In 1793, pestilence visited Philadelphia, the United States’ political capital and its center of economic, cultural, and scientific activity. Doctors quickly identified the disease. Referring to it alternately as the “bilious remitting” fever, the “malignant” fever, or even the “synochus icteroides,” they all nevertheless recognized it by its more common name: yellow fever. They hardly could have mistaken it. Yellow fever strikes in two distinct phases. In the first, victims exhibit fever, headache, chills, languor, and in certain cases nausea and vomiting. Patients then experience a remission, from which most emerge unscathed and without relapse. Those unfortunate enough to experience the second stage suffer an intensification of the fever, delirium, jaundice (caused by damage to the liver, which usually constitutes the final cause of death), and, finally, the dreaded “black vomit,” a foul mixture containing partially digested blood and an almost sure sign of approaching death. In modern settings, perhaps one in ten victims of yellow fever will die, but in the Philadelphia of 1793, a city of about 50,000 people, the disease exacted an even greater toll.1 Appearing first in late July, along the bustling wharves of the commercial center, yellow fever soon infiltrated the adjoining neighborhoods, and then the city as a whole. The fever raged for the rest of August, September, and October, until finally the scourge ceased with the frosts of the approaching winter. All told, the epidemic of 1793 carried off as many as 5,000 lives in the short span of three months.2
The story of Philadelphia’s great plague has been told many times before, but few emphasized the full extent of the yellow fever problem.3 Far from disappearing after 1793, the disease returned to Philadelphia in 1797 (about 1,500 dead), 1798 (3,645 dead), 1799 (about 1,000 dead), and then less severely in 1802, 1803, and 1805. New York hosted yellow fever almost every year from 1795 to 1805, with major epidemics in 1795 (800 dead), 1798 (2,080 dead), and 1803 (about 700 dead). Baltimore endured a major epidemic in 1800 (1,197 dead), and it, along with Boston, Charleston, and New Orleans, hosted several relatively minor epidemics, which each nevertheless resulted in dozens, sometimes hundreds, of deaths each.4
Yellow fever constituted the most pressing natural problem of the early national period. Besides the deaths, yellow fever incited frantic, mass evacuations. It halted commerce in the nation’s busiest port cities for months at a time and led to burdensome quarantines and expensive sanitary reform measures. On several occasions, the disease also interfered with the workings of the national government, forcing the president and Congress to evacuate Philadelphia, and leading ultimately to the removal of the capital to the Potomac. More alarmingly still, yellow fever eroded public virtue, the cornerstone of a healthy republic. In his popular Short Account of the Malignant Fever Lately Prevalent in Philadelphia (1793), the Irish printer Mathew Carey horrified readers with scenes of familial betrayal and ruthless self-interest, concluding that the fever produced “a total dissolution of the bonds of society in the nearest and dearest connexions.”5 The crisis of yellow fever appeared to involve the fate of the republic. Writing years later, a young doctor named Stubbins Ffirth predicted that, if left unchecked, yellow fever would lead to the “loss of our commerce by shutting all foreign ports against our vessels, and of course the annihilation of our agriculture, our manufactures, and the down fall of the fair superstructure of science and of liberty.”6
With the future of the republic and the lives of its citizens hanging in the balance, leading medical and scientific7 thinkers hoping to prevent the disease posed a deceptively simple question: What caused yellow fever? The search for the cause of yellow fever involved many prominent American intellectuals, such as Benjamin Rush and Noah Webster, and provoked a heated and divisive debate between “localists,” who believed that the disease arose from locally situated miasmas, and “contagionists,” who thought it came from abroad and could be transmitted from person to person. Adherents of both theories offered compelling rationales. Arguing that it arose from domestic sources, localists noted that the disease only occurred during the hottest and wettest periods of the year, and that it only prevailed in the confines of cities, never beyond. Contagionists countered that yellow fever outbreaks always coincided with the arrival of infected vessels from the West Indies, where the disease commonly occurred. In most instances, they could even trace the first cases of yellow fever to individuals from disease-ridden ships. The polarity of the debate reflected the deceptive etiology of the disease. Yellow fever is caused by a virus transmitted through the bites of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Finicky animals, A. aegypti prefer to breed in small artificial containers of water, especially those that abound in cities, and they die when the temperature drops below about 43°F (hence the localists’ insistence on the climatic and urban specificity of the disease). Since the mosquitoes die in the frosty winters of the northeastern United States, both the virus and the vector had to be reintroduced each year in order for outbreaks to occur (hence the contagionists’ implication of ship traffic).8
The seeming intractability of yellow fever debate, no less than the urgency of the disease itself, tested and strained the fever investigators, altering as it did the nature of the problem. The crisis pushed them to explore fields of inquiry not typically associated with disease thought. Some composed massive histories of disease, hoping that the patterns of disease outbreaks would lead to some understanding of the cause of yellow fever. Others embraced the chemical revelations associated with Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and examined the chemical makeup of the matter that caused yellow fever. Still others pondered the natural theology of yellow fever—its purpose as it appeared from the evidence of design. By the end of the epidemic period, investigators of yellow fever had produced one of the most substantial and innovative, yet underexplored, outpourings of scientific thought in American history. In each area of study, the localists pushed the debate in their favor. By the end of the epidemic period, they had more or less settled the debate, and the contagionists either converted or retired from public view.
