The History of New York State
Book 12, Chapter 13, Part 4

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


The aim of the medical societies, therefore, could not be fully carried out; and so the power of the faculty was not quite nullified. In 1825 the regents, therefore, were again appealed to and prevailed upon to appoint a committee of investigation. This committee of lawyers probed the matter, and in January, 1826, reported that they found the professors to be "innocent of any fault." They ascribed the differences "to the existence of professional rivalries,' and recommended that the board of trustees "be so constituted as to no longer wholly consist of medical practitioners." The regents concurred, and constituted a new board of twenty-five members, thirteen of whom were to be of laity. The faculty, resenting these salutory provisions, strenuously strove to have the rulings set aside. Failing in this, they resigned in a body on April 11, 1826, their communication to the Regents stating that "We. . . . . are fully persuaded that we best consult our self-respect by withdrawing altogether from the institution." Only five signatures were appended to this communication, the signers being David Hosack, William J. MacNeven, Samuel L. Mitchell, Valentine Mott, and John W. Francis, but these five educators had, in 1826, constituted the whole of the faculty of the college, which in 1814 had had a faculty of twelve members. One writer #14 traced the "evils under which the college groaned" to the "anomaly of government, investing the trusteeship in the custody of the faculty." As to the resignations of the whole faculty, in 1825, he writes: "The professors. . . . rather than be involved in the disgrace of connection with a school which imposed on students restrictions wholly unknown, and that by a body who exercised powers exclusively belonging to another body, determined to resign their several offices and professorships, and the public papers of April last set for the circumstances."

Other medical men of wide knowledge and no mean ability as instructors were to be had, of course, so the resignation of the faculty did not leave the college entirely in articulo mortis. Indeed, the regents had little difficulty in finding an excellent group of medical instructors; and in July, 1826, they appointed seven #15 to form the new faculty, with Dr. John Watts as president. A far more serious attack upon the institution was the attempt of the old faculty to establish a rival college. In August, 1826, a circular was distributed to announce that the Medical college of New York, which had been organized by "all but two of the former faculty" of the college of Physicians and Surgeons, would begin its first course of lectures in November, under the guidance of Drs. Hosack, Mitchell and Townsend, president, vice-president and registrar respectively, and the following professors: David Hosack, M. D.; William J. MacNeven, M. D.; Valentine Mott, M. D.; John W. Francis, M. D.; and John D. Godman, M. D. It was announced that arrangements were made "for conferring the degree of Doctor of Medicine in the usual manner," also that "the reciprocity of an ad eundem standing" was also established "between this College and the University of Pennsylvania"; therefore, the professors invited "their former pupil's" to attend. Another circular issued soon afterwards made it clear that the diplomas issued would not be by a New York institution, but a New Jersey college. The original name of the school, Medical College of New York, seems to have been by that time dropped, for the circular was headed: "Rutgers Medicinal College, Duane Street, New York." It was announced that after attendance at two full courses of lectures, with the pre-requisite of three years \of studentship under a regular practitioner, the Rutgers Medical College would confer diplomas, and that graduates of the college would be legally entitled to practice physic and surgery in the State of New York, "as in other parts of the Union."

