The origin of the yellow fever being a vexata questio [troubling and unsolved] among the medical gentlemen, it is not for the unlearned to form an opinion on it. I believe it will be found that the close & solid method of building up cities in the cloudy climates of Europe must not be pursued under our clear sky. the quantity of our sunshine imposes a different law on us. all towns in America should be laid off on the plan of the chequer board, the white squares remaining unbuilt & in trees. every house would then front a square of trees: and the accidents of fire as well as disease better guarded against.
Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 12, 1799
In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the yellow fever that ravaged coastal cities in the nation’s earliest years.
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders anticipate and plan for unsolvable problems.
Writing to Dr. Rush in Philadelphia about recurrent yellow fever outbreaks in his city every late summer, Vice-President Jefferson made these observations:
1. If doctors don’t know the cause, uneducated people surely shouldn’t “form an opinion.”
2. Let America not adopt the European model of crowded cities.
3. America’s bountiful sunshine demands a lifestyle different from Europeans.
4. Cities should be developed on a checkerboard plan, with every other square undeveloped and covered with trees.
5. The twin dangers of disease and fire would both be “better guarded against.”
Note that Jefferson was being proactive, planning now for what might protect us later, rather than waiting until calamity struck and then reacting to it.
In a recent post titled “Social distancing, Thomas Jefferson style,” he proposed the same development plan for New Orleans in 1805.
Bring Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom and foresight 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.