New ObamaCare meme: "Congress passed socialized medicine in 1798!!"

A blog post by Rick Ungar at has been getting a lot of attention in the leftwingosphere:

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.

Here’s how it happened.

… The problem was that a merchant mariner’s job was a difficult and
dangerous undertaking in those days. Sailors were constantly hurting
themselves, picking up weird tropical diseases, etc.

The troublesome reductions in manpower caused by back strains,
twisted ankles and strange diseases often left a ship’s captain without
enough sailors to get underway – a problem both bad for business and a
strain on the nation’s economy.

But those were the days when members of Congress still used their collective heads to solve problems – not create them.

Realizing that a healthy maritime workforce was essential to the
ability of our private merchant ships to engage in foreign trade,
Congress and the President resolved to do something about it.

The law itself is very interesting, and since it is only five paragraphs long (as opposed to 2,400 pages) it is worth your time to read.  It establishes a payroll tax on merchant sailors, with the provision that merchant ships will not have their licenses renewed without an accounting of the tax that was collected.  The money would be used for the treatment of merchant sailors at established hospitals, and money collected in each port district could only be used in that district.  Any surplus monies were to be held by the US government and used to expand existing facilities or build new hospitals.  And all decisions involving the appropriation of the collected revenues were to be made personally by the President.

However, a true modern analog to this law would probably be our current occupational health and safety system (i.e. OSHA), and not ObamaCare.  The government has been enforcing workplace practices that limit exposure to health and safety hazards for forty years, and few would argue that workplace safety is tantamount to socialism.  A healthy workforce certainly enhances the “general welfare” of the nation, which is clearly a responsibility of our government and certainly what Congress and President Adams had in mind back in 1798.

The fact still remains — if the Founding Fathers had wanted medical care for every resident of the United States to be an enumerated power of the Federal government, they would have included it in the Constitution.

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