The professors were apparently surer of the legal status of their school than was justified. Opposing interest had indeed vehemently challenged the right of a New Jersey institution of learning to erect a school in New York. Before long the Rutgers Medical College faculty came to see that their legal position was untenable. So, in the next year, 1827-28, their literature is found to be in the name of Rutgers Medical Faculty of Geneva College. Legal opinion had been taken, and two eminent counsellors had "deliberately examined the charter of Geneva College (New York State), and the act relating to the different Colleges in this State," and had had no hesitation in saying that diplomas granted by Geneva College "to those who shall study Medicine" with Rutgers Medical Faculty of that College "were good, effectual, and valid to every purpose for which a Medical degree is legally requisite, and equally so as that of any Medical college in this State." However, the regents of the University of the State of New York, and the officials of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York City thought otherwise. They carried the case to the courts; and in 1830, the court delivered an opinion in their favor. So there was not alternative before the Rutgers faculty. They had to dissolve their organizations and close their New York City school. At this time Drs. Hosack, Mott and Francis reviewed the history of their institutional efforts, pointing out that most of the board of the medical school now being dissolved had, "for more than twenty years, others for longer periods, devoted their time and talents to the improvement of youth in the noble and important science of medicine"; that a "medical institution had been reared by their hands from the humblest beginning into successful rivalship wit the oldest and most prosperous university in the country"; but that, "when by years of vigorous diligence and well directed exertions, their situation excited the cupidity of those to whom unfortunately its government was confided, they relinquished their situations after the highest authorities in the State had not only acquitted them of all censure, but had passed a distinct vote of approbation in their favor." This, of course, refers to the College of Physicians and Surgeons and tot he report of the judges who investigated the complaints against the faculty in 1825-26. The circular then goes onto review the progress of the new rival college, Rutgers, Dr. Hosack stating that "from this institution they have for several years past sent forth numerous well-educated youth, who had repaired hither from different and remote section of the Union. Let is suffice that more then 2,000 pupils have been educated under their care and direction, during their entire collegiate labors." This number, it would seem, would include those graduated from the college of Physicians and Surgeons as well as the number, not insignificant, that had passed through Rutgers Medical College during its brief existence. Inasmuch as the authorities, right or wrong, had "seen proper to deny their protection, in order to sustain a monopoly," they, the faculty of Rutgers, must "now withdraw from the task of official and public instruction."

Thus ended the last attempt at medical teaching in New York City "independent of State educational authority." Still, the attempt had almost taken the life of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Had the latter not had the protection of the regents and of the law, it seems quite likely that the ousted faculty, in their Rutgers reaction would have finally brought irretrievable ruin to the old College of Physicians and Surgeons. When the new faculty had taken possession in 1826, the college had generally presented the appearance of a "city sacked and deserted by a ruthless enemy." The furniture was "very much out of repair," the anatomical museum was "almost empty," and shelves and cases of the department of chemistry were quite empty; and the college had before them outstanding claims, mainly from the former professors, covering almost the whole of the property of the college. More serious still, was the attack made upon the sources of revenue. The college of Physicians and Surgeons opened the term of 1826-27 with an enrollment of only ninety, less than half the normal enrollment. The registers did not appreciably swell again until the Rutgers Medical School had become of such doubtful legal status that its course, however high their standard, seemed powerless to lead students to a recognized diploma.

In the same year, 1830, that the Rutgers Medical School was closed another movement was begun, one which threatened to disturb the monopoly of medical education that the proponents of the College of Physicians and surgeons through they had secured for the latter. Valentine Mott, professor of surgery of the defunct Rutgers faculty, Dr. J. Augustune Smith, professor of anatomy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons; Dr. Joseph Delafield, and other professional men met at the rooms of the Historical Society on January 4, 1839, to consider "the expediency and the means of establishing a university in the city of New York." It was deemed "highly desirable and expedient to establish" such an institution "on a liberal foundation, which shall correspond with the spirit and wants of our country." Action was slow, but in October of that year four physicians were appointed a committee "to invite men of eminence in higher education" to attend a "convention of educational purport" on October 20, 1830. Such a convocation probably had never been proposed within the fifty-six years of national life. John Delafield's "Journal of the Proceedings of the Convention of Literary and Scientific Gentlemen, held in the Common Council Chamber, New York, October, 1830," shows that many eminent academicians and scholars were present, most of the principal universities and colleges sending representatives. At this convention "it was clearly indicated that a school of medicine was am important part of the plans of the University promoters." #16 Dr. George Bancroft, who was probably the first American to gain the degree of Ph. D. in Germany, drew the ideal of an American University, and stated that "in New York the study of medicine and surgery was favored." The projectors experienced little difficulty in carrying through the initial formalities. Officers of the new university were elected in January, 1831, James M. Matthews, D. D., being approved chancellor; and on April 21 of that year the university of the City of New York was incorporated.

