Tag Archives: Jefferson

Taxes And Tyranny

“No earthly consideration could induce my consent to contract such a debt as England has…to reduce our citizens by taxes to such wretchedness, as that laboring sixteen of the twenty-four hours, they are still unable to afford themselves bread, or barely to earn as much oatmeal or potatoes as will keep soul and body together.”
~Thomas Jefferson (1816)

According to the latest polls, the American people are not yet aware of the full extent of the creeping tyranny that has been eroding their freedoms for over a century.  President Obama still enjoys an approval rating of 61% after four months of unceasing efforts designed to diminish liberty by transferring more control over individual choices to the federal government.

Granted a large segment of the population does not pay attention to politics on a daily basis and are not up to speed on the day-to-day happenings in Washington.  The truth is though, that most Americans like taxes and tyranny — as long as they are directed toward someone else.

They applaud when that arrogant neighbor across the street is cited by the Home Owner’s Association for displaying an oversized American Flag, because they themselves are not interested in displaying Old Glory.  Ditto the elderly gentleman down the street who doesn’t cut his lawn as often as they think he should or clear the snow from his sidewalk as soon as he should.  They approve of laws banning or taxing foods they consider unhealthy.  The teetotaler approves when the tax is raised on liquor.  The non-smoker cheers when smoking bans are instituted or additional taxes are placed on tobacco.

They do not see the connection between taxes imposed on someone else or the tyranny oppressing others, and their own liberty and freedom.  Most of us do not protest when a tax is added to soda, cigarettes, alcohol, etc., and we do not object when those who live an “unhealthy” lifestyle are taxed on the components of that lifestyle, or charged more for healthcare.  The absurdity of our reasoning does not seem to occur to us.

Following this logic, the person who frequents health clubs, abstains from unhealthy foods, drinking, smoking and gets his or her proper allotment of exercise and sleep, should live to be at least two hundred years old.  Of course, that does not happen.  Everyone dies, and everyone requires a certain amount of healthcare before they die.  The longer they live, the more healthcare they consume.  Restricting the freedom of others on the mistaken notion that it somehow reduces the cost of healthcare or saves on taxes for ourselves is absurd.

Taxes and tyranny are inseparably linked.  Tyranny is measured by the amount of life spent in servitude to the government and the number of personal decisions prescribed by law.  At the present time, the average American spends over forty percent of his or her time working to support the ravenous appetites of governments.  Only after government has been satiated can we then start using the fruits of our labor for ourselves and our families. No person can call themselves free when a major part of their labor is confiscated by government for its own purposes, or when the enjoyment of the luxuries they have earned are limited or prohibited by that same government.

Even in the matter of taxation, we see the same unthinking public dynamic at work.  Low income people are content when taxes are increased on those who earn more, but as people rise on the ladder of success, so does their support for a more regressive taxing system, such as the “[un]fair-tax” and similar tax schemes they mistakenly believe will tax the “underground” economy.  Tax avoidance is as American as apple pie.  From the colonial era smugglers and the patriots participating in the Boston Tea Party to the neighborhood pusher or minimally paid person who works “off the books”, Americans will always avoid paying taxes that are too burdensome or that they perceive as unfair.

Some lawmakers and members of the Administration are beginning to talk about the most regressive tax of all, a value-added tax.  A value-added tax or VAT would add an additional cost of about twenty-five percent onto everything we buy, in addition to the sales taxes, excise taxes and all the “hidden” taxes paid by consumers. Moreover, it would be in addition to taxes on incomes and capital gains.

Those cheering President Obama’s prodigious spending plans “for the people” and “for the children” will probably change their tune when they realize they have mortgaged the fruits of their labor and their children’s labor for more than $540,000 per household.  Unfortunately, by then it will be too late to do anything about it except pay up.

