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What good might come from this evil epidemic?

I … congratulate you on the healthiness of your city [Philadelphia]. still Baltimore, Norfolk & Providence admonish us that we are not clear of our new scourge. when great evils happen, I am in the habit of looking out for what good may arise from them as consolations to us: and Providence has in fact so established the order of things as that most evils are the means of producing some good. the yellow fever will discourage the growth of great cities in our nation; & I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man. true, they nourish some of the elegant arts; but the useful ones can thrive elsewhere, and less perfection in the others with more health virtue & freedom would be my choice.
Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800

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
Visionary leaders expect good to arise from the bad.
The Vice-President was encouraged that his friend’s home town, devastated in previous years by yellow fever, had come through the dangerous months in good shape. The scourge was still a danger, as other cities were still menaced.

Jefferson was generally an optimist. When evil came, he looked for what good might result, believing  Providence generally arranged things in that way.

He believed one positive result would be less interest in large cities. He had firsthand experience, living in Paris for five years, visiting London, and serving over the years in both New York and Philadelphia. He thought cities threatened the health, morals and liberties of their inhabitants. He gave cities credit for nourishing the “elegant arts” but would sacrifice some of that for “more health virtue & freedom.”

The continued growth of cities proved Jefferson’s expectations wrong.

Mr. Jefferson is right on most things. Your audience will agree.
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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