever attacked everyone.

Jefferson didn’t make the claim or explain, but perhaps he was describing a natural “herd immunity” enjoyed by the locals, built up over time.

He went on to propose his disease-thwarting “checkerboard plan” for urban development, described in several earlier posts in this series.

You will need no immunity to enjoy Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom, only an open mind.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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Right idea. Wrong premise.

a vessel going from the infected quarter, and carrying it’s atmosphere in it’s hold into another state, has given the disease to every person who there entered her. these have died in the arms of their family without a single communication of the disease. it is certainly therefore an epidemic, not a contagious disease; and calls on the chemists for some mode of purifying the vessel by a decomposition of it’s atmosphere, if ventilation be found insufficient.
From Thomas Jefferson to Constantin François Chasseboeuf Volney,  February 8, 1805

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Empirical evidence leading to a logical conclusion might be wrong.
Jefferson concluded the yellow fever was not contagious but endemic, transmitted not by people but by fouled air generated in certain conditions along the coast. To buttress that position, he wrote that a ship sailing from one diseased area would carry it to another in the fouled air below deck. If ventilation could not be improved, it fell to the scientists (in this case, chemists) to devise a new method “of purifying the vessel.”

The real cause of yellow fever, the mosquito, would remain undetected for another 100 years. It is likely the ships in question carried not diseased air but disease-bearing insects from one port to another.

Your audience is invited to judge the applicability of Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom to the current age.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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You have the yellow fever in France!

The account you give of the yellow fever, is entirely agreeable to what we then knew of it … facts appear to have established that it is originated here by a local atmosphere, which is never generated but in the lower, closer & dirtier parts of our large cities, in the neighborhood of the water: and that, to catch the disease, you must enter the local atmosphere. persons having taken the disease in the infected quarter, & going into the country, are nursed & buried by their friends, without an example of communicating it.
From Thomas Jefferson to Constantin François Chasseboeuf Volney,  February 8, 1805

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders heed empirical evidence.
Volney (1757-1820) was a French philosopher, author and politician. He met Jefferson  during the latter’s tenure as Ambassador to France. Volney visited America during the 1790s. Jefferson sponsored Volney’s membership in the American Philosophical Society, the nation’s pre-eminent scientific organization. Both shared similar views on government and religion.

In a November 1803 letter to Jefferson, Volney said he nearly died in September from a “cruel illness … the fever…” He was heeding his doctor’s advice to relocate for the winter. Neither this letter nor his previous ones to Jefferson made specific reference to the “yellow fever,” but the President assumed it was the same malady in both countries.

Jefferson continued his theme that evidence pointed to the disease occurring only in dirty, densely populated, waterfront areas. That made it endemic to those areas. Afflicted people taken inland, whether they lived or died, did not give the fever to their care-givers. That meant it was not contagious.

Mr. Jefferson will bring his evidence-based wisdom to your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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I thought one way. Facts proved another.

in the early history of this disease [yellow fever], I did suppose it to be infectious … until the fever at Alexandria brought facts under my own eye, as it were, proving it could not be communicated but in a local atmosphere … we know only that it is generated near the water side, in close built cities, under warm climates … where one sufficient cause for an effect is known, it is not within the economy of nature to employ two. if local atmosphere suffices to produce the fever, miasmata [foul discharge] from a human subject are not necessary, and probably do not enter into the cause.
Thomas Jefferson to John Page, August 16, 1804

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders are willing to  change their minds.
In the previous post from this letter to Virginia’s Governor Page, the President raised the question: Was the yellow fever contagious, passed from person to person, or was it endemic, its cause being associated with a particular place? Experts disagreed, but Jefferson thought the former.

Facts (Jefferson loved facts!) from the outbreak in Alexandria, VA, caused him to change his mind. The fever ran rampant only in warm weather and in densely populated cities close to the water. Reason told him (he really loved reason!) if one cause was identified, a second cause was unnecessary. Thus, the disease was “probably” not infectious but caused by unique, local conditions.

Jefferson was correct in identifying warm weather and a waterfront as contributors. He may have been correct about densely populated cities, but he disliked those, anyway. Everyone would be wrong about the real cause for the next 100 years: the lowly mosquito, active in warm weather, needing water to reproduce, and appearing more of a menace in urban areas.

Your audience is welcome to challenge Mr. Jefferson.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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Don’t pick them all. Only a select few, instead.