No instruction was given during 1831; and when the university began its first term, in the fall of 1832, it was seen that no provision had been made for a department of medicine. There were important reasons for this; indeed, it seems as if destiny had been positively favoring the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Certainly with the death of its president, Dr. John Watts, in the spring of 1831, an opportunity had come to weaken the movement to establish another medical school. Dr. J. Augustune Smith, who, with Dr. Valentine Mott, had been most active in the promotion of New York University, was offered the presidency of the College of Physicians and surgeons, to succeed the deceased Dr. Watts; and Dr. Valentine Mott was also drawn into the college faculty, a special chair--that of operative surgery and surgical and pathological anatomy--being created to secure, or to appease, this brilliant surgeon-teacher. In this way was a most threatening movement nipped in the bud, leaving the College of Physicians and Surgeons still the only medical school in New York City.

It can hardly be imagined that New York medicine, during these decades of professional bickering and rivalry advanced as far as it otherwise might have. Monopoly is not conducive to progress. However, the College of Physicians and Surgeons was not for much longer to enjoy an absolute monopoly in the rapidly-growing city. A definite plan to add a department of medicine to the New York University was prepared in 1837, a faculty was elected in 1838, and in 1841 the plan was brought to consummation, mainly through the efforts of Dr. John W. Draper. The chancellor of the university was made president of the medical college, but the latter was to have no call upon the university for financial support; moreover, too, the University Council reserved "the power of repealing and amending the plan of organization." However, the medical school was at least legally based and could operate without handicaps such as had crippled the earlier attempts to establish another school in the zone which the College of Physicians and Surgeons sought to monopolize. The faculty with which the Medical College of the University of the City of New York began its courses in 1841 gave promise that the instruction would be eminently satisfactory. Valentine Mott headed the list. #17 The curriculum was equal to that of most medical schools of that time, and, as Dr. Draper, speaking for the faculty, stated at the opening session; "A class that rivals in size those of the oldest and largest institutions has sprung into existence, and been carried with success through all its evolutions." One hundred and fifty students attended the first course, and the increase was rapid thereafter, the college having an enrollment of 407 in its fifth year.

Yet, if one might judge from some remarks made in the eighties by Dr. J. B. St. John Roosa, #18 New York did not loom importantly in American medical circles, or even in its own city, in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. He said: "At one time, a little before 1841, the one medical college of New York was so little known, or was so obscurely situated, that an aspiring medical student, now a distinguished professor, could not be directed to it by the gentleman to whose office he went to begin his medical studies. Yet this was the day of Mott, of Kearney Rodgers, of Griscom, the elder, of Alexander H. Stevens, of Hosack and of Francis." Dr. St. John Roosa, who founded the New York post-Graduate Medical School in the eighties, had even then some quite bitter truths to point our as to the condition of medical education in New York.

Of course, the New York City College of Physicians and Surgeons was not the only medical college that New York State could reasonably take pride in. From 1809 to 1840, the Herkimer County institution at Fairfield, the school known as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Western District had been creditably function, its classes during its heyday being attended by 200 or more students a year. Some of its professors had gained nationwide notice. For instance, Dr. Lyman Spaulding, its president and professor of anatomy and surgery, was the originator of the United States Phanmacopoeia; Dr. Theodore Romeyn Beck, professor of the Institutes of Medicine and also lecturer on medical jurisprudence at Fairfield, gave to America one of its most important medical text books, his "Elements of Jurisprudence," which, indeed, made him world-famous; and Dr. Stevens, who became president of the State medical Society and was the first president of the New York Academy of Medicine, also brought distinction to the Fairfield School. The establishment of a medical department of Geneva College in 1834, and of the Albany Medical College in 1838, drew so many students from Fairfield that the latter college succumbed altogether in 1840. In all, during its twenty-eight years of existence (1812-40) it has enrolled 3,123 medical students, of whom 589 were graduated.

The Geneva Medical School was not especially distinctive. Its original faculty shows only one well-known name, Willard Parker, one of the greatest surgeons of his time in New York. Its matriculation requirements cannot have been very strict and rigid, for, although lectures did not being until 1835, eight students were graduated in that year. the largest class graduated was that of 1845; it numbered forty-six. In 1849 the most striking event in the history of Geneva Medical College occurred--the graduation of a woman, Miss Blackwell, the first American woman to enter the lettered ranks of medicine. Dr. Blackwell's graduation certainly advertised Geneva College, but, strange to say, her graduation marked the beginning of the decline in enrollment. Geneva Medical School had a graduate class of less than ten in 1872, when it became the medical department of Syracuse University. Geneva's pioneer effort had been mistimed. American was not yet ready to admit women into the professions on equal terms with men; and notwithstanding that the presence of Miss Blackwell among the students had "exercised a beneficial influence" upon what had formerly been somewhat notorious as "an unmanageable set--riotous, boisterous," the faculty had to bow to the prejudices of the time and refuse to admit Miss Blackwell's sister to the school a few years later.

