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.

Passed by Congress July 2, 1909. Ratified February 3, 1913.

Note: Article I, section 9, of the Constitution was modified by amendment 16.


Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director of the Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute in Charlottesville, VA

Progressivism was a movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Whatever its different iterations, progressivism was rooted in the belief that the natural rights principles of the American founding were fine for an earlier age but no longer relevant in a mass, industrial society.  The modern age, as the Progressives saw it, was characterized by great inequality and concentrations of wealth.  The “interests” controlled the masses for their own self-interest rather than the public good. Read more

Guest Essayist: Gordon Lloyd, Ph.D., Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University

Amendment XVIII:

Section 1: After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2: The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section One of the 18th Amendment contains only forty-four words.  These few words are intended, however, to introduce a remarkable and clear change in the relationship between the federal government and the individual American citizen.  In popular terminology, this section prohibited, and criminalized, what was formerly a matter of taste or culture, namely, the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages.  But, as we shall see, there is a bit more nuance and ambiguity in this section than what is captured by the common understanding.  Language matters and the thoughts behind the words also matter.  In addition, sometimes, what isn’t said is as important as what is said.

We can collect the words that are indeed said into five separate but related categories. 1) After one year from the ratification of this article 2) the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors 3) within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof 4) for beverage purposes 5) is hereby prohibited.

This is the first time that an amendment to the Constitution would not take effect immediately upon receiving the requisite votes of 3/4 of the state legislatures, but at a later designated time.   The amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919 and went into effect on January 17, 1920.  Why designate a one-year delay?  The thought was that one-year would give American business, government, and citizens sufficient time to adjust their life style to a new, and so the proponents thought, improved American way of life.

Americans, for most of their history, however, accepted that the Constitution limited the reach of the federal government to few and defined objects leaving the rest of public policy to state and local governments or to the private sector.  The Constitution “enshrined” the rights of the individual and the states over against the federal government in the Bill of Rights, also known as the first ten amendments.

True, the 14th -15th Amendments, passed in light of the civil war, limited, for the first time, what state governments could and could not do.  Specifically, no state could deny the civil rights and voting rights of recently freed African Americans.  And the 13th Amendment also constitutionally limited what Americans could own:  it declared that no American could own another person.

A second feature to Section One of the 18th Amendment, therefore, is that it introduces over 100 years after the Founding amendments, and fifty years from the Civil War amendments, into the very Constitution itself, the proposition that we as individual Americans do not own ourselves with respect to the consumption etc., of certain beverages.  Not having a drink is made the moral equivalent of not owning a slave?

The prohibition of alcohol was not a phenomenon at either the Founding or the Civil War.  The case for federal, and then constitutional, prohibition grew out of the success of the Temperance Movement. Their appeal to end the evil of drink spread across the various states in the late nineteenth century and into national politics in the early twentieth century.  Overwhelming majorities of both political parties in Congress endorsed National Prohibition in 1917.  Thus, surprisingly, a formerly politically decentralized and alcohol drinking nation overwhelmingly accepted the Temperance argument that drinking was a moral issue, rather than a matter of personal taste, and that it ought to be constitutionally prohibited.

The fascinating interrelationship between the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th Amendments—the so-called Progressive Amendments—is beyond the scope of this essay.  But we do need to ask:  What is Progressive about Prohibition? Both movements see the “cleaning up” of the American political system, with its “smoked filled rooms,” on the one hand, and reforming public conduct and getting rid of saloons on the other hand, as twin forces in the transformation of America into a better nation.

But, once again, language is important.  The clear and purposeful prohibition language covering the importation, exportation, and domestic “manufacture, sale, or transportation” shows the moral side of America.  But what is not said in this “mission statement” shows the endurance of entrepreneurial politics in American life.  This is the third feature that is important in Section One.

Despite the common interpretation, Section One does NOT prohibit “the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages.” The words, “purchase,” “consumption,” and “alcohol,” are not mentioned.  What is found there instead is the phrase “intoxicating liquors.”  This leaves open to future Congressional debate, and political exemptions, what is “intoxicating” and what are “liquors?”   What about “sacramental wine,” and “medicinal alcohol?”  Shall they be exempt?  After all, the prohibition is “for beverage purposes.”  Nor is anything said about eating purposes.  This ambiguous language is not accidental; it reflects the persistence of entrepreneurial politics in America.

Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, Dr. Lloyd is the coauthor of three books on the American founding and sole author of a book on the political economy of the New Deal. His latest coauthored book is The Two Narratives of Political Economy. He currently serves on the National Advisory Council for the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Presidential Learning Center through the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

May 16, 2012

Essay #63

Guest Essayist: James D. Best, author of Tempest at Dawn, a novel about the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and Principled Action, Lessons from the Origins of the American Republic

Amendment XVI:

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.

Reform or Revision?

The infamous XVI Amendment gave the national government the authority to tax income … from whatever source derived. Income tax has always been divisive. In the early twentieth century, the amendment was promoted with the phrase “soak the rich,” and the level of progressiveness in the tax codes has been contentious ever since. Many feel that it is only fair that those with more money should pay the lion’s share, while others think fairness means that every American should contribute at least something to the national coffers.

In Federalist 10, James Madison wrote, “The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice.” For the hundred years that the XVI Amendment has been in place, exact impartiality has been a rarity.

