At their best, our 19th century predecessors found themselves on the side of the suffering. Americans watched anxiously as the pandemic crept toward them, spreading with seeming inevitability from its origin in Asia to Europe and then, crossing the Atlantic, to the United States. When the disease arrived, it brought the country to a halt: Ports closed, storefronts shuttered, and once-bustling downtowns emptied. Churches shut their doors. An eerie quiet fell on American cities. This describes the scene in the early 1830s, as Americans faced the arrival of cholera—a deadly disease endemic to the Ganges Delta that swept across the…