Terrance Heath

The Founding Fathers Supported Socialized Medicine

Filed By Terrance Heath | February 02, 2011 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: health care reform, john adams, Medicare, socialized medicine

Those pesky founding fathers. You’d think guys who so long ago shuffled off that old mortal coil would find it harder to surprise us. With them safely dead for so long, you’d think we could easily appropriate and their past and politics in support of our own, without fear of contradiction.


You’d be wrong. It turns out the founding fathers supported socialized medicine.

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

First, it created the Marine Hospital Service, a series of hospitals built and operated by the federal government to treat injured and ailing privately employed sailors. This government provided healthcare service was to be paid for by a mandatory tax on the maritime sailors (a little more than 1% of a sailor’s wages), the same to be withheld from a sailor’s pay and turned over to the government by the ship’s owner. The payment of this tax for health care was not optional. If a sailor wanted to work, he had to pay up.

This is pretty much how it works today in the European nations that conduct socialized medical programs for its citizens – although 1% of wages doesn’t quite cut it any longer.

The law was not only the first time the United States created a socialized medical program (The Marine Hospital Service) but was also the first to mandate that privately employed citizens be legally required to make payments to pay for health care services. Upon passage of the law, ships were no longer permitted to sail in and out of our ports if the health care tax had not been collected by the ship owners and paid over to the government – thus the creation of the first payroll tax in our nation’s history.

...When a sick or injured sailor needed medical assistance, the government would confirm that his payments had been collected and turned over by his employer and would then give the sailor a voucher entitling him to admission to the hospital where he would be treated for whatever ailed him.

While a few of the healthcare facilities accepting the government voucher were privately operated, the majority of the treatment was given out at the federal maritime hospitals that were built and operated by the government in the nation’s largest ports.

If all the above isn’t quite clear, Mad Mike the Biologist sums it up.

This isn’t support of an individual mandate, it’s socialist–in the true sense of the word. You were forced to pay taxes in order to gain access to a government run hospital.

The political doctrine of socialism hadn’t even been invented yet...

Well, at least the founders were ahead of their time.

Still, it turns out this shouldn’t have been a big surprise. Over at Open Salon, Paul J. O’Rourke (no not that P.J. O’Rourke) blogged about the founding fathers and socialized medicine back in 2009 when the health care reform debate was raging, emphasizing how much we could yet learn from the founders.

We should take a lesson from our Founders, and view today’s health insurance issue through the same lens. A healthy work force is more productive. We have enough disadvantages as we compete in the global economy without having to bear the costly burden of a healthcare system that in too many ways works in opposition to its purpose. We’re draining consumer purchasing from other more productive areas of our economy to prop up a highly monopolized system that violates that forgotten third word of the free market phrase: competition.

True competition would allow the public to participate. There is no valid free market theory that would reject that idea. That some would describe personal responsibility as surrendering our national interest to the profit motive of the few is a result of thoughtless ideology, not reason.

If we ask the question "Are we being served, or served on a platter?" the answer reveals the action we, the people should take.

Those who disagree are free to do so, but now stripped of the pretense that they are representing the principles of Our Founders, they should avoid that tidbit of sloganeering. Those saying the Constitution doesn’t allow the citizens to provide for themselves are obviously wrong. What I have written about here is a prescription to cure that strain of ignorance.

I wonder if anyone’s broken the news to Michelle Bachmann, and the rest of the Tea Party contingent. I hope whoever does so breaks it to them gently.

This could be utterly devastating news for some conservatives (assuming they even hear it), though perhaps not as bad as finding out that Ayn Rand received Social Security and Medicare benefits ... in her husband’s name.

Ayn Rand was not only a schlock novelist, she was also the progenitor of a sweeping "moral philosophy" that justifies the privilege of the wealthy and demonizes not only the slothful, undeserving poor but the lackluster middle-classes as well.

