By Rowan Campbell Millar

As Americans enter the age of "Obamacare," and its attendant fears and hopes, the path ahead is not without precedent. Public healthcare has a long history.

Some Americans are afraid that government involvement in healthcare signifies a socialist overthrow of American values, leading us into a New World Order and the downfall of Western civilization.

To study the history of public medicine, we must look to its most common form, the free public hospital. Free hospitals have been established and maintained by various governments since time immemorial, like the one that the Romans established in the early days of Constantinople, in a town outside of the metropolis, or the one in Cairo under the Islamic Caliphs. Indeed, according to Scripture, Jesus himself, as the putative "King of the Jews," saw nothing wrong with involving himself in healing work. Public Healthcare in Early America Throughout Europe, including Britain, governments united with churches in establishing hospitals for the poor, and even during the heyday of British capitalism, the iconic Queen Victoria chartered and funded the Royal Free Hospital in London. In America the tradition of government healthcare continued, with a public hospital founded in New York City in 1736 to treat the poor. In 1751 Benjamin Franklin convinced the Pennsylvania government to establish a public hospital in that colony. In the next century, in the independent United States, a public hospital was founded in Memphis, Tennessee in 1829. Such institutions multiplied in the latter part of the nineteenth century, as industrialization brought about urbanization as never before.

Twentieth Century Changes and Continuity

By the next century, public hospitals were a vital part of American healthcare, and some were very well-regarded, helping to implement emerging advances in medicine, and treating vast numbers of patients. But in the mid-1900s, concentrated as they were in...