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The doctrines which relate to epidemic disease, as embracing the interests of every class of the community, from the highest to the lowest, are of extraordinary importance to mankind. They deeply affect life, health, liberty, morals, science, individual intercourse, and the intercourse of nations, commerce, navigation, manufactures, food, revenue. There is not a village or a hamlet, a ship or a regiment, an expedition or an armament, a city or a fortress, a fleet or an army, a siege or a battle, a war or a campaign, whose fate may not depend upon the state of knowledge respecting these maladies. It may even decide the issue of negociations, and the destinies of empires. To this source has been owing, at various periods, the destruction or failure of powerful fleets and armies, eventually determining, not only the fortune of war, but the conditions of peace, and finally the subjugation or independence of nations. Of each of these results, instances are to be found in history, some of which I may hereafter display, as opportunity shall serve.

In Christendom, the unfavourable influence of these maladies upon the welfare of nations has been incalculably augmented by the operation of the erroneous belief, which has for some centuries prevailed, respecting their cause, and of the stupendous code of legislative, municipal, and international regulations, founded upon it, which, on the Continent of Europe, have obtained the name of ‘Sanitary,’ and in England that of ‘Quarantine Laws.’

Governments are not only warranted, but required to abolish the Laws of Quarantine, upon two grounds, either of which is separately sufficient, and both irresistible. 1. Pestilential contagion being proved to have no existence, laws to Prevent its spreading can have no object. 2. In pestilences, whatever be their cause, the Quarantine Laws are, in point of fact, invariably found to increase sickness and mortality.

The first of these propositions I have repeatedly demonstrated, by every variety of proof, positive, negative, analogical, circumstantial and ad absurdum. But, as the question of the existence of such an agent as pestilential contagion has been mystified with almost unprecedented pertinacity, and as the establishment of the other proposition alone affords more than sufficient ground for requiring the abolition of the Quarantine Laws, to the proof of that I shall here entirely limit myself. It is deduced from the history, and bills of mortality (here inserted), of the plagues of London in 1592, 1603, 1625, and 1665, together with the recorded phenomena of some other considerable pestilences. By a fair comparison of the results, in pestilences, in which the Quarantine restrictions were, and in others in which they were not applied, we arrive at the inevitable conclusion that these restrictions invariably increase sickness and mortality.

In the four epidemics mentioned, the first considerable increase of mortality took place early in July, and the first sensible decrease in August or September.

In 1592, the number of deaths, in the first week in July, was 1440; in 1603, 445; in 1625, 1222; and in 1665, 1006; being, in 1592, greater than in the same period of 1603, by 995; of 1625 by 218; and of 1655, by 434.

In 1592, the greatest weekly mortality was 1550, on the 11th of August; in 1603, 3385, on the 1st of September; in 1625, 5205, on the 18th of August; and in 1665, 8297, on the 19th of September. In the three latter epidemics, the Quarantine Laws were, at those periods, in application.

In 1592, the deaths from plague were to the deaths from all other diseases, as 11,503 to 14,383; in 1603, as 30,561 to 6,633; in 1625, as 35,403 to 16,355; and in 1665, as 68,596 to 28,710.

Thus, in 1592, the deaths from plague were not quite so numerous as the deaths from all other diseases; whilst, in 1603, they were nearly five times as numerous; in 1625, more, than twice as numerous; and in 1665, nearly three times as numerous.

That of 1592 was, at its commencement, a much more fatal plague than any of the others mentioned, but was, in its ultimate issue, much less destructive, both positively, and relatively to the mortality from all other diseases. The Quarantine Laws, not having then been introduced into England, were not applied.

The pestilences of 1608, 1625, and 1665, were, at their commencement, much less severe, as we have seen, than that of 1592, but at their termination, more destructive, in the ratio of three, three and a half, and six and a half, to one, and in the proportions, relatively to the mortality from all other diseases, of five, two, and three, to one. The Quarantine Laws, first. introduced in 1603, were enforced in all these pestilences, as rigorously as they ever are, or can be applied.

The excess of mortality, in those pestilences, in which the Quarantine Laws were applied, over that in which they were not applied, was, in 1603, 11,408; in 1625, 25,872; in 1665, 71,420; forming a total of 108,700 deaths, attributable, my conclusions being correct, principally to the operation of the Quarantine Laws, in these three pestilences.

