Tag Archives: Public health

Cancer is not within the federal government’s authority.

… with respect to any application to Congress, it would be inefficient, because the Constitution allows them to give no other reward for useful discoveries but the exclusive right for 14. years: and the care of the public health is not among those [powers] given to the general government, but remains exclusively with the legislatures of the respective states …
To James Houston, February 10, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders accept limits on their authority.
In a long curious letter to the President, Houston, a 52 year old farmer described being in Philadelphia for treatment of a cancer he’d suffered from for many years. He claimed to have been mostly healed and wanted to make the doctor’s cure known publicly. The doctor refused, because the pills he compounded to treat the cancer were a major source of income. Still, for $50,000, the doctor would release the formula.

Houston had written a “pamphlet,” some lengthy, rhyming narrative of his treatment and cure, and sent a portion of it to the President. He hoped to publish and sell it to raise funds toward that $50,000 goal. He sought a patent on his pamphlet. The President acknowledged a 14 year patent “for useful discoveries,” but that did not apply to Houston’s effort. Neither was the national government authorized by the Constitution to guard public health. Under the 10th Amendment, that authority remained with the individual states.

While he could not help his petitioner, Jefferson remained gracious. He concluded his letter by congratulating Houston “on his prospect of recovery, and sincerely wishes it may be compleated.”

Two months later, Houston filed for a copyright on his pamphlet in the federal court in Philadelphia and published it with the title, “A Plan for the Ladies Fund, in the United States of America, for the Relief of Those Afflicted with Cancers.”

“Your talk was the hit of the day …
thanks for making our convention a big success.”
Central Bank
Mr. Jefferson will contribute to the success of your convention.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Give it to me frank, truthful and complete!

… the legislature is likely to establish a marine hospital at New Orleans, where we lose about 400. boatmen & seamen annually by sickness … I consider the nomination [of superintendent] to such a place as a sacred charge … I would greatly prefer those who have established a reputation by practice. I have however as yet but a single application from a Physician of any age & experience … the object of this letter is to ask your information of his [Dr. Barnwell of Philadelphia] character medical & moral, and that you will be so good as to write it to me candidly, unreservedly, and fully, assured that it shall be confined to myself alone …
To Caspar Wistar, March 22, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders need candid input on important personnel matters.
Wistar (1761-1818) was a noted Philadelphia physician and expert in anatomy, and a friend and confidante of Jefferson’s. The President expected a raft of applicants to lead the new hospital at New Orleans, but he preferred an experienced, capable doctor. He had received only one such application but didn’t know enough about the man. He sought Wistar’s opinion.
1. He needed to know about the applicant’s “character medical & moral.” Competency in medicine was not enough. He needed to be a moral man, as well.
2. He wanted Wistar to write him “candidly, unreservedly, and fully,” (emphasis Jefferson’s). His evaluation should be frank, truthful and complete.
3. He assured Wistar that his assessment would remain between the two of them only.

Wistar responded in the manner requested, but Jefferson subsequently appointed another to the position.

“Thank you again,
and please do not hesitate to use this letter as a recommendation…”
College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, University of Missouri
Mr. Jefferson comes well-recommended.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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I am very anxious to obtain the disease here.

… inoculated two persons with the matter [cowpox vaccine] of the 24th. & 4. with that of the 26th. the latter has no effect, but the two former shew inflammation & matter. one of them complains of pain under the arm pit, & yesterday was a little feverish … we have considerable hopes he has the true infection … you shall be regularly informed of the progress & success of this business … I am very anxious to obtain the disease here.
To Benjamin Waterhouse, August 14, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Persistent leaders keep trying until they find something that works.
New England physician Waterhouse (1754-1846), one of the founders of Harvard Medical School, was the first person to test the cowpox vaccine in America, on four of his own children. His effort to enlist President Adams’ support for a public campaign was unsuccessful, but President Jefferson embraced the concept immediately.

This is one of several letters in 1801 where Jefferson wrote about the cowpox vaccine. Numerous attempts to induce immunity by infecting healthy people with the live vaccine had been unsuccessful. In this account, Jefferson reported the first hoped-for response at Monticello, evidence of an slight infection. Immunity to cowpox also protected against the much more deadly smallpox.

Jefferson would later have all of his family and slaves inoculated and circulated the vaccine widely among his Virginia neighbors. Some accounts credit Jefferson with conducting the first mass public health campaign in America.

“The feedback from our conferees has been overwhelmingly favorable …”
Executive Director, Missouri Safety Council
Try something special for your audience.
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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