There is a wide body of evidence that Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) maintained a special interest in and appreciation for homeopathic medicine. It is therefore not surprising that many of Lincoln's advisors were users of and advocates for homeopathy.
Before Lincoln was elected president, in 1854 he was retained as a lawyer to prepare a state legislative proposal to charter a homeopathic medical college in Chicago. Chicago was the home of the American Medical Association, which had been founded in 1847 in part to stop the growth of homeopathy, and therefore, Lincoln's job was no simple effort.
Yet many of Chicago's most prominent citizens and politicians participated on the board of trustees of the proposed Hahnemann Medical College, including Chicago's mayor, two congressmen, an Illinois state representative, a Chicago city councilman, the co-founder of Northwestern University, the founder of Chicago Union Railroad, and several medical doctors who were homeopaths. Despite significant opposition, Lincoln was successful in obtaining a charter for the homeopathic college.
Today, the Pearson Museum at Southern Illinois University has an exhibit of a 19th-century doctor's office and drugstore; included in this exhibit is a homeopathic medicine kit from the Diller Drug Store of Springfield, Ill. The exhibit notes that Abraham Lincoln was a frequent customer of the drug store and a regular user of homeopathic medicines.
Lincoln's Cabinet Members
Of special significance, Lincoln surrounded himself with advocates for homeopathy, among them the postmaster general, the secretary of the treasury and his most trusted advisor and Secretary of State, William Seward. Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury, may have had his life saved by homeopathy after being treated for cholera in the summer of 1849 when a cholera epidemic was rampant. Montgomery Blair, Lincoln's postmaster general, was the head of the National Homeopathic Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Ultimately, what befell William Seward is a classic story to illustrate conventional medicine's attitude toward and actions against unconventional medical treatments and the physicians who provide them. It is first important to realise that the American Medical Association in the 19th century was so threatened by homeopathic medicine that the AMA created and enforced an ethics code that barred AMA members from consulting with homeopathic doctors or homeopathic patients.
On the famed night that Lincoln was assassinated, Seward was stabbed in a multi-person assassination plot against the Union. The assassin gained entrance to Seward's home and to his personal bedroom by claiming to have a delivery of medicines from his homeopathic doctor, Tullio S. Verdi, M.D. Thanks to the medical care provided by U.S. Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes, M.D., Seward survived. However, according to John S. Haller, some members of the AMA wanted to censure Dr. Barnes for associating with Verdi, a homeopath, in providing Seward's medical care.
Lincoln's Leader of the Union Army
On Nov. 1, 1861, Lincoln appointed Major General George Brinton McClellan (1826-1885) to command the Union army during the Civil War. However, in late December McClellan contracted typhoid fever, which left him unable to go to his office to conduct business. According to military historian Ethan S. Rafuse:
During the first week of McClellan's illness, two homeopathic doctors arrived from New York to tend the ill general and his father-in-law and chief-of-staff, Randolph B. Marcy, who was also ill. McClellan's employment of homeopathic treatments is one of the more interesting sidelights of this episode, particularly in light of the fact that the general came from a family of prominent physicians.
Despite this serious illness, General McClellan remained active, giving regular orders to his subordinates, arranging for troop movement and supply transport, meeting with the president on a weekly basis, issuing court martial orders, and even providing commendations to officers. By January 2, he seemed to be much better and shortly afterwards had no noticeable physical limitations. McClellan lived another 23 years.
Despite the success of homeopathic treatment on the military leader of the Union army, that very month, January 1862, according to Rafuse, "The Army Medical Board rejected requests by homeopathic doctors to serve in military hospitals, arguing that to grant this request would invite applications from all types of 'quacks' and 'charlatans' claiming medical expertise." The problem with this false critique is that homeopathic doctors at that time graduated from various leading conventional medical schools or select homeopathic medical schools, such as Boston University, Hahnemann Medical School (in Philadelphia), or the New York Homeopathic Medical College (many famous medical schools today started off as homeopathic medical colleges).
Reasons for the Animosity
The public today does not adequately understand the degree of animosity that conventional doctors had toward homeopathic physicians. The reasoning for this animosity is probably best described in the words of one doctor to an AMA meeting:
"Too many wives of conventional physicians are going to homeopathic physicians. And to make it worse," he added, "they are taking their children to homeopaths too."
Homeopathic physicians were not simply competitors to conventional physicians; homeopaths were medically trained and could not be considered "uneducated" or under-educated. Further, inherent in homeopathy is a profound respect for the "wisdom of the body," and therefore, homeopaths tend to maintain a significant skepticism of and criticism for using powerful drug treatments that tend to suppress symptoms and push a person's disease deeper into his/her body and mind.
