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Picture of Benjamin Rush
[Library of Congress]


Signer of the Declaration of Independence (Pennsylvania)

Biographical Data
Religious Views
References, Links, & Further Reading

Education: College of New Jersey (Princeton), University of Edinburgh

Occupation: physician, college professor, writer

Political Affiliation:

Organizational Affiliation(s): Mason

Religious Affiliation: Presbyterian, Universalist

Summary of Religious Views:

Although he was brought up as a Presbyterian, over the years Dr. Rush's beliefs changed, and he ultimately adopted a Universalist outlook, as espoused by Rev. Elhanan Winchester

Views on Religion & Politics:

Benjamin Rush believed that religion was a necessary foundation for any successful republic, and, to that end, advocated education along Christian lines. Although very supportive of the constitution in every other respect, Rush was disappointed that the document made no mention whatsoever of a supreme being.
He was not a supporter of religious tests for political office, and strongly opposed a measure in the Pennsylvania legislature requiring a religious oath for all candidates to the constitutional convention of Pennsylvania. He said that he knew of good men who were not believers in the divinity of Jesus, and did not think that such good men should be barred from office.


"Religion is best supported under the patronage of particular societies. Instead of encouraging bigotry, I believe it prevents it by removing young men from those opportunities of controversy which a variety of sects mixed together are apt to create and which are the certain fuel of bigotry. Religion is necessary to correct the effects of learning. Without religion I believe learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind; a mode of worship is necessary to support religion; and education is the surest way of producing a preference and constant attachment to a mode of worship. Religion could not long be maintained in the world without forms and the distinctions of sects. The weaknesses of human nature require them. The distinction of sects is as necessary in the Christian Church towards the perfection and government of the whole as regiments and brigades are in an army. Some people talk loudly of the increase of liberality of sentiment upon religious subjects since the war, but I suspect that this boasted catholicism arises chiefly from an indifference acquired since the war to religion itself. We only change the names of our vices and follies in different periods of time. Religious bigotry has yielded to political intolerance. The man who used to hate his neighbor for being a Churchman or a Quaker now hates him with equal cordiality for being a tory. Colleges are the best schools for [divinity. But divinity] cannot be taught without a system, and this system must partake of the doctrines of some one sect of Christians--hence the necessity of the College being in the hands of some one religious society. The universities of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and I believe of every other kingdom in Europe are in the hands of particular societies, and it is from this circumstance they have become the bulwarks of the Christian religion throughout the world." -- letter to John Armstrong, 19 March 1783

"I am very happy in being able to inform you that the test law was so far repealed a few weeks ago in Pennsylvania as to confer equal privileges upon every citizen of the state." -- letter to Richard Price, 22 April 1786

"Having briefly stated the literary, medical and political events of my life, it remains only that I say a few words upon my religious principles.
"I was baptised by the Revd. Eneas Ross, an Episcopal minister, and heard divine worship for the first time in Christ Church in Philadelphia. After the death of my father I went with my mother to the Revd. Mr Tennent's meeting, which was held in the building afterwards converted into a College and University in 4th Street. My mother was a constant attendance upon his Presbyterian place of worship, and educated all her children in the principles taught by him, which were highly calvinistical.
"At Dr. Finley's School, I was more fully instructed in these principles by means of the Westminster Catechism. I retained them but without any affection for them 'till about the year 1780. I then read for the first time Fletcher's controversy with the Calvinists in favor of the Universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of Universal salvation, which was then preached in our city by the Revd. Mr. Winchester. It embraced and reconciled my ancient calvinistical, and my newly adopted Arminian principles. From that time I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men. My conviction of the truth of this doctrine was derived from reading the works of Stonehouse, Seigvolk, White, Chauncey, and Winchester, and afterwards from an attentive perusal of the Scriptures. I always admitted with each of those authors future punishment, and of long, long duration.
"Of the poor services I have rendered to any of my fellow creatures I shall say nothing. They were full of imperfections and have no merit in the sight of God. I pray to have the sin that was mixed with them, forgiven. My only hope of salvation is in the infinite transcendent love of God manifested to the world by the death of his Son upon the Cross. Nothing but his blood will wash away my sins. I rely exclusively upon it. Come Lord Jesus! Come quickly! And take home thy lost, but redeemed Creature! I will believe, and I will hope in thy salvation! Amen, and amen!" -- Travels Through Life

"'Christianity,' says Montesquieu, 'is full of good sense.' Yes, it is more than this. It contains the greatest scope for genius of any science in the world, nor is philosophy opposed to any of its principles or precepts when they are properly understood and explained. To vanquish infidelity, the clergy must take new ground. The Deity must be represented as the impartial Father of the whole human race, the Atonement must be extended and made effectual to the happiness of all, and evil of course be ultimately annihilated." letter to John Seward, 28th December 1796
"I shall assume the five following propositions:
"I . That Christianity is the only true and perfect religion; and that in proportion as mankind adopt its principles and obey its precepts they will be wise and happy.
"2. That a better knowledge of this religion is to be acquired by reading the Bible than in any other way.
"3. That the Bible contains more knowledge necessary to man in his present state than any other book in the world.
"4. That knowledge is most durable, and religious instruction most useful, when imparted in early life.
"5. That the Bible, when not read in schools, is seldom read in any subsequent period of life."
-- A Defence of the Use of the Bible in Schools

