The Corner

Law & the Courts

Advocates of Vaccine Mandates Are Twisting American History

Declaration of Independence, by John Trumbull (John Parrot/StockTrek Images/Getty Images)

In the Washington Post, Timothy Bella suggests that George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were both fine with vaccine mandates, so you should be too.

This is a little misleading.

Bella is correct to note that George Washington reluctantly imposed a vaccine mandate in 1777. But he did so on troops in the Continental Army, in the middle of revolution, ten years before the U.S. Constitution was written. That Washington did this tells us that he believed that a volunteer military could be forced to be vaccinated. But it tells us nothing at all about whether Washington believed that everyone could, let alone about what Washington’s view would have been on the legality of a mandate imposed by the states or the federal government within a legal order that did not yet exist. It is true, as Bella quickly adds, that “a 1905 decision by the Supreme Court upheld mandatory vaccinations”  — albeit in a case that pertained exclusively to the the police power of the states, and not the federal government. But George Washington doesn’t enter into that, either — not least because, at that point, he had been dead for 106 years.

Bella also tries to recruit Benjamin Franklin to his cause, writing that:

there is a long history of mandatory immunizations supported by American leaders. Benjamin Franklin supported inoculation against smallpox constantly in his Philadelphia newspaper. In his autobiography published posthumously, Franklin said he had “long regretted bitterly, and still regret” that he had chosen to wait to inoculate his 4-year-old son, Franky, who died of smallpox. John Adams and Martha Washington were also immunized against smallpox.

These two claims don’t connect. Benjamin Franklin’s writing shows that he did, indeed, strongly “support inoculation.” But neither Bella’s own piece, nor the piece he links to in this excerpt, say anything at all about “mandatory immunizations.” Instead, the pieces correctly note that, unlike his brother and his wife, Franklin “had long advocated inoculation as a ‘safe and beneficial practice'” and that he was critical of those who opposed it — including his own wife. Unless we are supposed to believe that Benjamin Franklin believed that everything of which he approved should be mandated — spoiler: he did not — then this claim, too, must fall.

In coming days, all three of these claims — Washington, Franklin, and Jacobson — are going to be used to justify Joe Biden’s illegal federal order. Americans who wish to keep their constitutional system intact should note that not one of them even intersects with that question.

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