The cause assigned for this excess being presumed to be the true one, if these laws had been applied in the epidemic of 1592, the mortality, according to the rate of 1603, calculating upon that of the first week in July, would be 129,520; according to the rate of 1625, 60,480; according to. the rate of 1665, 138,240; and according to the average of these three rates, 109,413; whereas the actual mortality of the epidemic of 1592, in the absence of the Quarantine Laws, was only 25,886, being less than one-fourth of that average. From these data it is reasonable to conclude, that, in pestilences, sickness and mortality are increased, by the opera­tion of the Quarantine Laws, at least four-fold.

The epidemic of 1592, although destructive in its commence­ment, was more equable in its progress, earlier in its abatement, and ultimately much less fatal than any of the other three pesti­lences. The comparative mortality in the first week of July has been already stated. From that period to its incipient decline, on the 11th of August, the mortality was steady at about 1500 weekly, a few under or over. It dates its first abatement from the 11th of August, that of 1603 from the 1st of September, that of 1625 from the 18th of August, and that of 1665 from the 19th of September.

In 1592, the week of the most considerable abatement was that from the 8th to the 15th of September, when the deaths diminished by 600, or one half. The Quarantine Laws were not in operation at any period of this pestilence.

In 1603, the week of the most considerable abatemep.t was that from the 15th to the 22nd of September, when the deaths diminished by 673. But this pestilence continued in force till the week ending the 20th of October, when the mortality diminished by 546. The Quarantine Laws were applied for the first time in England, and continued throughout the malady.

In 1625, the most considerable abatement of mortality happened in the week ending the 1st of September, the diminution being 944, and the following week 740. In the beginning of September, the houses were allowed to be opened.

In 1665, the greatest abatement happened on the 26th of September and the 24th of October; viz. 1,837 at the first, and 1,413 at the second period. These events happened after the Quarantine regulations were abandoned in despair, and free communication took place among the people.

The injurious operation of the Quarantine Laws was particularly striking in the plague of 1665. There were three remarkable periods of that disease. The first from November, 1664, to June, 1665; during which time, there being· no Quarantine restrictions employed, the malady made but a slow and inconsiderable progress. The second from the beginning· of July to the 19th of Sep­tember, during which period, the Sanitary Laws being enforced with as much vigour as they ever admit of: the disease continued to spread with a rapid, decided, and appalling progress. The weekly mortality increased by thousands: on the 25th of July, for instance, the increase of deaths over those of the preceding week was 1,024; on the 8th of August, 1,030; on the 15th, 1,289; and on the 29th, 1,908. From the commencement of the operation of the Sanitary Laws, in the beginning of July, to their discontinuance about the 19th of September, the weekly mortality increased from 1,006 to 8,297, making  a difference of 7,291. During the eleven weeks that these restrictions were in operation; there perished of all diseases, 55,446; giving, if we deduct 300 per week as the average of ordinary mortality, 52,146 deaths from plague; of which, without exaggeration, 40,000 may be attributed to the joint influence of the terror inspired by the belief in contagion, and of the operation of the Quarantine Laws.

The third period includes from the 19th of September to the termination of the epidemic. At the former date, when sickness and mortality were at the highest, the shutting up of houses, and other Sanitary regulations, were abandoned as fruitless, nothing being looked for but universal desolation. From that moment, the mortality diminished with a rapidity proportioned to that with which it had previously increased during their operation. The weekly decrease, on the 26th of September, was 1,837; on the 17th of October, 1,743; and on the 24th, 1,413. From the discontinuance of the Sanitary regulations, about the 19th of September, to the 14th of November, being eight weeks, the weekly mortality diminished from 8,297 to 905, making a difference 0f 7)392. Thus, in eleven weeks, during which the Quarantine Laws were enforced, there was an increased weekly mortality of 7,291; and, in eight weeks, during which they were discontinued, a decreased weekly mortality of 7,392. This appears to me to afford a double demonstration of their injurious effects.

