Founding Fathers Quotes on Taxes and Government

Founding Fathers Quotes on Taxes and Government

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founding dadsAmerica’s founding fathers – Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams – had some very wise things to say about taxes and government.

Here are several that I think we would do well to consider today:

Thomas Jefferson:

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

Alexander Hamilton:

If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare… The powers of Congress would subvert the very foundation, the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America.

John Adams:

The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.

James Madison:

As a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights. Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.

If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.

It is sufficiently obvious, that persons and property are the two great subjects on which Governments are to act; and that the rights of persons, and the rights of property, are the objects, for the protection of which Government was instituted. These rights cannot well be separated.

There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.

George Washington:

No taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant.

The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, ’till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole People is sacredly obligatory upon all.

[W]e ought to deprecate the hazard attending ardent and susceptible minds, from being too strongly, and too early prepossessed in favor of other political systems, before they are capable of appreciating their own.

Benjamin Franklin:

I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.

No nation was ever ruined by trade, even seemingly the most disadvantageous.

Something tells me these guys knew what they were talking about.

About Peter Pappas

Peter is a tax attorney and certified public acccountant with over 20 years experience helping taxpayers resolve their IRS and state tax problems.

He has represented thousands of taxpayers who have been experiencing difficulty dealing with the Internal Revenue Service or State tax officials.

He is a member of the American Association of Attorney-Certified Public Accountants, the Florida Bar Association and The Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants and is admitted to practice before the United States Tax Court, the United States Supreme Court, U.S. District Courts - Middle District of Florida

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Comments

  1. “The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”-Unproven! This quote was not found in the Jeffersonian Cyclopedia but several people have attributed this to Jefferson. This is still under investigation.

    http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/j/jefferson-quotes.htm

    I find this to be more true than not. Jefferson like the other Founders abhored democracy as the worst form of government conceived of by man. And from reading every biography I have found on him, he spoke of nothing but the Republic, and Republican values. Not the Republican Party we see today, as it is nothing like the virtuous, and individual citizen promoting values founded by the likes of Jefferson and the others.

  2. Conrad,

    I’ll investigate it and correct it if I can’t find definitive attribution to Jefferson.

    But even it turns out Mr. Magoo said it, it is still wise.

    Republicans were more virtuous in Jefferson’s day despite the fact that the majority of them trafficked in human chattel? I’m not so certain.

  3. There were no republicans in Jeffersons days. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican President.

  4. The George Washington quote is incomplete and makes it seem like Washington was against taxes. In fact, it was Washington’s Secretary of the who issued the first tax (the Whiskey Tax) in the US. Here’s Washington’s full quote:

    IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT YOU SHOULD PRACTICALLY BEAR IN MIND THAT TOWARDS THE PAYMENT OF DEBTS THERE MUST BE REVENUE; THAT TO HAVE REVENUE THERE MUST BE TAXES; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant

  5. Winghunter says:

    @Curtis

    Every single one of them were Republicans:

    “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” –George Washington, First Inaugural Address, 1789

  6. They were, in principle, both Democrats and Republicans… presuming one is familiar with the roots of those terms. The term ‘Democracy’ is best described as ‘rule by the people’.

    Our government demonstrates that through the use of elected representatives, and the founding fathers show that they cleave to the philosophy by citing ‘consent of the governed’ as the ultimate root of all governmental and legal authority.

    ‘Republic’ on the other hand is drawn from the Latin ‘res publica’, which is literally the notion that Government is a public act, and must be conducted in the public eye.

    This, of course, means that America was founded as both a Democracy (rule by the people, AKA The Public), and a Republic (rule in full view of the public AKA The People).

    While the two principles are not directly equivocal (it is possible to have an autocratic or aristocratic Republic, or a secretive Representative Democracy in which representatives are not accountable for their actions, because their actions are not publicly known), they are clearly not a contradiction in terms, and the Founding Fathers embraced both philosophies as being integral to our country.

  7. Carter,

    A true democracy would never work. It would require that every single act of government be put to a referendum.

    We have a representative democracy, or a republic.

    If we can keep it.

  8. The arguments against taxation are often misrepresented. The object of our consternation ought to be (and very often is) the “income” tax and its proper application, not taxes in general, as they are both necessary and properly aligned with the limitations in the constitution.