There is nothing equally sensational in the history of Albany Medical College. It began, under good auspices, in 1838, the result of eight prior years of steady growth of a school of anatomy founded by Dr. Alden marsh and conducted later by Drs. Marsh and Armsby, who were the two founders of the Albany Medical College in 1838 and its incorporators in 1839. The medical school went quietly onward, finding some distinction if not protection under the wing of the University of Albany in the fifties and settling down in the seventies as one of the principal departments of Union University, which connection it still holds.

However, the "up-state" school could scarcely be looked upon as in any way rivaling the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the City of New York, which, until 1841, had to all intents the monopoly of medical education in the metropolis, and to the outside world represented the degree of the progress of New York State in medical science. Its standing in American medicine was not especially high, but it should not be supposed that New York was the "sore spot" of the United States in this connection. There were many other parts of the country wherein the inhabitants had to endure a worse state of medical practice. Political interference with the regulation of medical education and practice was not confined to the Empire State; other States, no doubt, had had laymen who, with legislative pointers and no medical knowledge, had yearned to show medical men how to meet properly their responsibilities; possibly with as unfortunate results as New York suffered. It must be admitted, however, some of the legislative attempts to curb the unlettered practitioners were particularly ineffective, and were distressing to the medical men. In 1844 an act was passed of which Judge Beardsley declared; "Quackery may certainly boast its triumphant victory in a complete establishment by law." The act was aimed to curb unlicensed practice, but the politicians, in grouping "licensed physicians" as well as "unlicensed practitioners" in one class, as to penalties that would follow "gross ignorance, malpractice, or immoral conduct," had inferentially, put the charlatans on the same plane as the regular physicians. For their own good and to protect a long mistreated public, it was high time for the gentlemen of the profession to more comprehensively organize.

However, there was really no reason why New York should hang its head in professional councils. It is true that she was somewhat over-shadowed by Philadelphia in the matter of medical schools, also that Boston seemed to fee herself to be on a higher professional plane; but in some respects New York might well look upon herself as a pioneer in American medicine. It has been asserted, with good reason, that "the three most important movements for the uplift of professional life in American had their origins in" #19 New York State. These three movements were: the establishment of the United States Pharmacopoeia, which movement had its beginning in 1818; the formulation of a Code of Medical Ethics in 1823; and the organization of the American Medical Association. The Code of Ethics formulated by the Medical Society of the State of New York in 1823 became substantially that of the American medical Association in 1847; and, in it essentials, the same code still governs the medical profession throughout the United States. So, the pioneer effort of New York is actually the ethical base of American medicine.

Georgia was the first to propose a meeting of delegates from all States to being about reform and uniformity in medical education; in 1835 the Medical college of Georgia proposed that the delegates be chosen from the faculties of medical colleges; but their proposal was not acted upon, and no convention was held. In 1839 the subject was broached in the annual session of the Medical Society of the State of New York, Dr. John McCall, of Utica, proposing that regularly organized medical societies, as well as medical colleges throughout the country be invited to send delegates to a convention in Philadelphia, in 1840. But neither the State medical societies not the medical school outside New York State showed interest in the proposal, and, of course, no meeting took place. In 1844, however, the subject was again brought up in the annual session of the New York State Society. It was quite generally recognized that some such action should be taken. Medical education throughout the country was getting worse instead of better; colleges had multiplied beyond the demand, the institutions doubling in number between 1830 and 1845. This brought unhealthy competition for students, with the consequent lowering of pre-medical requirements for matriculation. Some of the schools had reduced the college term to thirteen weeks, and its general length was sixteen weeks. So, perhaps, there was some justification for the act of legislators in grouping both licensed and unlicensed practitioners in the penalties that would follow malpractice. So, Dr. Nathan S. Davis, of Broome County, at the annual meeting of the State Society in 1844, introduced a resolution calling for concerted action by all States to enforce a higher stand of medial education, as the requisite of graduation and license to practice. The preamble and resolution reads

WHEREAS, It is believed that a National Convention would be conducive to the elevation of the standard of medical education in the United States; and

WHEREAS, There is no mode of accomplishing so desirable an object without concert of action on the part of the medical colleges, societies and institutions of all the States; therefore,

RESOLVED, That the New York State Medical Society earnestly recommend a national Convention of delegates from medical societies and colleges in the whole Union, to convene in the city of New York, on the first Tuesday in May, in the year 1846, for the purpose of adopting some concerted action on the subject set forth in the foregoing preamble.

