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Astounding Disclosures! Three Years In A Mad House
In 1851, a former patient at the Maine Insane Hospital published a scathing attack on his treatment by the institutionís attendants and doctors. Isaac Hunt describes all sorts of abuses and mistreatment. His account makes people wonder whether or not the asylum offered conditions better than those uncovered in local almshouses and jails by the investigative reports of Dorothea Dix. Out of Huntís complaints came an investigation by the Maine Legislature into conditions at the asylum. The testimony of three witnesses is included here. As Hunt was writing his exposť, a fire, partially described here, destroyed the institution in Augusta, Maine, with the deaths of 27 patients, many confined and unable to escape, as well as one attendant. This is an autobiographical voice apparently impaired by his disability, but it is valuable evidence on what life could be like in one the institutions favored by Dix.
A day or two after I left the Hospital I went to the State House, in order to see if I could obtain an interview with the Hon. Governor and Council. I was not acquainted with Court etiquette, and in order to obtain my object I wrote a note, and put it in the hand of the Secretary of State, asking him if he would do me the favor to introduce me to the Hon. Governor and Council, giving as a reason for wishing the interview my having been confined in the Insane Hospital. After he had read the note he put it in his pocket, and told me, with all the sang froid of an honest man, that the Governor had not come in yet, and if I wanted to see him had better call at his room. I replied that the Governor had come in as I saw him enter a few minutes before; whereupon be turned and asked one of his clerks if the Governor had come in yet and he replied, 'no he has not come;' therefore if they told the truth I was either a crazy man, and did not know the Governor, or I was a liar. Mr. Joseph H. Smith, was with me, and he knows who told the truth.
As I had not succeeded in obtaining an interview through the Secretary of State, a few days afterwards I addressed a note to Gov. Dana, appealing directly to him to know whether the Hon. Governor and Council would give me an interview of a few minutes, giving him the same reasons as above for asking it, to which I never received any reply. Here is a short extract from Gov. Dana's message, which he had delivered a few days before, and which led me to think that my request would be granted.
"A few years of such experience must convince even the most skeptical, that that government is best adapted to our wants, whose chief aim and tendency are, to protect with perfect equality each citizen in his person, his property, and his individual rights, leaving him free to select and pursue his own avocation, without legislative inducement -- giving to every man and every interest universal protection, but exclusive privileges to none; and 'showering its favors, as Heaven does its rains, alike on the high and low, the rich and the poor.'"
No man would hesitate for a moment, after reading the above, to say that the Democratic Governor of the Democratic State of Maine, and the great-grandson of Gen. Putnam, could refuse an audience to a poor and friendless man, whether he were sane or insane, if he had not been told by Dr. Bates, or others of my friends, that I was a crazy man and did not know what I was about. Here is another extract from the same message, which I give so that all who read this may see, how it agrees with what I state as facts in regard to the Hospital.
"One of the striking characteristics of the present age, is an active, comprehensive benevolence -- a deep feeling of man's common brotherhood, exhibiting, itself in untiring, systematic efforts for the relief of the unfortunate and afflicted. Our hospital for the insane is an offspring of this spirit, and should be favorably regarded by the State. I would cordially recommend any regulation or appropriation which may be deemed necessary, for its economical, yet efficient administration."
What a benevolent brotherhood! For the unfortunate and afflicted how kind is the State to build a human slaughter house, for physicians to torture and murder human beings in! What benevolent hospitality! How does it correspond with the precepts of him who eighteen centuries ago went about doing good, healing the sick of all their diseases, causing the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the dumb to speak, and the blind to see, and preaching to the poor without money and without price, the Gospel of good news and glad tidings, and even casting out devils from those possessed of them, or, in other words, restoring maniacs to reason and sending them away, clothed and in their right mind.
I had resolved in my own mind that I would appeal to every branch of the Civil Government of the State for redress; and, accordingly, in April, 1848, I sent a note to the then acting County Attorney and the Grand Jury, requesting the privilege which I had thought every man who had been criminally abused had a right to do, of appearing before them to prefer charges of a criminal nature against some of the former officers of the Insane Hospital, for malpractice, barbarous cruelty, and false imprisonment; stating that I should be able to prove, by incontrovertible testimony to substantiate my own, one of the most barbarous acts of cruelty ever perpetrated upon a human being in this or any other country. I requested them to send the court messenger to inform me at what time to present myself, as I did not wish to be staying about the Court House. As I did not receive any notice to appear I suppose that some of my Hospital friends told them that I was crazy, and did not know whether I was abused or not. Having failed of obtaining a hearing at the Executive and Judicial branches of the Government, on the 22d of May, 1848, I sent the following petition and Certificates to the Legislature by Senator Flint.