Stigmatizing Resistance to Authority:The medicalization of rebellion.
April 20, 2012
In 1861 Samuel A. Cartwright, an American physician, described a mental illness he called “drapetomania.” As Wikipedia points out, the term derived from drapetes, Greek for “runaway [slave],” and mania for madness or frenzy.
Thus Cartwright defined drapetomania as “the disease causing negroes to run away [from captivity].”
“[I]ts diagnostic symptom, the absconding from service, is well known to our planters and overseers,” Cartwright wrote in a much-distributed paper delivered before the Medical Association of Louisiana. Yet this disorder was “unknown to our medical authorities.”
Cartwright thought slave owners caused the illness by making “themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals.” Drapetomania could also be induced “if [the master] abuses the power which God has given him over his fellow-man, by being cruel to him, or punishing him in anger, or by neglecting to protect him from the wanton abuses of his fellow-servants and all others, or by denying him the usual comforts and necessaries of life.”
He had ideas about proper prevention and treatment: