Adams and Jefferson support socialized medicine. Sorta
We all know the current meme on the far right is that the Founders would never have forced “socialized” medicine upon the people of this country. It’s at the core of the Tea Part movement. Beck’s almost hourly rants. And Palin’s complete misunderstanding of American history. Of course none of these people have an understanding of or an education in American history. As such they will run with anything that supports their narrative.
But sometimes the Founders are not the people that they led themselves to believe they are. And he is yet another example.
In 1798 Congress passed and President John Adams signed into law “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.” What did this law do? Let’s go the Forbes article where I first saw this.
The law authorized the creation of a government operated marine hospital service and mandated that privately employed sailors be required to purchase health care insurance.
Keep in mind that the 5th Congress did not really need to struggle over the intentions of the drafters of the Constitutions in creating this Act as many of its members were the drafters of the Constitution.
And when the Bill came to the desk of President John Adams for signature, I think it’s safe to assume that the man in that chair had a pretty good grasp on what the framers had in mind.
The private insurance was actually a tax on the sailors private wages. Though we know some in today’s debates say what Congress passed was nothing more then a tax.
Either way the law in 1798 sounds pretty straightforward. And anyone who actually studies history knows most legislation in the early Republic was short and to the point. The question is, since many of the people who supported this law were Founders themselves does this count as original intent? For the nationialists, Tea Partiers, and Beck drones I doubt it would be.
And in something that would surprise most people with a knowledge of the Adams/Jefferson infighting that took place during the Adams administration
Jefferson supported the 1798 healthcare law.
The Washington Post has picked up on this article and interviewed associate professor of history at Georgetown University, Adam Rothman about the healthcare law passed by the 1798 Congress.
He argues that it’s a “bit of a leap” to compare the 1798 act directly to the individual mandate, because the act taxed sailors to pay for their health care, rather than “requiring that sailors purchase it.”
But Rothman says that it’s perfectly legit to see shades of today’s debate in that early initiative.
“It’s a good example that the post-revolutionary generation clearly thought that the national government had a role in subsidizing health care,” Rothman says. “That in itself is pretty remarkable and a strong refutation of the basic principles that some Tea Party types offer.”
“You could argue that it’s precedent for government run health care,” Rothman continues. “This defies a lot of stereotypes about limited government in the early republic.”
In a second WaPo article on this subject, Professor Rothman sent an email that had the following..
Alexander Hamilton supported the establishment of Marine Hospitals in a 1792 Report, and it was a Federalist congress that passed the law in 1798. But Jefferson (Hamilton’s strict constructionist nemesis) also supported federal marine hospitals, and along with his own Treasury Secretary, Albert Gallatin, took steps to improve them during his presidency. So I guess you could say it had bipartisan support.
So not only did Adams sign this into law, once Jefferson became President he improved the system as it stood then. And what is more odd, Adams, Jefferson, and Hamilton all supported the law. Now that’s a story in of itself.
WaPo links to an excellent short history of the government marine hospitals.
In 1799 the federal government established these hospitals, or marine hospitals, in most ports throughout the country to care for sick and disabled merchant mariners. The government financed the hospitals by a tax on sailors’ monthly wages. As ships returned to port, customs officials collected the marine hospital tax and forwarded it to the federal Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. The Treasury then distributed these funds to customs officials to hire doctors and nurses to care for merchant mariners….
But the story of the marine hospitals in the early American republic suggests that the United States has a long history of using institutions to manage public health. Through the marine hospitals, the federal government used health care to regulate a crucial labor force in an age of maritime commerce. Treating sick and disabled merchant mariners helped stabilize the maritime labor force. More broadly, through the marine hospitals, we witness the actual points of interaction between government, community, and individuals…
To be sure the marine hospitals were effective instruments of politics and policy. But within the marine hospitals, medical practice and administration was far more than an abstract tool of political economy. Rather, the stories of sickness, injury, admission, treatment, resistance, and regulation that characterized life within the marine hospitals reveal how the federal government shaped the social, economic, and political order of the early republic to a degree scholars have only just now begun to appreciate.