The current federal debt of $63.8 trillion plus the amount added every day will be paid, either by taxes or by inflation, and remember, both taxes and inflation are born eventually by the consumer.  A VAT tax would push the amount of labor demanded from the average citizen for use by the government to well over 70%. As the tax burden rises, liberty declines.  Liberty is not self-perpetuating.  It must be diligently defended by every generation.  If we are to protect the liberties left to us, we have to show the same enthusiasm in defending those of our neighbors as we expect in defense of our own.  Today they tax my cigarettes; tomorrow they will tax your latte.

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Obama's Flawed Constitution

liberty-bellPresident Obama has expressed, on several occasions, his belief that the Constitution is a flawed document.  He has also indicated a primary goal of his administration is to change the way things are done in America to match the principles on which he believes the nation was founded.  Millions of Americans cheer his efforts, believing they will make their lives easier and more rewarding.  Since more than sixty percent of Americans approve of his job performance after four months in office, pursuing his goal to remake America, it is important to understand just what the founding principles of our nation really are.

We will not find a definition of those principles in the Constitution although we do find examples of them.  At the same time, we find several places where the Constitution seems to contradict those principles.  The Constitution is a political document.  As such, it reflects compromises on issues that many of the framers did not agree on. The two most important were those between the federalists and the republicans and between the slave holding states and the anti-slave states.

The founding documents of America are actually three distinct documents written at different times and for different purposes.  They are The Declaration of Independence (1776), The Constitution (1787) and The Bill of Rights (1789).

The Declaration of Independence, often referred to as the nation’s charter, was based on a republican philosophy and contains the founding principles for our form of government.  The first principle is that a legitimate government receives its powers from the people.  The second is that all men are created equal. The third principle is that of unalienable rights endowed by God, not granted by government.  The fourth is that the only purpose of government is to protect those rights in a secure and stable civil society.

During the Revolutionary War, a Federation of the thirteen states was formed to carry out the war and perform other functions of a national nature, under the Articles of Confederation.  The Federation had no taxing powers, no means of regulating commerce between the states, and no mechanism for enforcing laws passed by the Congress.  The Articles of Confederation proved inadequate as a blueprint for governance, and the states authorized a convention in 1787 for the purpose of amending the Articles to correct many of the defects.

The Convention, meeting at Philadelphia, was dominated by Federalists who wanted a strong central government with the states in a subordinate relationship to the federal government, much like the relationship between counties and towns to state governments.  The minority, known as the anti-federalists, was strongly opposed to the Constitution as written.  Fearing it gave too much power to the central government, they demanded a Bill of Rights.  Many of the Founding Fathers we revere today were on opposing sides in the debate.

Federalists Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and James Madison, among others, were strongly opposed to a Bill of Rights.  Federalist No. 84 by Hamilton was written in opposition, arguing that adding a list of specific rights guaranteed by the Constitution was not only unnecessary but dangerous to the welfare of the union.  Many of the strongest advocates for a Bill of Rights were not delegates to the Convention. Thomas Jefferson was in France on a diplomatic mission during the debates and unable to contribute personally.  However, in a letter to his friend James Madison he expressed a strong concern that the Constitution did not contain a bill of rights.  Patrick Henry, another strong anti-federalist refused to attend the Convention and therefore did not take part in the debates.

However, after the draft of the Constitution was presented to the states for ratification, Henry became one of the dominant leaders in the anti-federalist opposition along with Samuel Adams, and John Hancock of Boston.  Failing in their efforts to get a Bill of Rights included in the Constitution the anti-federalists worked diligently in their state legislatures to secure assurances that a Bill of Rights would be added as amendments to the Constitution as a condition of ratification.  In this, they succeeded.

The discord in the Philadelphia Convention can be seen by comparing the title of the Declaration with the signing statement of the Constitution.  The full title of the Declaration boldly proclaims it to be “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America”.  By comparison, the Constitution simply says in the last paragraph,

“Done in Convention by the unanimous consent of the states present the seventeenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven and of the independence of the United States of America the Twelfth in witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names.”

