Thursday, June 30, 2016

Taxation and Representation

When I was in Washington, D.C., this month, once again I saw many license plates with the words “taxation without representation” on them. The newest plates with those words look like this: 

The issue, of course, is that the citizens of D.C. must pay federal income tax just as all U.S. citizens do, but they do not have representation in Congress. The words “taxation without representation” were first used on some D.C. license plates in 2000—but, as you know, it was expressing a sentiment from long ago.
A Boston pastor used the phrase “no taxation without representation” in a sermon as early as 1750. After the Stamp Act of 1765 it became common for the colonists to exclaim that “taxation without representation is tyranny.”
Have you seen the new U.S. postage stamps that were issued on May 29? They commemorate the 250th anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766. These new “forever” stamps are sold only as souvenir sheets of 10 stamps and are $4.70. 
The USPS website explains: “The commemorative stamp art depicts a crowd gathered around a ‘liberty tree’ to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act.” Such “liberty trees” were “found in a number of cities throughout the colonies, and were popular gathering spots for community meetings, political discussions, celebrations and more.”
The new British legislation required American colonists to pay a tax on a wide array of paper materials, such as newspapers, legal documents, mortgages, contracts—and even playing cards. A revenue stamp embossed on those papers indicated payment of the tax.
Many colonists were not happy with the new tax, to say the least. Accordingly, the USPS website also says that the Stamp Act, which was passed by the British Parliament in March 1765, “proved historic in galvanizing and uniting the American colonies, setting them on a path toward independence.”
The first chapter of The Beginnings of the American Revolution (1910) by Ellen Chase is sub-titled “Stamp Act Causes Riot,” and then the second chapter is “The Colonies Unite Successfully for Repeal.” Thus, actions resulting from the negative reaction toward the Stamp Act was a major impetus toward the colonists’ declaration of independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776.
The tax levied by the Stamp Act was not exorbitant; it was the principle that rankled the colonists. As Chase says, “The exception was not taken to the tax in itself. . . . The objections rose solely from Parliament’s assumption of supremacy in the Colonies’ internal affairs” (p. 23).
For a long time after independence from Great Britain, however, U.S. citizens mostly had representation without taxation. There was an excise tax placed on whiskey in 1791—but that led to the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.
The first personal income tax resulted from the Revenue Act signed into law by President Lincoln in August 1861. He who wanted government “of the people, by the people, for the people” needed to raise money to pay for the Civil War activities of the Union.
The first permanent income tax in this country, though, was not established until 1913—and the first general sales tax not until 1930.
In D.C. now, though, there is taxation but no representation on the federal level. Statehood for the District is one possible solution to the problem.

However, the “party of Lincoln” that freed the slaves in spite of strong objection by the Democratic Party then does not want to grant statehood now to a territory that would most probably send Democrats to the U.S. Congress. As I wrote earlier, the Parties have switched positions.


  1. Here is a recent article about what has been decided for the name of the new state if D.C. is given statehood:

  2. Very interesting, Leroy. Thanks. Many Americans, in part, because of this history don't recognize the importance of taxation.

  3. Thinking Friend Eric Dollard, who always, happily, seems to have a great deal of pertinent knowledge to share, writes,

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your provocative comments.

    "Taxation without representation is certainly a sore point for our friends, who live in Washington DC. DC residents do have three electoral votes in presidential elections (under the 23rd amendment), but no voting representatives in Congress. (The DC has a nonvoting representative.)

    "Puerto Ricans pay no Federal income tax, but Puerto Rico has no electoral votes and no voting representatives in Congress. (As with the DC, Puerto Rico has a nonvoting representative.)

    "The DC could give up its electoral votes and be treated the same manner as Puerto Rico; that is, exempt from federal income taxes, but that would require the repeal of the 23rd amendment (not likely). The 16th amendment allows the federal government to levy taxes 'from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States.' The DC is not mentioned, so is the taxation of DC residents a violation of the 16th amendment? There has probably been a court ruling, but I do not know.

    "A possible compromise would be to allow the DC to have at least one voting representative in the House of Representatives, but no senators. The DC would then have representation without becoming a state, but this would require amending Article 1, section 2 of the Constitution since representatives can only be elected by the 'people of the several States."

    1. Another solution to the situation of taxation without representation in D.C. is to make the District a part of the state of Maryland. But that idea raises a different set of issues, so I think it is probably not the needed solution.

    2. Actually, that is the most obvious answer. Arlington County, Virginia, is the home of the Pentagon and a former part of Washington. Not imagining the future, Arlington was given back to Virginia on the assumption it would never be needed. I lived in Fairfax County, just outside Arlington, for several years. I never heard about any problems running the Pentagon in Virginia. The same thing could easily be done with the rest of Washington. Give the land back to Maryland, let the people be citizens of Maryland, and handle the property the same way the Pentagon is handled in Virginia. Indeed, there are Federal properties all over the country, one of which I worked in for years in Kansas City. The only reason Washington remains a political problem decade after decade is that the politicians want it that way.

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  4. If its name as a state becomes "New Columbia," then it will be inappropriate to call the capitol Washington D.C. It will be Washington, N.C. But wait, that puts it in North Carolina.