Such phenomena are by no means peculiar to the plagues of London, but will be found to be common to all the considerable epidemics, in which the Sanitary Laws have been employed, and of which authentic histories have been preserved, as those of Marseilles in 1720, of Moscow in 1771, and of Messina, Naples, Noya, Cadiz, Barcelona, Tortosa, Palma, Malta, and Gibraltar, at various periods. Of these it is sufficient for my present purpose to advert to a few of the most important, particularly the great plagues of Marseilles and Moscow.

In Marseilles, in 1720, sickness and mortality kept regularly · increasing, from early in July to late in September, the Sanitary Laws being in full operation. previous to the middle of September, there was even question of burning the city. During a month of that period, the average deaths exceeded a thousand a day. It was when the mortality was at the height, when all precautions were abandoned in despair, when the shops were opened for the supply of the public, and when religious processions were resorted to, by which the people were brought together in masses, that the pestilence began immediately to abate, continuing regularly to decrease until its final cessation.

In Moscow, in 1771, the usual Sanitary precautions being established, mortality continued regularly to increase from 200 daily towards the end of July, to 400 by the middle of August, to 600 towards the end of the same month, to 700 at the beginning of September, a few days afterwards to 800, and successively to a thousand. On the evening of the 5th of September, the people rose, broke open the hospitals, put an end to the Quarantine restrictions, and restored the religious ceremonies used for the sick. The Quarantine restrictions were not reimposed; and the ravages of the pestilence abated with as much rapidity, as they had previously increased, under their operation.

Thus, in all the great pestilences mentioned, (and the facts are of general application,) sickness and mortality, during the operation of the Quarantine Laws, rapidly increased, and, upon their abandonment, as rapidly diminished. In that of London, in 1603, in which those restrictions were employed throughout, the sickness continued longer than in those of 1625, and 1665. when they were discontinued at the height of the disease. From these facts we are entitled to conclude, that, in the former case, when the malady declined and ceased, it was in defiance of these restrictions.

In Casal Curmi, in Malta, in 1813, ‘the inhabitants being cordoned round, walled in, and even locked within their respective dwellings,’ the sickness continued with the utmost severity for ‘several months after it had ceased in all other parts of the island, and until the inhabitants had almost all perished.

In Noya, in Italy, a pestilence was prolonged in 1815, for upwards of twelve months, under the strictest operation of the Quarantine Laws.

Seeing that the effects of the operation of the Quarantine Laws, in the months of July, August, and September, have been in­. variably to increase the ravages of pestilence, to believe that, in other months of the year, they would produce contrary effects, by preventing the commencement, arresting the progress, or mitigating the severity of these calamities, would be absurd and irrati9nal in no ordinary degree. Accordingly, the facts are found to be notoriously otherwise. ·

In Gibraltar, for instance, in 1813, although the place had been, for several months previously, in strict Quarantine, and a board of health was almost daily sitting, on account of the plague of Malta, the fever commenced at the usual epidemic season, and observed the usual ·course.

At Barceloneta, in 1821, in seven days from the period of imposing the Sanitary restrictions, the daily mortality increased precisely eighteen-fold.

At Barcelona, in the same year, the sickness and mortality kept regularly and rapidly increasing, under the operation of the Quarantine Laws, until they attained their highest degree. At length, the people, disbelieving, from the evidence of their proper senses, the alleged utility of these restrictions, began to manifest unequivocal symptoms of insubordination; upon which, the matter threatening to become serious, the precautions were abandoned, and the disease abated, and ceased at the usual time, and in the usual manner. .

In Tortosa, in Spain, in 1821, upon the rumour of the breaking <,mt of the yellow fever in Barcelona, the Sanitary Laws being imposed with-unusual rigour, several weeks before any case of pestilence occurred in that city, the disease raged with almost unpre­cedented severity, even to the depopulation of the place.

It appears generally, from the evidence of history, that those pestilences, in which the Sanitary Laws have been applied, have been much more destructive than those which had afflicted the same cities, previous to their use.

It is also in evidence, that, during pestilences, the multitude, in­stead of manifesting prejudices in favour of Sanitary Laws, have fre­quently shown themselves exceedingly hostile to these restrictions.

All these observations apply to yellow fever, and other epidemics, as well as to the plague of the Levant.

The following tables of mortality, on which I have grounded some part of my reasoning, are taken from Bradley’s work on the Plague of Marseilles: London, 1721.




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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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