Saturday, September 4, 2010

Getting a Constitutional Education – Questions for Student Discussion (Part 11)

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 reminds us of some basic principles, lest they be forgotten by the next generation. The following questions provide material for homeschool and public school teachers to share, discuss, and test their students on each of the nine topics. The link to each article is included, or you may start through the series beginning at Constitutional Education – Free Homeschool Curriculum (a nine-part series, originally published in January/February 2009). The discussion questions are divided up into three installments, beginning here.


4. Origin and Curse of the Federal Income Tax (Part 4)

· Name two events in American history which established a federal income tax. [The first, started during Abraham Lincoln’s administration to pay for the Civil War debt lasted from 1862 to 1872. The second came with the establishment of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1916.]

· Describe why the model where the federal government collects taxes and then gives money back to the states is a potential problem? [The federal government is not required to give the money back in any kind of proportion to the number of people in the states. Therefore, the federal government could potentially give money disproportionately, and almost certainly will. Money earned in one state and taxed may not come back to benefit that state or its taxpayers.]

· Write out the words of the Sixteenth Amendment. While it is very short, what problems can you see in the sentence? [“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.” First, “from whatever source derived”” means they can potentially collect taxes on any money transfer. Today, taxes are generally not collected on Internet purchases, but there is nothing to prevent the government from invoking such a tax. “Without apportionment” and “enumeration” means once again that tax benefits can be unequally distributed to people, regardless of who earned it. One could argue that this is very close to the definition of socialism.]

· Extra – Describe how a system of federal taxation can shift the balance of power away from states and toward the federal government. In your opinion, has that happened? Why or why not?

· Extra – Look up the definitions of socialism, collectivism, communism, and capitalism. In your opinion, which one most closely aligns with the idea of federal taxation and re-distribution?

5. Secession and Nullification (Part 5)

· How many states seceded from the Union during the time of the Civil War? Which was the first state to secede? Was your state one of the ones that seceded? [Thirteen states ultimately seceded from the United States, with South Carolina being the first in December of 1860. Tennessee was the last to secede in June, 1861. States seceded over perceived violations of the United States Constitution by the Lincoln administration. The list of States who seceded from the Union include South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee]

· Did the people in the Northern states want to prevent the seceding states from leaving the Union and bring them back into the Union forcefully? [According to Horace Greeley, nine out of ten people in the Northern states agreed that the states’ right to secede from the Union was more important than preserving the Union as a whole. It appears that most people understood well the right of states to secede and they supported it.]

· Summarize the “power pyramid” between individuals, states, and the federal government. How did the founders view this pyramid? How do you think it looks today? [The founders believed in individual rights above all else – this was made clear in their writings and in the Declaration of Independence itself. Next were states’ rights, as is also clearly demonstrated in their writings. The federal government was originally designed to be the weakest of the three. In today’s United States, these roles appear to be reversed. From Part 4 of this series, the Sixteenth Amendment probably had a lot to do with this reversal.]

· Extra – Write an essay weighing the good and bad of Lincoln’s decision to enter into the Civil War. Consider both sides - the abolishment of slavery vs. the abridgement of a state’s right to secede.

· Extra – look up the “South Carolina Declaration of The Causes of Secession”. Outline the state’s reasons for deciding to leave the Union.

6. Enumerated Powers vs. Implied Powers (Part 6)

· Define the concept of express (or enumerated) powers. [A person who believes in enumerated powers allows that only what is listed specifically in the Constitution is applicable to government. This is in line with Thomas Jefferson’s thinking – that government only has the authority to do exactly what is listed in the Constitution – nothing else.]

· Define the concept of implied powers. [A person believing in implied Constitutional powers would hold that government authority can go beyond the specific enumerated powers listed in the Constitution. It becomes difficult to define these powers because “implied” can cover a broad range of thinking. It seems that this has happened – consider, does the federal government have the rightful Constitutional authority to mandate healthcare insurance? We are already seeing Constitutional challenges to this recent law.]

· Did the founding fathers believe that the original Constitution would be completely sufficient for the future? Why or why not? [The founders included Article 5 in the Constitution, which allows for an Amendment to the Constitution to be made. Since they did this, it seems evident that they believed the Constitution was not made to be unchanged forever.]

· Extra – What do you think would happen in Congress if Congressman Shadegg’s “Enumerated Powers Act” became law? Would there be changes in daily Congressional business?

· Extra – Form an opinion and write down your reasons for supporting enumerated powers or implied powers.

Next in the series
Back to the beginning of the Constitutional Education series....

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