When one looks at the massive amount of spending done by the elected representatives of the federal government on unpopular wars and unpopular projects, one might ask oneself, “By what authority do these people, some elected not even by popular majority, tax us against our will to fund projects which we do not support?”
Article 1 Section 8 of the U.S. constitution states in part:
“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”
Ignoring spending power usurped by the executive branch of the government, (which is a different story) doesn’t this clearly gives the U.S. congress the absolute power to tax whatever it pleases for whatever purpose it deems necessary, regardless of what local and state governments, not to mention the people they represent, decide? If yes, then the current pork projects and other unrepresentative spending, which many people feel are abuses, are justified by the highest law in the land.
It may seem difficult to believe that a people who just made themselves free from the tyrannies of a foreign king, as the founders of this country were, would invite such abuses from so powerful a government. Not surprisingly, just such concerns did promulgate in the post-revolution States.
After the Constitution was framed and proposed, a series of correspondences were published in newspapers across the land discussing the pros and cons. The letters that were in favor of ratification of the new Constitution were called collectively the Federalist papers; those opposed the Anti-Federalist papers. (Both can be found easily online) Below is an excerpt from one of the latter written by a citizen of Pennsylvania under the pseudonym “Centinel”:
“Now what can be more comprehensive than (article 1: section 8); not content by other sections of this plan, to grant all the great executive powers of a confederation, and a STANDING ARMY IN TIME OF PEACE, that grand engine of oppression, and moreover the absolute control over the commerce of the United States and all external objects of revenue, such as unlimited imposts upon imports, etc. they are to be vested with every species of internal taxation; whatever taxes, duties and excises that they may deem requisite for the general welfare, may be imposed on the citizens of these states, levied by the officers of Congress, distributed through every district in America; and the collection would be enforced by the standing army, however grievous or improper they may be. The Congress may construe every purpose for which the state legislatures now lay taxes, to be for the general welfare, and thereby seize upon every object of revenue.”
His fears were the fears of many Pennsylvania citizens and on October 6, 1787, James Wilson, delegate from Pennsylvania to the Constitutional Convention, tried to allay the fears of his fellow citizens during a public meeting. He says in part:
“The power of direct taxation has likewise been treated as an improper delegation to the federal government; but when we consider it as the duty of that body to provide for the national safety, to support the dignity of the union, and to discharge the debts contracted upon the collected faith of the States for their common benefit, it must be acknowledged that those upon whom such important obligations are imposed, ought in justice and in policy to possess every means requisite for a faithful performance of their trust. … Why should we be alarmed with visionary evils?”
Remember, this is one of the framers of the Constitution speaking. One could infer from this speech and events of the time that people would not accept taxation by the federal government unless it was to, “Provide for the national safety, to support the dignity of the union, etc.” How would these first Americans have perceived the famous “Bridge to Nowhere” or other programs funded by federal tax dollars that benefit only a very few?
Today, our elected representatives routinely tack on riders to bills that give federal funds to the special interests of their constituents and the wealthy people who funded their campaigns. Because of the nature of an election in which the voters probably do not know and will never meet the candidates, the people who are elected are those who can afford an extensive media campaign.
This opens the door for making profit by running a successful campaign (buying more TV time), getting someone who will do what they are told elected, and then relying on that person to get more pork than the campaign costs. And of course, if one could not afford a campaign, one could chip in with others and buy a candidate. With the enormous revenues generated by the federal income tax, this is a good investment of capital.
It could be asserted that, since the people on 1787 had just fought a war to rid their land of tyrannical government, they had a better idea of how a powerful government can overwhelm the rights of free people. In answer to the question, “Does Section 8 give congress the power to tax what it pleases as it pleases for whatever purpose it pleases?, how do you think the first patriots would answer?