A Memorial Containing Travels through Life or Sundry Incidents in the Life of Dr. Benjamin Rush, Born Dec. 24, 1745 (Old Style) Died April 19, 1813

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Frontispiece from the Life of Dr. Benjamin Rush (Philadelphia: Made at the Sign of the Ivy Leaf, 1905). From a painting by Thomas Sully.

Benjamin Rush (1746 [O.S. 1745] – 1813) was a physician and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a Founding Father of the United States. Like George Wythe, Rush was a delegate to the Continental Congress, he signed the Declaration of Independence, and later represented his hometown at the Constitutional Convention for Pennsylvania.

Rush left behind an autobiography, which was published posthumously in 1905.[1] He gives short biographical notes and observations for the other members of the Continental Congress, including all the delegates from Virginia. Of George Wythe, Rush says: "I have seldom known a man possess more modesty, or a more dove-like simplicity and gentleness of manner."

Excerpt, Part 1

Page 104, "Massachusetts"

John Adams.

...He wrote much as well as spoke often and copiously in favor of the liberties of his country. All his publications and particularly his letter to Mr. Wythe, containing a plan of a constitution for Virginia, discover a strong predilection for republican forms of government. To be safe, powerful and durable he always urged that they should be composed of three legislative branches, but that each of them should be the offspring directly or indirectly of the suffrages of the peo-

Page 105

ple. So great was his disapprobation of a government composed of a single legislature, that he said to me upon reading the first constitution of Pennsylvania. "The people of your State will sooner or later fall upon their knees to the King of Great Britain to take them again under his protection to deliver them from the tyranny of their own government."

Page 107, "Rhode Island"

William Ellery, a lawyer, somewhat cynical in his temper, but a faithful friend to the liberties of his country. He seldom spoke in Congress, but frequently amused himself in writing epigrams on the speakers which were generally witty and pertinent, and sometimes poetical. Mr. Paine had once given in a report in favor of purchasing some guns for the United States that were not bored. Some time after this, a motion was made to call upon the citizens of Philadelphia to furnish ready made clothes for the army, for materials to make them could not then be obtained in any of the stores. Mr. Paine opposed this motion, by holding up to the imagination the ridiculous figure our soldiers would make when paraded or marching in clothes of different lengths and colors. While he was speaking Mr. Ellery struck off with his pencil, the following lines.

"Say, O! my muse — Why all this puzzle
Talk against long clothes, and give guns without a muzzle."

Page 114, "Virginia"

George Wythe. A profound lawyer, and able politician. He seldom spoke in Congress, but when he did, his speeches were sensible, correct and pertinent. I have seldom known a man possess more modesty, or a more dovelike simplicity and gentleness of manner. He lived many years after he left Congress, the pride and ornament of his native State.

Richard Henry Lee, a frequent, correct and pleasing speaker. He was very useful upon committees, and active in expediting business. He made the motion for the declaration of independence, and was ever afterwards one of its most zealous supporters.

Thomas Jefferson. He possessed a genius of the first order. It was universal in its objects. He was not less distinguished for his political, than his mathematical and philosophical knowledge. The objects of his benevolence were as extensive as those of his knowledge. He was not only the friend of his country, but of all nations and religions. While Congress were deliberating upon the measure of sending commissioners to France, I asked him, "What he thought of being one of them." He said, "he would go to hell to serve his country." He was afterwards elected a commissioner, but declined it at that time on account of the sickness of his wife. He seldom spoke in Congress, but was a member of all the important committees. He was the penman of the declaration of independence. He once

Page 115

shewed me the original in his own handwriting. It contained a noble testimony against negro slavery which was struck out in its passage through Congress. He took notes of all the debates upon the declaration of independence and the first confederation.

Benjamin Harrison. He was well acquainted with the forms of public business. He had strong State prejudices and was very hostile to the leading characters from the New England States. In private life he preferred pleasure and convivial company to business of all kinds. His taste in this respect was discovered in a letter to Genl. Washington, which was intercepted and published in Boston. He was upon the whole a useful member of Congress, sincerely devoted to the welfare of his country.

Thomas Nelson. A respectable country gentleman, with excellent dispositions both in public and private life. He was educated in England. He informed me that he was the only person out of nine or ten Virginians that were sent with him to England for education that had taken a part in the American Revolution. The rest were all Tories.

Francis Lightfoot Lee. He was brother to Richard Henry Lee, but possessed I thought a more acute and correct mind. He often opposed his brother in a vote, but never spoke in Congress. I seldom knew him wrong eventually upon any question. Mr. Madison informed me that he had observed the same thing in many silent members of public bodies.

Carter Braxton. He was not deficient in political information, but was suspected of being less detached than he should be from his British prejudices. He was an agreeable and sensible speaker, and in private life an accomplished gentleman.

See also


  1. Louis Alexander Biddle, ed., A Memorial Containing Travels through Life or Sundry Incidents in the Life of Dr. Benjamin Rush, Born Dec. 24, 1745 (Old Style) Died April 19, 1813, (Philadelphia: Made at the Sign of the Ivy Leaf, 1905), 104-105, 107, 114-115.

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