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The official manuscript document from Napoleon establishing smallpox vaccination in 1813

The official manuscript document from Napoleon establishing smallpox vaccination in 1813

A manuscript government document with an engraved heading from the Office of the Governor-General of the Illyrian Provinces under the rule of Emperor Napoleon I. It is entitled "Mesures générales relatives à la propagation de la vaccine" and is inscribed Laybach [Ljubljana], 5 August 1813. The manuscript is signed [illegibly] by an official at the Illyrian Governor-General’s office, has 8 pages plus 2 blank leaves (6 bifolia total), and is tied together with linen tape.

The official government decree establishing a program of smallpox vaccination in the Napoleonic Empire’s Illyrian provinces, encompassing what is now Croatia, Slovenia, Gorizia and parts of Austria. The Napoleonic smallpox vaccination program, which extended throughout the Empire, was the most significant public health measure undertaken by Napoleon’s government. Napoleon Bonaparte vaccinated his troops in 1805 even though France was at war with Britain at the time.

"The Napoleonic authorities created the vaccination system, including the laws, administration and personnel designed to enforce the vaccination policy . . . They proclaimed decrees, dispatched numerous letters inducing and promoting vaccination at the local level, exerted efforts to overcome resistance and educate the public, turned clergy into civil servants in order to convince people to follow the law, gathered statistical information on vaccination performance, and took measures to isolate cases of smallpox and prevent the disease from spreading" (Grab A. Smallpox vaccination in napoleonic Italy (1800-1814). Napoleonica. La Revue, 2017;30(3):38-58).

As noted in the document’s opening paragraph, the Napoleonic government’s intention was to wipe out smallpox entirely—“il importe d’adopter des mesures générales pour prévenir les ravages occassionés par la petite verole et parvenir à l’extinction de cette maladie par la vaccination”.

Contributed by anonymous