Still, though the localists effectively won the debate in their own time, they did not determine the true cause of yellow fever. That feat came about a hundred years later, when the United States Army Yellow Fever Commission led by Walter Reed, investigating the theory of the Cuban doctor Carlos Finlay, performed the experiments that identified A. aegypti as the vector of yellow fever. Another quarter century later, researchers located the virus responsible for the disease. Both originated in Africa thousands of years ago and were introduced to the New World in the seventeenth century as part of the Columbian Exchange.9 From 1793 to 1805, rapid population growth in American port cities, combined with warfare in the West Indies, provided the necessary epidemiological ingredients for pandemic yellow fever. By prompting the introduction of thousands of nonimmune soldiers, the Haitian Revolution supplied female A. aegypti mosquitoes with plenty of vulnerable humans to feed on and infect with the yellow fever virus. With the vector and virus flourishing in the martial environment, merchants, soldiers, and refugees easily carried them to the United States, only a short distance away.10
All this begs the question: If the investigators failed to determine the true cause of yellow fever, and if they only supported theories that are now dead and almost forgotten, why study their efforts? For generations, historians more concerned with tales of progress did not. A host of perspectives coming mainly from European history offer ways of evaluating and appreciating even the most seemingly outdated scientific views. These works have called attention to the way that knowledge is “constructed,” and the way that deconstructing knowledge yields insights about people and societies, their overarching philosophical and scientific notions, and the multifaceted historical contexts that influenced their understandings of the natural world. As Thomas Kuhn wrote of the matter, “An apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident, is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs espoused by a given scientific community at a given time.”11 A growing body of scholarship on the disease in the United States has already begun to explain yellow fever’s relevance to a broader range of issues, from slavery and commerce, to public health and the public sphere.12 But the yellow fever controversy still lacks a book-length study that considers it for what it ultimately was—a debate about nature and science, one that both exposed the foundations of early American scientific knowledge production and undermined them.
The yellow fever ferment opens an ideal window onto the contours of natural inquiry in the early republic. Because of its mysteriousness, yellow fever explicitly forced investigators to probe the limits of their knowledge of nature, its capacities, and its design. It also mobilized more inquirers, and it inspired them to reach out to a more diverse range of fields, than any other scientific problem of the era. Yellow fever inquiry reveals that the domains of knowledge that gathered under the umbrella of science were broader than historians have acknowledged, and that these domains of knowledge lacked clear-cut boundaries.13 Because of its divisiveness, the yellow fever controversy exposes the conduct of natural inquiry—the ways natural philosophers communicated with themselves and the public, organized themselves into discursive communities, and offered and contested knowledge claims. Finally, because the localists settled the debate, the yellow fever controversy reveals the standards upon which accepted knowledge rested. It promises, in other words, to reveal the modes of early republican knowledge production, and to identify what arbitrary historical elements shaped the victory of the localists (despite having no more “facts” to support their theory).14
Explaining the localist supremacy resurrects a familiar problem for historians who have studied disease thought in nineteenth-century Europe, where the battle between localists and contagionists raged on (in the search for the cause of cholera in particular) and localists held sway until the microbiological breakthroughs of the 1860s. Following Erwin Ackerknecht, many have argued that the uneven allegiances to competing causal theories fell along political lines. As Ackerknecht argued, localism appealed to liberal, commercially oriented Western Europeans, who wanted to liberate commerce from the shackles of quarantines, which always came with contagionism, and free the individual from the encroachments of the state. Contagionism, by contrast, persisted in the autocratic countries of Eastern and Central Europe, where such sentiments did not flourish. One historian has even attempted to correlate causal theories with political allegiances in 1793 Philadelphia—statist, pro-urban, Francophobic federalists blamed the disease on the influx of French refugees from Saint-Domingue and Europe, whereas the liberal, anti-urban, Francophilic republicans embraced localism.15
