Regardless of one’s opinion on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality, most commentators-and no less an authority than the Congressional Budget Office)-agree (or concede, as the case may be) that Congress has never required Americans to purchase a good or service from a private entity as a condition of citizenship. But, importantly, they are wrong. The ongoing debate over the mandate’s constitutionality has uncovered an unlikely precedent to the PPACA’s individual mandate to possess health coverage. I recently wrote about this overlooked original individual mandate in an article, “The First Individual Mandate: What the Uniform Militia Act of 1792 Tells Us about Fifth Amendment Challenges to Healthcare Reform.”
The Militia Acts of 1792, passed by the Second Congress and signed into law by President Washington, required every able-bodied white male citizen to enroll in his state’s militia and mandated that he “provide himself” with various goods for the common weal:
[E]ach and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States . . . shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia . . . .provid[ing] himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein . . . and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise or into service
This was the law of the land until the establishment of the National Guard in 1903. For many American families, compliance meant purchasing-and eventually re-purchasing-multiple muskets from a private party.
This was no small thing. Although anywhere from 40 to 79% of American households owned a firearm of some kind, the Militia Act specifically required a military-grade musket. That particular kind of gun was useful for traditional, line-up-and-shoot 18th century warfare, but clumsy and inaccurate compared to the single-barrel shotguns and rifles