The early botanical medical movement as a reflection of life, liberty, and literacy in Jacksonian America

Academic Article


  • This paper describes a popular, grassroots health crusade initiated by Samuel Thomson (1769-1843) in the early decades of the nineteenth century and the ways the Thomsonians exemplified the inherent contradictions within the larger context of their own sociopolitical environment. Premised upon a unique brand of frontier egalitarianism exemplified in the Tennessee war-hero Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), the age that bore Jackson's name was ostensibly anti-intellectual, venerating "intuitive wisdom" and "common sense" over book learning and formal education. Likewise, the Thomsonian movement eschewed schooling and science for an empirical embrace of nature's apothecary, a populist rhetoric that belied its own complex and extensive infrastructure of polemical literature. Thus, Thomsonians, in fact, relied upon a literate public to explain and disseminate their system of healing. This paper contributes to the historiography of literacy in the United States that goes beyond typical census-data, probate-record, or will-signature analyses to look at how a popular medical cult was both heir to and promoter of a functionally literate populace.
  • Pubmed Id

  • 7779329
  • Author List

  • Flannery MA
  • Start Page

  • 442
  • End Page

  • 454
  • Volume

  • 90
  • Issue

  • 4