Battle over health-care reform: vital lessons from America's founding fathers
Despite the ongoing attempts of House Republicans to kill President Obama's health-care reform law, the history of America's intense debate over ratifying the Constitution should make us optimistic about the law being accepted, improved, and implemented.
(Page 2 of 3)
The foundational public debate over the Constitution was then conducted in the individual states, separately and mostly sequentially, but with the benefit of knowing arguments pro and con used in other states. This enabled claims and counterclaims to be anticipated, sharpened, and improved as time passed. In quite a few cases the majority of state convention delegates were against ratification at the outset, but only Rhode Island and North Carolina failed to ratify in the end. And both of them came around very soon, by large margins, after the new government was formed and operating.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
What were the major objections to the Constitution as it emerged from Philadelphia?
There were many specifics – unlimited number of terms for national office holders, the power to set conditions for state elections and to levy direct taxes on the people – but the unifying theme was a fear of federal power that could be checked neither by the states nor the people, for there was no Bill of Rights in the original Constitution. This fear was palpable, since the costly war with Britain over their, and our, essential liberties was so fresh.
Similarly today, the core argument in the constitutional objection to the individual mandate is not about ways to make private insurance markets work better for more people, but reflects the fear that a federal government that can require people to purchase insurance has limitless power to restrict our freedom.
So how was such a profound fear of all powerful government mollified in the 18th century?
By listening to the skeptics and meeting their fears with modifications that addressed them. None of the founders thought the Philadelphia Constitution was perfect. Versions of our Bill of Rights (and other amendments) were offered in the Philadelphia convention and in most state ratifying conventions as well, and before long it was clear even to the most ardent Federalists (James Madison, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson) that amendments guaranteeing individual liberties against this new, more-powerful federal government were absolutely necessary. And so, the first Congress operating under the new Constitution quickly passed and sent 12 amendments to the states for ratification, of which 10 became the Bill of Rights we know today. Seeing these amendments, and the new government in action, made it easier for North Carolina and Rhode Island to ratify and join the growing union.