"In the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, we find the following words, which are directly to my purpose: 'And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.'
"It appears, moreover, from the history of the Jews, that they flourished as a nation in proportion as they honored and read the books of Moses, which contained the only revelation that God had made to the world. The law was not only neglected, but lost, during the general profligacy of manner which accompanied the long and wicked reign of Manasseh. But the discovery of it amid the rubbish of the temple by Josiah and its subsequent general use were followed by a return of national virtue and prosperity. We read further of the wonderful effects which the reading of the law by Ezra, after his return from his captivity in Babylon, had upon the Jews. They showed the sincerity of their repentance by their general reformation." -- A Defence of the Use of the Bible in Schools

"But the benefits of an early and general acquaintance with the Bible were not confined to the Jewish nation; they have appeared in many countries in Europe since the Reformation. The industry and habits of order which distinguish many of the German nations are derived from their early instruction in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible. In Scotland and in parts of New England, where the Bible has been long used as a schoolbook, the inhabitants are among the most enlightened in religions and science, the most strict in morals, and the most intelligent in human affairs of any people whose history has come to my knowledge upon the surface of the globe." -- A Defence of the Use of the Bible in Schools

"I cannot but suspect that the present fashionable practice of rejecting the Bible from our schools has originated with Deists. And they discover great ingenuity in this new mode of attacking Christianity. If they proceed in it, they will do more in half a century in extirpating our religion than Bolingbroke or Voltaire could have effected in a thousand years.
"But passing by all other considerations, and contemplating merely the political institutions of the United States, I lament that we waste so much time and money in punishing crimes and take so little pains to prevent them. We profess to be republicans, and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government; that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible; for this divine book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and all those sober and frugal virtues which constitute the soul of republicanism." -- A Defence of the Use of the Bible in Schools

"...I beg leave to remark that the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in RELIGION. Without this, there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.
"Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place is the religion of JESUS CHRIST." -- Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic, 1798

References, Links, & Further Reading: Books, Articles, Links


Works by Benjamin Rush

Essays: Literary, Moral & Philosophical, Thomas & Samuel F. Bradford, 1798 (Their Own Words); reprint, Essays: Literary, Moral And Philosophical (1806)
ed. by Dagobert D. Runes, The Selected Writings of Benjamin Rush, Philosophical Library, 2007
(with notes by I. B. Rupp), An Account of the Manners of the German Inhabitants of Pennsylvania, written in 1789, Samuel P. Town, 1875 (MOA)
Considerations on the Injustice and Impolicy of Punishing Murder by Death, M. Carey, 1792 (Their Own Words)
An Account of the Bilious Remitting Yellow Fever, as it Appeared in the City of Philadelphia, in the Year 1793, Thomas Dobson, 1794 (Their Own Words)
Medical Inquiries and Observations, 4 vols., Johnson and Warner, Matthew Carey, et al, 1809 (Their Own Words)
Medical Inquiries and Observations, Upon the Diseases of the Mind, Kimber & Richardson, 1812 (Their Own Words)
Sixteen Introductory Lectures to Courses of Lectures Upon the Institutes and Practice of Medicin, Bradford and Innskeep, 1811 (Their Own Words)
ed. by George W. Corner, The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush, 1948
ed. by L.H. Butterfield, Letters, 2 vol., Published for the American Philosophical Society by Princeton Univ. Press, 1951


Alyn Brodsky , Benjamin Rush: Patriot and Physician, Truman Talley Books/St. Martin's Press, 2004
Nathan G. Goodman, Benjamin Rush; Physician and Citizen, 1746-1813, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1934
David F. Hawke, Benjamin Rush: Revolutionary Gadfly, Bobbs-Merrill, 1971


Claire G. Fox, Gordon L. Miller, and Jacquelyn C. Miller, Benjamin Rush, M.D.: A Bibliographic Guide, Greenwood Press, 1996



Works by Benjamin Rush

Writings on Education
Address to the People of the United States (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
Address to the People of the United States, 1787 (Online Library of Liberty)
An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America Upon Slave-Keeping, 1773 (Online Library of Liberty)
On Punishing Murder by Death, 1792 (The Founder's Constitution)
Observations on the Government of Pennsylvania, 1777 -- excerpts (The Founder's Constitution)
Writings on Medical Topics
Selected Letters

Biographical Sites

RUSH, Benjamin, 1746-1813 (Biographical Directory of the US Congress)
Rush, Benjamin (A Princeton Companion)
Benjamin Rush (ushistory.org: Signers of the Declaration of Independence)
Benjamin Rush (Colonial Hall)
Benjamin Rush (Signers of the Declaration of Independence -- National Park Service)
Destroying Angel: Benjamin Rush, Yellow Fever, and the Birth of Modern Medicine, by Bob Arnebeck
Benjamin Rush (Their Own Words)

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