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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.
Now I wish to say a few words. Use a small, sharp pointed instrument, which will let all this vapor out of the sails of Gov. Hubbard, his beautiful and poetical theories, and reveal him in his true colors. With Gov. Hubbard's private character I have nothing to do or say. I shall only revert to him as an official, a servant of the sovereign people. Up to 1847 the hospital laws were insufficient to hold or detain any patient against their friends wishes; a discrepancy that caused Dr. John Hubbard, then a trustee, and Dr. Bates, some uneasiness, as they found I was at large against their wishes; and they must have laws by which, for the future, they might detain me or any other person for life, if they once got them into their clutches. Well, they set themselves to work to invent a code of laws, which were drawn up by Dr. Hubbard, and they were so barbarous and oppressive that they would have been a disgrace to a statute book of Algerine pirates. The Legislature of 1849, finding that no person could be taken away without the consent of the officer, rescinded them so far that they could not detain them after six months, without the consent of their friends or the public authorities.
This code of laws made it the imperative duty of all to send their insane friends to the Insane Hospital, whether they wished to or not. They must be sent there however will they might be provided for at home, and there they must remain during the pleasure of the officers; all that was necessary to obtain the incarceration of any person, was to get some person to enter a complaint of insanity before two Justices of the Peace and Quorum. and one or two witnesses to testify that they were insane, and then adieu to their liberty -- no matter how harmless or innocent, or inoffensive they might be. Any man or woman might be taken from their business or home, and incarcerated for life if they had enemies who would take such measures to arrest and detain them! From the decision of those officers there was no appeal.
If the people of the State wish to have such a man as Dr. John Hubbard for their Governor and Commander-in-Chief, a man who will forego such manuals, or laws as those, when they know that he has done it; why, then of course they will re-elect him to that post of power, and bow down and worship as great a tyrant as has ever disgraced the name of a man or a Christian. Yes, any person who would vote for any man, for any office, would vote to establish the Spanish Inquisition in our midst, when they know that he has drawn up such a code of laws.
Revised Statutes. -- CHAP. 1, Sec. 8. The words "insane person" shall be construed to include every idiot, non compos, lunatic or distracted person.
Constitution of Maine; Declaration of Rights. -- ARTICLE 1, SEC. 1. All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, among which are those enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and of pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.
SEC. 19. Every person, for an injury done him in his person, reputation, property or immunities, shall have remedy by due course of law; and right and justice shall be administered freely and without denial, promptly and without delay.
I should like to ask the citizens, after they have read the above, by what authority they incarcerated one single human being within the walls of that Insane Hospital. It is a plain violation of the constitution which we live under, for there has never been, to my knowledge, one single human being sent there, who has had a trial by jury of his peers -- except such as have first been sent to the State Penitentiary for crime, and I say that no person has any moral or legal right to send their friends there under any circumstances whatever. If they commit crime, or are dangerous to be at large, send them to prison. The hospital is not called a prison, it is a medical institution, and what right has any person or any court to place me or any one else under the medical treatment of a man who may be my deadly enemy? and who may experiment upon me, and shut me out from my friends and the world for my life, and murder me with perfect impunity if he choose to do so. Yes, citizens, look to your hospitals and your laws, and say if you will be despoiled of liberties, and your lives, without ever having committed any crime, by such inhuman monsters as have the subject for your consideration, asking you if you can have any faith or confidence in the democracy of such men as will concoct, and draw up such laws as well imprison you for life, at the absolute will of one man. Yes, the Maine Insane Hospital is an absolute Monarchy, with a tyrant at its head, as I stated to the investigating committee.
So well satisfied was the Hon. Shepard Cary of the abuses of the institution, for he was in several times listening to the testimony, that upon the last night of the session, when there came in an order for an appropriation to purchase a few acres of land for the institution, that he spoke in very strong terms of condemnation of the whole management of affairs at the hospital, and I am told that he even went so far as to say, that the officers lived in a style superior to the President of the United States, and, doubtless owing to his remarks, the order was defeated, and I am fully persuaded that all who know Mr. Cary will admit that when he will openly oppose a democratic office holder he thinks there is something rotten at the heart.