…  if you appoint all the members of the legislature to be members of the institution, it will gratify no particular member, nor lead him to feel any more interest in the institution than he does at present. on the other hand, a judicious selection of a few, friends of science, or lovers of the military art, will be gratifying to them inasmuch as it is a selection, and inspire them with the desire of actively patronising it’s interests.
The contingent fund of the war department, is applicable only to objects known to the law. it cannot be applied to any thing merely voluntary & unauthorised by the law.
Thomas Jefferson to Jonathan Williams, July 14, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
If all are “leaders,” none will lead.
Williams (1751-1815) had been appointed by Jefferson to be the first superintendent of the new military academy at West Point, NY. He wanted to establish separate a military scientific society and asked the President which esteemed persons should be appointed to promote it. He suggested all members of Congress, so as not to give offense by leaving someone out.

Jefferson replied that if all were appointed, the position wouldn’t gratify any of them. Better to pick a few qualified people with a particular interest in science or “the military art,” confident they would be active boosters.

Williams also asked, citing the public benefit of the society, that a small allowance from the war department’s contingency fund be allocated to cover the expenses of creating that society. The President said no. Those funds could not go to anything outside the Constitution or unapproved by Congress.

“… it quickly became evident that our attendees …
[were] listening to Thomas Jefferson …
not Patrick Lee portraying [him].”
Deputy Executive Director, Missouri Rural Water Association
Invite Thomas Jefferson to inspire your audience.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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I love that stuff, but duty prevents me!

Th: Jefferson … asks the favor of mr Rodney to be the bearer of his thanks to mr Copes for his communication on the theory of Magnetism … testify to him that unremitting attentions requisite to those matters which duty will not permit him to neglect, render it impossible for him to suffer himself to be drawn off by philosophical [scientific] subjects, altho’ infinitely more pleasing to his mind. he is now hurrying to get through his business in order to make a short visit to his family.
To Caesar Augustus Rodney, March 8, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Focused leaders have to say “No.” to favored things.
Thomas Jefferson wanted to thank “mr Copes” for his scientific material that had come into the President’s hands. He did not know where to write to Copes and asked his young friend Rodney (1772-1824), a Delaware lawyer and political ally, to do so for him.

Jefferson loved all things related to science! Those subjects were “infinitely more pleasing to his mind” than politics and government. Yet, he knew his public duties required his “unremitting attentions.” In addition to conveying his thanks to Copes, he asked Rodney to explain why he could not give Copes’ theory the attention it deserved, attention he would have preferred to give.

Family and science were Jefferson’s twin loves. While he could sidestep scientific interests, he would not do so with his remaining daughter and his growing brood of grandchildren. At the moment of thanking Copes, he was trying to clear the decks for “a short visit to his family” at Monticello.

“…the addition of first person interpretation was new to the conference this year …
Thomas Jefferson and William Clark have set the standard for future conferences.”
Director Of Education, Indiana Historical Society
Either Thomas Jefferson or Lewis & Clark’s William Clark will set a high standard for your meeting!
Invite either man to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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Others do this much better than I!

Th: Jefferson presents his acknolegements to mr Perrein for the offer of his collection in Natural history [plant or animal specimens for observation]; but his pursuits in life having never permitted him to think for a moment of forming a museum himself, he cannot avail himself of mr Perrein’s proposition. on the contrary, whatever he recieves worth preservation he is in the habit of giving either to the Philosophical society or to mr Peale.
Thomas Jefferson to Jean Perrein, March 8, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A wise leader can love something without taking it on.
Perrein knew Thomas Jefferson’s passion for natural history and offered his collection to establish a museum. The President declined, not out of lack of interest but knowing other responsibilities precluded his ever “forming a museum.”

Jefferson suggested two destinations for Perrein’s collection, both in Philadelphia. One recipient was the American Philosophical Society, the nation’s premier science organization. The other was Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), founder of America’s foremost museum.

Of Lewis and Clark’s 300 plant and animal specimens delivered the following year, Jefferson kept a few for display at Monticello. The rest went to the Society or Peale’s museum. The Society still holds a major portion of Lewis and Clark’s original journals from their epic 1804-1806 adventure.

“Patrick Lee was a keynote speaker at our … Annual Conference.
He did an outstanding job in his presentation.”
Executive Director, Wyoming School Boards Association
Mr. Jefferson will be outstanding for your conference!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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