    The quotes here certainly don’t support the ridiculous notion that our current system of “income” tax is either what the founders wanted or provided.

  9. Mustafa,

    Our founders wanted future generations to be able to amend the constitution as they saw fit. And in 1913 Americans saw fit to amend it to allow a federal income tax.

  10. “Our founders wanted future generations to be able to amend the constitution as they saw fit. And in 1913 Americans saw fit to amend it to allow a federal income tax.”

    Oh really? Tell me Peter, regarding the intent of the 16th amendment, what are thoughts on this?

    CONGRESSIONAL RECORD – SENATE – JUNE 16, 1909
    Versions of Proposed Sixteenth Amendment prior to approval:

    Senate Joint Resolution (S.J.R.) No. 25 ;

    “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes and inheritances.”
    Rejected

    Senate Joint Resolution (S.J.R.) No. 39 ;
    “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect direct taxes on incomes without apportionment among the several States according to population.” [44 Cong.Rec. 3377 (1909)]
    Rejected

    Senate Joint Resolution (S.J.R.) No. 40;
    “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”
    Approved 77 to 15 on July 5, 1909.

    Notice the differences between the 3 versions?

  11. Mustafa,

    Sigh!

  12. Odd that this statement by Thomas Jefferson to James Madison was left out since the first quote above came from the same letter:

    Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.

    Sounds like progressive tax to me.

    Cherry picking
    tsk tsk

  13. R Rogers,

    I am part of a vast conspiracy to deprive the poor of their rights. LOL.

    A tad paranoid?

    tsk tsk

  14. Hamilton is the worst to quote. As George Washington said February 4th, 1818 regarding Jefferson’s work as Secretary of State under George Washington… “February 4th, 1818 regarding Jefferson’s work as Secretary of State under George Washington:

    “Hamilton’s financial system had then passed. It had two objects; 1st, as a puzzle, to exclude popular understanding and inquiry; 2d, as a machine for the corruption of the legislature; for he avowed the opinion, that man could be governed by one of two motives only, force or interest; force, he observed, in this country was out of the question, and the interests, therefore, of the members must be laid hold of, to keep the legislative in unison with the executive. And with grief and shame it must be acknowledged that his machine was not without effect ; that even in this, the birth of our government, some members were found sordid enough to bend their duty to their interests, and to look after personal rather than public good…Hamilton was not only a monarchist, but for a monarchy bottomed on corruption.”

    Hamilton is not a founder who stood for the basic concepts of freedom and liberty, rather, for duplication of the tyrannical model of the Crown, from which he and his cronies could profit… which they did.

  15. DM Chaney,

    Quote the quote, not the man. If it’s wise, it’s wise regardless of who said it.

  16. “I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

    Is it me, or does this sound like Ben Franklin already knew the answer to our current fiscal crisis?

  17. In response to:

    Curtis // Dec 5, 2010 at 10:46 pm –
    There were no republicans in Jeffersons days. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican President.

    You are almost correct, sir: ALL were Republicans during Jefferson’s time, as we were then a Republic. It wasn’t until after Washington that political parties arrived, with John Adams becoming a Federalist and Thomas Jefferson calling himself a Democratic Republican (Note: the root remains Republican)

    But, it was not until Andrew Jackson that the Democrat party began, and it was, in fact, Abraham Lincoln who was the first Republican Party candidate, and thus President.

  18. “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” Thomas Jefferson

    I’m not sure why you think we need to consider this quote today. The quote has everything to do with a State Religion. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that our taxes will not be used to sponsor one religion over another.

  19. In response to DM Chaney’s post, # 15 in the thread, that starts out: “Hamilton is the worst to quote. As George Washington said February 4th, 1818 regarding Jefferson’s work as Secretary of State under George Washington… “February 4th, 1818 regarding Jefferson’s work as Secretary of State under George Washington:”

    It is incorrect to describe that quote as something “George Washington said February 14, 1818,” because it was actually Hamilton’s political opponent, Jefferson himself, who wrote those words. One clue that this was unlikely to be a Washington quote is that Washington sided with Hamilton on the issue of the U.S. fiscal system, over the objections of Jefferson. But the biggest clue that Washington didn’t write those words in February 1818 is that he died in 1799.