There are many odious aspects of our current income tax. T. Coleman Andrews, commissioner of the IRS under Eisenhower said, “It opened up our homes, our papers and our effects to the prying eyes of government agents.” An IRS appeal is through tax courts without juries, and if a taxpayer loses, the individual must pay before suing the government. Congress relishes playing three-card Monte with the tax code by deftly moving taxes up, down and sideways, while slipping loopholes to favored constituents. Tax policy seldom has any relationship to economic growth, keeping markets free, or preserving personal liberty. For those of us who are recordkeeping impaired, the laws are a nightmare and a huge waste of valuable time. And last, we work and struggle to make ends meet, and instead of getting thanks for all the money we send to Washington, there’s always some politician trying to make us feel guilty because we didn’t send more.

Should the XVI Amendment be reformed or revised? Probably. Revision of the XVI Amendment could potentially fix many issues about the application of income tax, but it would not resolve our growing debt issues. The federal government spends about a quarter of our national production, much of it financed with debt that has climbed to unfathomable levels. Reforming or revising the XVI Amendment might squeeze the revenue side, but it won’t guarantee spending restraint. The government has no restrictions on borrowing or printing money.

Congress has shown that it won’t fix the tax code or spending. As we’ve witnessed since the Tax Reform Act of 1986, tax cuts and simplification only buy a short recess from offensive rates and burdensome regulations.

Without an ironclad restraint, government will continue to tax and spend recklessly. If permanent change is desired, it will require amending the Constitution. The real question is what kind of constitutional reform is needed. It’s possible we could have a public debate and resolve the fairness issue once and for all. For example, a flat tax would be good for the individual and boost economic growth, but most Americans have come to believe progressive rates equate to fairness. Another proposed reform would repeal the XVI Amendment in favor of a national sales tax—sometimes called the fair tax. Critics have pointed out that these reforms have their own problems, but even if they present an improvement, they seem unlikely to get out of Congress or be ratified by thirty-eight state legislatures.

If the goal is to make income tax fairer or trade it for a different tax, then a revision of the XVI Amendment could do the trick. However, if the goal is to collapse the deficit—and eventually the debt—then reform needs to address both the income and spending sides. This means that revision of the XVI Amendment should probably be done in conjunction with a Balanced Budget Amendment. A consolidated reform approach would provide the best chance of ratification and fixing our country’s finances. Alas, that would take leadership. Where is Alexander Hamilton when you need him?

James D. Best is the author of Tempest at Dawn, a novel about the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and Principled Action, Lessons from the Origins of the American Republic.

May 11, 2012

Essay #60


Guest Essayist: Marc Lampkin, Shareholder at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and graduate of the Boston College Law School

Amendment XVI:

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.

Power to Tax Incomes

The 16th Amendment is an excellent example of why it is important to act judiciously and cautiously when it comes to amending the Constitution.  Most Americans recall that when our nation was founded, the framers did not agree to allow the federal government to tax the income of its citizenry.  In fact they specifically included a proviso that provided that neither income taxes nor any other type of direct taxes could be collected by the federal government.  Instead of collecting taxes in that manner, up until passage of the 16th Amendment the federal government was funded primarily by indirect taxes – duties and sales taxes.

One of the reasons that the founders wanted to limit the type of taxing authority of the federal government was that it was a way to ensure that the individual citizen was protected from an overbearing federal authority.  The consensus was that if Congress had the power to assess taxes directly on individuals they could single out certain individuals or all individuals for excessive taxation and there would be no upper limit on the amount assessed.

Sales taxes or import duties were indirect taxes that while affecting the livelihoods of individuals could be more readily avoided if individuals felt they were unfair or unwise.  Nevertheless, a direct tax combined with Congress’ power to control the military meant that taxation power could reach any individual for any reason and it was for that reason viewed as a threat on liberty.

Although this understanding waned after the first 50 years or so of the Constitution’s ratification, the Supreme Court acted vigilantly to ensure that federal lawmakers accepted the restraint on Congress’ taxing power.  However, there was at least one period when the Court relented – the Civil War.  The Supreme Court upheld the Revenue Act of 1861.  This law assessed a 3% flat tax on almost all income.

Nevertheless, subsequently the Court returned to form and refused to allow Congress to continue income taxes or other direct taxes.

Around the turn of the century far more conversation among policy makers focused on ways to increase revenues for the treasury.

Fairly quickly a rift was revealed.  More Democrats than Republicans supported the idea of an income tax.  Moreover, when the measures were introduced GOP Senators would delay or filibuster action on the measure.  This practice over about a decade led to some of the first campaign themes that one party – the Republicans – was “the party of the rich.”

By the time President Taft came to office, due to the failure of the GOP to explain to the public why it thought a federal income tax as a concept was a bad idea, most Americans generally held favorable views about the income tax and were suspicious that the Republicans were solely motivated by a desire to protect wealthy individuals from taxation.

Additionally due to the shellacking the GOP took in the federal elections of 1892, it was felt by party leaders that the GOP’s position advocating steady increases in tariff rates on household goods was a non-starter.  It was in this environment that President Taft began publicly advocating alternatives to tariff funding for the federal government including advocating an income tax.

Some of his critics in the Democratic Party thought they saw an opening to once again push the income tax but the same pattern of the last decade continued.  A bill would be introduced and then quietly killed in the Senate.  Only difference was that now the bills being introduced were by Republicans and but since nothing changed in terms of enactment the Republicans were given a pass in the political arena.

In April 1909, Texas Senator Joseph W. Bailey, a conservative Democrat who also opposed income taxes, came up with a plan that would ultimately upset the apple cart.  He decided to embarrass the Republicans by trying to get them to publicly admit that they actually opposed income tax bills.

The progressives within the GOP including Teddy Roosevelt, Hiram Johnson, and Robert La Follette waxed enthusiastically on behalf of the bill.  This placed President Taft in an awkward position.  He wanted to be seen as being for an income tax, yet he wasn’t ready to actually enact one.

