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The Contagion of Liberty

The Politics of Smallpox in the American Revolution

Andrew M. Wehrman

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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.

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\u2026

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.

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.

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Reviews

The Covid pandemic wasn't the first time that America has found itself split along ideological seams over infectious disease.As historian Andrew Wehrman explains in The Contagion of Liberty: The Politics of Smallpox in the American Revolution, our downright violent resistance to, and demand for freedom from, the disease was also precisely what helped galvanize our mobilization of independence from England.

The Contagion of Liberty is a timely and fascinating account of the raucous public demand for smallpox inoculation during the American Revolution.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.

In The Contagion f Liberty, Andrew Wehrman weaves together dozens of individual stories and their layered historical contexts to provide a fascinating account of smallpox in America, from colonial times through the early republic.A deeply researched and gracefully written volume.

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.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
416
ISBN
9781421444666
Illustration Description
14 b&w illus., 2 maps
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
C

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

Author Bio
Andrew M. Wehrman
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Andrew M. Wehrman

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.