Now is the time to tax the rich. Actually, anytime is a good time to tax the rich, but now is especially auspicious. Our country needs the money and the rich, who put us in this spot, need a lesson.
The notion of taxing the wealthy appeals to those who are not wealthy. Not being rich myself, I think it’s a swell idea. Taxing the rich is like robbing banks. To get the best results, go where the money is.
It was not always thus.
Last week presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said she believed she should be able to keep all the money she made - every dollar, every dime.
Left-wing politicians and commentators giggled and called the Minnesota congresswoman a wing nut, whack job and made other unkind remarks.
George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and the rest of that gang would have agreed with her and wondered how anyone could disagree.
Why? Because taxing the poor appealed to the founding fathers (who were rich).
The Constitution ratified in 1789 would have required an income tax to be apportioned - that is, applied equally to all. A cotton tycoon making $250,000 would pay the same as a dirt stiff making $2.50 a month hoeing rutabagas.
Fair’s fair. A rich man and a poor man paid the same tax on a slave, bushel of wheat or jug of whiskey.
Speaking of whiskey, the United States’ first insurrection was sparked by protests of taxes on corn liquor.
Washington was greatly upset. Jefferson thought an occasional uprising was good for business. The blood of patriots and soreheads waters the tree of liberty.
Farmers west of the Appalachians had no easy access to markets and were short of cash. Selling their corn required them to haul it over the mountains to Eastern cities or take payment in the form of barter.
The West was so short of currency that IOUs served as money. These slips of paper may have changed hands a dozen times before they wore out or the original author laid his hands on some real currency and cashed them.
The monetary system was vastly improved when farmers began distilling surplus corn into whiskey. Whiskey was not only portable but - like gold - had real value.
When the federal government began to tax whiskey, it was, in effect, levying an income tax. The western farmers balked and Washington sent 12,000 soldiers to collect. It was a bigger army than Washington commanded in several battles with the British during the Revolutionary War.
The high cost of the War of 1812 prompted the first sales taxes on gold, silverware, jewelry and watches.
The French won the Revolutionary War for us at the battle of Yorktown. In our second scrap with the British, the War of 1812, we were on our own.
Gen. Andrew Jackson whipped the Redcoats in the battle of New Orleans. The Yankee Doodle Dandies used a new strategy. They held their fire until they saw the whites of the British soldiers’ eyes.
The war had ended six months earlier with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in Belgium. Bad news traveled slow in those days. Good news was not all that fast either. Most Americans lacked TV sets, car radios, lap tops, palm pilots, cellular phones, black berries, blue berries, Fox and MSNBC.
When he ran for president, folks remembered Jackson as the man who won the greatest land battle of the war. No harm, no foul. Old Hickory was not a bad president. He paid off the national debt before leaving office.
In 1861 we went to war again - this time with ourselves. Congress passed the first income tax law to support the Civil War. The 1862 tax came with all the bells and whistles - loopholes, graduated (progressive) tax rates and withholding income at its source.
Congress eliminated the income tax in 1872, reinstated it in 1894. In 1895 the Supreme Court decided that income tax was indeed unconstitutional because it was not apportioned among the states in conformity with the Constitution.
In 1913, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution made the income tax a permanent fixture in the U.S. tax system. The amendment gave Congress legal authority to tax income and resulted in a revenue law that taxed incomes of both individuals and corporations.
In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s lowering taxes became popular. John Kennedy tried it. Ronald Reagan tried it. George Herbert Walker Bush ran for president pledging: “Read my lips, no new taxes.”
Folks read his lips, caught him raising taxes and voted him out of office in 1992.