A new theory posits that a disagreement over inoculations fractured the marriage of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin.
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? Turns out the question predates America itself. Just look to Benjamin Franklin and the sad fate of his young son.
Franklin's relationship with his wife, Deborah Read, was strained, to say the least. The two established a common-law marriage in September 1730, taking in Franklin's illegitimate son, William, and then having a son and daughter of their own. Despite being married for 44 years, they spent all but two of their final 17 years apart as Franklin traveled abroad.
Franklin was an early proponent of inoculations, precursors of today's vaccinations. His Pennsylvania Gazette reported extensively on a 1730 Boston smallpox outbreak, focusing on the success of the smallpox inoculation, then a new and controversial practice.
During a September 1736 outbreak he lampooned English clergyman Edmund Massey for declaring inoculation to be the devil's work. But he then fell silent on the issue until Dec. 30, when he announced Francis' death. Franklin said the boy had been too sickly as a young child to risk an inoculation. Coss says evidence suggests that instead his parents disagreed over the risks of inoculation; eventually his wife won out, but his son perished as a result.
Coss cites Franklin's writing two decades after his son's death regarding the impediments to the procedure's public acceptance, saying, if "one parent or near relation is against it, the other does not choose to inoculate a child without free consent of all parties, lest, in case of a disastrous event, perpetual blame should follow."
For a large portion of the remainder of his marriage, he stayed abroad, delaying his return time and time again, in Coss' theory mired in that "perpetual blame" he laid upon Deborah.