Perhaps his plan was too clever.  In any event, the strategy that he came up with to once again kill the measure would ultimately fail.  Recognizing that the same plan of having GOP members block it wouldn’t work with so many “progressive Republicans” supporting the measure, the new strategy was predicated on making the income tax measure a Constitutional amendment.  Taft and his team counted on conservative state legislatures refusing to go along with the idea and letting it stall out in the hinterlands.

As part of the plan, President Taft formally requested the amendment and the House and Senate duly acted.  The House vote was 318-14 and the Senate voted unanimously. However, the states didn’t balk as anticipated.  In February of 1913 it was ratified just 4 years after Congress has submitted it to the states.

Today income taxes are the principle source of income for the federal government.

Marc Lampkin is a Shareholder at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and is a graduate of the Boston College Law School

May 10, 2012

Essay #59



Guest Essayist: Professor Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School

Amendment XIV, Section 1:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment is one of four amendments to the Constitution that were intended to overturn or clarify Supreme Court rulings (the 11th, 16th, and 26th were the others). Prior to 1857, there had been much scholarly discussion and political debate, but no resolution or consensus, whether the basis of American citizenship was dependent or independent of state citizenship. Many supported the view expressed by South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun in his famous Senate speech on the Force Bill in 1833, “[Every] citizen is a citizen of some State or Territory, and as such, under an express provision of the Constitution, is entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and it is in this and no other sense that we are citizens of the United States.” On the other hand, James Madison, discussing the need for Congress to provide uniformity in naturalization in Federalist 42, appears to assume that American citizenship cannot be left to the vagaries of state definitions.

The Supreme Court thoroughly examined the issue in the Dred Scott case in 1857. Chief Justice Roger Taney’s majority opinion addressed the interplay between state citizenship and American citizenship. He reasoned that “people of the United States” in the preamble and “citizens” in other parts were synonymous. The people of the United States were composed of the people of the States, as it was they who were the parties to the Constitution in light of the adoption process by state conventions. The “people” of those states were the “free” inhabitants. This was a concept of specific meaning, referring to whites only, not people brought to the colonies as slaves or their descendants, even if thereafter they had been freed. Accordingly, only those descended from white inhabitants and those people naturalized under federal law (since the first statute in 1790, only whites) could be American citizens. This fundamental principle overrode later decisions by individual states to recognize additional classes of state citizens. Scott had no basis claiming citizenship as that term was used in the Constitution. Therefore, he had no power to sue in federal court as a “citizen” of Missouri.

Taney’s argument had a weak link in that there were freed blacks, some of whom could vote in 5 of the 13 states at the adoption of the Constitution. Moreover, the privileges and immunities clause of the Articles of Confederation (the pre-cursor to its counterpart in the Constitution of 1787) had discussed the body of the states’ citizens in terms of their “free inhabitants.” An amendment proposed by South Carolina to insert “white” after “free” was overwhelmingly rejected in 1778. If that was correct, slaves could not claim citizenship, but free blacks could. Just in case, Taney cut off that argument by stating that Scott’s residence with his master in Wisconsin territory could not transmute his status from slave to free.

The main dissenting opinion, by Justice Benjamin Curtis, exploited that weakness, insisting that the Constitution established an understanding of American citizenship that plausibly could extend to all free persons born in the United States. Curtis agreed, however, that the states determined the basic parameters of citizenship, and that American citizenship was derived from the scope of citizenship recognized by the state of birth. The laws of Scott’s state of birth, Virginia, treated him as a slave; therefore he was not at that time a citizen of the United States. Nor would a slave who was temporarily taken into a free state thereby be made free. But when his master took him to reside in a free territory, Wisconsin, that action made Scott a free man and a citizen of the United States. When taken back to live in Missouri, he returned as a free man and became a citizen of that state.

Curtis accepted a unitary basis of citizenship for those born in the United States, one that was determined basically by state law. Taney, on the other hand, accepted a duality: United States citizenship was established by the understanding of the Framers of what made someone part of the “people of the United States.” While states could define state citizenship for themselves, they (or the Congress) could not go against this fundamental principle. Hence, even after the Civil War, freed blacks could not be citizens of the United States, short of a constitutional amendment.

Accepting Taney’s constitutional argument, Congress took that path with the 14th Amendment. United States citizenship was de-coupled from state citizenship, and the latter was made subordinate to the former. National citizenship appears based on place of birth (“jus soli”), the English common law principle going back to feudal antecedents when one’s station was connected to the soil where one was born. However, the amendment also adds that the person must be “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States. This clearly excludes those children born in the United States to foreign diplomats. Does it also exclude those who are born in the United States to parents who happen to be here temporarily or illegally?

The Supreme Court addressed that clause in 1898 in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark. The majority ruled very broadly that anyone (other than the children of foreign diplomats) born on U.S. soil was a U.S. citizen. The dissent argued that the competing international law doctrine of blood relationship (“jus sanguinis”) applied, which required not only birth in the U.S. but that the child’s father did not owe allegiance to a foreign power. This was an old principle of Roman law and ancient Greek practice still used in many countries today. It would keep the native-born children at least of those who are here merely as visitors from claiming birthright citizenship.

How does this affect the current debate about “anchor babies” in connection with illegal entrants into the United States? Proponents of unrestricted citizenship argue for the broad language of Wong Kim Ark that generally has prevailed in the courts. However, there are several weaknesses. First, the issue of illegal entrants, or even of temporary visitors, was not addressed there. Mr. Wong himself had lived in the U.S. all of his life. Wong’s parents had been duly admitted as immigrants to the U.S. with a permanent domicile and were engaged in a business. They were not mere passers-through. Nor were they here illegally, a concept that was not an issue in American immigration law until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, years after the Wongs arrived. It was unnecessary for the Court to give such a broad reading to the 14th Amendment, and the justices simply may not have been aware of the ramifications of their language.

