I love history when original documents are used to tell the story, letting us see what people were thinking, saying and letting us see how those thoughts played out in their actions. In The Fever of 1721, Coss does just that. Using diaries, news papers, pamphlets, letters, and government documents, Coss weaves a startling narrative about the fever of revolution that began to burn brightly during that year and the fever of small pox which hit Boston with such devastating force came together and fostered the fever of and American revolution.
The key players in our story are Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister, forever tarnished by his involvement with the Salem witch trials some 30 years earlier, Zabdiel Boylston, a doctor who having been convinced of the safety and efficacy of inoculation began using the procedure, first on his own children and slaves, and then on the general public to the consternation of more conservative doctors and government officials and James Franklin, who with his brother Ben Franklin were struggling to establish their printing business by creating a weekly newspaper that documented the struggles of the colony of Boston as they defied their English appointed governor even while suffering the devastating affects of the small pox epidemic.
The small pox epidemic highlighted the dysfunction of royal governance in the colony of Boston. England would send a governor to Boston and the colonists were expected to pay him, (mostly through a tax on tea, thus the Boston Tea Party was not only a revolt against taxes, but a revolt against having to pay the governor’s salary) but the governor whose loyalties were to England would often take positions that were contrary to the interests of the colony. Elisha Cooke, a savvy politician and a heavy drinker, began building a coalition, a voting block that would oppose and vote against the power of the governor, thwarting the governor’s efforts to create a docile and money making operation for England. Cooke’s ability to create a block of voters, giving them more political power, would eventually culminate in the group known as the Sons’ of Liberty who would ultimately spearhead the revolt from English rule.
James Franklin also contributed to the political climate by writing philosophical pieces advocating freedom of thought, the right to disagree with those who hold political office. While Franklin was ultimately on the wrong side of the inoculation debate, his paper published accounts of the small pox epidemic, called out government officials who had tried to hide the fact of the contagion and in other ways used the power of the press to hold officials accountable. His vigor in defending the right of the colonists to decide their own political fate without oppression and his feverish defense of the free press laid the groundwork for the demands that were later incorporated into the Declaration of Independence.
This was a fascinating book, filled with the seeds of ideas that we now recognize as the basis of our Constitution but which at the time were radical and new. Sometimes we forget that 1776 did not just happen overnight, but that many people contributed, engaged, stood up and spoke out, often at great personal cost and we are now the beneficiaries of their articulated longings and courage.
Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)
Recommend this book to: Everyone!
Book Study Worthy? YES!
Read in ebook format.