Ackerknecht’s thesis and the works it has inspired rightly call attention to the political and social contexts that shaped disease inquiry, but they also simplify the factors that differentiated the opposing sides and privilege public health. They cast prevailing health policies as the ultimate ends of all inquiry as well as indexes of popular opinions about disease causation, and they focus on the thoughts, ideas, and procedures that emerged from public health bodies themselves. When yellow fever first struck the United States in 1793, however, public health structures capable of imposing quarantines or enforcing sanitary reform were almost nonexistent. Inquiry into the cause took place in public, not behind the closed doors of public health bodies. Yellow fever precipitated comprehensive public health reform, but measures never favored one causal theory or the other. Cities such as New York and Philadelphia erected rigorous quarantine procedures and thoroughgoing sanitation measures, including waterworks systems.16 At least for these investigators, the increasingly urgent tone of the debate did not reflect anxieties about public health alone. They also labored to define the parameters of acceptable natural inquiry, and to impose their definitions on what counted as knowledge.
Far from splitting along political lines, investigators actually shared more similarities than differences. Well-educated, white males, they were almost all devoutly religious, and they enjoyed at least a modicum of wealth, leisure, and social standing. They cast themselves as gentlemen and natural philosophers, and they stressed their commitments to plain “facts” and the accumulation of useful knowledge. Most, though not all, were trained doctors. The yellow fever conundrum more properly qualified as a problem of science, not medicine. As Noah Webster wrote, “I . . . consider the question as resting principally on fact, and not on medical skill; therefore proper to be investigated and discussed by any man who has leisure and means, as well as by physicians.”17 Besides, most early republicans embraced the ideal of open and egalitarian public discourse, and so viewed claims to authority with suspicion. Truth claims rested not on the authority of the claimant, but upon the approval of the public.18
Only upon closer examination of the investigators do their deeper philosophical differences come into view. Localists from the Jeffersonian-republicans Benjamin Rush and Samuel Latham Mitchill to the arch-federalist Noah Webster studied at Scottish universities, or those modeled after them in the United States. They embraced the essential precepts of the latest scientific methodologies—knowledge of nature was to be attained inductively, through the slow accumulation of empirical facts and data. As pious Protestants, they also believed the natural, its laws and its wonder, revealed the will and design of God. And like the Scots from whom they adapted the concept, localists believed that God had endowed human beings with an innate rational capacity known as common sense. A concept devised to free inquirers from crushing skepticism and validate self-evident knowledge (sensory knowledge and matters of fact), common sense became in the hands of localists a malleable tool that allowed them to grasp the underlying logic of the world, to unravel its mysteries, and to find truth. Common sense had a two-fold reality—it was at once the perceiving organ of the mind itself, and it was the obvious, common-sense truths it detected in the world.19 It exerted a powerful influence over the yellow fever inquiry.
Contagionists were no less pious or scientific, and perhaps no less philosophical than the localists, but they refused to let the same considerations enter into their inquiries. Taught through apprenticeships, in hospitals and with hands-on experience, they tended toward materialism, evidenced by a predilection for surgery (a mere technical skill, according to university-trained physicians, and one they looked on condescendingly) and experimental chemistry. They consistently criticized the localists for their speculations and flights of fancy, and they adhered more strictly to the facts of yellow fever. Contagionists even sometimes admitted that local environmental conditions might activate particles of yellow fever into epidemic proportions. They focused principally on tracing and intercepting the pathways of the contagious particles, which they thought were ultimately responsible for yellow fever. For them, no arguments, no rationales, no elaborate justifications negated the convincing and well-founded fact that infected vessels arrived before every outbreak, and that the first victims came from those pestilential vehicles or nearby.
