FLASHBACK: Did John Adams Hate The Constitution?

January 20, 2011 11:43 am ET — Media Matters Action Network

John Adams

House Republicans are celebrating yesterday's symbolic vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but they will have to dismantle the bill incrementally or defeat it in court to achieve their goal of undoing President Obama's health care law. On the judicial front, conservatives have rallied around legal challenges to the individual mandate, which was originally a Republican idea and enjoyed the support of a "bipartisan consensus" — in the words of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) — as recently as July 2009.

However, as Forbes blogger Rick Ungar writes, mandating the ownership of health insurance isn't entirely unprecedented, much less unconstitutional. In 1798, President John Adams signed "An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen," which required privately employed sailors to pay a tax to fund their medical care: 

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. [...]

As for Congress' understanding of the limits of the Constitution at the time the Act was passed, it is worth noting that Thomas Jefferson was the President of the Senate during the 5th Congress while Jonathan Dayton, the youngest man to sign the United States Constitution, was the Speaker of the House.

As Paul J. O'Rourke suggested previously, perhaps conservatives should "name Presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison et al. in the lawsuits," too.

Yesterday, more than 100 leading law professors signed a letter defending the constitutionality of the health care law. "People can disagree about the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act," they wrote, "but there can be no serious doubt about the constitutionality of the minimum coverage provision."