Jefferson’s Legacy Includes a Critical Role in the Eradication of Smallpox
Of all the medical advances of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, only Edward Jenner's discovery of smallpox vaccination had an immediate impact on the lives of
thousands. Records indicate that every
tenth person died, and one-tenth of all mankind was killed, crippled, or disfigured by smallpox. Thomas Jefferson played an important role in the acceptance and dissemination of Jenner's procedure. He not only directed the Southern vaccination program from the White House, but he became an expert technician on the procedure, and an expert clinician on its various medical presentations. He discovered why initial vaccination attempts failed and proposed a solution. Jefferson was enthusiastic about this procedure not only because of its obvious practical value, but also because it stood as a prime example of the scientific direction in which he believed medicine, and the country, should move. That stood in stark contrast to contemporary medical theory which he believed anchored medicine in its medieval past.
In 1789 Jenner published the results of his studies in An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects on the Variolae Vaccination in England. After reading this pamphlet, Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse (1754-1846) of Cambridge, Massachusetts took the lead in the vaccination efforts in the United States. He became the first in America to import and successfully vaccinate with the cowpox serum. As a direct result of these efforts, Jenner developed a lifelong friendship with Thomas Jefferson.
Waterhouse was deeply concerned that improper vaccination technique would result in failure and the resulting tide of negative public sentiment would prevent the proliferation of the procedure. Therefore, he wanted the initial vaccine distribution to be limited to experienced and reputable physicians. He knew physicians in New England whom he could trust,
but he had no such contacts in the South. Explaining his position, he said, "I might deny a physician of character and I might entrust it to a person who had none." Realizing that to succeed he would need support, he turned for assistance to Jefferson, who was at once President of the United States and President of the American Philosophical Society. In December 1800 he sent the results of his vaccine experiments to Jefferson. After examining the evidence, Jefferson was immediately impressed. He replied the next day (Christmas Day, 1800) and became one of Waterhouse’s strongest supporters.
The following summer in 1801, Waterhouse asked Jefferson to create an appropriately supervised center for vaccine distribution in the South. His letter included vaccine material (a thread dipped in an infected lymph node, then sealed between two glass plates), instructions for its use, and paintings showing the normal pustule maturation.
Jefferson viewed the vaccination procedure to be a prime example of the scientific direction in
which he believed medicine, as well as the country, should move.
Jefferson, happy to be of service, quickly arranged for physicians to start inoculations. Unfortunately, none of the early samples produced appropriate pustules, indicating vaccination did not occur. Jefferson, unwilling to accept failure, sought an explanation. His weather charts showed that temperatures were hot on the days the vaccine material was in transit. He hypothesized that heat destroyed the vaccine
material, thus explaining the failed vaccinations. He ingeniously suggested that further vaccination material be insulated by submersion in a vat of water to
protect it from extreme heat. Waterhouse adopted this suggestion. The next two samples he sent (one from Jenner in England, the other fresh from his own patients) were insulated from the heat as suggested by Jefferson. Subsequent vaccinations were successful. Jefferson's observation proved key in the future success of the vaccination program.
Finally, on August 21, 1801, Jefferson reported to Waterhouse the first successful vaccination outside of New England. He had vaccinated
20 of his family members and slaves using the material Waterhouse sent on July 24. Jefferson carefully monitored their clinical status, reporting some had "slight fever, headache, kernels under the arms, and one only has a very sore arm,"
but "most . . .experience no inconvenience and have nothing but the inoculated pustule." Jefferson then collected infected lymph from these persons ("impregnated some thread and half a dozen toothpicks") and personally forwarded them to Dr. Edward Grant to be used for the first vaccinations in the District of Columbia.
Jefferson understood that to ensure successful vaccinations, the materials must be handled precisely. Attention to every detail was critical
when following the vaccination procedure. His keen observational and technical skills made him a legitimate vaccination expert (many an experienced and skilled physician had difficulty obtaining success). Jefferson learned how to identify premature and late pustules, and how to harvest, preserve, and transport vaccination material. He recorded careful clinical observations of infected patients. From the White House, while serving as President of the United States, Jefferson
directed the distribution of vaccination material throughout the South. According to Waterhouse, Jefferson should be credited with the introduction of vaccination into Virginia, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania,
Delaware, Maryland, and North Carolina. As President, he also provided visiting Native American delegations with vaccination material and instructions for use. He also instructed Captain Meriwether Lewis to carry "kinpox" (cowpox) matter and to instruct Native Americans on its use during his Western expedition.
