Liberty, justice, taxes, and the U.S. Constitution

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Article 1 Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution limits the taxation powers of Congress, saying:

“No capitation, or other direct, tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken.”

This simply outlaws income taxes.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ends:

“…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

This says the government may not deprive the accused of natural rights, and that the government cannot take private property without paying for it.  

Some would argue that the last part does not apply to income or labor, but only to physical property, such as land or belongings.  Let it be recognized, however, that land and belongings are nothing more than tangible storages of income and labor.  Moreover, it would be absurd to suggest that a man’s labor is not his property, and therefore, according to this amendment, the government may not take a person’s labor (income) for public use without just compensation.

The Sixteenth Amendment grants Congress the authority to tax incomes:

“Congress shall have the 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.”

This is a clear contradiction of Article 1 Section 9.

Section 1 of the Thirteenth Amendment:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

This prohibits any entity from forcing any individual to work by force or by state-imposed coercion (or threats thereof), unless as a punishment for a crime.  

The income tax is not technically a form of involuntary servitude to the government, because the government does not force anyone to work.  However, under the income tax, everyone who chooses to work is forced to work for the government, so the spirit of the amendment may very well apply to outlawing the income tax.  

There are certainly those who feel like slaves to the government, because the government takes a great part of the fruits of their labor; but technically, this is not true, because they may always choose not to work, and while this choice may be a threat to their survivals, it is not a direct threat from government.  This unhappy choice, however, contains the implicit threat: “work for the government, or die.”  So it is not completely clear whether the income tax qualifies as universal slavery, which would be prohibited by this amendment.

When this amendment ended slavery, note that it literally scribbled out all other portions of the Constitution that contradicted the new amendment.  Note also that, when the Sixteenth Amendment was written to allow income taxes, none of the previous portions that outlaw such taxes were removed from the Constitution.  

This practical difference, I believe, shows the spirit with which these two amendments passed.  When slavery was ended, the public was quick to remove from the record all evidence of its existence, because slavery was a stain on liberty and justice; it was an embarrassment to an otherwise proud society of free individuals.  But when the income tax was instituted, the amendment allowing it was the embarrassment to freedom, and all else in the Constitution that contradicted it was left to bear, so the people could still call it their own, and perhaps retain some nostalgic feeling of what it was to be free.

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9 Responses

  1. Sir –
    An excellent overview of the precedent for taxation. We are having a debate (which I invite you to join) about fair taxation towards producing a Liberty Manifesto, at:
    http://libertypatriotsforjustice.ning.com/forum/topics/flat-tax-versus-sales-tax

    Your argument here strikes me as a case against an income tax entirely and so, in order to fund a government, a case for something like a sales tax. And since you are proposing that all belongings and property are repositories of income (which if granted does seems to be a thing very different than income itself), then according to your thinking one would rule out property tax.

    We, instead, are now thinking that the government should be compensated via a “fee for services” in the form of a property tax which would stay constant at a set percentage rate, and so that the property owners would pay in proportion to the size of their property for services rendered by government including police, roads, water, etc.

    We too are not interested in being slaves of the government. Thank you for your thoughts.

    – Scott

  2. Because it is the proper role of the government to protect property, I prefer property taxes over income taxes, because that which the law protects should bear the burden of the cost of government protection. The government does not protect immediate income, except by maintaining a reliable currency, which costs nothing. proper government becomes expensive (actually relatively cheap, by today’s standards) by protecting stored income in the form of physical property (land, belongings, etc.) Certainly the greatest of these expenses is national defense (when necessary), and those who stand to lose if national defense is not maintained–and therefore should gladly bear the burden of taxation for THAT purpose (as well as other property protections)–are those who own have stored their labor and accumulated property. Do not take this to mean that physical property owners should pay confiscatory tax rates on their ownership–only the money necessary for the protection of life, liberty and property, which again, is the only proper role of government. This would undoubtedly be a very small amount relative to our terms.

    • Property tax prohibits the ownership of property. An owner is not some one who must pay another to keep what belongs to them. The essence of ownership is that you don’t have to pay another to keep what you have. You may own your pants and shirt but in America no one is allowed to own their home.

      Home ownership is in fact the greatest lie ever told. It’s ludicrous to say you support property tax because property “owners” benefit from government protection when property tax makes government the owner. Government is the one that will throw you out of your home if you don’t pay them and they are the greatest threat to the security of your home. Property tax makes government into a criminal syndicate collecting extortion. With property tax government is denying the people the essence of what it is supposed to protect.

      The ability to “own” property is the source of freedom. What ever stored wealth property represents is worthless when it negates this principle. Do you believe government has the right to put a price on liberty? Being forced to pay another to keep what belongs to you is slavery and this is precisely what property tax does.
      Property tax is slavery.

      Property tax prohibits the ownership of property. Property tax forces you into government SERVITUDE in order to keep your home and redefines “ownership” as being that which is only allowed if you’re continually wealthy. Property tax prohibits the poor from having anything and separates society into a cast system making it impossible for the poor to have land.
      Property tax forces you to WORSHIP the government with the almighty dollar and is only tax that FORCES you into eternal debt and makes the acquisition of liberty impossible. Property tax is pure evil

  3. The Sixteenth Amendment came most recent, so it makes the contradictory language in Article 1, sec. 9 obsolete. When the U.S. Constitution is amended, no language is actually removed, but some language can be made legally meaningless. Thus, for example, the Prohibition Amendment (the 18th) still remains, even though it was later repealed by the 21st Amendment.