Her books provided wide-ranging parables of "parasites," "looters" and "moochers" using the levers of government to steal the fruits of her heroes’ labor. In the real world, however, Rand herself received Social Security payments and Medicare benefits under the name of Ann O’Connor (her husband was Frank O’Connor).

As Michael Ford of Xavier University’s Center for the Study of the American Dream wrote, "In the end, Miss Rand was a hypocrite but she could never be faulted for failing to act in her own self-interest."

Her ideas about government intervention in some idealized pristine marketplace serve as the basis for so much of the conservative rhetoric we see today. "The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand," said Paul Ryan, the GOP’s young budget star at a D.C. event honoring the author. On another occasion, he proclaimed, "Rand makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism."

Uh-oh. Has anyone told Paul Ryan that the "one thinker" we can blame for his presence in Congress (Hey, where does Ryan get his health coverage anyway?) was a hypocrite and a fraud. (For that matter, has anyone told Rep. John Campbell or Rep. Kevin McCarthy yet?)

She was elderly and sick and needed surgery (lung surgery, after knocking down two packs a day for decades). Presumably she had a fair amount of money. But she turned to Social Security and Medicare. And under her husband’s name!

All right, I hear some of you now. We’re all hypocrites to some extent. I accepted the Bush tax cuts I oppose (although I do make charitable contributions that I think cover the difference, so I give the money back).

But I am not the leading "moral" philosopher of my age on the subject of rates of taxation, as Rand was to her many disciples on the question of the state. Besides which, there is no way to tell the IRS, look, I want to be taxed at the old Clinton rate. Whereas Mrs. O’Connor could surely have turned to other sources. What a hypocrite and fraud.

Then again, maybe Rand/Mrs.O’Connor was just getting back what they’d paid into the two programs.

But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security -- the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on "waste."

Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

Others could not explain the contradiction.

"That's a conundrum, isn't it?" asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. "I don't know what to say. Maybe I don't want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security." She added, "I didn't look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I've changed my mind."

The founding fathers supported socialized medicine? The adulterous, drug-addicted, serial-killer-loving, favorite "moral philosopher" of today’s conservatives received Social Security and Medicare benefits?

That is a conundrum; the kind that could make one change one’s mind. That is, if one were inclined to think.

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Lapsed Pastafarian | February 2, 2011 3:29 PM

I don't think the founding fathers would have supported the individual mandate at all. The act cited in the article is a tax that is taken from the sailors by the ship's master or owner out of their pay. It is taken only from their pay. It isn't taken from the general population to pay for the sailor's pay. And where in the act does it say that the sailor can be thrown in jail for not paying. In fact, it would have been the ship's owner who would have been jailed.

Our healthcare needs work but the omnibus bill was not the answer. What was the big rush to pass it anyway. Oh yeah, we had to pass it in order to find out what was in it.

The act passed last year doesn't say anyone's going to be thrown in jail for not buying health care - they'll just be subject to a tax. And taxes are still taken out of people's pay as it's impossible to take money "from the general population" without a tax, usually on pay.

I don't think anyone's a huge fan of the bill that got passed, but I hope we can criticize for what it does, not made up problems that sound worse.

The problem of United States health care is really a housing problem. For some indecipherable reason every doctor believes he or she is entitled to a mansion on the shore line immediately following residency.

And that agencey is still around and is the US Public Health Service and is why they were navy style uniforms and rank.They also provide medical staff to the Coast Guard as well as they still maintain those hospitals.As well as have other duties.

Got some mileage out of the Ayn Rand link.

Ironically, her husband's namesake, the playwright, Frank O'Connor, wrote Guest of the Nation. Supposedly, Neil Jordan drew inspiration from O'Connor's play for the Crying Game. Led me on a very interesting tangent.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | February 3, 2011 5:03 AM

I'm glad the founders favored a bit of health care. I wonder why Obama doesn't. His 'health care' bill insures a healthy increase in insurance industry profits, and less health care for working people.

It's ten steps backward and one toe-stubbing stumble forward.

We need socialized medicine. We don't need Democrat or Republican lap dogs of the rich.