If health insurance mandates are unconstitutional, why did the Founding Fathers back them?

To paraphrase an observation I once read somewhere, when history is inconvenient, it is often just ignored or twisted to suit the goals of demagogues.

Such is the case with the argument by opponents of ObamaCare who want you to believe that the measure’s individual mandate has the Founding Fathers spinning in their graves.

In truth, the Founding Fathers more likely would endorse the individual mandate. Consider THIS:

The founding fathers, it turns out, passed several mandates of their own. In 1790, the very first Congress—which incidentally included 20 framers—passed a law that included a mandate: namely, a requirement that ship owners buy medical insurance for their seamen. This law was then signed by another framer: President George Washington. That’s right, the father of our country had no difficulty imposing a health insurance mandate.

That’s not all. In 1792, a Congress with 17 framers passed another statute that required all able-bodied men to buy firearms. Yes, we used to have not only a right to bear arms, but a federal duty to buy them. Four framers voted against this bill, but the others did not, and it was also signed by Washington. Some tried to repeal this gun purchase mandate on the grounds it was too onerous, but only one framer voted to repeal it.

Six years later, in 1798, Congress addressed the problem that the employer mandate to buy medical insurance for seamen covered drugs and physician services but not hospital stays. And you know what this Congress, with five framers serving in it, did? It enacted a federal law requiring the seamen to buy hospital insurance for themselves. That’s right, Congress enacted an individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance. And this act was signed by another founder, President John Adams.



  1. Richard

    The seamen mandate was a proper regulation of commerce, and is no different than the government saying lawyers must be registered with the Bar Association to represent clients.

    The gun mandate was only for those reporting for militia duty, clearly a very direct and very necessary and very proper use of “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia” power that is listed right in the Constitution. It was also more a dictate to the States rather than the individuals, as you must realize the Constitution also mentions the “Militia of the several States.” The States were the ones arming their own militias, so Congress was just saying what the minimum acceptable level was for arming the militia. It would be like Congress setting what the minimum acceptable level of pollution controls on cars for those manufacturing cars, which is a power Congress clearly uses at present and is not on shaky constitutional ground.

  2. RegularGuy

    Don’t overlook a key difference. The Founding Fathers made health insurance a mandate for ship OWNERS, and NOT for the individual seamen. The current law puts the burden on INDIVIDUALS to buy insurance.

    As for the gun law, it was applied to ‘able-bodied men’. Not to women, children, and not to those who were not ‘able-bodied’. The current law doesn’t care about your age, your gender, or your current physical condition. It put the burden of buying insurance on ALL citizens.

    I’ve also heard people argue that the states require car insurance for drivers. True, but if you don’t drive, you don’t have to buy car insurance.

    The key difference is the distinction between selecting a group of individuals and blanketing every man, woman and child. Many of us consider the latter to be over-reaching.

  3. Phillip Yancey

    You piqued my inteerest (and I oppose the ObamaCare mandate). It would have been better if you had given readers the bill numbers or names so inerested readers could check in to this further. If nothing else it illustrates how quickly the fears of the framers of an over-reaching federal government became a reality, power corrupts and even the Framers were not immune to its corruption. And look at how invasive the federal government has gradually become over the years. I hope the pendulum will eventually swing the other way again.

  4. Richard

    Phillip Yancey:
    1790 was the first Congress. There weren’t separate bills for each different law at that point. The mandate from 1790 was ship owners (over 150 tons) had to provide medical care (not insurance, no idea where that came from) for those onboard “without any deduction from the wages of such sick seaman or mariner.”

    1792 were the First and Second Militia Acts establishing uniform standards for the state militias. It required each white male from 18 to 45 to enroll and equip themselves appropriately, but did not specify how to do so. The specifics were left to the States as they were in charge of the militia back then. During debate, the issue of a poor man unable to buy a firelock was brought up and it was pointed out Virginia has a law to provide arms to those unable to afford them, but the idea was rejected on the national level because that would “leave it optional with the States, or individuals, whether the militia should be armed or not.”

    1798 was “An Act for the relief of sick and disabled seamen” that required the master of each vessel to pay 20 cents per month per seamen, and permitted the master to withhold that 20 cents from wages paid (like the payroll tax that exists today). That money was then given to the Secretary of the Treasury, and the funds were required to be used for providing care and building new hospitals to provide even more care. It’s far more like Medicare than the individual mandate, but you can decide for yourself if you read the act.

  5. Had no idea the founding fathers passed several mandates of their own about insurance. Didn’t think it went back so far in the past.

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