    Websites and books that post the U.S. Constitution will often italicize this kind of meaningless text that remains, and the language you cite from Article 1, sec. 9 is indeed obsolete:

    http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#A1Sec9

    Given that Article 1 lets Congress “lay and collect Taxes,” and that the 16th Amendment expressly allows Congress to tax incomes, you’re arguments are hopeless, from a legal standpoint.

    Is the federal income tax a wise or moral policy? You can still make the argument here, but there is absolutely no question that the federal income tax is constitutional. Of course, Adam Smith himself supported a progressive income tax, and every modern democracy has one…

  4. And btw, the slavery references are still in the Constitution. The 3/5ths compromise, the Fugitive Slave clause of Article IV, and Article V’s protection of the Slave Trade are all still there.

    It makes you appreciate that our “Founding Fathers” weren’t exactly the infallible gods we sometimes make them out to be.

  5. Stephen –

    Your analysis, while relevant for current court proceedings, seems to conclude that a progressive income tax, as suggested in the 16th, is a good thing only because adam smith and “every modern democracy has one.” Huh? Let’s see, if every modern “democracy” (thought we were a “republic”?) goes for state run Health Care, and at least one book author and theorist support it, then it must be a good thing, right?

    You may have proven a legal technicality in your observations, but you really have some work to do to build your case that taxation, as administrated currently, is moral, was intended by the founders, and has anything at all to do with Liberty.

  6. Slavery is when someone or government forces you to make payment to them for something that belongs to you. Slavery occurs because governments prohibit the ownership of property. In every case this boils down to some form of Property Tax. The worse case is when they prohibit the ownership of our bodies and our tax must be paid with our day to day labor. The next worse case is when they prohibit the ownership of our homes. We have moved past the worst case scenario but homestead property tax clearly makes the ownership of our homes impossible.

    Income tax not slavery. The government has created all the money (the only thing they do actually make) and has a monopoly on its use. They have a right to charge you to use their currency. Income tax is but charging you a fee (paid in their money) for the right to use their currency as a means exchange.

    Government did not make the land and they have no right to claim to own it all with property tax. Income tax does not force you into debt only property tax does. Property tax forces you to make money for the state. Property tax FORCES you into government servitude in order to keep your home. Income tax doesn’t keep you from making money. It only means you make less. You aren’t working for the government you are simply being paid less for your work. If you don’t like what the government takes you need to work for something other than money.

    Slavery only occurs with income tax when you are forced to file your tax return. Even if government compensates you for your labor it is paid with their money and you were still threatened with the loss of what belongs to you (your liberty and property) if you do not file your return.
    Perhaps the greatest lie ever told is the American Dream of home ownership as property tax clearly prohibits ownership making it impossible to ever become free from debt. Property tax is the evolution of serfdom where kings and lords have been replaced by rulers of the State. This medieval extortion, collected on unrealized capital gains, makes the peoples homes into investments of the State. Property tax forces the people into government servitude in order to keep their homes. Clearly as in the past, modern day serfdom is intended to prevent the people from ever acquiring liberty. With property tax the people must pay with government currency. Gone are the good old days when you could pay with chickens, some other farm product or manual labor

  7. The property tax is a most unjust tax and in reality takes away real ownership from what was originally intended to be a sovereign individual. Now Americans are apparently subjects to the thrones of the elites in Washington, DC.

    Think about it for a minute without the fog of the modern America which resembles little the nation founded by great men in 1776. The banks loan you money, which they really don’t have, created out of thin air. You, the borrower, buy a home with this money. the bank owns the home but you pay property taxes, insurance, upkeep, etc and the bank pays nothing. Further the bank has you, the borrower, set up with an “amortized loan” which means you not only pay double what the home is worth (usury) but you pay mostly interest in the first half of the loan term.

    The founding fathers warned us against the things we now live with daily. Power hungry politicians have replaced statesmen, the corrupt government collects huge amounts of taxes on just about everything possible and spends the money wherever it wants. We have an Empire Caesar would envy. We have the highest percentage of population imprisoned than any other developed nation. Our Constitution has been trashed and the rule of law replaced with whatever the politicians can push on a dumb society.

    We now hear everyone refer to our nation as a “democracy” which it was never intended to be. I’m so sick of hearing idiots refer to the USA as a “democracy” which is one of the worst forms of government.

    The truth is that America isn’t free. It’s the land of the fee and the home of the slave. Americans have been asleep over the last 100 years and now they are slave subjects to an elite and corrupt government accountable to no one.

    Now with the downturn in the economy, the private sector has cut back and people are losing their jobs, their homes and some everything they have and the government isn’t cutting anything. In fact they are trying to raise taxes to try and make up for the loss in revenue because so many people are out of work and incomes are demolished and their revenues are down. They should cut back but instead are trying to keep everything at maximum by taxing the private sector more.

    Americans are not free. They live in fear of their corrupt government. Tyranny has prevailed.

  8. The 16th amenment

    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.

    It was ratified get over it

    However an admendment to the Constitution overrides the previous wording. The 16th expressly allows for an income tax. You are correct that prior to the 16th an income tax was illigal and ruled as such during the Civil War

    50 states are not required to pass a amendment only 37

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