Second, the law-of-the-soil tradition carried with it “indelible allegiance.” Thus, a British subject could not renounce British citizenship, which led the British navy, after American independence, to search American vessels and “impress” into British service naturalized American citizens of British ancestry. Americans have roundly rejected that principle.

Third, the debates over the 14th Amendment included remarks by Senator Jacob Howard of Michigan, the amendment’s sponsor, that seem to say that the amendment does not apply to children of any foreigners or aliens, even if those children are born in the United States.

Fourth, Congress on several occasions throughout American history has employed jus sanguinis, for example, in legislation to recognize as citizens by birth the children born abroad to American citizens. This suggests that the 14th Amendment’s jus soli principle applies, unless Congress, as part of the sovereign powers of the national government, passes a law that rests on a different principle.

Overturning a century-old precedent is difficult, but distinguishing it due to changed social circumstances unanticipated at the time is more persuasive. Still, eroding the jus soli interpretation of the citizenship clause is a longshot, but the public debate likely will intensify the pressure for some political or constitutional accommodation.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at:

April 25, 2012 

Essay #48 

Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper, legal commentator and a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute

Amendment XVI

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.

At the founding of our nation, the framers decided not to allow the federal government to assess income or other direct taxes unless they were apportioned according to population.  A direct tax is simply any tax that is paid directly to the federal government by the individual.  Commonplace today, these types of taxes were frowned upon when the nation began.  Instead of income or other direct taxes, the founders thought that indirect taxes – sales taxes, import duties and the like – were legitimate means for the federal government to raise money.

The consensus of the founders was that the power of direct taxation would shift the dynamic between the individual and the state in a powerful and oppressive way.  With direct taxing power, it was feared that Congress could assess a tax on all persons with no limits on the amount.  Whether assessed as a percentage or a fixed amount, these taxes couldn’t be readily avoided or evaded by the citizens.  For instance, a person couldn’t simply not engage in the behavior that was subject to taxation the way you could with a sales tax or other transaction style tax.  A direct tax could apply to income, land, cattle, securities transactions etc. and force people to either pay the tax or have their property confiscated.  In addition, with Congress’ power of the purse over the army and the militia, the people would be powerless to prevent collection.

Although not consistently, the Supreme Court struck down several attempts by Congress to establish so-called “direct” taxes.  However, during one critical period – the Civil War – the Supreme Court upheld a temporary income tax established to fund the war effort.  The Revenue Act of 1861 levied a flat tax of 3% on annual income above $800 (or roughly $20,000 in today’s dollars)

In 1893, after the war was over and the temporary tax expired, Congress adopted another income tax law.  In this case, the Congress attempted to assess a federal tax on income derived from real estate.  In 1895, in Pollock v. Farmer’s Loan and Trust, the Supreme ruled that the income tax was unconstitutional.  This view prevailed through the turn of the century.

Historians suggest that the growing needs of the Federal Government necessitated a regular and more lucrative revenue source and increasingly politicians in both parties eyed the direct or income tax as a solution.  Nevertheless, it wasn’t until 1909 that the effort to push for an amendment began.

President William Taft sent a formal message to Congress requesting that an amendment be adopted that would allow Congress to have this power once and for all.  The Senate approved the Sixteenth Amendment unanimously 77-0 and the House approved it by a vote of 318-14.  After being ratified by 36 states in February of 1913, it became law.  Ultimately, 42 of the 48 states would ratify the amendment.

Within a few years, it had become the principal source of income for the federal government.  Nevertheless, its impact wasn’t obvious.  In the beginning, hardly anyone had to file a tax return because the tax did not apply to the vast majority of the people in the U.S.  For example, in 1939, 26 years after the Sixteenth Amendment was adopted, only 5% of the population, counting both taxpayers and their dependents, was required to file returns. Today, nearly all adults and even some youths must file an annual income tax form.

Horace Cooper is a legal commentator and a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute

Guest Essayist: Allison Hayward, Vice President of Policy at the Center for Competitive Politics

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 4-6

4:  No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.7

5:  No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.

6:  No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another:  nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with observing that nothing is certain except death and taxes.  In clauses 4-6 of Article I, the Founders were attempting to assuage concerns Americans had over the ability of the national government to levy taxes.  The power to raise revenue was essential – the national government would be moribund without finances.  But the national government could come under the sway of parochial interests, and the taxing authority could unfairly burden certain regions.

With clause 4 “Congress might not have the power of imposing unequal burdens; that it might not be in their power to gratify one part of the Union by oppressing another” noted Hugh Williamson, a North Carolina delegate to the constitutional convention.  Delegates from Southern colonies were especially sensitive to this issue.

Thus in Clause 4, the Constitution requires that direct taxes only be assessed in proportion to population, as determined by the census that apportions members of Congress.  (Recall that the census apportioned representation according to the number of free persons and three/fifths of the slaves).  A capitation tax, or “poll” tax, was nothing more than a tax on individuals. Poll taxes were most commonly assessed at the local level, for goods like roads and schools.  Here, the Founders believed that commerce would ordinarily provide tax revenue, and that a direct tax would seldom be used at the national level.  But the Founders also knew that urgent situations, like war, might exceed the nation’s capacity to raise revenue through tariffs and excise taxes.

