A Very Brief History of Taxation in America

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Our grid depends on this mineral

taxation

by Susan Boskey

“100% of what is collected is absorbed solely by interest on the Federal Debt … all individual income tax revenues are gone before one nickel is spent on the services taxpayers expect from government.” ~The Grace Commission Report, 1984

As April 15 nears…thought you would find this research on taxation in America timely if not interesting.

No one living before the Constitution of 1787 could have believed the seven ways to Sunday Americans are now taxed. Under the Declaration of Independence and the first American constitution of 1777, The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, association among the confederate states and a state’s interaction with federal authorities was 100% voluntary.

Though paying taxes was a voluntary act, the federal legislature (never referred to as government), did have legitimate operating expenses, and depended on property taxes collected from and given by the states voluntarily in varying amounts. It was this inconsistent funding that historians thereafter have considered the deal-breaker issue for what has been called the “failure” of this first American union.

A Second Constitution Provides New Powers of Taxation

The untold rest of the story? The Framers of the U.S. Constitution of 1787 seriously wanted centralized authority which was non-existent under The Articles. Far from being commoners, the Framers of the 1787 U.S Constitution were either landed gentry of prominent families, or had risen to the strata of aristocratic American society due to intelligence, education and intent, as did Benjamin Franklin, the tenth son of a soap maker. Make no mistake; these men gleaned knowledge about governance and taxation from the British Crown and the Church of England’s system of tithing. The U.S. Government came into existence with the establishment of the U.S. Constitution of 1787.

Not long thereafter, in 1791, Alexander Hamilton lobbied Congress. He wanted an excise tax to accelerate the payment of national debt incurred during the American Revolution. Also known as the Act of March 3, 1791, this tax law enforced government’s new ability to compel performance (force and the power of distraint giving authority to seize personal property for payment.) Unaccustomed to this new form of government and laws of the U.S. Constitution, some of the earliest Americans took offense. Hamilton’s excise tax incited them to rebel in the 1794 Western Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebellion. An excise tax laid on the manufacture of alcohol had not lawfully applied to them. Those who then lived in Pennsylvania, an original state established under The Articles, were called “free inhabitants” and lawfully remained so.

Here’s why.

According to the law definition of territorial jurisdiction, only those living on land owned by said government are also subject to its laws. As of 1791 U.S. Government federal lands consisted of the Northwest Territory but excluded the original thirteen states of The Articles. Even so, President Washington sent in troops to silence the tax protesters of the Whiskey Rebellion.

In 1798, the Fries’ Rebellion led by John Fries of Pennsylvania, opposed the enforcement of a direct federal property tax. Even though the Whiskey and Fries’ Rebellions had not been waged on lands subject to U.S. Government territorial jurisdiction, the federal government captured and convicted rebel members for the supposed act of treason. John Fries was pardoned by President Adams after his conviction. Fries had been a “turn-coat” infiltrator for the government militia against those of the Fries’ Rebellion.

Theft of Private Property

“[E]very Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his. The great and chief end therefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government, is the Preservation of their Property.” ~John Locke, English philosopher and political theorist, 1632-1704

slave_of_liberty_taxation

Taxation on labor (income tax) was an unimaginable, unheard of kind of tax until the latter half of the nineteenth century. Labor was one’s personal property, the bread of life of natural and common law. To tax labor was considered direct theft, an outright assault against property rights of the individual.

The first income tax act Congress passed was the Tax Act of 1861. The Act stated the territorial jurisdiction of which and to whom the tax would apply: “every person residing in the U.S.” Yet, this tax was never enacted.

Soon to follow, Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1862 which led to the creation and opening of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to collect the new income tax. For the first time, a tax on one’s labor was imposed on the people of the United States. Its purpose was to defray the many costs incurred by a Civil War already underway.

Again, in 1864, Congress authorized an additional income tax to augment the payment of war debt. This 1864 additional tax required Americans pay five percent when earning between $600 and $5,000, seven and one-half percent if between $5,001 and $10,000 and ten percent on anything above $10,000. After the Civil War, the rate modified to a flat rate of five percent and then to two and one-half percent. With the purpose of the income tax to pay off Civil War debt, the Revenue Act of 1862 was repealed and ended in 1872.

Until 1913, for forty-one years, no substantial effort was made towards the reinstatement of the 1862 income tax law. Prosperity in America reigned supreme during that period; the only tax funding the government was a tariff tax on imported goods. However, during that same period, the Supreme Court focused on several tax cases.

