“October 22,1833″.

Seize upon truth wherever found,

On Christian or on Heathen ground;

Among your friends, among your foes,

” The plant is divine where e’er it grows.”

Thomsonian Recorder, Vol. 2. COLUMBUS, OHIO….DECEMBER 7, 1833.  (Accompanying the minutes for an annual meeting)

Historical Overview

Historians present the history of Thomsonianism pretty much as a single form of alternative medicine, offered as a substitute for regular medicine.   Some of the more lengthy reviews of the Thomsonian sect’s history make correct reference to the Pre-thomson sects, the Thomsonian sects and the “Neo-Thomsonian” sects.   Often, Thomsonianism is very closely linked to another non-allopathic set to form during the first quarter of the 19th century as well–“Reformed Medicine”, later referred to as Eclectic Medicine of Eclecticism.   But a review of the philosophical theory and accompanying clinical practices for Eclecticism reveal that Eclecticism and Thomsonianism and its counterparts are two distinctly differents sectsof medicine with two different underlying philosophical premises. 

Similarly, another sect to form as an offshoot of Thomsonianism, at least during its earilest years, was Botanical Medicine or Botanic0-medicine.  Again, the major differences between Thomsonianism and the practice of Botanical medicine were significant enough to consider these practis two distinctly different forms of healing based on their philosophical principles.   In the least, the founder of Thomsonianism, Samuel Thomson, put himself in this  geography-related political  turmoil due to his own teachings, some of which were offshoots of premises already becoming more accepted by regular physicians. 

One of the basic princples of herbal medicine in the newly formed United States pertained to one of the popular theories for disease that claimed a combination of climate and living environment had something to do with the disease developing in an individual in the first place, leading to the suggestion that the rteatment, cure or means for preventing this malady from developing also lies in the local setting.  Since Thomson’s remedies were very much developed due to his eprsonal experiecen locally in the Vermont-New Hamphire region, physicians much further west of Thomson’s native soil were fairly uncertain about whether or not Thomson’s recipes could be used as they were produced in another part of the country.  There were some ways in which certain parts of Thomson’s recipes and formulas could be substituted for in a given region.  In the case of Lobelia, his primary herbal remedy due to its emetic properties, there were other species of Lobelia natural to other parts of the United States.  The two New England Lobelia species, Lobelia inflata and Lobelia cardinalis, were well adapted for use in the Mid-atlantic and New England area, whereas other Lobelia species would have to suffice elsewhere in the United States.   

Much the same could be said for several other Thomsonian herbs, due to their fairly ubiquitous nature either in terms of genus or species.  One major problem with Thomsonians’ impressions that local herbs were better was the heavy reliance uopn caynne to heat the body and help to induce a sweat.  This capsicum plants was native to the French districts down by Mexico and Louisiana.  In no way could herbalists claim this plant worked due to its adaptation and placement within the loca climate.  Another theory ahd to surface to counter the premise that location was important.  To some, this new theory simply had to state that the diseases themselves erupting from the Louisiana area, like the different forms of fever  common to such a region, were best treated with this southern herb due to its adaptation and development into a plant that was meant to treat such a problem.  

In due time, this emphasis on place and disease would again be only a short lives, partially followed line of reasoning with regard to selecting your herbal remedies.  Other methods of defining the medicine would evolve in the upcoming years.  Durign the earliest years of Thomsonianism, practitioners pretty much adhered to Thomson’s original claims, philosophy and formulas.  But as the Thomsonian sect began to grow in size and its followers establish their own place in history for being a Thomsonian physician, the philosophies and reasoning defining this profession would develop into another Thomsonian form know more by the local physician modfying Thomson’s practice.  Even later in Thomsonianism history, by now only about 15 to 20 years into this profession’s lifespan, a totally new practice would develop.  Some of Thomson’s formulas and philosophy would remain intact, but many additions would be made to this alternative practice, to such an extent the new practices required their own original names and identifiers.  Evidence for this method of change is found in Alva Curtis’s writings on the history of Thomsonianism and its allied sects.  A totally different interpretation of this tendency for history to change a medical field, is based on the following philosophical economic and government-based changes that all medical sects tend to go through in order to survive.

The Thomsonian Periods

The major years of practice for Thomsonianism can be broken down into several distinct periods based on the politics of this profession:  1812 to 1821, 1822 to 1832/6, 1837 to 1845, 1846 to c1895. 

The first period–the Formative period–is when this field was developed and began to develop its following. 

The second period–the Reformative period–consists of the separation of the practitioners of Thomsonianism into numerous splinter groups, some defined due to locally-defined social favoritism,  and others defined by changes in specific premises used to define this philosophy and its followers. 

The third period–the Political Turmoil Period–is defined mostly by the numerous repercussions that occured within the legal system pertaining to Thomsonianism, causes due to the profession itself and its various practice or clinical skills related mistakes and such, as well as causes related to the politics of Thomsonianism versus regular medicine. 

The fourth period–the Preservation and Rebirth period–consist of the steady decline in popularization of Thomsonianism that took place beginning around 1850, which became nearly successful following the Civil War due to progress that took place in regular medical practices enaged in and improved by the war.  Were it not for the malingering of specific Thomsonain and neothomsonian faiths such as Physiomedicine following the Civil War, Thomsonianism may not have remerged and revitalize Thomsonianism during the late 19th century.  Like the rival to the various Thomsonians sects, Eclecticism was also trying to establish its own “Reformed Eclectic” group.   The practice of Eclectic Medicine would at least succeed in remaining alive well into the twentieth century, Thomsonianism and its counterpart Physiomedicine would not.  Only due to the birth of yet another sect that was far more versatile in its teachings and nature–naturopathy (ca. 1890s)–was thomsonianism able to remain  a potential medical trade to become learned in during the twentieth century.  In the meantime, as the last of the Eclectic MDs would die out during the 1930s and 1940s, they would be replaced by the new alternative healing sect–Doctor of Naturopathy, the Naturopathic Doctor, or ND.

A Community’s Social Structure and Thomsonianism

Most important to understanding the differences in these periods related for the most part to how the underlying philosophy of Thomsonianism was developed, improved upon, and then modified to best fit local professional and social needs.  The advantage Thomsonianism had over regular medicine was that its initial philosophy was fairly plain and simple, one which nearly any minimally-schooled, poorly-educated rural resident could understand and partake in.   For this reason, the most heavily cited unique trait Thomsonianism had as an alternative medicine was the size of its following.  However, a simple theory cannot on its own help to explain how and why Thomsonianism became so popular, for such a long period of time.  Nor could the theories underlying initial Thomsonianism be used to explain why it once again became highly popular after the Civil war, during the late 19th century.  Each one of these unique periods in Thomsonianism history has its own reason for the changes in popularity that took place.  It is even the case that during one or more of these periods, at least two reasons existed for the drastic changes in the numbers of Thomsonian and neo-thomsonian followers that formed.    Yet, even two reasons seems insufficient to explain why the large following was established. 

For this reason, no attempts will be made here to explain all the reasons Thomsonianism became what it was–a high social, cultural and political success for at least half a century.  Since these writings tend to focus on the New York-Hudson valley history of each medical practice, a detailed review of the Hudson valley history of Thomsonianism will reveal some very interested reasons as to why some local communities really favored this alternative healing belief.