AN ACCOUNT OF THE INFLUENCE OF THE MILITARY AND POLITICAL EVENTS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION UPON THE HUMAN BODY.
THERE were several circumstances peculiar to the American revolution, which should be men|tioned previously to an account of the influence of the events which accompanied it, upon the human body.
1. THE revolution interested every inhabitant of the country of both sexes, and of every rank and age that was capable of reflection. An indifferent, or neutral spectator of the controversy, was scarcely to be found in any of the states.
2. THE scenes of war and government which it introduced, were new to the greatest part of the inha|bitants of the United States, and operated with all the force of novelty upon the human mind.
3. THE controversy was conceived to be the most important of any that had ever engaged the attention of mankind. It was generally believed by the friends of the revolution, that the very existence of freedom upon our globe, was involved in the issue of the con|test in favor of the United States.
Page 187 4. THE American revolution included in it the cares of government, as well as the toils and dangers of war. The American mind was, therefore, frequent|ly occupied at the same time, by the difficult and com|plicated duties of political and military life.
5. THE revolution was conducted by men who had been born free, and whose sense of the blessings of liberty was of course more exquisite than if they had just emerged from a state of slavery.
6. THE greatest part of the soldiers in the armies of the United States had family connections and pro|perty in the country.
7. THE war was carried on by the Americans against a nation; to whom they had long been tied by the nu|merous obligations of consanguinity, laws, religion, commerce, language, interest, and a mutual sense of national glory. The resentments of the Americans of course rose, as is usual in all disputes, in proportion to the number, and force of these ancient bonds of affection and union.
8. A PREDILECTION to a limited monarchy, as an essential part of a free and safe government, and an attachment to the reigning king of Great-Britain, (with a very few exceptions) were universal in every part of the United States.
9. THERE was at one time a sudden dissolution of civil government in all, and of ecclesiastical establish|ments in several of the states.
10. THE expences of the war were supported by means of a paper currency, which was continually de|preciating.
Page 188 FROM the action of each of these causes, and fre|quently from their combination in the same persons, effects might reasonably be expected, both upon the mind and body, which have seldom occurred; or if they have, I believe were never fully recorded in any age or country.
IT might afford some useful instruction, to point out the influence of the military and political events of the revolution upon the understandings, passions, and mo|rals of the citizens of the United States; but my busi|ness in the present inquiry, is only to take notice of the influence of these events upon the human body, through the medium of the mind.
I SHALL first mention the effects of the military, and secondly, of the political events of the revolution. The last must be considered in a two-fold view, ac|cordingly as they affected the friends or the enemies of the revolution.
I. IN treating of the effects of the military events, I shall take notice, first, of the influence of actual war, and, secondly, of the influence of the military life.
IN the beginning of a battle, I have observed thirst to be a very common sensation among both officers and soldiers. It occurred where no exercise or action of the body could have excited it.
MANY officers have informed me, that after the first onset in a battle, they felt a glow of heat, so uni|versal as to be perceptible in both their ears. This was the case in a particular manner, in the battle of Princeton, on the third of January in the year 1777, on which day the weather was remarkably cold.
Page 189 A VETERAN colonel of a New-England regiment, whom I visited at Princeton, and who was wounded in the hand at the battle of Monmouth on the •8th of June, 1778, (a day in which the mercury stood at 90° of Farenheit's thermometer), after describing his situati|on at the time he received his wound, concluded his story by remarking, that
SOLDIERS bore operations of every kind immedi|ately after a battle, with much more fortitude than they did at any time afterwards.
THE effects of the military life upon the human body come next to be considered under this head.
IN another place* I have mentioned three cases of pulmonary consumption being perfectly cured by the diet and hardships of a camp life. Doctor Blane, in his valuable observations on the diseases incident to seamen, ascribes the extraordinary healthiness of the British fleet in the month of April 1782, to the effects produced on the spirits of the soldiers and seamen, by the victory obtained over the French fleet on the 12th of that month; and relates, upon the authority of Mr. Ives, an instance in the war between Great Britain and the combined powers of France and Spain in 1744, in which the scurvy, as well as other diseases, were checked by the prospect of a naval engagement.
