The Contagion of Liberty: The Politics of Smallpox in the American Revolution

The Contagion of Liberty: The Politics of Smallpox in the American Revolution

by Andrew M. Wehrman
The Contagion of Liberty: The Politics of Smallpox in the American Revolution

The Contagion of Liberty: The Politics of Smallpox in the American Revolution

by Andrew M. Wehrman

Hardcover

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Overview

Now an LA Times Book Prize finalist: a timely and fascinating account of the raucous public demand for smallpox inoculation during the American Revolution and the origin of vaccination in the United States.

Finalist of the LA Times Book Prize for History by the LA Times, Winner of the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize by the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Revolutionary War broke out during a smallpox epidemic, and in response, General George Washington ordered the inoculation of the Continental Army. But Washington did not have to convince fearful colonists to protect themselves against smallpox—they were the ones demanding it. In The Contagion of Liberty, Andrew M. Wehrman describes a revolution within a revolution, where the violent insistence for freedom from disease ultimately helped American colonists achieve independence from Great Britain.

Inoculation, a shocking procedure introduced to America by an enslaved African, became the most sought-after medical procedure of the eighteenth century. The difficulty lay in providing it to all Americans and not just the fortunate few. Across the colonies, poor Americans rioted for equal access to medicine, while cities and towns shut down for quarantines. In Marblehead, Massachusetts, sailors burned down an expensive private hospital just weeks after the Boston Tea Party.

This thought-provoking history offers a new dimension to our understanding of both the American Revolution and the origins of public health in the United States. The miraculous discovery of vaccination in the early 1800s posed new challenges that upended the revolutionaries' dream of disease eradication, and Wehrman reveals that the quintessentially American rejection of universal health care systems has deeper roots than previously known. During a time when some of the loudest voices in the United States are those clamoring against efforts to vaccinate, this richly documented book will appeal to anyone interested in the history of medicine and politics, or who has questioned government action (or lack thereof) during a pandemic.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781421444666
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 12/06/2022
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 367,816
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Andrew M. Wehrman is an associate professor of history at Central Michigan University. A winner of the Walter Muir Whitehill Prize in Early American History, his writing has appeared in The New England Quarterly, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post.

Table of Contents

Introduction
Chapter 1. Sore Spots: Making Inoculation American
Chapter 2. General Inoculation in Boston
Chapter 3. The Norfolk Riots
Chapter 4. The Siege of Castle Pox
Chapter 5. Creating a Critical Mass
Chapter 6. From Rumors to Remedies
Chapter 7. George Washington's About-Face
Chapter 8. Thirteen Scars
Chapter 9. Inoculation Nation
Chapter 10. Vaccination Pains
Conclusion
Acknowledgements
Notes
Index

What People are Saying About This

Jeanne Abrams

Thoroughly researched and documented. Wehrman provides a nuanced description of smallpox and its history, focused on the thirteen colonies, the Revolutionary Era, and the Early Republic. He makes an original contribution to the history of smallpox inoculation and the early decades of vaccination, as well as the history of disease. By anchoring the story firmly in the political developments of the period, he also makes a substantial contribution to wider American history.

Woody Holton

In clear and graceful prose, Wehrman shows smallpox inoculation repeatedly spilling over into everything from class conflict to false claims that Black people could not be immunized. During the American War of Independence, precedent, including Martha Washington's successful inoculation, and what Wehrman calls 'desperate voices from below' dissolved Gen. Washington's qualms about immunizing the Continental Army: arguably his most valuable gift to the nation.

Elizabeth A. Fenn

The Contagion of Liberty is innovative, readable, and utterly convincing. Andrew Wehrman leaves me more certain than ever that we cannot understand the Revolutionary War if we do not understand smallpox. To do so is to understand America itself.

Peter McCandless

A significant contribution to the literature on attempts to control smallpox in the United States as well as to the history of US health care in general. The Contagion of Liberty is a novel, innovative approach in connecting the threat of smallpox in early America with the threat to liberty from Great Britain and the ideology of the American Revolution.

Jeanne E. Abrams

Thoroughly researched and documented. Wehrman provides a nuanced description of smallpox and its history, focused on the thirteen colonies, the Revolutionary Era, and the Early Republic. He makes an original contribution to the history of smallpox inoculation and the early decades of vaccination, as well as the history of disease. By anchoring the story firmly in the political developments of the period, he also makes a substantial contribution to wider American history.

From the Publisher

A significant contribution to the literature on attempts to control smallpox in the United States as well as to the history of US health care in general. The Contagion of Liberty is a novel, innovative approach in connecting the threat of smallpox in early America with the threat to liberty from Great Britain and the ideology of the American Revolution.
—Peter McCandless, author of Slavery, Disease, and Suffering in the Southern Lowcountry

Thoroughly researched and documented. Wehrman provides a nuanced description of smallpox and its history, focused on the thirteen colonies, the Revolutionary Era, and the Early Republic. He makes an original contribution to the history of smallpox inoculation and the early decades of vaccination, as well as the history of disease. By anchoring the story firmly in the political developments of the period, he also makes a substantial contribution to wider American history.
—Jeanne E. Abrams, author of Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health

The Contagion of Liberty is innovative, readable, and utterly convincing. Andrew Wehrman leaves me more certain than ever that we cannot understand the Revolutionary War if we do not understand smallpox. To do so is to understand America itself.
—Elizabeth A. Fenn, author of Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775–82

An important and revealingly detailed study of late-eighteenth century arguments and local disputes over smallpox inoculation and vaccination. These debates and social conflicts provide a creative sampling device, contributing in granular fashion to our understanding of America's revolutionary generation.
—Charles E. Rosenberg, author of Our Present Complaint: American Medicine, Then and Now

In clear and graceful prose, Wehrman shows smallpox inoculation repeatedly spilling over into everything from class conflict to false claims that Black people could not be immunized. During the American War of Independence, precedent, including Martha Washington's successful inoculation, and what Wehrman calls 'desperate voices from below' dissolved Gen. Washington's qualms about immunizing the Continental Army: arguably his most valuable gift to the nation.
—Woody Holton, author of Liberty Is Sweet: The Hidden History of the American Revolution

A rollicking account of smallpox in the era of the American Revolution, when public health populism meant demand from below for a state-sponsored inoculation campaign. George Washington's legendary order to inoculate the Continental Army now appears as the culmination of decades of popular politics around freedom not from government but from disease.
—John Fabian Witt, Yale Law School, author of American Contagions: Epidemics and the Law from Smallpox to Covid-19

Elizabeth Fenn

Contagion of Liberty is innovative, readable, and utterly convincing. Andrew Wehrman leaves me more certain than ever that we cannot understand the Revolutionary War if we do not understand smallpox. To do so is to understand America itself.

John Fabian Witt

A rollicking account of smallpox in the era of the American Revolution, when public health populism meant demand from below for a state-sponsored inoculation campaign. George Washington's legendary order to inoculate the Continental Army now appears as the culmination of decades of popular politics around freedom not from government but from disease.

Charles E. Rosenberg

An important and revealingly detailed study of late-eighteenth century arguments and local disputes over smallpox inoculation and vaccination. These debates and social conflicts provide a creative sampling device, contributing in granular fashion to our understanding of America's revolutionary generation.

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