As an aside, the poll tax roll was also a means to evaluate who lived in a jurisdiction, and so were also used to identify eligible voters.  This is the context most people today think of when they hear the phrase “poll taxes” so the mistake is often made of thinking that “poll” means the place where votes are cast.  The Founders would have ben using “poll” on the older sense, that is, a tax on individuals.

Southern delegates were also sensitive to the potential harm arising from Congress’s taxation of exports.  in the debate over Clause 5, advocates argued that, were Congress given this power, it could unfairly burden the exports of some states and not others.  Different states had vastly different export profiles – think of how an export tax on cotton would have applied in practice.  Yet the solution incorporated in the Constitution remained controversial, given the economic advantages Northerners believed that the South derived from slavery.  Thus, even as anodyne as this clause may appear today, it passed by only a vote of 7-4, with New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Delaware voting no, and Massachusetts abstaining.

In Clause 6 the constitution yet again limits congressional power to favor one region over another.  Under clause 6, Congress would lack the power to regulate a disfavored state’s maritime commerce out of existence.  This issue was of special concern in Maryland, because Maryland-bound shipping would pass ports in Virginia.  A few delegates believed this clause would impose inconveniences in some situations, but relented in favor of those states with strong interests in these limits.

The revenue profile of our nation today is quite different from what the Constitutional Convention anticipated.  Indirect taxes, like excise taxes and tariffs, account today for only about 3% of the federal government’s revenue, while about half comes from individual income taxes – a direct tax that could only come into existence by amendment to the Constitution, in Amendment XVI, ratified in 1913.  That change came quickly –  by 1930, 60% of the federal government’s receipts were from the income tax.

Allison Hayward graduated from Stanford University with degrees in political science and economics, and received her law degree from the University of California, Davis.  She clerked for Judge Danny J. Boggs of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  Hayward is Chairman of the Federalist Society’s Free Speech and Election Law Practice Group. She also serves on the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics.  She is an active member of the California and Washington, D.C. bars, and she is a certified FINRA arbitrator.

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Federalist Number 12

Thank you to Dr. Paul Teller for your insightful post today, and to Dr. Joe Postell for your enlightening post yesterday! We are blessed to have Constitutional scholars such as yourselves helping us on our journey through the Federalist Papers!  And thank you to everyone who continues to comment, and share your thoughts!  I am learning so much from each of you.

“The assiduous merchant, the laborious husbandman, the active mechanic, and the industrious manufacturer,–all orders of men, look forward with eager expectation and growing alacrity to this pleasing reward of their toils.”

Taxes. No one like them.  Since biblical times the tax collector has been seen as one of the most despised members of society.

Taxes sparked the American Revolution.  It is in our heritage to resent taxes, especially when we feel we have little or no say in how the money is being spent!

Yet, Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist No. 12 makes an argument we may not like to hear – taxes are necessary.  We must find ways to fund the government :

A nation cannot long exist without revenues. Destitute of this essential support, it must resign its independence, and sink into the degraded condition of a province. This is an extremity to which no government will of choice accede. Revenue, therefore, must be had at all events.”

The question is how.

It is fascinating to observe the progression of taxation in our country.  From the Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution:

The Congress shall have 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; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To a federal tax code that is over 7,000,000 words long (thank you to my friend Steve Moore for this fact, cited in a great piece he did for National Review

What happened?

In federalist No. 12 Hamilton advocates consumption taxes because they are more fair, people will tolerate them better, and they are easier to collect.   There were no assured means of assessing personal property ownership or personal income during this period in our country, and as Hamilton wrote, “because personal assets are difficult to trace, large tax contributions can only be achieved through consumption taxes.”

In three years we will “celebrate” the 100th anniversary of the income tax, the ratification of the 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  It is hard to believe that this complicated, lengthy tax code has been in existence for less than 100 years.  The explosion of this code in such a short time shows the tendency of government to grow and intrude into our life and liberty, unless we vigilantly keep it at bay, guarding the boundaries of our freedom.

It was eye opening to read Federalist No. 12, and see that in the early days of the Republic, an income tax was the furthest thing from the founders’ minds.   These were men of great vision, and this is one more area where their foresight shines.

If only we had listened to them more closely!

Good night and God Bless!

Cathy Gillespie


Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Where did we go wrong as a country that we let the Federal government overtake the states? This was obviously not the intent of our founding fathers. As explained in Federalist Paper No. 16, the communities and local passions were to always be the stronghold against the homogeneous nature that springs from a Federal formation.

Obviously, Alexander Hamilton could envision great commerce and industry from such a fastidious people as Revolutionary Americans, but how could he see the vast transformation of communication and transportation? From his post in the 18th century, the local influences and perspectives were dominant, and the national sways were secondary.

He could not imagine the amazing feats in engineering that would revolutionize transportation broadening the horizons of the people. Nor could he foresee the formidable transformations resulting from the inventions of the telephone, radio and television. With this occurrence, the states lost their uniqueness, the people their distinctness and the federal government gained power – a shift occurred.

But was this enough to open the door for the Federal government to eat away at the core of the states’ powers?
What gave the Federal Government the power to encroach? Perhaps it was the Constitutional Amendment XVI – Income Taxes. What was the incentive that enticed the people to forfeit their individuality and their rights? Subsidies – the spoon-feeding mentality that usurped the American “can do” spirit.

The slippery slope began. Alexander Hamilton stated in Federalist No. 15, “When the sword is once drawn, the passions of men observe no bounds of moderation.”
Perhaps it should be, “When the sword of taxes is drawn, the passions of government observe no bounds of moderation.”

Knowledge is power. With the awareness and education of the true intention of our United States Constitution, the American spirit will be revived and the people will recognize the power of their vote. Our Republican form of government offers the way to rectify.

