Mari Keller Sebeth: A little history |

Mari Keller Sebeth: A little history

Mari Keller Sebeth

I would like to address the inaccurate historical assumptions that have appeared in the Summit Daily over the past few weeks involving the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution in regards to supporting H.R. 3200 and health care as being a historical human right. In a letter to follow and with the editor’s permission, I will discuss the U. N. Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

Historical documents must always be read in the mindset of the time in which they were written, without prejudice and without regard to modern situations, in order to understand their true meaning. This is the duty of every historian in their quest to discover historical accuracy, and it is their responsibility. Any person, regardless of vocation, should not simply assume a statement’s meaning because it supports their argument without knowing the historical reasons and circumstances surrounding that statement. Doing so destroys the credibility of the argument. I am also an historian, and this is the way I have been trained as a researcher. My area of concentration and study is Colonial America.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote that most-quoted line in the Declaration of Independence, he was not thinking about health care. In fact, Jefferson was distrustful of the physicians and the medical practices of his day. After witnessing the efforts of the human body to correct itself when in illness, Jefferson states that “(the wise physician) should rather trust to their (the body’s) action, than hazard the interruption of that, and a greater derangement of the system, by conjectural experiments on a machine so complicated and so unknown as the human body, and a subject so sacred as human life”. (Daniel Boorstin, The Americans: The Colonial Experience, 1958. pg. 218).

Why would Jefferson “imply” a support of health care for all when he clearly did not trust the doctors of his time? Historically, the Declaration of Independence is a political document. The rights and liberties it addresses are the political rights and liberties that were being oppressed by the English government, good health care not being one of them.

The Supreme Court has given us interpretation of the phrase “pursuit of happiness”. In Butchers’ Union Co. v. Crescent City Co., 111 U.S. 746 (1883), U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Field and Miller considered Jefferson’s phrase to refer to one’s economic vocation of choice as a pursuit of happiness. In more modern times, “pursuit of happiness” appeared in the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, where Chief Justice Warren wrote that freedom to marry is one of the personal rights essential to the pursuit of happiness. Thus, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” is meant in the political sense of freedom to enjoy, unfettered by government but within the law, the personal right to pursue that which makes us happy in life as long as it does not violate another person’s liberty. If seeking medical care makes us happy, then in this sense we have the liberty and personal right to pursue it.

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution sets forth the reasons and intentions of the document – that of forming a new government. The Constitution’s purpose is to ensure that our LIBERTY as a free nation will continue for ourselves and our future generations (posterity). Health care for the masses is not mentioned as being a government responsibility for the same reasons that it is not referred to, assumed, or implied in the Declaration of Independence.

For a very interesting and informative outline of health care history in the U. S. see:

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