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Report Of Commissioners Appointed To Superintend Erection Of A Lunatic Hospital At Worcester

From: Reports And Other Documents Relating To The State Lunatic Hospital At Worcester, Mass.
Creator:  Horace Mann, Bezaleel Taft, Jr., and W.B. Calhoun (authors)
Date: January 4, 1832
Publisher: Dutton and Wentworth, Boston
Source: Available at selected libraries

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This novel mode of treating insanity has but lately superseded a system in which fetters, whips, confinement, starvation and suffocation in water almost to drowning, were the standard remedies, by which minds, whose disease was an irregularity of action accelerated to delirium, were to be soothed and pacified and restored to harmonious movement. Under that system, thousands of intellects have been precipitated from a condition of temporary danger to one of irretrievable ruin. But when the fierceness of the malady has been assuaged by the union of medical science with all the nameless attentions which benevolence alone can practise or conceive, the recuperative energies of the mind have soon prevailed, and an immortal nature has been restored to the capacity of virtue and the enjoyment of happiness.


To this unfortunate class of beings, humanity is in long arrears. One of the strongest, if not one of the first principles of social obligation arises from necessity of relief and ability to relieve. And when does a man so urgently require the light of others to direct his steps as when he wanders in darkness? When does he stand in such extremity of need of the knowledge and guidance of his fellow-men as when his own mind is a wild chaos, agitated by passions which he cannot quell, and haunted by forms of terror, which the living energy of his nature is perpetually calling into being but cannot disperse? When does he so strenuously demand their succor, as when his own soul is like a living wound, and he has lost all power of distinguishing between the sources of healing and of torture? If the insane have done nothing to forfeit the claim which men who suffer have, by the law of nature, upon men who are able to prevent that suffering; they should be treated, not with a sole regard to the security of others, but with special reference also to their own misfortunes, and in a manner adapted to shorten their duration, or where that is impossible, at least to mitigate their severity. However imperiously the public good may demand the coercion of the insane, it can never be just to cast them into a hopeless dungeon, thereby making the cause of their confinement remediless, and then the confinement itself terminable only by the death of the sufferer. In its practical operation, such a system is a direct consignment of human beings to the long-protracted and mysterious horrors of madness.


In view of these facts and considerations the Committee cannot hesitate to recommend, that, as soon as the Hospital at Worcester shall be prepared for the reception of the insane, and that fact shall be made public by proclamation from the Governor of the Commonwealth, all orders, decrees and sentences for the confinement of any lunatic, made by any court or any judicial officers of this Commonwealth, by virtue of the statutes of 1797, chap. 62, and 1816, chap. 28, shall be so far modified, that said lunatics shall be committed to the custody of the Superintendent of the Hospital at Worcester, instead of being committed to any jail or house of correction, as heretofore required; and, further, that all lunatics, who, at the time when such proclamation is made, shall be confined in any jail or house of correction, under any Order, sentence or decree of any court, or any judicial officers, by virtue of the statutes above mentioned, shall, as soon as convenient and practicable, be removed to said Hospital, under the direction of the mayor and aldermen of the city of Boston, or of the county commissioners of the several counties in this Commonwealth, and at the expense of the counties respectively. And as all information respecting the disease of any lunatic to be removed to the Hospital as above suggested, the cause of such disease, the period of its duration, the character, whether of ferocity, of melancholy, or of any other type, which it may have assumed, will be not only necessary as a guide in the classification and treatment of each lunatic, but may also be a valuable item in forming statistical tables of insanity, such information ought, as far as practicable, to be communicated by the county authorities respectively, at the time when the lunatics are removed from their several places of confinement. And, as the prolonged confinement of any lunatic committed to the Hospital by judicial authority, after the cause of such commitment shall have ceased to exist, will be a hardship upon the individual, and occasion useless expense, it is recommended to confer the power of enlargement in all such cases upon the Board of Visitors, at any meeting when a majority of said board shall be present; and also upon either of the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court, and of the Court of Common Pleas, to be exercised by said Justices upon the written application of any person, at any term of either of said Courts, when holden within and for the county of Worcester.


These provisions would embrace all those lunatics whom the Commonwealth, by virtue of its sovereignty, and for the security of its citizens, sentences to imprisonment.

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