Abraham Lincoln (12 February 1809 – 15 April 1865) was a lawyer, politician, abolitionist, and the 16th President of the United States, in office from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. Although born into poverty on the western frontier, and largely self-educated, Lincoln became a successful Illinois attorney, then a member of the state House of Representatives. He would enter into national politics in the 1850s, when he became head of the new Republican Party. Lincoln is widely considered to have been the United States of America’s greatest ever President.
Like many influential thinkers and political figures of the time, Lincoln and his friends read and absorbed the works of Swedish scientist and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. In America, Homeopathy was a vehicle for Swedenborg’s philosophy.
According to Dana Ullman, President Abraham Lincoln and His Cabinet had “a special interest in and appreciation for homeopathic medicine.” Ullman further described Lincoln as surrounding himself with a team of homeopaths.
As an Illinois attorney, Abraham Lincoln lobbied and prepared material for a special legislative charter for a homeopathic medical school in Chicago in 1854:
In 1854, Abraham Lincoln was retained to prepare a state legislative proposal to charter a homeopathic medical college in Chicago. This was a complex task in view of the deep-seated animosity between allopathic or orthodox medical practitioners and irregular healers. Homeopathy was regarded as a cult by the nascent American Medical Association. In addition, the poor reputation of medical education in the United States in general, further complicated the project. Lincoln and influential individuals in Illinois lobbied legislators and succeeded in securing the charter. Subsequently, the Hahnemann Homeopathic Medical College accepted its first class in 1860 and with its successors remained in existence for almost sixty-five years.
At the same time that Lincoln was defending homeopathy, the American Medical Association was campaigning against it, not on therapeutic grounds, but because homeopaths were in high demand. As one attendee at the AMA meeting in May, 1855, observed: “We never fought the homeopath on matters of principle, we fought him because he came into the community and got the business.”
Lincoln had good reason to be appreciative of homeopaths, many of whom shared his political views. William Cullen Bryant, the President of the New York Homeopathic Society and editor of the New York Evening Post, was a leading advocate for the abolition of slavery. From 1856 on, the New York Evening Post was a Republican paper, supporting the arming of abolitionist settlers in Kansas, deriding the Dred Scott decision, and celebrating John Brown as a martyr.
In 1860, Bryant introduced Abraham Lincoln before the audience at Cooper Union in New York. Later, Bryant and the Evening Post influenced Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln had received many such petitions from homeopaths and the sons of homeopaths, and from homeopathic advocates, for example Abbie Holmes Christensen, an activist in the suffrage and civil rights movement.
1860 saw the first Republican administration in Washington, D.C., and its first homeopathic nomination. Dr. Tullio Suzzara Verdi, an 1856 graduate of The Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania, was appointed to the Bureau of Health. He was the personal physician to Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Henry Seward.
In 1862, Lincoln signed a bill into law authorizing the transfer of control of several military hospitals over to homeopaths, because of their unparalleled success in treating cholera, yellow fever, diptheria and influenza. In February that year, petitions were also presented to the U.S. Senate requesting that homeopathic physicians be employed by the army.
Among the homeopaths involved in the Union war effort were Mary Ann Bickerdyke, a trained homeopath who became an hospital administrator for the Union during the civil war, and Laura Matilda Towne, also a trained homeopath, who joined the war effort to treat the freed slaves. Throughout 1862 and after, Lincoln continued to receive requests to provide homeopathic treatment for soldiers – all this at a time when the debate between allopathy and homeopathy continued to rage.
In 1862 August Belmont, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, wrote to Lincoln, using homeopathy as an analogy in his recommendation to the President to reopen European commerce for Southern cotton planters:
“When the planters would find that the Richmond Government alone stands between them & the trade of the world & prevents them to exchange their produce at the present high prices against Gold & silver (which has become certainly a most desirable commodity in Jeff Davis’s dominions) there can be no doubt but what it would create among a very large number an intense feeling of dissatisfaction, & might even sow the seeds of a rebellion in rebeldom powerful enough to throw the whole Richmond Cabinet overboard….
