Opinionated @ CFE

When Reading Comprehension and Preconceived Notions Collide


It’s always very exciting to find an obscure historical document that backs up one of your political positions, especially when it makes an opposing group look bad. I can imagine that Salon blogger Paul J. O’Rourke experienced that same kind of schadenfreude when he stumbled across “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen”, legislation from 1798 that would appear to back up his position that a individual mandate to carry health insurance is in line with the Constitution. After all, if James Adams approved, how can you argue against original intent?

On the surface, he appears to be correct. Until, that is, you actually take on the chore of reading the entire thing. Or, heck, even just the first paragraph. Take a look for yourself:

That from and after the first day of September next, the master or owner of every ship or vessel of the United States, arriving from a foreign port into any port of the United States, shall, before such ship or vessel shall be admitted to an entry, render to the collector a true account of the number of seamen, that shall have been employed on board such vessel since she was last entered at any port in the United States,-and shall pay to the said collector, at the rate of twenty cents per month for every seaman so employed; which sum he is hereby authorized to retain out of the wages of such seamen. (emphasis mine)

Huh. So, basically, this applied to foreign trade only. And the ability to regulate foreign trade is rather expressly found in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

Better luck next time, dude.

3 Responses to When Reading Comprehension and Preconceived Notions Collide

  1. <>

    …does not seem to be “foreign trade only, from _my_ reading comprehension. The returning from “a foreign port” may be
    read to exclude inter-state commerce (still a touchy area) or
    to prevent a vessel being taxed in both Boston and New York
    after returning from Britain.

  2. Paul J O'Rourke

    First, dude, the concept of mandating insurance applied, even with that qualification. Your Art 1 sec 8 cite doesn’t alter the core fact that such a mandate is constitutional. If it weren’t, it couldn’t be done under Art 1 sec 8 regardless of its relationship to foreign trade. Your point is irrelevant.

    Further, the marine hospital service was expanded to inland waterways and coastal trade. Where does your foreign trade idea apply in that case?

    Just happened to Google to see where that article went. Decided to say hello.

    Better luck next time, dude.

  3. Paul, the point is entirely relevant. There is no restriction placed upon Congress’ ability to regulate trade with foreign nations, but there are specific restrictions upon what they can enact as far as domestic policy. Even a federalist like Adams understood that the ability to regulate interstate commerce is not a blank check (despite what the Supreme Court may say under extreme duress).

    I would also point out that the Marine Hospital Service was created to serve the needs of members of the Merchant Marine Service, an auxiliary to the Navy in times of war. They are effectively a federal militia force, so providing a benefit as part of their service is entirely appropriate. The expansion of the Marine Hospital Service to inland waterways did not start until 1830, years after John Adams had died, so you can’t really claim his support.

    The thesis of your argument is that because John Adams did it and was an original party to the Constitution, it must be okay. Your thesis, however, still falls apart entirely when looking at the historical facts and refusing to use overly simplistic reasoning.

    Point, match, game.

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