Supreme Court Tax Cases

An 1883 Supreme Court decision, Butchers’ Union Co. v. Crescent City Co., 111 U.S. 746, cited that one’s labor was, in fact, one’s property. Then, in another case, Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co, 1895, the very same Supreme Court that had supported the passage of the Tax Act of 1864, did an about-face and decided against a proposed Income Tax Act of 1894.

The Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. 1895 Supreme Court decision against the Tax Act of 1894 determined it to be a direct-tax scheme and therefore unconstitutional. Given that taxation of real estate (personal property) was lawfully a direct tax, so also would be the taxation of any and allpersonal property, including money earned from one’s labor. Therefore, a tax on labor was exempt from the explicit tax powers of Congress granted in a portion of Article I, Sections 2 and 9 of the U.S. Constitution.

Article I. Sections 2 and 9:

“Direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states,” and “no capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.”

Decisions of the United States Supreme Court were to be bound to the written law of the U.S. Constitution, the professed law of the land.

“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” Article VI, U.S. Constitution

Yet in 1913, the government overturned the 1895 Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. decision. What happened? The U.S. Government laid a claim. It said that a 1913 Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution gave them the authorization to levy an income tax on the people without the constitutional requirement of apportionment confirmed by the Supreme Court.

However, another Supreme Court case challenged government plans to renew income taxation. This was the 1916 Stanton v. Baltic Mining Co. 240 US 103 case. It decided that the U.S. Constitution clearly stated that direct taxation of the people must be apportioned to a State by a certain percentage of a State’s representation. In other words, this Supreme Court decision established that the Sixteenth Amendment had not altered, added, or removed any words from the Constitution.

“…[the 16th Amendment] conferred no new power of taxation…[and]…prohibited the…power of income taxation possessed by Congress from the beginning from being taken out of the category of indirect taxation to which it inherently belonged….” ~Stanton v. Baltic Mining Co. 240 US 103

Given Supreme Court rulings are bound to the Constitution, one would rightly assume apportionment as regarded direct taxation would be reinstated. Wrong. “Justified” by the Sixteenth Amendment, the U.S. Government reinstated its powers of income taxation. The BIR increased their staff and operating systems to capture the coming new big wave of government funding.

The Rest is History

Most Americans in 1913 paid no income tax. The average annual earnings of a middle-class family were approximately $800 and only people earning $3,000 or more annually were requested to voluntarily comply by filing a 1040 form to pay a one percent in taxes. A one percent income tax rate ninety-nine years ago has morphed to a graduated tax-rate of fifteen to thirty-five percent depending on one’s yearly earnings.

In 2016, those married under 65 filing jointly need to file if they make more than the filing threshold requirement for W-2 income of $20,300. This actually ends up as a much lower dollar amount (inflation –adjusted) than the $3000 original threshold requirement of 1913: In 2016 inflation-adjusted dollars for $3000 in 1913 is $71,851, which, if using the same $3000 threshold amount, would mean only those today making $71,851, or more, would need to file income tax.

Perhaps needless to say, many questions arise from the chronology of these facts and events.

“You are among the millions of Americans who comply with the tax law voluntarily.”  Form 1040 Tax Instruction Booklet, 1992

 

Susan Boskey is author of the book, The Quality Life Plan®: 7 Steps to Uncommon Financial Security. After exposing the bottom-line of why more and more families need credit each month just to make ends meet, Susan provides game-changing practical strategies, tactics and templates to help you create a life of greater ease. You can reverse the downward trend of credit and debt while learning how to establish a long-term, debt-free lifestyle; a life that allows you to build both financial wealth and the wealth of well-being midst the challenges of today’s economic landscape. To learn more or to purchase the book, please visit her website at http://TheQualityLifePlan.com

Susan can customize her strategies and templates for your particular situation and is available to coach you through this process. She can be reached through her website.

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  • http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/political_reading_room/ disqus_3BrONUAJno

    No one living since 1787 would have expected us to be so compliant in paying what we don’t owe.

  • http://robertsrevolution.net Robert Farrior

    There must be a revolutionary change in this country!
    robertsrevolution.net

  • way2inform

    Do any of you have the balls to stop paying income tax in protest?

    • Todd MacCubbin

      All the people who stop paying have ended up in jail or levied upon!

      • way2inform

        That doesnt answer my question one bit. Who has any balls?? Jail, levy? Quaking in their boots. See ya in the fema camp