In a letter to Jenner in 1806, Jefferson predicts that "future nations will know by history only that the lonesome smallpox has existed and by you has
been extinguished." Indeed, almost 200 years later, with the complete eradication of this ancient scourge, Jefferson's prediction is so thoroughly realized that this disease is not even mentioned in some modern medical books. But its dark cloud sits in storehouses as both a guard against and a threat of biological warfare.
This article was written by Dr. David Abbey, a member of the JLF Board of Directors and a practicing physician in Fort Collins, Colorado. (top)
History Comes Alive As Jefferson and Madison Visit Montpelier, Vermont
project of The Jefferson Legacy Foundation, the Vermont Historical Society, the Friends of the State House, and the Vermont State Archives brought two of our founding fathers to Vermont on September 27 and 28, 1999.
On Monday, September 27, Thomas Jefferson (Colonial Williamsburg's Bill Barker) and James Madison (John Douglas Hall) visited a historic site on Lake Champlain where they were interviewed by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Ron Powers as filmmaker John Harrington (MADISONFILM, Inc.) recorded the two-and-a-half-hour session.
The following day, Jefferson and Madison appeared at the State House in Montpelier. In full costume and character, these professionals gave engaging and
edifying performances, answering questions from the audience at length and in-depth. With assistance from Paul Gittelsohn and Paul Hendler, John Harrington filmed both events as well as the exhibit. From these materials, we hope to create a digital video disc (DVD) presentation---a key component in developing an interactive
Jefferson-Madison experience. The DVD will serve multiple functions and audiences, including viewing on our web site. The target audience will range from school children to senior citizens, the general public to professional historians.
Thanks to promotional help from Gainor Davis, Bryan Smith, and Rose Crossley at the Vermont Historical Society, the Jefferson-Madison conversation at the State House was well-attended by the general public. Also present were: JLF
Board member Dr. David Abbey and his wife Suzanne; Sydney Stokes, Sr.; Daniel
David, author of the screenplay Jefferson Lives!; our own screenplay writer Doug Anderson and his wife Debbie; Jane Choate, author of an article about our exhibit, which will appear in a future issue of Yankee Magazine; Colonial Williamsburg’s Brenda LaClair; philanthropist and entrepreneur Andrew Allen; former State Senator John McClaughry; State Senator William Doyle; JLF supporters Shirley and Bob Juneo, Ron Miller, and others.
Jefferson and Madison gave us a living example
of civil discourse in the State House. They reminded us of the importance of independence of thought, religious freedom, and the responsibilities
that come with our freedoms. Jefferson was asked about his highest hopes and greatest fears for our country. He replied that his highest hopes were for individual freedom and its responsible use. His greatest fear was that disbelievers in self-government will deny individuals their freedom. The purpose of government, Jefferson and Madison said, is to protect and defend the people, but otherwise to leave them free. The rest is in our hands. (top)
THOUSANDS VIEW "NORTHERN JOURNEY" EXHIBIT
The JLF’s exhibit, Jefferson
and Madison in Vermont and Jefferson’s Role in Vermont Statehood: 1791, is the most comprehensive treatment of these simultaneous events for a general audience. The exhibit contains
color facsimiles of more than 100 documents, journals, and letters penned by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in manuscript form with corresponding transcriptions. There are also a number of photographs, prints, paintings, maps, and other images. Narration is provided throughout, giving historical background and context.
While Jefferson and Madison spent only three days in Vermont on a what can be called a "botanizing excursion" with James Madison in May and
June of 1791, his efforts prior to that trip left a lasting legacy for the Green Mountain State. As Secretary of State, Jefferson proved instrumental in bringing Vermont into the Union on March 4, 1791 as the 14th state.
The exhibit was previewed at the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History in Middlebury, Vermont (November 98-March 99) and has since traveled to Green Mountain College (April 25-June 15, 1999) and the Vermont State House in Montpelier
(June 28-November 1,1999). Next stop: the Vermont History Expo 2000 in Tunbridge, Vermont, June 17-18, and then the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts in September. (top)
A Letter from the Chairman
Welcome to the inaugural issue of News and Comment, the Jefferson Legacy Foundation's periodic newsletter! In the spirit of Jefferson's belief in the greater diffusion of useful knowledge, News and Comment provides a forum for engaging and thought-provoking articles, updates regarding our activities, and other items of related interest. If this is your first introduction to our Foundation, let me acquaint you with our mission: Our nonpartisan efforts aim to advance the principles of Thomas Jefferson and inspire participation in public affairs. We believe Thomas Jefferson remains the most consistent and eloquent spokesman of America's national vision. We recognize, in Abraham Lincoln's words, the need to "save the principles of Jefferson . . . [which] are the definitions and axioms of a free society." With continuing applicability, these principles can serve as a unifying force for our times. We affirm Jefferson's faith in self-government, religious and intellectual freedom, and education as a means for personal fulfillment and service to society. Whether you have been a friend of the JLF since its inception in 1993 or are just learning of us, we invite you to become a member and support our mission.
