Bill to Support Cholera Research

Bill to Support Cholera Research/tiles/non-collection/l/lfp_053imgtile1.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
Bill to Support Cholera Research/tiles/non-collection/l/lfp_053imgtile2.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
Bill to Support Cholera Research/tiles/non-collection/l/lfp_053imgtile3.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration


In 1856, the House referred this bill requesting funds to support research into the causes of cholera, a bacterial infection spread through contaminated water that often ravaged armies and navies, to the Military Affairs Committee. The legislation would have provided $30,000 to support a committee of specialists sponsored by the American Medical Association (AMA) to use advances in scientific study and equipment to “elucidate as clearly as possible every cause bearing upon the patient to produce the disease; and also to make the most critical examination of those who have become its victims.”

During the third cholera pandemic that spanned from roughly 1852 to 1863, the AMA recognized that controlling the disease was a global concern. It submitted a memorial to Congress soliciting federal funds “for a most thorough investigation of the cause of this disease, which has so nearly depopulated whole districts of the world, including many portions of our own country.” A report submitted by Military Affairs Committee Chairman John Anthony Quitman referred to cholera as a “scourge” on the “human family,” remarking that, “Consternation & fear have attended its progress; and grief, desolation, and misery have followed its track.”

On March 3, 1857, the final day of the 34th Congress, Chairman Quitman was thwarted in his attempt to force the bill out of committee and to a vote on the House Floor. As the Congress drew to a close, there was insufficient time for consideration of the bill, dashing the AMA’s hope that “the investigation should, if possible, be made or making before our country is again devastated by cholera in an epidemic form, that if possible a more accurate knowledge of its cause or causes may be obtained, and thereby its havoc prevented.”

It’s likely that Military Affairs was named the committee of jurisdiction for the bill because cholera often spread in the armed forces through troop movement. The AMA’s memorial noted that, “Among others upon whom it will confer a blessing not to be estimated in dollars and cents, are the army and navy of our country . . . for very frequently have the armies of the world suffered more severely by this disease than have men in ordinary walks of life.”

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