Founding Fathers favored government run health care

John Adams, Vice Pres.

Newsflash: Founders favored "government run health care"
The Washington Post
By Greg Sargent
January 20, 2011

Forbes writer Rick Ungar is getting some attention for a piece arguing that history shows that John Adams supported a strong Federal role in health care. Ungar argues that Adams even championed an early measure utilizing the concept behind the individual mandate, which Tea Partyers say is unconsittutional.

I just ran this theory past a professor of history who specializes in the early republic, and he said there's actually something to it. Short version: There's no proof from the historical record that Adams would have backed the idea behind the individual mandate in particular. But it is fair to conclude, the professor says, that the founding generation supported the basic idea of government run health care, and the use of mandatory taxation to pay for it.

Here's the background. Ungar points out that in July of 1798, Congress passed "An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seaman," which was signed by President Adams. That law authorized the creation of a government operated system of marine hospitals and mandated that laboring merchant marine sailors pay a tax to support it.

Ungar argues that this blows away the argument made by many opponents of the individual mandate: That it's unconstitutional to mandate that all citizens purchase health coverage, or that this violates the founding fathers' view of the proper role of government. Read more


In the summer 1798, 5000 people died of Yellow Fever across the cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.  Yellow Fever had become an annual epidemic and various state legislatures began to take action. In 1798, the New York state legislature gave the city of New York authority to pass health regulations in response to the epidemic that killed 1600 people in their own town. Read more


An Act for the relief of sick and disabled seamen


An Act for the relief of sick and disabled seamen


An Act for the relief of sick and disabled seamen[1] was passed by the 5th Congress. It was signed by President John Adams on July 16, 1798. The Act authorized the deduction of twenty cents per month from the wages of seamen, for the sole purpose of funding medical care for sick and disabled seamen, as well as building additional hospitals for the treatment of seamen.[1] While some argue this is the first Federal individual mandate levied on individuals for health insurance,[2] preceding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare"), passed in early 2010, by nearly 212 years; others would point to the fact that this law was enacted as a matter of national security and not a social welfare program.[3] Read more


Link to full text of the Act at the Library of Congress

Congress Passes Socialized Medicine and Mandates Health Insurance - In 1798

Marine Hospital Service


The Marine-Hospital Service was an organization of Marine Hospitals dedicated to the care of ill and disabled seamen in the U.S. Merchant Marine, U.S. Coast Guard and other federal beneficiaries.




The Service was created by the act of the 5th United States Congress, which was signed into law on 16 July 1798 by President John Adams. The Act required the Department of the Treasury to "provide for the relief and maintenance of disabled seamen." This Act led to the formation of several loosely controlled hospitals at sea and river ports all across the United States, which was officially the Marine-Hospital Fund. The Act specified the revenue for the Hospital Fund to come from the merchant seamen. The Congressional Act of 1798 was signed into law by President John Adams. It created a tax of 20 cents each month to be withheld from seamen’s wages for support of marine hospitals. The money was paid to the U.S. Collector of Customs. The Act was expanded in 1799 to include all "officers, seamen and marines of the navy of the United States". This practice continued until 1870, excepting one year from April 1837 to 1838. This series of hospitals to care for merchant seamen was based on the British practice of establishing hospitals to care for sailors and merchant seamen. Prior to its union with Scotland, the Kingdom of England established its first hospitals in 1588, shortly after its victory over the Spanish Armada. The Marine Hospital Fund was a unique and early mechanism to provide the first publicly funded health care and disease prevention federal agency in the United States. More


The Marine Hospital, Staten Island, N.Y. In 1887, National Institute of Health began as a single room Laboratory of Hygiene for bacteriological investigation established by the U.S. Marine Hospital Service at Stapleton, Staten Island, New York. From 1887 to 1891, the hygienic laboratory was located in the attic of the Marine Hospital on Staten Island. Read more


An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen
National Institutes of Health, PDF of original

President John Adams, July 1798

Congress Passes Socialized Medicine and Mandates Health Insurance - In 1798
by Rick Ungar
January 17, 2011

The ink was barely dry on the PPACA when the first of many lawsuits to block the mandated health insurance provisions of the law was filed in a Florida District Court. The pleadings, in part, read,

The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage. State of Florida v. US Department of HHS


It turns out, the Founding Fathers would beg to disagree.

In July of 1798, Congress passed – and President John Adams signed - "An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seaman." 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. Read more


State of Florida v. US Department of HHS
Case 3:10-cv-00091-RV-EMT
State of Florida v. US Department of HHS[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [224.9 KB]
Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seaman
US Congress, 1798
An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabl[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [82.8 KB]