Sydney N. "Chip" Stokes, Jr., Chairman
As a special gift for charter members who join at the $100 "sustaining" level of membership, we will send you an autographed copy of Merrill Peterson's classic, The Jefferson Image in the American Mind. Details on membership.
The Jefferson Legacy Foundation is a public charitable foundation with classification 509(a)(3) under the regulations of the Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3). All contributions to the Foundation qualify as tax-deductible. (top)
Stokes Speaks to Huguenot Society on Jefferson and Religious Freedom
On March 25, 2000, JLF Chairman Sydney N. Stokes, Jr. made a presentation to the
Huguenot Society and the Daughters of the American Colonists in Nokomis, Florida on "Thomas Jefferson and His Involvement with
Religious Freedom." Stokes reminded the audience that Jefferson doesn’t get all the credit for establishing religious freedom in America. "Thomas Jefferson and James Madison share the honor of giving us the arguments and language, by legislative and executive leadership, which made religious freedom possible," Stokes said. Jefferson’s Virginia Statute was a major step forward. With Madison’s guidance, it led to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1791. Theological historian Martin Marty calls the Statute, "a hinge between ages." Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn refers to it the "most important document in American history bar none." Pope John Paul describes freedom of conscience as "the foundation for all other human rights."
Shared commitment to
religious and intellectual freedom brought Jefferson and Madison together in 1776, the beginning of a working relationship, which has appropriately been called "the great collaboration." Stokes summed up: "Jefferson was a deeply religious man who considered religion an important part of a free society. While he would not prescribe religious exercises, he invited people to pray. The wall of separation was meant to prohibit the state from sanctioning any particular religion. This is consistent with Jefferson’s belief that all religions share common values that should be encouraged in public and private." (top)
JLF Produces Web Site Project for Colonial Williamsburg
Working with MADISONFILM, Inc, the JLF is producing an internet multimedia presentation, Thomas Jefferson: Man of the Millennium for Colonial Williamsburg, which commissioned the work as part of its special July web site presentation, "Birthday Card to the Nation." It is a spin-off of a project the JLF has been working on for nearly a decade: a comprehensive monograph complete with supporting documentation submitting that Thomas Jefferson best articulated and personally exemplified the great ideas about freedom, responsibility, and possibility that have illuminated our history for the past thousand years. The site (www.history.org) is expected to receive as many as 250,000 visitors in July. We view this as our greatest opportunity yet to further our mission, reach a broad audience, and work with an extraordinary partner in preserving the history of the early American republic.(top)
Calendar of JLF Events
- June 17-18: JLF Exhibit at Vermont History Expo 2000 in Tunbridge, VT.
- July 20: JLF co-sponsors with Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History a Lake Champlain Boat Tour retracing part of the Jefferson/Madison 1791 journey.
- September: "The Northern Journey" exhibit travels to the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts. (top)
- JLF President Bud Leeds participated in a program with Ken Burns in connection with the Sarasota Film Festival in January. Burns, the
PBS documentary guru who created Jefferson, gave a key-note speech to hundreds of people. Early in his presentation, Burns's principal theme was "Thomas Jefferson: Man of the Millennium." He called Jefferson "a kind of Rosetta Stone of the American experience, a massive tectonic intelligence that has formed and rattled the fault lines of our history, our present moment, and, if we are lucky, our future."
- The JLF and Ethan Allen Institute co-sponsored the 7th Annual Jefferson Day Dinner on Tuesday, April 11. Featured speaker was Professor Frank Shuffelton of the Department of English and American Literature at the University of Rochester speaking on "Jefferson and the American National Understanding."
- On September 10-12, the Colonial
Williamsburg Institute hosts a conference, "Thomas Jefferson and the Second American Revolution: The Election of 1800." The program includes outstanding faculty and character interpreters Bill Barker and Steve Perlman.
- The Library of Congress offers both online and physical exhibits featuring Thomas Jefferson as part of its Bicentennial Celebration (www.lcweb.loc.gov./exhibits/ jefferson). The exhibit traces the origins and evolution of Jefferson's thinking and examines its influence.
The Jefferson Legacy Foundation’s News and Comment is published on a periodic basis and provided to members and friends of the JLF. For more information, contact News and Comment editor Wendy Leeds at The Jefferson Legacy Foundation, PO Box 76, Ripton VT 05766; 802-388-7676; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.jeffersonlegacy.org.