Everyone’s Tax Policy

Portrait of John Eppes.

Amidst the War of 1812, the Republicans passed a tax law “which included a direct tax on land, a duty on imported salt, and excise taxes on stills, retailers, auction sales, sugar carriages, and negotiable paper. All these taxes, however, were not to go into effect until the beginning of 1814.” Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 684.

One Virginian congressman wisely concluded that “everyone is for taxing every body, except himself and his Constituents.” Id. citing Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict (Urbana, IL, 1989), 122. It is believed that this quote is attributable to the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Congressman John Eppes. Bill White, Barron’s, Pay It All, and Pay it Quickly, Feb. 13, 2015, available at http://www.barrons.com/articles/SB51367578116875004693704580454041219159332.

While this was during the War of 1812 and was undoubtedly true then, it is a prescient quote and universally applicable. Taxation has consistently been viewed as an evil necessity by many and a necessity that should be imposed on others, not themselves. While this perspective is only natural for self-preservation, it is one that is dangerous for the future generations of Americans.

Taxation has always played a unique role in American society, beginning with the British taxes on America’s colonial goods, which were viewed as crippling the colonial economy unnecessarily. Taxation was later viewed as an impediment on growth and an unnecessary burden on finances.

Modern policymakers would do well to remember that taxation is a tool to place a burden on future generations without necessity and without justification. The temptation to act in conformance with populist beliefs should not prevent policymakers from confronting the uncomfortable truth: taxation is necessary to preserve the society that all Americans should enjoy.

While the appropriate taxation rate is always up for debate and will always be debated, the burden of taxation should be fairly apportioned to all generations of Americans, so as to ensure that revenues are raised consistently to provide the services and necessities to all Americans for the foreseeable future of the country.

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