It would be treating the mortal disease from which the South is now suffering, upon homeopathic principles & I have no doubt it might prove successful.”
Homeopathy had entered the vernacular by the mid-1850s, and Lincoln and his associates used homeopathic analogies freely, revealing a level of familiarity and understanding of the concepts behind homeopathy. In the Dred Scott debate in 1857, Lincoln railed against the decision which ruled that people of African descent, whether or not they were slaves, could never be citizens of the United States, and that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories. In an 1858 speech on Dred Scott, Lincoln remarked that the decision made popular sovereignty “as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.”
Lincoln also deliberately included another homeopathic analogy in one of his first speeches for the Republican Nomination, delivered in Indiana in 1860.
Lincoln’s interest in homeopathy was clearly well-known, and was reflected in the cartoons of the time. One, in Thomas Nast‘s Phunny Phellow in April 1861, was titled “Lincoln takes a homeopathic case of remedies for the Constitution,” and another in the same month in Thomas W. Strong‘s Yankee Notions was titled “Homeopathic Treatment.”
Early in the Civil War, Lincoln’s General George Brinton McClellan used homeopathic medicine, and received homeopathic treatment for a possible bout of malaria and typhoid. Though McClellan‘s choice of homeopathy was cause for political censure, Lincoln ignored this attack on his general and McClellan was soon back in the war, his health restored.
Another connection to homeopathy was Lincoln’s private secretary, William Stoddard. He was influenced by newspaper editor and homeopath John Walker Scroggs, an antislavery campaigner who Stoddard described as “one in a million,” and who invited Stoddard to become part owner and co-editor of the Central Illinois Gazette.
Lincoln’s knowledge of homeopathy was possibly attributable to Jonathan Young Scammon, a “strong Union man” and longtime friend of Lincoln’s. Starting out in Illinois as a lawyer, Scammon had founded the first railroad west of Lake Michigan, established Chicago’s first bank, laid the groundwork for its public school system, and helped start the Chicago American newspaper. As the first President of the Chicago Astronomical Society, in 1888 he financed the Dearborn Observatory on the Evanston campus of Northwestern University. This observatory had the largest refracting telescope in the world. Scammon was also among the founders of the Chicago Academy of Science. In 1865, Jonathan Young Scammon‘s son, Charles T. Scammon, formed a law partnership with the President’s son, Robert T. Lincoln.
Jonathan Scammon instituted Chicago’s Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem, and introduced homeopathic medicine to the Midwestern city, donating ground for the Chicago Hahnemann homeopathic hospital.
Homeopathy became talking point during the assassination of President Lincoln, when his Secretary of State, William Henry Seward, was wounded. Seward’s homeopathic physician, Tullio Suzzara Verdi, conferred with Surgeon General Joseph K Barnes about Seward‘s terrible injuries, the American Medical Association censuring Surgeon General Barnes for associating with a homeopath:
Tullio Suzzara Verdi, his usual homeopathic physician was the first on the scene moments after the attack. Tullio Suzzara Verdi described the scene to homeopath William Todd Helmuth in his letter of 21.4.1865, and he also detailed his treatment of Frederick William Seward and Augustus Seward, and to the soldier detailed to protect the Seward home, and also one other wounded man that night, possibly the male nurse.
Tullio Suzzara Verdi also reported that Surgeon General Barnes and Drs. Norris and Wilson also assisted at the scene without “descent into petty professional pique or ill conceived pride… in reference to associating with a medical gentleman of a different school of therapeutics.”
Surgeon General Barnes was afterwards censured by the American Medical Association for attending to Seward after this assassination attempt, and for working alongside a homeopath.
Lincoln’s inquiring mind and his interest in unconventional ideas even led him to consult mediums on National Policy.
Abraham Lincoln was allegedly a member of the Rosicrucian “Council of Three,” which included Paschal Beverly Randolph.