Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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QUARANTINE. Theory of Quarantine. Quarantine is a regulation based upon the law of self-preservation, by which persons and things coming from an infected region or place are subjected to a period of detention. Quarantine is either maritime quarantine, or land quarantine (cordon sanitaire); the former applicable to water craft, and the latter to all vehicles of transportation on shore or to pedestrians. It is now based upon the principle that all contagious diseases have their origin in a specific, particulate germ or poison, which is capable of being conveyed from place to place. Belief in this theory of contagion is nearly universal, yet the doctrine of the prevention of epidemic diseases by means of quarantine is differently viewed by different nations. Thus, England, for example, by reason of her insular situation, and the length of time required to reach her ports from infected regions, has not heretofore found it necessary to exact the long detention required by most other countries, and the medical profession are divided there, as elsewhere, upon the question whether cleanliness and sanitary measures alone will serve to prevent the introduction of contagious diseases, and their spread from place to place; some holding that if the ports were always perfectly clean and in good hygienic condition, there would then be no need of quarantine; that a clean ship sailing to and from a clean port could in no case communicate the contagion; a proposition which is self-apparent. But every-day experience teaches us that the millennial period has not yet arrived, when all cities and common carriers are clean. Therefore, until hygiene shall become understood by people of all nations, quarantines in one form or another are necessary, according to the physical characteristics of the port, and the presence or absence of epidemic disease.


—The period of detention at a quarantine was formerly, as the name implies, forty days; the time has now been reduced at most quarantines, and, during the absence of epidemics, a simple inspection is all that is practiced or required. But the period of detention varies according to the period of incubation of the disease quarantined against, and the time is usually counted from the date of departure from the last port, or the date of termination of the last case of sickness on board.


Practice of quarantine. A quarantine station usually consists of a hospital for the sick (lazaretto), so named from the isolation of St. Lazarus on account of leprosy (mal de Saint Lazare); a boat, usually a steam vessel, to carry the boarding officer and remove the sick, if there be any found on board vessels, coming into port; and quarters for the attendants. On arrival of a vessel at the quarantine, she is boarded by an inspecting officer, her bill of health is examined, the crew and passengers mustered, and the vessel itself inspected in every part to determine whether it be clean or foul. At this day the bill of health is not accepted as prima facie evidence of the sanitary condition of the vessel, but is only corroborative; even if it be stated thereon that the port from which the vessel last sailed was free from infectious disease, the inspector trusts to his own inspection of the vessel, and examination of the persons on board and the cargo, to determine whether or not the vessel should be detained in quarantine. If, however, the vessel is last from an infected port, and the period of incubation of the disease has not elapsed, the vessel is detained in quarantine until the expiration of that time, whether there be sickness on board or not. If there be found contagious sickness, the sick are removed to the hospital, the bedding and other articles in their state rooms or berths removed and destroyed, and the place thoroughly fumigated with the fumes of burning sulphur. In case the vessel is discovered to be foul and in an unsanitary condition, whether there is sickness on board or not, the vessel is detained in quarantine for the purpose of cleansing and fumigation, the cargo removed to a warehouse, or to open lighters, the bilge water pumped out, and all parts of the vessel fumigated, and if necessary, painted.


Land Quarantine (cordon sanitaire). A land quarantine consists in stationing a guard around an infected place to prevent the escape of inhabitants until after suitable detention; and as well to prevent the ingress of unacclimated persons likely to furnish fresh material for the disease. Its success depends entirely upon the vigor and inflexibility with which it is maintained, and failure has always followed laxity of administration. In Russia, in 1879, with other measures, the cordon sanitaire was successfully used to prevent the spread of oriental plague; and in Texas, in the United States, the cordon was successfully maintained against yellow fever in 1882 under the direction of the surgeon general of the marine hospital service; and in the same year by the naval authorities at the Pensacola navy yard, to prevent the introduction of the disease from the then infected city of Pensacola, and while this is being written (September, 1883), an epidemic of yellow fever has been prevailing on the naval reservation for upwards of forty days, which has been prevented from spreading from the yard by reason of a cordon sanitaire maintained around it.


Laws of Quarantine. The first quarantine regulation in modern times originated with viscount Bernabo of Reggio, in Italy, Jan. 17, 1374. In 1448 the first systematic laws of quarantine were enacted by the Venetian senate, Venice being at the time the greatest commercial seaport in the world. The present English quarantine law is based upon the act of 6 Geo. IV., c. 78, under which act orders in council have been adopted from time to time, promulgating regulations necessary to be observed to meet particular exigencies. The passengers act, 1855 (18 and 19 Vict., c. 119), and the public health act (schedule v., part iii.), contain provisions affecting vessels subject to quarantine. In the United States, quarantine enactments were passed by the colonial legislatures, and since that time, until a very recent period, quarantine laws have been enacted by the several states. The United States passed its first act respecting quarantine, Feb. 23, 1799, which was subsequently codified in the Revised Statutes, sections 4792 to 4800, inclusive. This act was supplemental to the state quarantine laws, and required federal officers to aid and assist in the execution of state or municipal quarantine regulations. April 29, 1878, a national quarantine act was passed, authorizing, in certain contingencies, the establishment of national quarantines, and vesting the execution of the law in the surgeon general of the marine hospital service. The portion of the act directing its execution by this officer was repealed by the act of June 2, 1879, which itself expired by limitation June 2, 1883; and although the body of the act of 1878 is still upon the statute books, no one is charged with its execution. The appropriation act of March 3, 1883, authorizing an expenditure of $100,000, to be used in case of threatened or actual epidemic, and for maintaining quarantine at points of danger, conferred upon the president of the United States authority to maintain quarantine. In accordance with the discretionary act named, national maritime quarantines have been maintained on the gulf of Mexico, the south Atlantic coast, and the Chesapeake bay. The expenses of state quarantines have heretofore been maintained by a charge upon the vessel, but a recent decision by the civil district court of Louisiana, F. A. Monroe, judge, holds that such fees are in the nature of a tonnage tax, a tax which the constitution has forbidden states from levying, and that, while the state has power to establish quarantine for the protection of her citizens, she has no constitutional right to collect this fee from vessels engaged in commerce. (Morgan's Louisiana & Texas Railroad & Steamship Co. vs. Board of Health of the State of Louisiana.) If therefore, this decision be sustained by the higher courts, it would appear to be necessary for the government to prevent extortionate fees upon shipping, by taking charge of the maritime or external quarantine for economic reasons; but no such constitutional power has been claimed by any administration, or held by any court, in regard to municipal health regulations.


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