This ambiguous wording was drawn up by George Mason and presented by Benjamin Franklin as a way of encouraging delegates to sign the draft and maintain the impression of unanimity on their behalf.  Notice, it is the Convention itself, not the signing of the Constitution that claims the “unanimous consent”.  On the day of signing only 43 delegates representing twelve states were present, including George Washington, President of the Convention and William Jackson, Secretary.  Three of the forty-three delegates that were present refused to sign; hardly a unanimous agreement.

Five states ratified the Constitution shortly after it was presented to the states.  However, it bogged down in Massachusetts.  Only after Samuel Adams and John Hancock had negotiated “the Massachusetts Compromise”, did the Massachusetts Convention vote for ratification. The compromise, recommending amendments to be considered by the new Congress, should the Constitution go into effect allowed delegates to vote for ratification with the prospect of a Bill of Rights being added later.

The Adams-Hancock compromise probably saved the Constitution from certain defeat.  Other states followed their example in their ratifying conventions.  Without the Bill of Rights, there would be no basis in law to protect our rights and restrict the powers of Congress.  The Tenth Amendment is the cornerstone of our founding documents and the basis for the doctrine of “enumerated powers”.  Even with the addition of the Bill of Rights, there were still contradictions between the principles found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

These differences were not to be reconciled for another hundred years.  Only after the Civil War at a cost of more than 500,000 lives in battle and the addition of Amendments 13, 14 and 15, was the principle that “all men are created equal” recognized in the Constitution.  Today the Declaration and the Constitution, with its amendments, are in near perfect harmony. Unfortunately, from the beginning, the federal government has seemingly violated the letter and the spirit of the Constitution at will with little if any opposition from the people as a whole.

For the past seventy-five years we have witnessed the wholesale violation of the Constitution by Congresses, courts and Presidents, none more so that our current President and Congress.  When President Obama speaks of “perfecting” the Constitution or “remaking America” he is really talking about discarding the Constitution and tearing down all the traditions and customs that have made America great.

The warning uttered by Benjamin Franklin at the close of the Philadelphia Convention has an ominous ring to it today.

“Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.

Have the American people been so corrupted by the allure of socialism as to be incapable of any form of government other than despotism, as Franklin suggested?  The next few months and years will answer that question for many generations to come.

The Trillion Dollar Pork Barrel

liberty-bellIf you have noticed a loud whirring sound lately, it is probably the sound of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the signers of the Constitution spinning in their graves as they watch the devastation of their beloved document by our socialist leaders in Washington.

On Saturday the White House released a four-page document outlining the President’s spending plan.  The report was a more detailed version of the plan announced in his speech January 9.  It calls for $825 billion in pork barrel spending under the guise of “America Recovery and Investment”, otherwise known as the “stimulus package”.

According to White House sources, the plan is near completion in the Democratic controlled Congress.  The proposed bill will contain more pork than all the meatpacking plants in America combined.  However, there is very little stimulus of the type that might create a substantial number of new jobs, or “jump-start” our lagging economy.  Instead, it seems designed to enhance the reelection of the Democratic Congress in the 2110 elections.

The Congressional Budget Office predicts that most of the spending will occur in 2010 and 2011, coincidently just in time for the 2010 and 2012 elections.  Among the goodies supposed to create jobs and stimulate the economy is $30 billion to promote renewable energy, $200 million for renovating the Capital Mall, $275 billion in tax relief, even for the 40+ percent who pay no taxes, $50 million for the Endowment for the Arts, and, oh yes, $360 million to buy condoms for preventing the spread of venereal disease.

President Obama indicated his estimation of the intelligence of the American voter by boasting that the bill would contain no “earmarks”.  With that much pork, who needs earmarks?  Many Republican lawmakers expressed opposition to the bill as it is emerging, but for the wrong reasons.  They are not opposed to the idea of “bailouts” per se; they seem more upset that some of their pet projects are not being funded.  The vote buying is directed mostly to the reelection of Democrats.

