Lot 14: John Quincy Adams Handwritten Manuscript
12th September 2018
Handwritten manuscript by John Quincy Adams, unsigned, four pages on two adjoining sheets, 6.75 x 8, no date but circa early 1800s. Adams defends Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse in his controversy with the Medical Society over the use of a vaccination against smallpox. The manuscript begins: "In the conduct of a controversy, one of the best tests for discovering the real merits of the question is to observe the general management of the parties…The Medical Society, at their last meeting in June felt themselves heinously aggrieved, at certain intimations in a publication of Dr. Waterhouse dated the 19th of April last—Why were the Medical Society aggrieved? Dr. Waterhouse had stated two facts, in the refutation of which the Society felt their honour to be concerned—They felt their honour to be deeply concerned—So much so, that they formally referr'd Dr. W's publication to their Counsellors for a written report—The Counsellors accordingly examined, reported, and by a solemn vote of the Society the report was published." Adams finds the conduct of the Society unsatisfactory, and takes apart its attacks on Dr. Waterhouse: "Out comes 'A Fellow of the Medical Society'—with labour upon labour—double, double toil and trouble—to blacken and vilify Dr. Waterhouse…Out comes—'A Physician'—carefully keeping himself concealed and…labouring to convince the public that the controversy is only between Dr. Waterhouse and Dr. Rand—That the Medical Society have nothing to do with it—Pity! the Society did not discover that before they appealed to their own Records, for the purpose of impeaching Dr. W's veracity." He concludes: "The Society will in future it is hoped, beware how they make common cause with they know not whom, and deny facts merely because they do not appear upon their Records." In fine condition. Accompanied by a complete typed transcript. British physician Edward Jenner had pioneered the smallpox vaccine in the late 1700s, and in 1802 received a parliamentary grant in recognition of his efforts against the disease. Jenner had corresponded with Waterhouse about the process and provided him with vaccine matter; with it, Waterhouse became the first doctor to test the smallpox vaccine in the United States. In 1806, Waterhouse had a public dispute—a ‘newspaper war’—with the Massachusetts Medical Society, centered on his assertion that the Society had ignored his proposal to place the practice of smallpox vaccination under its direct control. Waterhouse found support from President Thomas Jefferson, as well as John Quincy Adams, his close friend who was, at the time, representing Massachusetts in the US Senate. An interesting and significant defense of an important early American doctor.
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