The Selected Writings of Benjamin Rush
Though perhaps less well known to the pantheon of the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Rush nonetheless holds an essential place in America’s formative epoch. Rush’s Selected Writings, both in their form and content, are emblematic of the generation to which he belonged. He, as many of his peers, was truly liberally educated. The value he placed on the workings of the mind is evident through the care he employed in expressing himself. This attitude enabled him to speak and write with confidence, being qualified as he was to put forth his opinion and beliefs.
He was, clearly, an exceptional individual, graduating from Princeton at the tender age of 14. Growing to manhood in a tumultuous time, where everyone was called upon to examine and decide their allegiance, Rush early on exercised both discernment and commitment. The firmness with which he held his views was further aided by his unflagging Christian faith. A man of prolific interests, Rush is a source of great knowledge and insight into the Founding generation.
These writings fill one with admiration, for the very scope of their subject matter: medicine, slavery, politics, culture, religion, education, liberty, agriculture, government, and even fashion. Nothing was beyond the ability of Rush to engage. Many of his writings stand out. He believed that the Bible was an indispensable book for all, lest it become a “curiosity on a shelf.” He maintained that a rigorous religious sense was the underpinning of the whole of republican society. This idea of man as a created being called to communion with others was a central point of Rush’s political philosophy. He asserted that “every man in a republic is public property.” No man had the right to withdraw; all had the duty to be of service wherever most required.
Rush was also an avid advocate of education. Let no man deceive himself, Rush claimed, relegating education to secondary importance was as attempting to “make bricks without straw.” Even the Founders, over 200 years ago, knew and firmly pursued education and its subsequent benefits for society. Benjamin Rush’s body of thought is akin to a woven tapestry: various threads intertwining to create a magnificent whole, both instrumental and beautiful to behold.
Rush, true to the American spirit, believed in the elevating nature of work. Idleness was humanity’s ever-present pitfall. God therefore, blessed man when He bid him work. Though of a more intellectual turn of mind, Rush asserted that agriculture was the foundation of any nation’s success. Those who toiled to bring forth the fruits of the earth were not to be degraded, but admired and appreciated. For himself, Rush passionately believed in the power of medicine and was instrumental in the containment of the terrible Philadelphia yellow fever outbreak of 1793. Even amidst chaos, he was a servant to his country and countrymen.
Rush’s writings contain much wisdom and insight concerning humanity, as well as the American character. He also seems to have written a detailed manual for living well! His energy and passion for medicine is clearly seen and only rivaled by his zeal for American institutions. Even amongst the fiery Founding generation, Rush is notable for his particular fervor, even bordering on over-enthusiasm. There is, however, no doubt that the fire that animated him was enkindled by his sincere love of liberty and freedom. Would that some of those flames be stoked anew by the present age, to consume in fire the ailment of indifference among the masses.