Progressive Taxes, Founding Fathers and Political Cartoons

The cartoon below is yet another demonstration of political discussion: it offers essential truth and yet essentially it does not.  Truth often depends upon what words are used in the larger discussion.

Constitution and Obama and Madidson

The founders were very divided on this subject.

While both Jefferson and Madison were libertarians, Jefferson believed in progressive taxes (in anti-govspeak: redistribution, which = Jefferson’s progressive taxation). Madison was a minimalist libertarian. He did not even want a Bill of Rights. He felt it to be totally unnecessary. Madison was a ‘things will somehow work themselves out’ libertarian.

Yet, perhaps in deference to Jefferson’s views, Madison seems to have had no problem at the time with writing Article 1.8 into the Constitution, that is the abhorred ‘general welfare’ clause.  Every version of the draft Constitution includes the phrase.

It is usually conservatives that point out that the preamble contains reference to the ‘general welfare’ but that it was just an introductory phrase to the enumerated powers. Yet it also appears in Article 1.8.

This clause and wording caused great argument almost from the moment that the Constitution was adopted. Some 40 years after the Constitution’s ratification, there was still debate as to what it all meant, which Madison attempted to explain in a lengthy letter.

Madison wrote a letter on November 27, 1830 explaining the logic behind this clause. Madison’s short answer: we carried it over from the Articles of Confederation. Madison’s contraview fellow travellers, beginning with the Washington Administration and Alexander Hamilton, argued that while the clause may have been carried over it was also revised to include the powers of direct taxation. The Hamiltonian view was that the Constitution’s drafters had intent that gave the federal government unique powers.

The discussion and the political cartoon above are about taxation, aka redistribution of wealth.

Even Jefferson and Madison, two libertarians and very close friends debated.

Jefferson and Madison corresponded often on the topic of natural rights, property rights and the role of government.

>>> From Jefferson’s letter to Madison, 1785:

“…Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. …”

— 28 Oct 1785, pre-Constitution (written/adopted 1777/78)

Madison was a bit slow to write back to Jefferson (then in France) but did so in 1786. His response to Jefferson was essentially ‘there will be poor always’.

>>> From Madison’s letter to Jefferson, 1786:

“Your reflections on the idle poor of Europe, form a valuable lesson to the Legislators of every Country, and particularly of a new one. I hope you will enable yourself before you return to America to compare with this description of people in France the Condition of the indigent part of other communities in Europe where the like causes of wretchedness exist in a less degree. I have no doubt that the misery of the lower classes will be found to abate wherever the Government assumes a freer aspect, & the laws favor a subdivision of property. Yet I suspect that the difference will not fully account for the comparative comfort of the Mass of people in the United States. Our limited population has probably as large a share in producing this effect as the political advantages which distinguish us. A certain degree of misery seems inseparable from a high degree of populousness.”

— 17 Jun 1786

Wisdom of the Founders and why we have less than perfect government

A few thoughts by Bill Golden
aka Bill4DogCatcher.com

“In questions of power,
let no more be heard of confidence in men,
but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution”
— Thomas Jefferson, Kentucky Resolutions, 1798

The Founders were fairly smart guys … although truth be told: most were braver than they were thinkers. The thinkers could be counted on both hands with a few fingers left over. And most spoke great words but were pragmatists with self-interest in their hearts when they woke up or went to bed each day.

Among the thinkers — those that gave us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence — they were ultimately human and usually had their own dark side. My point being that government is what it is and the good ol’days were not necessarily better … we tend to remember the good and forget the other stuff.

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Jefferson was right “in questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution” … but Jefferson himself has been accused of pushing the boundaries of executive power within the Constitution, and probably crossing those boundaries.

“It is incumbent on those who accept great charges
to risk themselves on great occasions.”

— Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Colvin, 1810
where Jefferson anguished over the constitutionality of some decisions

 

Geo.Washington sent out almost 70,000 troops to collect past due taxes. When the then Tea Party of 1791 (the Whiskey Rebellion) refused to pay taxes … well, the troops returned home with the taxes and there were widows attending funerals of those that took up arms to protest paying. Washington also supported taxing citizens to pay for churches to continue their social work, continuing the practice of the former English government.

John Adams gave us the ‘Aliens and Sedition Acts‘ which made it a felony to criticize the federal government and it forbade any individual or group to oppose “any measure or measures of the United States.”  — So you think that Washingon is out of control now? Washington is a tame beast compared to the Washington of our founders.

Aaron Burr, one of our first vice presidents, was found guilty of treason for trying to setup a new country largely situated in the Louisiana Purchase area. And did I mention that Burr killed former Treasury Secretary and one of the Top 10 most important Founders Alexander Hamilton in a duel?!

The loss of Hamilton was immense as he was the ultimate pragmatic deal maker.

Virginia — even with the Bill of Rights added, Virginia refused to ratify the Constitution. Madison and Jefferson did their best … but it took Alexander Hamilton working behind closed doors making deals to bring Virginia into the fold.

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It would be easy to become cynical. Skeptical is a better path. Optimistically skeptical is even better. Government is us. We exist and live our lives based upon self-interest. We do deals. We all do. That is us, and a government based upon us is no different.

If we want better government then we should seek out transparent government. We should be skeptical of ALL political parties because the price of membership is to sell your soul to the collective whims of many for the election of one. It has forever been that way and it will be forever that way.

Our options can be to constantly point out that government constantly falls into various pitfalls … but then so do we. It is us and we are it.

God bless America. Each day is a new day to try and to make things a bit better … and should that not work out then there is always the day after today to try again.