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Jacobson v. Massachusetts 1905

Jacobson v. Massachusetts 1905

Jacobson v. Massachusetts 1905: An Analysis

Jacobson v. Massachusetts 1905 is a landmark legal decision that is still relevant today. It is the case that established the government’s legal power to mandate vaccinations to protect public health. The case set a precedent that allows governments to require immunizations in the interest of public health, even if it infringes on individual liberties. In this article, we will analyze this case in detail, discussing its historical and legal contexts, the impacts of its ruling, and its continued relevance today.

The Historical Context

Jacobson v. Massachusetts 1905 arose in the wake of several deadly epidemics that swept across the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The most notable of these was the smallpox epidemic of the 1870s, which killed millions worldwide. In response, states began to pass vaccination laws, requiring individuals to get vaccinated against smallpox. Other epidemics, such as yellow fever and typhoid fever, also prompted states to enact public health measures.

In Massachusetts, the smallpox epidemic of 1902-1903 resulted in a law requiring all adults to be vaccinated unless exempted by a physician. Failure to comply with the law could result in a fine of five dollars. Henning Jacobson, a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, refused to comply with the law and was fined. He argued that the law violated his constitutional rights.

The Legal Context

The Jacobson case made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which upheld the Massachusetts vaccination law. Justice John Marshall Harlan, writing for the majority, argued that the state had the power to protect the public health and safety. He cited the precedent of Gibbons v. Ogden, which held that the federal government had the power to regulate commerce between states. Harlan argued that this power extended to protecting the health of the populace, which was essential to commerce and general welfare.

Harlan also rejected Jacobson’s claim that the vaccination law violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. He argued that the law did not impose a burden on individuals that was excessive or arbitrary. Rather, it was a reasonable measure to protect public health.

The Impacts of Jacobson v. Massachusetts 1905

Jacobson v. Massachusetts 1905 set the stage for government-mandated vaccinations in the United States. Many states followed Massachusetts’ lead and enacted vaccination laws. Today, all 50 states have laws mandating certain vaccinations for school entry, although exemptions exist for medical and religious reasons.

The decision had significant impacts on public health, as vaccination rates increased and epidemics decreased. Smallpox was eradicated globally by 1980, largely due to mass vaccination efforts. Other diseases, such as polio, measles, and rubella, were brought under control through widespread vaccination campaigns.

The Continued Relevance of Jacobson v. Massachusetts 1905

Jacobson v. Massachusetts 1905 remains highly relevant today, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, many states enacted laws and public health orders mandating masks and vaccines to combat the spread of the virus. These measures have been met with resistance from some individuals and groups claiming that they violate their constitutional rights.

Legal experts and public health officials largely agree that Jacobson v. Massachusetts 1905 provides a legal basis for government-mandated vaccines. However, the exact scope and limits of this power are still being debated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccines are one of the most effective ways to prevent disease and protect public health. However, vaccine hesitancy and refusal remain a significant public health concern, especially in the face of emerging variants and new infectious diseases.

To address this issue, the CDC has launched several initiatives to increase vaccine uptake, including public education campaigns, vaccine incentives, and outreach to underserved communities. The agency recommends that all eligible individuals get vaccinated and follows the vaccination schedules recommended by public health authorities.


In conclusion, Jacobson v. Massachusetts 1905 remains an essential legal precedent that has had a profound impact on public health in the United States. The case established the government’s right to mandate vaccinations for the protection of public health, even if it infringes on individual liberties. Vaccinations have been key in eradicating diseases and controlling epidemics. Today, vaccines remain a critical tool in preventing the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. As vaccination rates become a critical public health concern, the legal framework established by Jacobson v. Massachusetts 1905 will likely continue to be debated and applied in legal proceedings and public policy.

Jacobson v. Massachusetts was an important case for a number of different reasons, ranging from the implications that the case had on states’ rights to coerce citizens in appropriate situations, to the effect it had upon the very nature of understanding healthcare even in the modern-day world.

But the case had an effect which is often overshadowed by those more blatant issues of citizens’ rights versus states’ rights and health care policy established by the government. The case actually asserted an important point regarding the Preamble to the Constitution, helping to specify the Preamble’s place in court decisions and legal thinking.

The facts of the case boil down to a conflict between a single man, Jacobson, and the state of Massachusetts, over whether or not Massachusetts could force Jacobson to be vaccinated. Massachusetts passed a statute in 1902 which would require all citizens who had not been vaccinated at some point during the past 5 years to become vaccinated or pay a fine. Jacobson, however, refused both to be vaccinated and to pay the fine. He sued on the argument that the Massachusetts statute infringed on his liberty and sought to have his position supported through Masachusettes law.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled against him, however, so he appealed to the United States Supreme Court. They decided against Jacobson, ruling that Jacobson’s refusal to accept the vaccination was not so much an act of individual choice as it was an act endangering those around him. He was accepting the benefits of everyone else had received the vaccine without having gotten it himself. Furthermore, this was a situation in which the state had the power to force citizens to act in certain ways in order to protect the common good.

The case established the concept of manifold restraints to action which each citizen inherently accepts in being a citizen in order to make the overall society function. There was some dissent, as the decision was a 7-2 decision, but the decision was accepted, in general, primarily because it was a decision so clearly in favor of the public. Jacobson’s disbelief in the science of vaccination was not based on sound evidence and the general public welfare was helped by the prevalence of the vaccination.

In terms of the Preamble to the Constitution, however, Jacobson v. Massachusetts had a different effect. The Preamble does not have any legal power within the Constitution; it is an introduction to the document as a whole and does not, in and of itself, allow the exercise of any kind of legal power. This was confirmed and established in the Syllabus of the decision for Jacobson V. Massachusetts. The syllabus opened up with a statement on the fact that the Preamble did not confer any powers to the government or to citizens, and the only power that can arise from the Constitution must come from elsewhere, not the Preamble.

The spirit of the Constitution can be understood through the Preamble’s words, yes, but actual legal power would not arise from the Preamble. This means that, for all that the Preamble to the Constitution may provide a strong basic framework for understanding the intent behind the Constitution as a whole, the Preamble cannot be taken as directly legally relevant in providing rights or powers either to the citizen or to theState.

In this particular case, theState’s actions were actually found to be in accordance with the intent of the Constitution as described in the Preamble. This would not have been enough to push the decision in Massachusetts’ favor if there had not been a law on the books for acting as it was, but it was enough to confirm that Massachusetts was in the right.