Why, then, did the contagionists’ convincing and well-founded arguments fail to hold public opinion, and why did the localist perspective prevail? One factor was purely practical. Contagionists did not publish as voraciously as localists, nor did they did occupy university positions from which they perpetuated their ideas to scores of young students. On the whole, localists made themselves more visible in the public sphere, and they better organized themselves into a discursive community that privately coordinated what they put forward publicly. I will declare from the outset that because they produced so much more than contagionists, and with so much more imagination, the localists garner far more attention in this book. Regrettably there are moments when the contagionists all but fall out of the picture, but this is an unavoidable product of the nature of the yellow fever debate and not an arbitrary decision of the author.
More importantly, localist explanations better appealed to common sense. Localists emerged victorious, not simply because they shouted more loudly and certainly not because they marshaled better facts than the contagionists, but because they more plausibly depicted yellow fever as an entity that conformed to the apparent design of the world, one that could be understood with common faculties of the mind. They persuaded audiences that locally generated diseases occurred in cycles that appeared throughout history; they rationalized the chemical construction of the matter that brought on yellow fever, and explained its emergence from normal chemical reactions; and, finally, they used evidence of design and scripture to explain why it would exist in God’s world, and how people could stop it. In a religious and enlightened society, where a learned public followed the debate with great interest and anxiety, the plausibility of localism outweighed the facts of contagionism.
The triumph of localism showcases the formative influence of religion in early republican science. This is not a new realization, to be sure. Many have emphasized the religious orientation of American scientific fields and philosophies. But again, because investigators subjected yellow fever to such a broad range of scientific analysis, the yellow fever controversy uniquely shows how religious ideas cut across fields and crystallized in the notion of common sense.20 In the minds of natural philosophers from Rush to Mitchill, truth of nature did not descend from observation and induction alone; it also arose from rational, common-sense reflection on the apparent design of the world, whereby the proof of an idea rested on its coherence and understandability. We should abandon the notion that the arch-empiricist Thomas Jefferson—“I feel: therefore I exist,” he claimed—best represents American scientific practice in the early republic. Science on a commonsense model, more than a strict empirical or experimental one, suited the social and intellectual landscape of the early republican United States, and provided an overarching paradigm for natural inquiry.21
Religion and its philosophical manifestation as common sense helped the localists win the debate, but it was only one of the “arbitrary historical” elements that directed the yellow fever contest. Ideas about yellow fever did not rest on simple, disconnected contemplations of philosophical or religious principles any more than the facts of the disease. Ackerknecht and those who came after were correct to emphasize the broader political dimensions of disease thought. The debate took shape in the crucible of the 1790s, an age of revolutionary upheaval in the greater Atlantic world. Yellow fever informed opinions about the direction of the republic and the world. Examining the history of disease, for example, forced early republicans to reconsider their hopes of escaping history and constructing a novus ordo seclorum, and it contributed to their fears of cities. Contemporary events, such as the French Revolution and the diffusion of deistic and atheistic thought, also influenced the way that investigators, especially localists, thought about yellow fever. These threats mediated localists’ reception of Lavoisier’s chemistry, inspired the religious zeal with which they promoted their public health remedies, and impelled them to articulate and defend a philosophical system that rescued human inquiry from heretical skepticism.
The yellow fever debate shared a deeper relationship with contemporary political discourse. In both, participants accused their opponents of joining factions and intentionally distorting the truth. These parallel discourses reveal structural similarities between disease thought and politics: both aspired to the status of sciences and seemed to appeal to common-sense considerations, and both were rooted in the same material organization. They also proved mutually reinforcing—one aided the believability of the other—and provoked far-reaching backlashes. The acrimony of the yellow fever debate fractured the intellectual community of natural inquirers and left investigators wanting to exert greater top-down control over the course of natural inquiry, just as the bitterness of the 1790s political wars left intellectuals wanting to contain and channel political discourse. The yellow fever years thus help explain the trajectory of American science and medicine in the nineteenth century, when these forms of inquiry moved from the public sphere into professional organizations and institutions of “experts,” where they became objects of greater disciplinary and methodological rigor.22 The yellow fever debate also points to new ways of considering changes in early republican public discourse.