Page 190 THE American army furnished an instance of the effects of victory upon the human mind, which may serve to establish the inferences from the facts related by Doctor Blane. The Philadelphia militia who join|ed the remains of General Washington's army in De|cember 1776, and shared with them a few days after|wards in the capture of a large body of Hessians at Trenton, consisted of 1500 men, most of whom had been accustomed to the habits of a city life. These men slept in tents and barns, and sometimes in the open air during the usual colds of December and Ja|nuary; and yet there were only two instances of sick|ness, and only one of death, in that body of men in the course of near six weeks, in those winter months. This extraordinary healthiness of so great a number of men under such trying circumstances, can only be ascribed to the vigor infused into the human body by the victory of Trenton having produced insensibility to all the usual remote causes of diseases.
MILITIA officers and soldiers, who enjoyed good health during a campaign, were often affected by fevers and other disorders, as soon as they returned to their respective homes. I knew one instance of a militia captain, who was seized with convulsions the first night he lay on a feather bed, after sleeping several months on a matrass, or upon the ground. These affections of the body appeared to be produced only by the sud|den abstraction of that tone in the system which was ex|cited by a sense of danger, and the other invigorating objects of a military life.
THE NOSTALGIA of Doctor Cullen, or the home|sickness, was a frequent disease in the American army, more especially among the soldiers of the New-England Page 191 states. But this disease was suspended by the superior action of the mind under the influence of the princi|ples which governed common soldiers in the American army. Of this General Gates furnished me with a re|markable instance in 1776, soon after his return from the command of a large body of regular troops and militia at Ticonderoga. From the effects of the nos|talgia, and the feebleness of the discipline, which was exercised over the militia, desertions were very fre|quent and numerous in his army, in the latter part of the campaign; and yet during the three weeks in which the general expected every hour an attack to be made upon him by General Burgoyne, there was not a single desertion from his army, which consisted at that time of 10,000 men.
THE patience, firmness, and magnanimity with which the officers and soldiers of the American army endured the complicated evils of hunger, cold, and na|kedness, can only be ascribed to an insensibility of body, produced by an uncommon tone of mind excited by the love of liberty and their country.
BEFORE I proceed to the second general division of this subject, I shall take notice, that more instances of apoplexies occurred in the city of Philadelphia, in the winter of 1774, 5, than had been known in for|mer years. I should have hesitated in recording this fact, had I not found the observation supported by a fact of the same kind, and produced by a nearly simi|lar cause, in the appendix to the practical works of Doctor Baglivi, professor of physic and anatomy at Rome. After a very wet season in the winter of 1694, 5, he informs us, that
II. THE political events of the revolution produ|ced different effects upon the human body, through the medium of the mind, accordingly as they acted up|on the friends or enemies of the revolution.
I SHALL first describe its effects upon the former class of citizens of the United States.
MANY persons of infirm and delicate habits, were restored to perfect health, by the change of place, or occupation, to which the war exposed them. This was the case in a more especial manner with hysterical Page 193 women, who were much interested in the successful issue of the contest. The same effects of a civil war upon the hysteria, were observed by Doctor Cullen in Scotland, in the years 1745 and 1746. It may per|haps help to extend our ideas of the influence of the passions upon diseases, to add, that when either love, jealousy, grief, or even devotion, wholly engross the female mind, they seldom fail, in like manner, to cure, or to suspend hysterical complaints.
THE population in the United States was more ra|pid from births during the war, than it had ever been in the same number of years since the settlement of the country.
I AM disposed to ascribe this increase of births chief|ly to the quantity and extensive circulation of money, and to the facility of procuring the means of subsist|ence during the war, which favoured marriages among the labouring part of the people*. But I have suffi|cient documents to prove, that marriages were more fruitful than in former years, and that a considerable number of unfruitful marriages became fruitful during the war. In 1783, the year of the peace, there were several children born of parents who had lived many years together without issue.