When this spending plan goes into effect, the social, economic and political structure of American will be changed forever.  As government takes more and more control of businesses through stock purchases and regulations the capitalist system that has given us a standard of living that is the envy of the world will gradually be transformed into a government planned socialist economy.  With the planned deficits running at the rate of over a trillion dollars per year for the foreseeable future, we can expect the onset of hyperinflation and taxation that is even more confiscatory.  If not for us, then for our children and grandchildren.

It is not, however, the bleak social and economic outlook that should bother the true patriot.  It is the total, complete and probably irrevocable loss of our Constitution that should concern us.  Socialism cannot exist within the framework of our Constitution.  The Constitution is based on the idea of free market capitalism with each individual free to pursue his or her own prosperity as they think best.  The changes required just to make the proposed plans for health care and energy use in any degree effective will require major “forced” changes in our personal choices of lifestyle and living habits.  An outline of the plan is posted on the White House website.

  • Doubling the production of alternative energy in the next three years.
  • Modernizing more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills.
  • Making the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized.
  • Equipping tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries.
  • Expanding broadband across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world.
  • Investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries.

The reader with a working knowledge of the Constitution will notice that none of the six items listed above fall within the authority of the enumerated powers delegated to Congress by the framers.  Pseudo-Constitutional scholars like President Obama and others will attempt to authenticate the constitutionality of the plan by pointing to the phrases, “general welfare” and “necessary and proper” found in the first and last clauses of Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution.

I have written many articles on these two clauses in the past.  This time I prefer to offer the opinion of two REAL Constitutional scholars, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  One of the arguments used by those opposed to the ratification of the Constitution in 1787 and 1788 was that these clauses granted too much power to the federal government and there was the danger that future Congresses would use them to infringe on our liberties.  In an article appearing in the Independent Journal a New York newspaper James Madison responded to this objection:

“It has been urged and echoed, that the power ‘to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,’ amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare.”

“No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction. Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases.”

“A power to destroy the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, or even to regulate the course of descents, or the forms of conveyances, must be very singularly expressed by the terms “to raise money for the general welfare. ”But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon?”

“If the different parts of the same instrument ought to be so expounded, as to give meaning to every part which will bear it, shall one part of the same sentence be excluded altogether from a share in the meaning; and shall the more doubtful and indefinite terms be retained in their full extent, and the clear and precise expressions be denied any signification whatsoever? For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power?”

“Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity, which, as we are reduced to the dilemma of charging either on the authors of the objection or on the authors of the Constitution, we must take the liberty of supposing, had not its origin with the latter.”
~ Federalist No. 41 by James Madison

In 1791 Thomas Jefferson was engaged in an argument with Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, concerning the establishment of a National Bank.  In a paper to President George Washington concerning the matter, Jefferson dealt with the so-called “elastic clause”.

“The second general phrase is, ‘to make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution the enumerated powers.’ But they can all be carried into execution without a bank. A bank, therefore, is not necessary, and consequently, not authorized by this phrase.

It has been much urged, that a bank will give great facility or convenience in the collection of taxes. Suppose this were true: yet the constitution allows only the means which are ‘necessary’ not those which are merely ‘convenient’ for effecting the enumerated powers. If such a latitude of construction be allowed to this phrase, as to give any non-enumerated power, it will go to every one; for there is no one which ingenuity may not torture into a convenience, in some way or other, to some one of so long a list of enumerated powers. It would swallow up all the delegated powers, and reduce the whole to one phrase, as before observed. Therefore it was, that the constitution restrained them to the necessary means, that is to say, to those means without which the grant of the power would be nugatory.”
~ Thomas Jefferson, January 15, 1791

The framers rightly believed that to protect the liberties of the people it was necessary to limit the powers of the federal government to those specifically granted to them by the Constitution.  To further reinforce this belief the ninth and tenth amendments were added to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights.  That premise was no truer then than it is today.

The doctrine of “enumerated powers” is still the best protector of liberty we have to defend ourselves against the spread of tyranny threatened by Obama’s plan to “save us”.