Correspondence disclosed that, with the exception of the Medical College in Boston and the two colleges in Philadelphia, organized medicine was favorable to the suggestion of the New York Society. The then recently organized Pennsylvania College of Philadelphia promised to send delegates; and medical societies and colleges of sixteen different States #20 pledged themselves to support the movement by attending. Medical journals throughout the country increased the interest, so that when, on May 5, 1846, nearly 100 delegates assembled in the hall of the Medical Department of New York University, there was indication that authoritative action for the good of American medicine would result. Officers were elected, Dr. Jonathan knight, of Connecticut, being elected president, and the vice-president being Dr. John Bell, of Philadelphia, and Dr. Joseph Delafield, of New York City.

After an abortive attempt had been made to adjourn the convention sine die, "since one-half of the United States was unrepresented," it being pointed our that not even a majority of the medical colleges were represented, resolutions were adopted declaring "it expedient to organize a National Medical Association"; and "desirable that a uniform and elevated standard of requirement for the degree of M. D. should be adopted by all the medical schools of the United States," and also a uniform matriculation requirement, and in addition that the medical profession in the United States should be governed by the same code of medical ethics. Committees were appointed to report on these subjects at another meeting, to be held in Philadelphia in May, 1847.

On May 5, 1847, 250 delegates assembled at Philadelphia. Undoubtedly there was no chance of the meeting being shocked as had been the first convention when a member of the New York university medical college endeavored to stifle the movement by suggesting that it was not representative of American medicine. The delegates to the second convention represented more than forty medical societies and twenty-eight medical colleges in twenty-two States and the District of Columbia. So it was then possible to lay the real foundations of the American Medical Association.

The convention recommended members of the profession through the United States to demand of their students a comprehensive academic basis, including "a good English education, a knowledge of natural philosophy, and the elementary mathematical sciences, including algebra and geometry, and such an acquaintance, at least, with Latin and Greek," as would enable them "to appreciate the technical language of medicine"; and that, after satisfying themselves that their students met these pre-medical standards, the physician was to testify to same by a written certificate, the latter to be demanded of all students that should apply for matriculation in a medical college. As to the medical course, the convention recommended that all colleges extend their course from four to six months, and not to graduate any student, as a Doctor of Medicine, who had not studied under a reputable physician for three years and attended two full courses of lectures.

An indication of the prominent part taken by New York in the founding of the American Medical Association is seen in the membership of the committee appointed in 1846 on a plan for organizing a permanent national association. Of the seven members of this committee one was from New Orleans, Louisiana, one from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and one from New London, Connecticut. The other four were from New York State. The plan they reported was adopted at the convention in 1847.

The reform spirit certainly took firm hold of most of the responsible physicians of New York City at that time. When the convention gathered in New York City in 1846 that city possessed no medical society which was making noticeable effort to add to the common stock of scientific literature of the profession. The proceedings of no medical society were reported. The New York County Medical Society "had a mere organic existence"; no scientific work was done by it, and the society had little influence on the ethical condition of the profession. Very little had indeed been done by organized societies of New York City to promote medical improvement. The first legal body organized for scientific work, principally, was the Physio-Medical Society, which was formed in 1815. It required its members to contribute medical and surgical essays, communicating observations on peculiar maladies, and in other ways to give fellow members the benefit of unusual conditions noted in practice. Unfortunately, the society functioned for only three years. In 1823 the New York Lambda Society of Hippocrates was formed, but its chief purpose was social, though it held strong hold of its members, if one might judge from the remarks of its president in 1848, Dr. A. C. Post, who then said that "there had been but two or three of its members who have disgraced themselves by practicing the base arts of quackery and imposture, and sacrificing their professional honor at the shrine of Mammon." It was, however, not strictly a scientific organization. For over a decade the kappa Lambda Society stood alone for medical improvement in New York. In 1835 the New York Medical and Surgical Society was organized, but it existed for only a year. The society was re-organized in October, 1836, but for many years had only a fitful existence. In June, 1844, the New York Pathological Society was organized. Candidates for membership were required to present, through some member, a specimen of morbid anatomy, accompanied by a written history; but its scope was restricted.

