I am become sensible of a great advantage your profession has over most others, that, to the close of your life, you can be always doing good to mankind: whereas a retired politician is like a broken down courser [a swift horse], unfit for the turf, and good for little else. I am endeavoring to recover the little I once knew of farming, gardening Etc. and would gladly now exchange any branch of science I possess for the knolege of a common farmer. too old to learn, I must be contented with the occupation & amusement of the art.
To Benjamin Rush, September 22, 1809
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Some old leaders are far more valuable than others.
Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) was a Philadelphia physician, life-long friend of Jefferson’s and co-signer of the Declaration of Independence. His medical views were controversial. He favored bloodletting and purging. He sent 600 of “Dr. Rush’s Bilious Pills” with Lewis and Clark. Also known as “Rush’s Thunderclappers,” this mercury and chlorine laxative of his own creation had an explosive effect on the human bowel.
But Rush also opposed capital punishment, favored education for women, actively promoted Christianity and pioneered more humane treatment of the mentally ill. He is regarded as the father of American psychiatry.
Here, Jefferson praises the value of the doctor, who can “be always good to mankind,” even to the end of his life. He likened himself, a retired politician, to a former race horse, once fast but now broken down and worthless. In between was the farmer, the identity he always preferred, who also could be useful for a lifetime. Public service drew him away from the land, and he regretted it. He would trade any of his vast scientific understanding “for the knoledge of a common farmer.” He thought himself too old to learning farming once again and amused himself by puttering around his lands.