Comment: History of The United States Tax System

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History of The United States Tax System

History of The United States Tax System

When the Constitution was adopted in 1789, the Founding Fathers recognized that no government could function if it relied entirely on other governments for its resources, thus the Federal Government was granted the authority to raise taxes. The Constitution endowed the Congress with the power to "…lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States." Ever on guard against the power of the central government to eclipse that of the states, the collection of the taxes was left as the responsibility of the State governments.

To pay the debts of the Revolutionary War, Congress levied excise taxes on distilled spirits, tobacco and snuff, refined sugar, carriages, property sold at auctions, and various legal documents. Even in the early days of the Republic, however, social purposes influenced what was taxed. For example, Pennsylvania imposed an excise tax on liquor sales partly "to restrain persons in low circumstances from an immoderate use thereof." Additional support for such a targeted tax came from property owners, who hoped thereby to keep their property tax rates low, providing an early example of the political tensions often underlying tax policy decisions.

Though social policies sometimes governed the course of tax policy even in the early days of the Republic, the nature of these policies did not extend either to the collection of taxes so as to equalize incomes and wealth, or for the purpose of redistributing income or wealth. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote regarding the "general Welfare" clause:

To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his father has acquired too much, in order to spare to others who (or whose fathers) have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, "to guarantee to everyone a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it."

Read more: http://www.policyalmanac.org/economic/archive/tax_history.shtml