These sum up the efforts made through organized channels to further medical science in New York City up to 1846, when the national convention gathered in the New York University Medical School. As so many States were unrepresented in this convention and the future of a national body seemed uncertain, some of the New York physicians who had been most active in the movement, south, later in the same year, to organize a local body strong enough to at least cope with the situation in New York. "The chaotic state of the profession, the rampant and defiant air of quackery and its contaminating demoralizing influence by association upon professional morals was keenly felt." Some, perhaps, feared that the "regular" practitioner would be swept away in a tidal wave of quackery. So, the New York leaders of the "regular" physicians busied themselves with plans to rescue the "old school" of medicine from the quacks. Following a social meeting of professional men, some of the physicians and surgeons, on December 12, 1846, gathered in the hall of the Lyceum of Natural History at 561 Broadway. Two of the New York Physicians who had been named to the committee formed in the recent national convention to report a plan for organizing a permanent national association--Drs. John Stearns and F. Campbell Stewart acted as chairman and secretary, respectively, of the meeting. Dr. Valentine Mott, in a spirited address, voiced the need of the time and the determination of most reputable physicians when he declared that :any swerving from the path of professional rectitude must be excluded from the organization." A heated discussion followed, and Dr. Mott, being called upon to define the term "regular practitioner," replied that "the least savor or tincture of homeopathy will not be recognized by the old school."

The meeting resolved to form an academy of medicine, and on January 6, 1847, constitution and by-laws of the New York Academy of Medicine were adopted. Dr. John Stearns was elected president; Drs. F. V. Johnson, Thomas Cook, J. B. Bech and John W. Francis became vice-presidents, and F. C. Stewart, W. C. Roberts, and B. Drake were elected as secretaries. Dr. R. Watts, Jr., became treasurer, and Dr. Thomas W. Markoe became first librarian of what today is next to the largest medical library in the country.

It was not long before the subject of what constituted a "regular" practitioner was again before the Academy for discussion. On January 20, 1847, Dr. Manley defined the term "regular" as excluding "homeopaths, hydropaths, chrono-thermalists, botanic physicians, also all mesmeric and clairvoyant pretenders to the healing art, and all others who claim peculiar merit for mixed practices not founded on the best systems of physiology and pathology, as taught in the best school of Europe and America." He offered this definition as a resolution. It was unanimously adopted; and it as resolved to close the Academy to all who could not come within the "regular" class, as defined.

It seems that the main fight was against homeopathy, which had made rapid progress throughout the world since Hahnemann, a German physician, had become convinced, in the last decade of the eighteenth century, that the cure for a disease is the very drug that would in a healthy person set up the symptoms of such disease. In practicing these principles in Leipsic Hahnemann had suffered much opposition, the prejudices of the regular practitioners eventually, in 1821, forcing him to leave Leipsic. Through his written works, the last of which was his "Organon," published in its last edition in 1833, his theories spread throughout the world and convinced many medical students that the homeopathic system of medicine was meritorious. It was in New York City that Gram first introduced homeopathy to America; but although New York holds the distinction of having established the first homeopathic dispensary in America, the city was found to be the most uninviting place in which to establish the fist homeopathic college. One was organized at Philadelphia and another at Allentown, in Pennsylvania; and both of these schools were well established, with increasing enrollments, before the first attempt to found a similar school in New York City was made. However, from the Pennsylvania schools homeopathic physicians spread over all the Northern and Eastern States. Conversions from the "regular" fraternity had also swelled the ranks of the homeopaths, serious inroads being made in New York City; and by the time the allopaths of the city decided upon organized opposition through this Academy of Medicine, the homeopaths of the metropolis were numbered in the hundreds.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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