“No Person whatever, belonging to the Army, is to be inoculated for the Small-Pox—those who have already undergone that operation, or who may be seized with Symptoms of that disorder, are immediately to be removed. Any disobedience to this order, will be most severely punished.” —George Washington, General orders, May 20, 1776
It is extraordinary to me that we live in an era with all the information in the known universe at the tips of our fingers, yet truth remains elusive, subjective, and often indiscernible. Many simply do not know who to trust. I have a logical mind and often find peace in the verity of historical archives — reading old letters, sifting through case law, rooting myself in empirical evidence.
When the COVID pandemic hit and everyone was afraid, they too began looking to history for solace and precedent. But as the late Winston Churchill once said, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” I noticed right away that not all searches were in good faith as precedents were found but manipulated to support certain positions. And I’m going to set the record straight.
The history of George Washington’s handling of smallpox was largely unknown until the pandemic, when it was exploited to have you believe mandatory vaccinations for smallpox were a thing. But the truth is smallpox had a 30% mortality rate, far deadlier than COVID-19 at a crude rate of 2.7%, the inoculation procedure was far more primitive (and disgusting) than a modern “vaccination,” and without a Bill of Rights or a 14th amendment to enshrine privacy and guide policy, this decision took nearly a year to come to.
In May of 1776, the battles of the Revolution had already begun but colonial soldiers were rampantly falling ill with smallpox. At one point, the later disgraced general Benedict Arnold had reported 1200 of his 3200 troops were sick. With the aforementioned mortality rate of 30%, this posed a larger problem for a young republic working to free themselves from a tyrant king. With no vaccination against smallpox until 1796, the only proactive treatment was a technique called variolation where (skip ahead if you have a weak stomach) the arm of the person was cut open and live pustule matter was inserted under their skin, usually causing 2-4 weeks of mild sickness, but holding a death rate of 2%.
This is where the corporate press tried to rewrite history. In May of 1776, George Washington declared no soldier was to be variolated. Washington knew mass inoculations could backfire and might cause more disease than it prevented, as the variolated remained contagious for a month and needed to be quarantined. He also feared the mandatory variolation would harm recruitment, but most of all, Washington knew the British spies would learn his troops were recovering en masse from variolation and attack. America was already losing and that tide wouldn’t turn until December of 1776, with the Battle of Trenton and crossing the Delaware.
After his victory at Trenton, Washington knew his enlistments were expiring and there would be a lull as Britain recouped their losses. At this time he sent a letter to Congress informing them of his plan to stagger the variolation of new enlistments. However, those who had natural immunity, like George Washington himself, would be exempt from the process. Congress rallied against him — variolation was illegal, immoral, and sacrilegious. Washington moved forward with the process anyway and after Congress analyzed the risk to benefit, they would go on to legalize it later that year.
I’ve heard it said that “History is nothing but a story and stories can be rewritten.” I know that to be authoritarian garbage. Through archived letters and documents, we can see George Washington use what he knew of science, military, his own history, and human nature to save his country from both a war loss and an epidemic. History can be an instruction manual or it can be a warning. It can help you, it can teach you, it can comfort you, and above all, it can prepare you. You only need to know where to look.