“The great stumbling-block of the American superintendents is their most unfortunate and unhappy resistance to the abolition of mechanical restraint,” said British asylum superintendent John Charles Bucknill in 1876.
In the mid-19th century, after a long history of poor conditions, England started reforming its insane asylums. Cases like that of James Norris, a former seaman who spent ten years shackled to his bed with an iron harness, lead the reformers to push for the near-total abolition of restraint use. The British believed that in a well-run asylum with properly trained physicians on staff, they would rarely be necessary.
Since the first state-run mental hospital in the United States wasn’t established until 1822, Americans didn’t have the same negative history during the British reformation. Rather than seeing restraints as evidence of mistreatment, American physicians believed that restraints were a valuable tool to keep patients safe. They also believed that patients of a democratic nation were less tolerant of authority, and that the American insane were more violent than their British counterparts.