Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Getting a Constitutional Education – Origin and Curse of the Federal Income Tax (Part 4)

It’s important that we educate our children on the topics of politics, government, and the Constitution which governs our nation. This nine-part series attempts to remind us of some basic principles, lest they be forgotten by the next generation.

For anyone who has ever received a paycheck, it may seem hard to imagine a time when there was no such thing as a federal income tax. One-hundred short years ago, there was no federal income tax in place. Today, we take it for granted that a large part – a very large part – of our paycheck will never be deposited in our bank account. We live in a time where the federal government continues to grow bigger and more bloated than ever before. The number of programs funded by our government is vast. Is this practice constitutional?

The original Constitution did not provide for broad powers of taxation at the federal level. Taxes were outlined in Article 1, Section 8, which says, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States”. Disregarding for the moment the “general welfare” clause (which we’ll cover in Part 8), this does not give Congress a lot of things on which to spend money. I certainly don’t see Social Security, payments to illegal immigrants, or the funding of non-US, overseas abortion clinics in those words. In fact, the Articles of Confederation, which preceded the US Constitution and which give us insight into the mind of the founders, gave the federal government no ability to tax whatsoever. The founding fathers’ ideas on federal taxation may best be summed up in the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said, “…a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government”.

In principle, the very purpose of government was simply to protect the freedom of the individual and their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – nothing more. Our government is well beyond that today, in large part due to the Sixteenth Amendment. This amendment was proposed by the administration of Woodrow Wilson in 1913, and was ratified by the states in 1916. It is one of the briefest amendments, and simply says, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” Before this Amendment, the federal government had a shaky claim to taxing any of our income. Now, your Congressmen and President have free reign.

The very first round of federal income taxes actually occurred before this date. Under the Abraham Lincoln administration, in 1862, a federal income tax was collected, to help pay for the Civil War. At that time, anyone earning less than $10,000 per year was taxed at a 3% rate; anyone earning more than $10,000 per year was taxed at a rate of 5%. Compare that to what you pay in federal tax today! However, people couldn’t long accept this burden, and the federal income tax was abolished in 1872. It didn’t come back until the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1916.

We spoke of state’s rights in Part 2 of this series. Does the adoption of the federal income tax affect the power of states in any way? Yes, it does. Consider the fact that a great deal of federally-collected money is returned to the states each year. This money is not required to be given back in proportion to the size of the state or the number of its population. So, each state fights for its’ share of the federal money, giving much more power to the elected officials at the national level. State legislatures scrap for every last dollar, whether the cause is noble or even necessary, because someone else will get the money if they don’t. States are often coerced to “toe the line” with regards to federal government wishes, because the feds can threaten to withhold money from the state if the state doesn’t comply with what they want in Washington. An example is the virtual blackmail that occurs whenever a state decides they want to raise the interstate speed limit above the federal recommendation. If they threaten to raise it, the federal government returns the threat by withholding certain funds originally slated for road improvements. Doesn’t it make more sense for the state to both set their speed limit and fix their own roads? Imagine the differences that would ensue! No two states would be alike, and we could glory in their uniqueness! Alas, this is one area where "diversity" is discouraged by the federal government.

Frank Chodorov said it best, in his 1954 paper The Income Tax: Root of All Evil:

“For the Sixteenth Amendment corroded the American concept of natural rights; ultimately reduced the American citizen to a status of subject, so much so that he is not aware of it; enhanced Executive power to the point of reducing Congress to innocuity; and enabled the central government to bribe the states, once independent units, into subservience. No kingship in the history of the world ever exercised more power than our Presidency, or had more of the people’s wealth at its disposal.”

It should be clear that the federal income tax, while both legal and constitutional, exceeds the boundaries envisioned by the founders, in part because of the corruption it creates and the undesirable consolidation of federal power to which it leads. Do you want to fight it? Good luck, because the federal government will use your own tax money to fight you in court and build your prison cell if you refuse to pay…

Next article: What are the concepts of secession and nullification about? And was Abraham Lincoln really a good president? Back to the main index article.

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