Ben Franklin on Nationalized Health Care

In 1778, while serving as Minister of the Continental Congress to the French government, Benjamin Franklin received an insulting anonymous letter from some British “gentlemen,” expressing contempt for the American Revolution and the scorn felt by ruling elites in all ages for the common people. His answer was interesting in the context of the current debate over nationalized health care. An excerpt:

The weight, therefore, of an independent empire, which you seem certain of our inability to bear, will not be so great as you imagine; the expense of our civil government we have always borne, and can easily bear, because it is small. A virtuous and laborious people may be cheaply governed, determining, as we do, to have no offices of profit, nor any sinecures, or useless appointments, so common in ancient or corrupted states. We can govern ourselves a year for the sum you pay in a single department, for what one jobbing contractor, by the favour of a minister, can cheat you out of in a single article.

We’ve wandered far from the vision of our Founding Fathers, haven’t we? They valued Liberty. Today the sine qua non is Security, not Liberty, whether for “liberals” or “conservatives.” The left would secure Security with state power. The right would secure it with torture, indefinite detention without trial, and the assumption that “terrorists” are guilty until proven innocent.


Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

One thought on “Ben Franklin on Nationalized Health Care”

  1. A surgeon in 1751 convinced Ben Franklin to champion a progressive cause: the building of a public hospital. Through his hard work and political ingenuity, Franklin brought the skeptical legislature to the table, bargaining his way to use public money to build what would become Pennsylvania Hospital.
    “Franklin proposed an institution that would provide –‘free of charge’–the finest health care to everybody, ‘whether inhabitants of the province or strangers,’ even to the ‘poor diseased foreigners”‘ (referring to the immigrants of German stock that the colonials tended to disparage and discriminate). Countering the Assembly’s insistence that the hospital be built only with private donations, Franklin said:
    “That won’t work, it will never be enough, good health care costs a lot of money, remembering ‘the distant parts of this province’ in which ‘assistance cannot be procured, but at an expense that neither [the sick-poor] nor their townships can afford.’

    And besides, Franklin wrote,
    “the good [that] particular men may do separately, in relieving the sick, is small, compared with what they may do collectively.'”

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