To quote Alexander Hamilton, “There is one transcendent advantage belonging to the province of state governments, which alone suffices to place the matter in a clear and satisfactory light.. I mean the ordinary administration of criminal and civil justice.”

The criminal and civil justice belong to the states.. something to ponder.

God Bless,

Janine Turner
May 20, 2010
P.S. I thank William C. Duncan for joining us today and for his insightful essay!  Thank you, Mr. Duncan!

2 Responses to “May 20, 2010 – Federalist No. 17 – Janine Turner”

Susan Craig says:
May 20, 2010 at 9:35 pm
While I don’t agree with the founding fathers, that only those who own property should have the vote, I see where it has led to some of today’s ills. I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said the republic would be in trouble once people discovered that they could vote themselves other peoples money.

Tim Shey says:
July 21, 2010 at 5:13 pm
If a man abuses his power, the people rise up and fight against that man. If the Federal Government is too powerful and abuses its power, then the people rise up and fight against it (e.g. King George III and Great Britain in 1776).
This Christian lady told me that there was a prophecy given a while back and the prophecy said that “the South shall rise again.” I am sure that it does not mean that the Confederacy will rise again, but that the issue of States’ Rights will rise again. This is happening right now with the Tea Party Movement and all the other people sick and tired of our over-reaching Federal Government.
When the Germans counter-attacked in the Ardennes Forest in December 1944, many people were alarmed and there was general panic. But General Eisenhower saw it as an opportunity for ultimate victory. If Jimmy Carter was a gift to Ronald Reagan, then Barack Obama will be a gift to the Republican who takes the White House in 2012.
Have faith in God and we will see victory.

Guest Essayist: Brion McClanahan, Ph.D., author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers

The authorship of Federalist No. 50 is disputed.  Whether it was James Madison or Alexander Hamilton, the author’s arguments have ramifications for our current political problems and, in many ways, exemplify the nature of the federal government under the Constitution.  Federalist No. 50 opens with the following premise: “IT MAY be contended, perhaps, that instead of OCCASIONAL appeals to the people, which are liable to the objections urged against them, PERIODICAL appeals are the proper and adequate means of PREVENTING AND CORRECTING INFRACTIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION.”  The key to the opening is the last capitalized phrase.  The author then proceeds to discuss how conventions called for the purpose of “correcting infractions of the constitution” would be neither productive nor “adequate” to remedy unconstitutional abuse of power by any branch of government.

The author used the State of Pennsylvania as an example to prove his premise.  Pennsylvania had a Council of Censors in the 1780s that was charged with the task of determining if the State constitution had been violated and if the executive or legislative body was at fault.  But most of the men who held a seat on the Council also served in either the executive or legislative branch and they often split into “two fixed and violent parties.”  Their conclusions were often clouded by passion and their decisions ignored by the State government.  The author concludes, “This censorial body, therefore, proves at the same time, by its researches, the existence of the disease, and by its example, the inefficacy of the remedy.”  States would always divide into groups, and even if the State tried to remedy the problem by appointing men who had not been connected with the constitutional issue at hand, the author argues that, “The important task would probably devolve on men, who, with inferior capacities, would in other respects be little better qualified. Although they might not have been personally concerned in the administration, and therefore not immediately agents in the measures to be examined, they would probably have been involved in the parties connected with these measures, and have been elected under their auspices.”

The author, of course, implied that an outside “referee” would be no better to check unconstitutional abuses of government than the “checks and balances” contained within the Constitution itself.  The Senate is a check on the executive; the executive is a check on the congress, and the Supreme Court a check on both. But the author failed to consider one of the principle arguments against the Constitution and the checks and balances system: what or who will check federal power if they have a monopoly on the “checks and balances” system?  That was the heart of the anti-federalist critique of the federal judiciary, for example.  Certainly, Federalist No. 50 was cogent and persuasive, and the amendment process was always showcased as a fail-proof method of altering the Constitution, but the anti-federalists had much to say on the subject.

One of the best arguments against Federalist No. 50 appeared almost four months earlier in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer.  The author, An Old Whig, contended that the amendment process as written would never produce beneficial changes to the Constitution.  He called the procedures for amending the Constitution a “labyrinth,” and thought that before the process was over, “ages will revolve, and perhaps the great principles upon which our late glorious revolution was founded, will be totally forgotten. If the principles of liberty are not firmly fixed and established in the present constitution, in vain may we hope for retrieving them hereafter. People once possessed of power are always loathe to part with it; and we shall never find two thirds of a Congress voting or proposing any thing which shall derogate from their own authority and importance, or agreeing to give back to the people any part of those privileges which they have once parted with….”  Perhaps the Old Whig was correct.  Only seventeen amendments have been added to the Constitution since the Bill of Rights were ratified in 1791, and in reality only two, the 11th and the 22nd, limited the power of the central government.  Others such as the 14th, 16th, and 17th, increased it exponentially.

Interestingly, if Madison was the author of Federalist No. 50, he reversed his position on the issue of an external “referee” less than ten years after the Constitution was ratified.  Both he and Thomas Jefferson argued in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 that the States could interpose their sovereignty or “nullify” an unconstitutional federal law.  The question was not which branch of government was a fault—both the executive and legislative branch would be culpable under this scenario because congress passed the law and the president signed it—but whether the “checks and balances” system actually worked.  The people of the States, the very people Federalist No. 50 impugned as inferior, would thus rule on federal authority.  If the president and the congress in concert can ignore the Constitution—national healthcare, the federal stimulus, the nationalization of the auto industry—and if the federal judiciary is, as it often has been, a rubber stamp for federal legislation, how can it be reasonably argued today that checks and balances work?  The anti-federalists warned against such logic, and Jefferson and Madison provided the tonic, Federalist No. 50 notwithstanding.

