Sunday, March 25, 2012

Can The Government Compel You To Buy Something?

Ken O’Brien

Central to the opposition to the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is whether the government can compel citizens to purchase a good or service.

Set aside all the legal issues about the Commerce Clause (Article 1, Section 8 of the U. S. Constitution).

The Tea Party yahoos, led by their champions Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman, financed by the Koch brothers and Dick Armey and enabled by Fox News, launched into their hysteria shortly after the signing of the Affordable Care Act. 

Amidst their distortion of fact with claims of “death panels” was their demonstrated lack of knowledge of the facts of American history.

Never would the “founders” have countenanced such a violation of personal freedom as to compel citizens to buy a product, or so they argued.

In fact, this is the crux of many of the arguments that will be presented to the Supreme Court commencing tomorrow.

I would suggest that these scholars of American history review the facts.

In 1792, only four years after the ratification of the U. S. Constitution, the U. S. Congress adopted the Militia Act of 1792. That Act said:

"That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, by the Captain or Commanding Officer of the company, within whose bounds such citizen shall reside, and that within twelve months after the passing of this Act. And it shall at all time hereafter be the duty of every such Captain or Commanding Officer of a company, to enroll every such citizen as aforesaid, and also those who shall, from time to time, arrive at the age of 18 years, or being at the age of 18 years, and under the age of 45 years (except as before excepted) shall come to reside within his bounds; and shall without delay notify such citizen of the said enrollment, by the proper non-commissioned Officer of the company, by whom such notice may be proved. That every citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of power and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise or into service, except, that when called out on company days to exercise only, he may appear without a knapsack. That the commissioned Officers shall severally be armed with a sword or hanger, and espontoon; and that from and after five years from the passing of this Act, all muskets from arming the militia as is herein required, shall be of bores sufficient for balls of the eighteenth part of a pound; and every citizen so enrolled, and providing himself with the arms, ammunition and accoutrements, required as aforesaid, shall hold the same exempted from all suits, distresses, executions or sales, for debt or for the payment of taxes." [Emphasis Added]

In other words, all citizens defined under this law were required, by act of Congress, to purchase products they might very well have not otherwise possessed. In current dollars it has been estimated that such an obligation would amount to $2,000.

In addition, the law was not applied universally, but was discriminatorily applied to only a segment of the population.

No historical precedent for the universal health care mandate? I think not.

A violation of personal liberty that the founding fathers would have abhorred? Clearly no!

(P.S. I bet the NRA wouldn’t oppose such a law).

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