Mr. Hume informs us, in his history of England, that some old people, upon hearing the news of the re|storation of Charles the IId, died suddenly of joy. There was a time when I doubted the truth of this as|sertion; Page 194 but I am now disposed to believe it, from hav|ing heard of a similar effect from an agreeable poli|tical event, in the course of the American revolution. The door-keeper of congress, an aged man, died sud|denly, immediately after hearing of the capture of Lord Cornwallis's army. His death was universally ascribed to a violent emotion of political joy. This species of joy appears to be one of the strongest emo|tions that can agitate the human mind.
PERHAPS the influence of that ardor in trade and speculation, which seized many of the friends of the revolution, and which was excited by the fallacious nominal amount of the paper money, should rather be considered as a disease than as a passion. It unhinged the judgement, deposed the moral faculty, and filled the imagination, in many people, with airy and imprac|ticable schemes of wealth and grandeur. Desultory manners, and a peculiar species of extempore conduct, were among its characteristic symptoms. It produced insensibility to cold, hunger, and danger. The trading towns, and in some instances the extremities of the Unit|ed States, were frequently visited in a few hours or days by persons affected by this disease; and hence "to tra|vel with the speed of a speculator" became a common saying in many parts of the country. This species of insanity (if I may be allowed to call it by that name) did not require the confinement of a bedlam to cure it, like the south-sea madness described by Doctor Mead. Its remedies were the depreciation of the paper money, and the events of the peace.
THE political events of the revolution produced up|on its enemies very different effects from those which have been mentioned.
Page 195 THE hypochondriasis of Doctor Cullen, occurred in many instances in persons of this description. In some of them, the terror and distress of the revolution, brought on a true melancholia*. The causes which produced these diseases, may be reduced to four heads. 1. The loss of former power or influence in government. 2. The destruction of the hierarchy of the English church in America. 3. The change in the habits of diet, company and manners, produced by the annihilation of just debts by means of depreciated pa|per money. And, 4. The neglect, insults, and op|pression, to which the loyalists were exposed, from individuals, and in several instances, from the laws of some of the states.
IT was observed in South-Carolina, that several gentlemen who had protected their estates by swearing allegiance to the British government, died soon after the evacuation of Charleston by the British army. Their deaths were ascribed to the neglect with which they were treated by their ancient friends, who had adhered to the government of the United States. The disease was called, by the common people, the Protec|tion Fever.
FROM the causes which produced this hypochon|driasis, I have taken the liberty of distinguishing it by the specific name of Revolutiana.
IN some cases, this disease was rendered fatal by exile and confinement; and, in others, by those per|sons who were afflicted with it, seeking relief from spirituous liquors.
Page 196 THE termination of the war by the peace in 1783, did not terminate the American revolution. The minds of the citizens of the United States were wholly unprepared for their new situation. The excess of the passion for liberty, inflamed by the successful issue of the war, produced, in many people, opinions and conduct which could not be removed by reason, nor restrained by government. For a while, they threat|ened to render abortive the goodness of heaven to the United States, in delivering them from the evils of slavery and war. The extensive influence which these opinions had upon the understandings, passions, and morals of many of the citizens of the United States, constituted a species of insanity, which I shall take the liberty of distinguishing by the name of Anarchia.
I HOPE no offence will be given by the freedom of any of these remarks. An inquirer after philosophical truth, should consider the passions of men in the same light that he does the laws of matter or motion. The friends and enemies of the American revolution must have been more or less than men, if they could have sustained the magnitude and rapidity of the events that characterised it, without discovering some marks of human weakness, both in body and mind. Perhaps these weaknesses were permitted, that human nature might receive fresh honors in America, by the con|tending parties (whether produced by the controver|sies about independence or the national government) mutually forgiving each other, and uniting in plans of general order and happiness.