The Case of North America
Despite the vast literature on smallpox, historians have yet to recognize that smallpox epidemics triggered more blame, hatred, and social violence by far than any other epidemics in US history. Like cholera, smallpox spawned class conflict, but with smallpox the assailants and victims switched sides: merchants, propertied farmers, even physicians blamed and violently assaulted the underclasses, and especially the diseased victims. This chapter concentrates on the neglect and cruelty inflected on smallpox victims by individuals or small groups. Surprisingly, the bulk of newspaper accounts of these acts do not reach back into the eighteenth or mid-nineteenth century when smallpox claimed more lives, but instead begin with the epidemic of 1881–2 and increase into the twentieth century, well after smallpox had become an accustomed disease with widely diffused preventive measures.
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