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  • Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father by Stephen Fried
  • Eric Vallee
Stephen Fried. Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father. New York: Crown, 2018. 597 pp. Notes, bibliography, illustrations, index. Cloth, $30.00.

Though recognized as the "American Father of Psychiatry" and one of the fifty-six revolutionary signatories of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush has largely been compartmentalized within histories of American medicine and biographies of his better-known contemporaries. [End Page 415] In Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father, Stephen Fried presents a reassessment of Rush as a Founder in his own right whose understudied work as a political figure and social reformer probed deep-seated issues of the American experiment. However, Fried also addresses the controversies, self-contradictions, and personal struggles that have contributed to Rush's marginalized status in scholarship. What emerges is a profile of a multifaceted humanitarian and political instigator whose diverse works ultimately sought to enhance public care for society's most vulnerable and marginalized members.

As Fried demonstrates, Rush's marginal status was, ironically, a function of his historical significance as a political, medical, and personal correspondent to his fellow Founders. Fried observes, "Adams and Jefferson especially had shared years of confidences [with Rush] about their feelings, their politics, their religion—even their bathroom habits … the kind of information men mindful of their legacies might not want entering the historical record" (9). While Rush's intimate correspondence with his contemporaries rendered his writings too politically volatile to publish in the years after his death, these revealing documents prove invaluable resources for Fried, who presents an account encompassing the most public and private dimensions of the nation's founding.

Fried organizes his comprehensive chronology of Rush's development into two overarching sections. The first section is more historically driven and centers on the ascension of Rush's political career through the Revolutionary War, providing an in-depth account of the movement for independence through one of its most vociferous and contentious proponents. The second section follows Rush's life more closely while addressing a wider range of social and political issues of the period, surveying Rush's social reform projects in multiple fields with particular attention to his revolutionary work on mental health.

Born in 1745, Rush experienced the first great loss of his life at the age of five when his father, a gunsmith, died. A precocious youth who graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) at fourteen, Rush began his medical career apprenticed to leading Philadelphia physician John Redman. In 1766 Rush traveled to the University of Edinburgh to work under William Cullen, an emerging medical authority and foundational figure for the Scottish Enlightenment. Rush then toured through London and Paris, where he was hosted by several revolutionary figures, including Benjamin Franklin, historian Catherine Macaulay, and radical politician John Wilkes. [End Page 416]

Now a trained physician and aspiring political thinker, Rush returned to Philadelphia in 1769. While developing his medical practice and teaching chemistry at the College of Philadelphia, Rush began his lifelong commitment to public service, becoming a founding member of the Society for Inoculating the Poor. Rush also became increasingly involved in the movement for independence, publishing essays against the 1773 Tea Act that influenced the organizers of the Boston Tea Party and hosting delegates of the First Continental Congress. Informed by his close association with congressional members, Rush recognized the need for a public voice for the movement for independence. Recruiting Thomas Paine for the role, Rush helped Paine edit and publish his foundational pamphlet, Common Sense, as well as originating its politically resonant title. Rush's advocacy for independence culminated in his appointment as the youngest member of the Second Continental Congress, becoming one of the fifty-six signatories of the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776.

After his short tenure as congressman, Rush shifted to an endeavor better suited to his medical training, administering to the health of the Continental Army. Rush first experienced the war while tending wounded soldiers during the Second Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton...


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