Brion McClanahan, Ph.D., is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers.  He currently teaches History at Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Phenix City, AL.

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Federalist 51 – what a quotable paper!  We have been busy on Facebook today ( ), rolling out many of the famous and insightful lines!

Thank you to Professor Baker for your wonderful essay, and for itemizing some of the well known quotes from this paper!

The biggest challenge we face today is our government “controlling itself.” As Publius points out:

“In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

Publius is quick to knowledge, in this paper and in many others, that the greatest control on government is the people:

“A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government.”

Yet, the founders brilliantly erected a governmental structure designed to control itself, as well.  One of the most important controls is the federal structure, with power divided between the states and national government.  But power is also divided within the national government, between the three branches, and going even further, the founders gave each of the branches “tools” to “check” the other.

Despite this well conceived structure, our government is not controlling itself today.  The national government has encroached upon areas far past its enumerated powers, and into the purview of states, and individual rights. As we have journeyed through these federalist papers, we have often asked, “what went wrong?”  How could our founding fathers design a system based so carefully upon history, proven successes, with improvements on historical flaws,that could not protect us from an overreaching federal government.

We have come up with many answers:

*state budget shortfalls (in part a result of unfunded federal mandates) that necessitate federal dollars (with strings attached)

*the addition of the 17th and 16th amendments

*an aggressive Supreme Court that interprets the Constitution as a “living” document

*a Congress that does not always respect Constitutional limits on federal powers

The most important reason, though, may be that the “primary control” on government, “the people,” have failed to pay attention, and to embrace their role.

Without the energy of the people, the structural system can only go so far to set limits on government.

It is now up to the “we the people,” “the primary control on the government,” to bring our system back into balance.  When “the people” work in concert with the structure our founders designed, we will once again start to glimpse the America our founding fathers envisioned.

And how do the people control the government?  First, by knowledge, and then, As Janine wrote in a recent Fox News Op-Ed: “Your Vote is Your Voice.”

Good night and God Bless!

Cathy Gillespie

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Great discussion today – loved seeing some new names blogging!   Remember to invite your friends to join the conversation – and share this with your children! Encourage them to enter our We The People 9.17 Contest – sign up online ASAP – entries due July 4!  Tell high school students we especially need short films, PSA’s and we are asking middle schoolers and high schoolers to compose cool songs!  Students can enter in teams of two for the songs, short films and PSA’s.  Sign up today!

Tackling the Bill of Rights, and the Amendments in one day was a big job!   As I read through the Amendments, I wondered about the efforts and battles that must have gone into the passage of each.  Reading through the Amendments is like a quick reading of the history of our country.  The Amendments reflect the times and current events in the eras in which they were passed.  We can be proud as Americans that MOST of the Amendments reflect the founding fathers’ principles. (see today’s and yesterday’s blog for lively discussion on some such as the 16th and 17th which many feel do not!)

All of the Amendments have fascinating stories that accompany their passage.  We all know of the stories and have seen photos of the women’s suffrage movement, for example. That battle spanned 50 years before Congress approved the 19th Amendment in 1919 and 3/4 of the States ratified it in 1920. But there is an interesting back story to the passage of the 19th Amendment that I love.  In August of 1920 Tennessee was the final state needed to achieve ratification of the 19th Amendment. The vote in the Tennessee Legislature came down to a young State Representative, Harry Burn, who represented a district bitterly divided on the issue, and who was facing re-election that fall.  Representative Burn had voted previously with the Anti-Amendment forces.  The vote was tied 48-48, and Harry was expected to vote with those opposing the Amendment again.  But Harry carried a letter from his mother in his breast pocket, admonishing him “Don’t forget to be a good boy,” and vote for the Amendment.  Harry surprised everyone by voting yes, and thus on August 18, 1920 Tennessee became the 36th State to ratify the 19th Amendment, and one young 24 year old man empowered millions of women in our country with his brave vote.

Earlier today Rich asked an interesting question about how the 17th Amendment came to be passed, so I pulled two books off my shelf that I recommend to anyone who is interested in the stories and history of the Amendments, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution:

Seth Lipsky’s The Citizen’s Constitution: An Annotated Guide (2009) and the Heritage Foundation’s Guide to the Constitution, edited by Ed Meese, Mathew Spalding and David Forte (2005).

Upon reading about the 17th Amendment’s history in both of the above sources, I found it was passed in reaction to many State legislatures which were deadlocked on the issue of choosing a U.S. Senator, thus leaving their states without representation in the U.S. Senate. The 17th Amendment was passed in the name of enhancing Democracy, yet many feel it has been detrimental to protecting States’ rights, expanding the federal government’s reach.

To me, the most important Amendments to our Constitution were the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which abolished slavery, established citizenship for former slaves, and prohibited restrictions on the right to vote based on color, race or previous condition of servitude.  President Lincoln received pressure from those who thought the 13th Amendment should be ratified only by the Northern States, in order to get it done quickly.  But Lincoln favored 3/4 ratification of the 13th Amendment by all the States, so the Amendment’s legitimacy could not be challenged.  He also believed the ratification process in the Southern States was important to Reconstruction and healing.  Regarding the 14th Amendment, Seth Lipsky writes, “Were the Amendments musical compositions, the fourteenth would be the grand symphony in four movements, full of exciting themes, varied movements, and clashing symbols….” Indeed the 14th did much more than overturn the Dred Scott decision and extend citizenship to former slaves, it contains the State Action, Privileges or Immunities, Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, as well as Section Two, Apportionment of Representatives. The 15th Amendment, the last of the Amendments dealing with Reconstruction, prohibited voting discrimination for former slaves, and any voting discrimination based on race and color.  These three Amendments set the stage for the healing of our country.