What follows is a history of the yellow fever years, the people who studied the dreadful disease, and above all the ideas that they brought to their investigations. Structurally, Feverish Bodies, Enlightened Minds proceeds thematically, with chapters devoted to each area of inquiry the investigators brought to bear on the problem of yellow fever. Chapter 1 frames the parameters of the debate, establishes the intellectual orientations of the investigators, and highlights in particular their interests in the “facts” of yellow fever. Chapter 2 discusses the investigators’ uses of historical sources and their compositions of disease histories in their efforts to evaluate the patterns through which diseases such as yellow fever normally operated, and thereby to shed light on the origins of the yellow fever epidemics. Chapter 3 follows the investigators’ appropriation of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier’s groundbreaking discoveries in chemistry, collectively dubbed the “Chemical Revolution,” in order to apprehend the chemical construction of the invisible particles that caused yellow fever. Chapter 4 deals more directly with the investigators’ religious understandings of yellow fever, and the localists’ explicit efforts to reconcile yellow fever with God’s purpose and to invest their public health solutions with a crusader’s zeal. Chapter 5 examines the conspiratorial tone of the debate, and the way that the fear of factions fractured the intellectual community of natural inquirers and left investigators wanting to exert greater top-down control over the course of natural inquiry.
We may now return to Philadelphia in 1793, when the disease made its first appearance and the problem of yellow fever took form.
1. John C. Bugher, “The Pathology of Yellow Fever,” in Yellow Fever, ed. George Strode (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951), 141–142.
2. Mathew Carey, A Short Account of the Malignant Fever, Lately Prevalent in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Mathew Carey, 1793), 112–116, compiled a list of church burials, 4,042 in all. His total does not account for the dozens of people buried outside of church grounds, like the hundreds deposited in the city’s potter’s field, a burial place for the unclaimed. Eve Kornfeld, “Crisis in the Capital: The Cultural Significance of Philadelphia’s Great Yellow Fever Epidemic,” Pennsylvania History 3 (1984), 189, puts the number at 5,000.
3. The classic account is John Harvey Powell, Bring Out Your Dead: The Great Plague of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia in 1793 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1949). J. Worth Estes and Billy G. Smith, eds., A Melancholy Scene of Devastation: The Public Response to the 1793 Philadelphia Yellow Fever Epidemic (Canton, MA: Science History Publications, 1997).
4. David K. Patterson, “Yellow Fever Epidemics and Mortality in the United States, 1693–1905,” Social Science and Medicine 34, no. 8 (1992), 857.
5. Carey, Short Account, 34.
6. Stubbins Ffirth, An Inaugural Dissertation on Malignant Fever; with an Attempt to Prove Its Non-Contagious Nature, from Reason, Observation, and Experiment (Philadelphia: B. Graves, 1804), 11.
7. The question of what to call these investigators and what they did deserves clarification. “Scientist” is inappropriate because the term itself was not coined until the 1830s, and not regularly used until the twentieth century, when it described professional practitioners operating within well-defined, methodologically rigorous and specific disciplines. “Scientist” imputes a type of social identity to the investigators that they did not possess. The term “natural philosopher” better captures the way investigators thought of themselves, as philosophers who investigated natural problems (among other types of problems), and in doing so often fused together disparate fields of knowledge. On the other hand, the investigators clearly imagined what they were doing as science—in fact, they referred to many different sciences—united by a broadly empirical and inductive methodology. Thus I use the noun “science” and adjective “scientific.” Steven Shapin discusses problems of terminology, albeit in a different context, in The Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 1–6.
8. Oyewale Tomori, “Yellow Fever: The Recurring Plague,” Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences 41, no. 4 (2004), 391–427.
9. For the story of the discovery of the vector and virus, Michael B. A. Old-stone, Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present, and Future (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 119–126, 132–133; for yellow fever in the Americas: Jean Slosek, “Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes in the Americas: A Review of Their Interactions with the Human Population,” Social Science and Medicine 23, no. 3 (1986), 249–257.
10. Thomas Apel, “The Rise and Fall of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia, 1793–1805,” in Nature’s Entrepôt: Philadelphia’s Urban Sphere and Its Environmental Thresholds, ed. Brian Black and Michael Chiarappa (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), 55–74.
11. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), 4. Jan Golinski offers an excellent overview of “constructivism,” as he refers to the movement, in Making Natural Knowledge: Constructivism and the History of Science (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998). The exceptional example of this type of work, and a major influence on me, is Simon Schaffer and Steven Shapin, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985).
12. Philip Gould, Barbaric Traffic: Commerce and Antislavery in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), chapter 5; Bryan Waterman, The Republic of Intellect: The Friendly Club of New York and the Making of American Literature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), chapter 5; Katherine Arner, “Making Yellow Fever American: The Early American Republic, the British Empire and the Geopolitics of Disease in the Atlantic World,” Atlantic Studies 7 (December 2010), 447–471; Simon Finger, The Contagious City: The Politics of Public Health in Early Philadelphia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 120–162.
