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In a crisis, panic makes reality worse.

A malignant fever [in] Philadelphia … has given great alarm. It is considerably infectious … Tho there is some degree of danger, yet, as is usual, there is much more alarm than danger; and knowing it to be usual also to magnify these accounts in proportion to distance, I have given you the particulars, that you may know exactly what the case is.
Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., September 2, 1793

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders also address the alarm that arises in crises.
Jefferson wrote his son-in-law, Martha’s husband, about the fierce yellow fever plague attacking Philadelphia. Although Randolph was inland, several hundred miles away and safe from the scourge of disease, he could not escape the alarm spread by newspaper accounts and gossip.

Jefferson believed there was “more alarm than danger,” and the alarm was magnified the further it traveled. Thus, he reported accurately the situation in Philadelphia to his family, that the alarm might not exceed the reality.

“If I didn’t know any better,
I would swear I just spent an hour with President Thomas Jefferson.”
Executive Director, Wisconsin Agri-Business Association
Spend an hour with President 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 or call me. I’ll help you find it.

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