“The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen, in his person and property, and in their management.” - Thomas Jefferson
The fundamental principle of the Declaration of Independence, which undergirds our political and legal systems in this country, is that all citizens possess “equal rights under the law.” Our whole concept of rights is based upon their being equal for all citizens of the Republic. This was the guiding star of justice that spawned America and which sustained her through the first 125 years of her existence. In 1913, however, there took place a most shameful default on this concept of “equal rights” with adoption of the 16th Amendment, which allowed Congress to enact an income tax with unequal (i.e., progressive) rates.
This default by our pundits and politicians was challenged at the time by numerous outraged legal minds, but due to the prevailing socialist sentiment taking over the culture at the turn of the century, their challenge did not prevail. Too many powerful voices had gotten swept up in the egalitarian vision of Karl Marx, and they decided that government’s purpose was to coercively implement such a vision. Tax policy became one of the tools with which to bring about such a leveling of society. Collectivist irrationality won the day, and it has lasted for 100 years, despite the fact that progressive tax rates are clearly unconstitutional.
The reason why progressive tax rates are unconstitutional in America is because different classes of society are assessed different rates under such a system, which denies American citizens an equal right to the disposal of their property (i.e., income) and thus denies them equal protection under the laws of the land.
If the State can take arbitrary (unequal) percentages of our incomes because 51% of the voters deem it desirable, then we no longer have a right to the use of our property. We have only the permission for that use, and only so long as we dutifully serve the reigning political powers. There can be no justification for such a tax system. It is contrary to everything for which America stands.
As the great Scottish economist J.R. McCulloch stated 170 years ago, “The moment you abandon the cardinal principle of extracting from all individuals the same proportion of their income or of their property, you are at sea without a rudder or compass, and there is no amount of injustice or folly you may not commit.” 
Under our present system, the blindfolded Goddess of Justice has been allowed to peek. “Tell me first who you are and what you earn,” she says, “then I will tell you how the tax laws apply to you.” This is privilege and arbitrary law, the harbingers of every tyranny throughout history.
A federal government stripped of wasteful programs could be financed by a flat 10% tax rate. Collectivists protest at this point, claiming that equal-rate taxation would be unfair to those with lower incomes. The “results of life” must be evened out for those who haven’t achieved as much. But as we have seen, if the government is going to try and bring about equal results in life, it must violate the equal rights of its citizens to their property and its disposal. This is not legitimate policy in America. Those with less in life must be helped through private and church related charities. Government cannot overrule our rights to enhance the status of interest groups deemed “special” by Washington.
Fairness and justice can never be achieved by the violation of rights! Because the “majority will” votes for such a violation does not justify it. Our rights to equality under the law and the disposal of our property can never be put up for vote. The law must be the same for everyone. This is why the Goddess of Justice wears a blindfold. To violate this basic foundation of free civilization as Congress and the bureaucrats are doing is our great sin of the modern day.
When government violates its citizens’ rights, it is partaking in an act of criminality. A criminal government can never create “fairness” and “justice.” Such irrationality and greed have brought us the bankruptcy of America. Progressive tax rates are unjust, unconstitutional, illegal, and dictatorial. They must be abolished, not just for the 19th century, but for all of time.
The income tax remains popular because as Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation reports, 50% of Americans are exempt (figures swing between 47% to 51% from year to year). This creates what economists call “infinite demand” for spending programs. In other words if government programs are FREE to certain voters, and if those programs are desirable, then those voters will want all they can get. This is why government expands every year. Fifty percent of American voters do not pay for federal services. Thus we have a totally irresponsible electorate.
But the mandating of “equal rates” will bring large amounts of zero-payers back into the system. The 50% figure for zero-payers can be reduced to 20% meaning 80% of the voters will then have to pay for services. This will end the relentless expansion of government and bring about a lowering of spending every year because no one other than liberal zealots will want the heavy levels of government programs if they have to pay proportionally for them out of their own pockets. Eventually we could reach a 7%-8% equal-rate tax to fund the duties of the federal government. At this level of taxation, we could then replace the income tax with a 7%-8% sales tax and repeal the 16th Amendment.
The first step, however, is to mandate “equal rates” for all citizens via a constitutional amendment. This will remove the tyranny of progressive tax rates from congressional whim. They cannot then be voted back in again four years later. While an “equal-rate” tax enacted by Congress would be a wonderful achievement (which we should all work for), it is not nearly enough to preserve freedom. Progressive tax rates must be banned in the Constitution! This is the only way to assure a free country for future generations.
Victor Hugo said, “There is nothing more powerful in history than an idea whose time has come.” The American people are ready to stop the runaway freight train of government growth. A New Equal Rights Amendment for taxes is the way to do this. And it can be presented to the state legislatures for ratification via a joint resolution from Congress or the Convention of States process that the Constitution gives us. To bring this revolution about we must follow Samuel Adams lead and work to set “brushfires of freedom” in the minds of Congress and our fellow citizens.
In the 1840s when anti-slavery proponents were fighting to abolish slavery in America, they did not have Congress or a majority of the people on their side. But they did have “justice” and “rightness” on their side. They had the most powerful force in history on their side - MORAL TRUTH. Even those who defended slavery knew down deep that it was morally wrong. The same force prevails in the fight to abolish “progressive taxation.” All decent men and women know it is morally wrong to treat people differently under the law in America. We must convince them to implement such conviction into our tax system.
The principle of equal rights mandates equal tax rates. No government will stay limited if it has the power to confiscate wealth from productive citizens to convey free services to massive amounts of less productive citizens so as to buy their votes on Election Day. This is a guarantee for relentless growth of taxes and tyranny. The time has come to end such political corruption and restore justice to America.
1. Letter to S. Kercheval, 1816. Saul K. Padover, ed., Thomas Jefferson on Democracy (New York: New American Library, 1949), pp. 34-35.
2. J.R. McCulloch, Taxation and the Funding System, London, 1845, pp. 141-143. Cited in Charles Adams, For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization (Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1993), p. 365.
Nelson Hultberg is a freelance writer in Dallas, Texas, and serves as the Director of Americans for a Free Republic, afr.org, an educational organization founded to promote sound money and fair taxation. Mr. Hultberg’s articles have appeared in publications such as The Dallas Morning News, The American Conservative, The Freeman, Liberty, and on numerous Internet sites such as The Daily Bell, Financial Sense Online, and Safe Haven. He is the author of a soon to be released book, The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values.
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