Benton McMillin? What, you never heard of Benton McMillin? Well, in order to find out who he is, lets start with some recent catch phrases and work our way back. I’m sure we have all heard the battle cry of our progressive leaders in Congress and the White House of “spreading the wealth” and the “wealthy among us should pay their fair share”. After all, it is only fair that “wealthy” people step up and do their patriotic duty by paying more taxes, putting more money and control into the hands of the federal agencies and letting Washington, DC determine how to spend our money. They know what’s best for us, right? But these rallying cries are far from new and have been used before-used to implement that dreaded amendment, the 16th: “The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census of enumeration”. Yes, a direct attack on the sovereignty of the several States, making them beholden to an ever expanding and powerful Federal Government.
To understand this amendment and its attack on the States, we must go back to Article I, Section 8 – The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts, and excise shall be uniform throughout the United States
This provision, however, works in conjunction with Section 9: “No capitation or other direct tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken” and also the 5th Amendment: ”nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”.
So there you have it – Section 9 and the 5th Amendment were to severely limit the power to tax income directly since it required a census in each State and apportion the tax in each State by its population. This came from the framers belief that services rendered by the government would come from the States. The Federal Government would provide the expenses of Congress and the President, the cost of operating and maintaining the armed forces, operating the postal service, support international relations and the activities with regard to interstate commerce.
This worked out very well for the the first 125 years of our nation. The total expenditures from 1789 through 1913 were as follows:
State and local government…….$1,602,000,000
However, during the War between the States, the seeds of the income tax were planted. Of course war was the culprit, and in order to pay for it, a tax of 5 to 7% was levied on incomes of $5,000 and up (a large sum of money at the time). This tax was dropped in 1873 and did not surface again until the 1890s. The country suffered from what was coined “a lack of money”. Which brings us to the villian of the article, Congressman Benton McMillin of Tennessee, who introduced in the House an income tax bill imposing a tax of 2% on incomes of $4,000 or greater. This was a tax not on the working man, but those filthy rich folks. It had a powerful appeal, this “soaking the rich” and as one Southern congressman put it “We are all for it down in our part of the country because none of us has $4,000 in income and somebody else will have to pay.” The bill passed congress but was actually defeated by the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional. Which begs the question “if it was unconstitutional then, why is it constitutional now?” Yes, the 16th went through the amendment process, but isn’t it in direct violation of Article 9 and the 5th Amendment?
Although defeated, the income tax rose again under President Taft who fostered the notion the funds could be used in a “period of national need”. So on February 25, 1913, the 16th Amendment was sadly added to the Constitution. A perfect device for “soaking the rich”. When put into law, lower incomes (less than $5,000) were not taxed, but this all changed to pay for WWI (what else but a war). Incomes of $2,000 were taxed 3%, while the highest tax rates soared to nearly 65% and we never looked back.
So, an amendment which passed to finance the nation during a “period of great need” (in other words to support the welfare/warfare state) has essentially stripped the States of all its power and finances to support itself as the framers intended. But the “rich” were suppose to finance this right? However, the “rich” seem to be making less and includes more of us. And we have Congressman Benton McMillin to thank for that.
Peter Kavalus [send him email] is the Outreach Coordinator for the New Jersey Tenth Amendment Center.
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