Tag: antebellum paradox

The “Antebellum Paradox”: What is it and why it matters.


I recently made the case that “Health is foundational to a functioning democracy. But health must be shared and be broadly accessible to be an effective enabler of good government.” I also suggested that the pursuit of good health is implied and imbedded in the aspirational and idealistic wording of our U.S. Constitution, and that the active pursuit of health as a nation is essential if we wish to rise to Hamilton’s challenge in Federalist #1 and prove that we are “capable of establishing good government from reflection and choice.” So why are native white males lagging behind in health?

Our progress as a nation toward health was severely hampered from the start. The reality of self-government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” applied only to 6% of inhabitants, all white male land owners at the time. Health was never voiced as a priority, though modern day critics insist it is clearly implied in the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But what was that promise worth in the late 18th century, in a nation that allowed slavery, disenfranchised women, and slaughtered and dislocated its indigenous brothers and sisters?

In those earliest years of the birth of this nation, in the first half of the 19th century, what was the state of health for enfranchised native born white citizens of this nation? Most may presume (as I did) that the general health and standard of living over the next two hundred years, as reflected in lifespan, was a straight (if gradual) upward slope. But what I learned from a bit of digging is that uncovering the facts on mortality, fertility, migration, and population growth during those early years of our nation is a complex venture at best.

Our federal government did conduct a census every ten years, but one hundred years passed before we reliably collected vital statistics including comprehensive birth and death registration. Beginning in 1850, age, sex, race, marital status, occupation and cause of death were supposed to be collected. But an audit in those years disclosed that mortality (for example) was 40% underreported.

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