The conventional medical community was also threatened by the fact that homeopathy was attracting so many U.S. cultural leaders. The strongest advocates for homeopathy tended to be educated classes and wealthy Americans as well as the abolitionists, the literary greats (including virtually all of the leading American transcendentalist authors), and the suffragists (homeopaths admitted women into their medical schools and associations several decades before the conventional doctors did).
In the 19th century, the AMA did not enforce the many ethical code or professional health care violations of its members, therefore allowing physicians to prescribe mercury in dangerously high doses, enabling physicians to blood-let their patients to death, and even engage in treatment while inebriated. And yet, the AMA was ridiculously strict in their enforcement of their ethical code against any interaction with homeopathic doctors or their patients.
One AMA member got kicked out of his local medical society for consulting with a homeopath who also happened to be his wife.
Typhoid fever caused more deaths during the Civil War and the Spanish-American War than the deaths caused by bullets. History shows that homeopathy gained widespread popularity in the United States and Europe from its successes in treating various infectious disease epidemics of the mid- and late-1800s, including typhoid epidemics., Despite these good results, the AMA's influence on governmental regulations led to stipulation that graduates of homeopathic medical colleges could not receive a military commission.
Thankfully, the antagonism toward homeopaths was not as severe during World War I; almost 2,000 homeopathic physicians were commissioned as medical officers. Even the American Red Cross authorized a homeopathic hospital unit.
Recent research has confirmed the clinical efficacy of homeopathic medicines and the cost-effectiveness of homeopathic treatment, as determined by what is widely recognized as the most comprehensive report ever conducted on homeopathy -- and this report was commissioned by the government of Switzerland.
A detailed article in the famed Archives in Internal Medicine has verified that the small doses used in homeopathic medicines are no smaller than many hormones and cell-signaling agents, which are widely recognized to have profound biological effects on daily human functioning. Further, a wide and multi-disciplinary body of modern scientific evidence has confirmed the biological power of homeopathic nano-doses.,
In a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Social Transformation of American Medicine, Dr. Paul Starr wrote about homeopathy in the 19th century, asserting, "Because homeopathy was simultaneously philosophical and experimental, it seemed to many people to be more rather than less scientific than orthodox medicine." Although Lincoln surrounded himself with advocates for homeopathy, that didn't protect the medical science from his famous wit. He described homeopathy once as "medicine of a shadow of a pigeon's wing." This exaggerated metaphor is reference to the very small doses sometimes used.
Considering the honored place accorded homeopathy by many cultural heroes and the growing body of basic science research and clinical evidence, it is unsurprising that homeopathic medicine is more popular today than at any other time worldwide.
And it seems appropriate to end this article on Lincoln's association with homeopathy by citing U.S. writer and friend to many presidents, Mark Twain. In an article for Harper's Weekly, he warned others of the dangers of conventional medicine ("allopathy") and thanked the advocates of homeopathy:
When you reflect that your own father had to take such medicines as the above, and that you would be taking them today yourself but for the introduction of homeopathy, which forced the old-school doctor to stir around and learn something of a rational nature about his business; you may honestly feel grateful that homoeopathy survived the attempts of the allopathists [conventional physicians] to destroy it, even though you may never employ any physician but an allopathist while you live.
Part two of this article will provide more information about Abraham Lincoln and his team of homeopaths.
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SueYoungHistories.com on Abraham Lincoln
Special thanks to Jeanine and Guy Saperstein for their ongoing support for my educational advocacy work for homeopathy.
(1) Other members of the homeopathic hospital's board of trustees included Morrison R. Waite, Chief Justice (from 1874-1888), and Hon. Thomas F. Bayard, Secretary of State (under Grover Cleveland) and Ambassador to England.
(2) McClellan's father was a prominent surgeon, author, and educator, and his uncle and older brother were highly respected members of the regular medical profession. McClellan's use of homeopathic treatments can be attributed to his wife, Ellen Marcy McClellan. One doctor who treated the general was Ellen's uncle, Erastus E. Marcy, the founder and editor of the North American Homeopathic Journal, who was a leading advocate during the 1840s and 1850s.
(3) The story of Hughes, however, is very interesting because he practiced in Richmond, Virginia, where many leading Union officers became his patients, including General Peter Michie, the federal quartermaster general in charge of all supplies for the Union army. Another homeopathic doctor who served soldiers of the Confederacy was Samuel Hunt, MD, of Georgia.
Dana Ullman, MPH, is America's leading spokesperson for homeopathy and is the founder of www.homeopathic.com . He is the author of 10 books, including his bestseller, Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicines. His most recent book is, The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy (the Foreword to this book was written by Dr. Peter Fisher, the Physician to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II). Dana lives, practices, and writes from Berkeley, California.
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