Friday, November 12, 2010

Fever 1793

This is an okay book written by Laurie Halse Anderson and based on true events. In August 1793, fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook is ambitious, adventurous, and sick to death of listening to her mother. Mattie has plans of her own. She wants to turn the Cook Coffeehouse into the finest business in Philadelphia, the capital of the new United States. But the waterfront is abuzz with reports of disease. Fever spreads from the docks and creeps toward Mattie’s home, threatening everything she holds dear. As the cemeteries fill with fever victims, fear turns to panic, and thousands flee the city. Then tragedy strikes the coffeehouse, and Mattie is trapped in a living nightmare. Suddenly her struggle to build a better life must give way to something even more important – the fight to stay alive.

I had never heard of this epidemic before, but it is interesting because it happened so soon after the Constitution was ratified and the country was just starting out. It must have been frightening to a lot of people. The on-going Haitian Revolution forced many French refugees to flee, and many of them landed in Philadelphia, carrying the contagious disease. The condition caused a person's eyes and skin to turn yellow. Only ten out of eighteen senators and thirty-six out of seventy-two representatives showed up at the state legislature to deal with the crisis. Eventually, these numbers dropped even lower.

Farmers refused to bring food into the city for fear of contracting the disease, causing food prices to increase two or three times their original amount. Dolley Payne Todd's husband and newborn baby died of the fever, and she later married James Madison. Because many thought it was unconstitutional to meet outside of Philadelphia, the federal Congress didn't meet in the time of the plague. To avoid any future problems, Congress granted the President the power to move a meeting in a time of grave danger and threat.

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