13. By contrast, well-known studies of early American science focus on single fields. Natural history has several books. Pamela Regis, Describing Early America: Bartram, Jefferson, Crevecoeur, and the Influence of Natural History (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999); Susan Scott Parrish, American Curiosity: Cultures of Natural History in the Colonial British Atlantic World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Andrew Lewis, A Democracy of Facts: Natural History in the Early Republic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). On electricity, James Delbourgo, A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity and Enlightenment in Early America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006). Delbourgo’s fine study ably extrapolates the significance of electricity to scientific study in early America as a whole.
14. Studies of controversies have shown that they uniquely bring ideas and anxieties to surface. Kuhn argued that scientific controversy constitutes the generative force that pushes sciences onward and leads to paradigm changes. See Schaffer and Shapin, Leviathan and the Air-Pump; Martin Rudwick, The Great Devonian Controversy: The Shaping of Scientific Knowledge among Gentlemanly Specialists (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985). Graham Burnett uses a court case to the same end in Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010).
15. Erwin Ackernecht, “Anticontagionism between 1821 and 1867,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 22 (1948), 117–153. His thesis has provoked both support and dissent, although virtually all agree that notions of disease causation and public health responses reflected political concerns. A notable supporter is Richard J. Evans, Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years 1830–1910 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987); dissenters include Andrew Aisenberg, Contagion: Disease, Government, and the “Social Question” in Nineteenth-Century France (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); Peter Baldwin, Contagion and the State in Modern Europe, 1830–1930 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999). For the “Ackerknecht thesis” in the United States, see Martin Pernick, “Politics, Parties, and Pestilence: Epidemic Yellow Fever in Philadelphia and the Rise of the First Party System,” William and Mary Quarterly 29 (October 1972), 559–586. Pernick’s essay was reissued in Estes and Smith, Melancholy Scene of Devastation, 119–136. In an “Afterword” (136–138), he offers some thoughts on the article’s limitations.
16. For overviews of these health reforms, see John Duffy, The Sanitarians: A History of American Public Health (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 38–48; Martin Melosi, The Sanitary City: Urban Infrastructure in America from Colonial Times to the Present (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). Finger’s Contagious City, 120–162, presents a more a delicately nuanced view of the politics of public health in early Philadelphia.
17. Noah Webster, Brief History of Epidemic and Pestilential Diseases (Hartford, CT: Hudson and Goodwin, 1799), viii.
18. Lewis, Democracy of Facts, esp. 13–45.
19. For common sense as a model of scientific inquiry, see David B. Wilson, Seeking Nature’s Logic: Science in the Scottish Enlightenment (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009); Theodore Dwight Bozeman, Protestants in an Age of Science: The Baconian Ideal and Antebellum American Religious Thought (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977) argues that common sense bridged the gap between religion and science for faculty and students at Princeton in the nineteenth century. More recently, James Delbourgo considers the ways in which common sense mediated the American reception of Elisha Perkins’s metallic tractors in “Common Sense, Useful Knowledge, and Matters of Fact in the Late Enlightenment,” William and Mary Quarterly 61, no. 4 (October 2004), 643–684.
20. Bozeman, Protestants in an Age of Science and Mark Noll, Princeton and the Republic, 1768–1822: The Search for a Christian Enlightenment in the Era of Samuel Stanhope Smith (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989); Nina Reid-Maroney, Philadelphia’s Enlightenment, 1740–1800: Kingdom of Christ, Empire of Reason (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001); Lewis, Democracy of Facts, 107–128; Leigh Eric Schmidt, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000); Delbourgo, Most Amazing Scene of Wonders.
21. Despite the scarcity of his actual scientific study, Jefferson does loom large in studies. Take, for example, the only real survey of early republican science, John C. Greene, American Science in the Age of Jefferson (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1984); also works on natural history, such as Regis, Describing Early America; and Lee Alan Dugatkin, Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose: Natural History in Early America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009). Rather than thinking of “American science in the Age of Jefferson,” it would be more accurate to discuss “science in the age of Rush,” for it was his approach to and sensibilities about science that prevailed in the minds of practitioners of scientific inquiry, and in young nation’s universities and public institutions.
22. An excellent survey of these developments, with essays devoted to major disciplines, is David Cahan, ed., From Science to the Sciences: Writing the History of Nineteenth-Century Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).