Graduated Income Taxes Under the 16th Amendment: Tyrannical or Totally OK?

By Jadon Buzzard | USA

I’ve had many fond memories of going out to eat as a child. The “fry tax” was just one of them. The idea was that, since my parents were paying to take me out to eat, they could help themselves to a portion of my fries, justifying the infamous fry tax. Thus, from a young age, I was exposed to the wonderful world of taxes. However, many misunderstandings arise about the correct method to tax the citizens. The 16th Amendment, which allows the government to impose taxes on incomes, is one such part of our Constitution. Many believe that this Amendment justifies the adoption of a graduated income tax, where the percentage of the tax increases as income levels rise. However, a graduated income tax conflicts with both the spirit and the letter of the US Constitution and cannot be justified by the 16th Amendment. To prove this, we will examine the spirit of the Constitution regarding taxes, then we will observe how the actual text of the Constitution does not even justify such a tax. Finally, we will show that a proper understanding of the 16th Amendment is necessary to our economic freedom.

First, a graduated tax on incomes directly conflicts with the spirit of the US Constitution. The founders of our country believed in a just tax system, one that did not split the nation into factions. As Alexander Hamilton famously wrote: “We are attempting, by this Constitution, to abolish factions, and to unite all parties for the general welfare.” A country that promotes peace and unity rather than parties and factions was obviously the end goal of our Constitution. However, a graduated income tax does not promote unity. It disadvantages those who earn more by mandating that they not only pay a higher amount, but also a higher tax percentage. It herds the richer and the poorer into big classes and urges each class to advocate for a separate policy or idea, splitting our nation apart. Graduated income taxes certainly do not align with the spirit of the Constitution, and therefore should not be justified by the 16th Amendment.

Moreover, a graduated income tax fails to align with the letter, or actual text, of the Constitution. The 16th Amendment doesn’t specifically allow the government to increase the tax percentage as the level of income rises. In fact, the Amendment simply says that Congress may collect income tax without apportionment or census among the states. Yet, many politicians base their justification for a graduated tax on this Amendment, even though no provision really grants that power to Congress. A graduated income tax also conflicts with the ideas of other portions of the Constitution, such as the beginning of Article 1, section 8. This section states that all duties, imposts, and exercises must be uniform throughout the United States, but a graduated income tax is not uniform because the tax rates fluctuate. Therefore, the 16th Amendment cannot legalize this kind of tax.

Lastly, we must have a proper understanding of the true intent behind the 16th Amendment if we are to preserve our economic freedom. Before the 16th Amendment was ratified, any kind income tax was technically Unconstitutional, and the government levied duties on imports to compensate. When citizens realize that income taxes were necessary to stop the import tariffs, they drafted an Amendment that would allow such a policy. However, as we’ve already seen, a graduated income tax is not in line with the Constitution. A better kind of tax that would follow our Constitutional principles more stringently would be a flat tax, a tax with a set rate throughout the nation. This is most likely the kind of tax that the 16th Amendment does justify. If citizens don’t understand the real power that Congress holds over taxation, then economic freedom has a bleak future in America. But holding to a more stringent view of the 16th Amendment and keeping Congress in check will allow us to preserve our liberty.

Just like the “fry tax” in my family took away my precious French fries, federal taxes take money from the citizens and must be properly justified to be legitimate. The concept of a graduated income tax conflicts with the ideas that our founders had, and it is a power that simply isn’t granted in the 16th Amendment or elsewhere in the US Constitution. Rather than simply taking lawmaker’s words for it, if our Constitution does not justify a certain kind of tax, then we as citizens, should take a stand to oppose it as well. By striving to uphold just taxes, citizens can ensure that America will have a prosperous and free future.



1 thought on “Graduated Income Taxes Under the 16th Amendment: Tyrannical or Totally OK?”

  1. I very much like the content of this article but I was more curious as too see what possible alternatives there are out there. I’ve been doing a lot of research on taxation and Libertarian principles in general. As a traditional Conservative I find myself skeptical of a lot of these ideas, so any material too this issue or any other pertaining to similar ideas would be appreciated.

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