It is another testament to the beauty of our Constitution that the Amendments read like a short hand version of the history of the United States.  It is all there, from the the 11th Amendment stemming from States being held accountable for their Revolutionary War Debts, to the 27th Amendment restricting congressional pay raises from taking effect until after an election. Interestingly the 27th Amendment was first proposed in 1789 and finally ratifed in 1992!

What will our next Amendment be?   Let us pray it will reflect the founding fathers’ principles as so many of our great Amendments have.  The only thing that is certain, though is that fascinating stories and struggles will accompany its passage, and it will add to the historical narrative of our country which is embodied in the United States Constitution.

April 27, 2010

Posted in Constitutional Essays by Cathy, The Amendments to the United States Constitution | 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “April 272010 – the Amendments to the United States Constitution – Cathy Gillespie

  1. Susan says:

    We were trying to place the amendments in the context of history by guessing what was going on at the time they were enacted without peeking at the date. Amazingly, we were pretty close.

  2. Mary Lou Leddy says:

    I want to thank bothCathy and Janine for their blogs on the amendments today. As I have never studied theConstitution, Bill of Rights and the amendments in great detail before ; I must admit it can be very challenging to understand; but your blogs as well as the essays of the guest bloggers have made some things much clearer. Thank you again. I look forward to continuing this great study

  3. Pam says:

    I have been trying to get an answer to this question for about a month. In regards to illegal aliens, George Wills wrote an article stating that our policy of granting citizenship to children born in this country to illegal aliens is a misapplication of the 14th Amendment. That it does not apply to illegal immigrants, because at the time it was written, there were no restrictions on immigration.

    As far as I know, we are the only country that has this policy. Right now (to quote George) the best thing a poor person of any country can do for their children is to have them here. I think that changing our policy in regards to children of illegals would go a long way to stop the flood. Any comments?

  4. Susan Craig says:

    My understanding of the whys and wherefores of the 14th was to clarify the citizenship status of the newly emancipated slaves after the Civil War and its intention was never for transient immigrants who wish to anchor themselves here with all the privileges but not necessarily the duties.

  5. Sandra Rodas says:

    I realize that to keep with the 90 day format, it was necessary to have all the amendments be covered in one day, but it sure would be nice to look at each in a little more depth. Maybe when the 90 day challenge is over, we could revisit them one at a time on the blog.

  6. Martin says:

    With regard to the 14th Amendment. Those who would reinvent the Constitution as a document of positive rights versus a document of negative rights have sought to contort the “privileges and immunities” clause to meet their ends.

    Basically, the Constitution is written as a set of guarantees limiting what government actually has the power to do and in fact, limiting what it can do to it’s citizenry. There is a movement under way to redefine government in terms of what it must do for its people.

    The Slaughter supreme court decisions (right after the Civil War) have defined this narrowly to apply to the states, guaranteeing that the federal government supersedes state governments only in the realm of guaranteed protections specified by the Bill of Rights.

    The folks who promulgate the concept of the Constitution as a “living” document want to overturn this precedent so that more “rights” can be forced down over the objections of the states. These new “rights” would be things like – housing, guaranteed employment, health care, and guaranteed access to the political process. By defining them as obligations or entitlements, the government would have to take steps to ensure that they are fulfilled. This would necessarily entail funding and enforcement.

    The movement doing this is called the Constitution 2020 movement.

    Hillsdale College recently produced a paper documenting their efforts. I’ve written a synopsis at, where I’ve included links to this paper as well links to some of this groups writings.

  7. Kirk John Larson says:

    Greetings and Salutations,

    I wish to address certain issues. The 17th Amendment and the 2020 Movement.

    Cathy pointed out that some have argued that the 17th Amendment hurt States rights, and it did. In passing that amendment, State Governments no longer have true representation in Washington. As a result, the Federal government has infringed upon States issues by mandating how the States spends its tax revenues and what laws to pass lest the Federal government would suspend funding as a form of punishment over the states. This practice works to diminish the role and need for State Governments at all. This has been the plan by progressives since 1913. More over, by stripping the State Governments of authority, the Public role in governance and more over the publics ability to self govern is also eroded.

    As for the Constitution 2020 movement; this effort to impose ‘new rights’ is not to say our rights have been lost or confused but to say that the US Government is the sole granter of “Rights.” This is a secular push toward a more socialized society where in the Government defines and prescribes where you live, how you live, and whether or not you live.

    Housing is a replaceable commodity, (Just ask any tornado.) Employment is a personal choice and on occasion deniable due to the lack of employers. Ultimately, the “Right to Employment” is to destroy the Entrepreneurial Spirit of America. Health Care is a personal responsibility. The effort hear is ultimately establish euthanasia as a legal recourse. Then there is guaranteed access to political process, which is an intent to eradicate responsibility. Today, under the law, criminal conduct suspends your rights to vote or participate in the political process such as serving as a representative in congress. (either house) The idea the progressives have here is Americans should be free from responsibility and consequences for their actions. This is intended to bring more freedom but will actually encourage chaos. As a result, the very idea actually produces the opposite affect as the public cannot be trusted to conduct themselves responsibly, so totalitarian rules must be imposed. The two step process bring greater freedom from responsibility and consequences is to eliminate freedom altogether.

    The left will argue to the contrary but the truth is; the absence of responsibility produces chaos and public endangerment.
    Socialism has failed time and again. It will always fail because it dehumanizes the people into little more than cattle to be processed.