Frederick Douglas (by Pat on Flickr)

What did Frederick Douglass teach me about income tax?

“One thing is clear: The Founding Fathers never intended a nation where citizens would pay nearly half of everything they earn to the government.” 
― Ron Paul

Why do you and I pay income tax?

I’ve heard some people answer this question by saying things like, “How we gonna pay for the roads? How do you think we pay for all the social services? Who’s gonna mow the lawn at the governor’s mansion? You think someone’s gonna do that for free? Come on, don’t be ridiculous! Don’t ask such stupid questions! It’s obvious! We pay income tax to keep society running!”

Nice try, but that’s not why we pay income tax.

I’ve found in life there are always two reasons for everything. The first reason is the one people talk about, the one you’re told, the one that sounds good. The second reason is the one people don’t talk about, the one they don’t tell you, the one that sounds bad. By the way, the second reason is always … THE REAL REASON!

The same holds true for why we pay income tax. People don’t talk about the real reason because it’s unsightly, it’s not pretty, it’s … THE TRUTH. The real reason is so obvious it eludes most people. It goes right over their heads. It went over mine for years. But, now I know. Now I know the real reason.

I discovered this truth in a book written by a former american slave.
Before I share with you the reason, let me ask a basic question — would you pay income tax if you didn’t have to?

I would hazard a guess that virtually everyone would stop paying income tax if they didn’t have to. That’s just my guess.

So, let’s just go with my assumption, let’s assume everyone would stop paying income tax if they didn’t have to. Now, this is where we arrive at the answer to my initial question — why do you and I pay income tax?

Here’s the ugly truth … The reason you and I pay income tax is because –

The government has the power to compel us to pay. That’s it. End of story.
This fact became clear to me while reading the book, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.” At the end of Chapter 10 Frederick Douglass talks about handing all his wages over to his master …

I was now getting, as I have said, one dollar and fifty cents per day. I contracted for it; I earned it; it was paid to me; it was rightfully my own; yet, upon each returning Saturday night, I was compelled to deliver every cent of that money to Master Hugh. And why? Not because he earned it, — not because he had any hand in earning it, — not because I owed it to him, — nor because he possessed the slightest shadow of a right to it; but solely because he had the power to compel me to give it up. The right of the grim-visaged pirate upon the high seas is exactly the same.

Frederick Douglass handed over all his wages to his master for one reason — he had to! His master had the power to compel him to do it. That’s it, bottom line, end of story.

You and I pay income tax for the very same reason — we have to. The federal government has the power to compel us to do it. Again — that’s the bottom line.

Would you pay income tax if you didn’t have to? If the government didn’t have the power to compel you to do it — would you? If you answer “No!” then how is the government any different than — as Fredrick Douglas says — the “grim-visaged pirate?”

The ugly, unsightly fact is, we are all compelled to pay income tax just like Frederick Douglass was compelled to pay his master. It’s a simple power game, you pay because the balance of power is stacked against you. And you may be OK with that, you may think it’s a pretty good arrangement. Who knows, maybe there were some slaves who were OK with handing all their wages to their masters. But, the fact remains — you pay because you have to, by threat of force.

Now here’s where the ugly truth gets even uglier, even more uncomfortable. Once the truth is exposed, the conversation gets extremely awkward. For instance, how can a person call themselves free when they are compelled — by the threat of force — to hand over their wages to a “master”, any master? In my case, the master is the government. How can I call myself free if I’m compelled — by threat of force — to hand over my wages to the government and then they hand back to me what they think I should be allowed to keep? I don’t have any say in the deal. I don’t have any choice in the arrangement. I must comply because the threat of force is hanging over my head. How can I call myself free under such an arrangement? How can anyone consider themselves free under such an arrangement?

It’s a tough sell.

I would say you can’t. I would venture to guess that Frederick Douglas would agree with me. He wanted to live in a world where he kept all of his hard earned pay. And he eventually did. Once he escaped to freedom, he got to keep all his pay. That’s right. When Frederick Douglas worked as a free man, he kept all his pay. He touched the money first, the government didn’t touch it at all. He earned it. He kept it. And he was free to spend the money how he wanted. He could give some to charity if he wanted. He could buy the things he wanted. He was in charge of how he spent his hard earned money.

The reason Frederic Douglas kept all his pay is this … at that time in the United States, there was no such thing as income tax. That’s right, it didn’t exist. The United States operated perfectly fine for the first 130 years or so without an income tax.

For some reason the founding fathers didn’t see fit to include a provision in the constitution for an income tax. I wonder why? Maybe they just forgot? Or maybe they knew the evils of a giving the federal government the power to tax the income of individual citizens. Maybe they knew it would give the federal government too much power over the citizens. It would change the balance from a government that worked for the people to a government that ruled the people. Maybe they left out a provision for income tax on purpose. Maybe — just maybe — they knew what they were doing.

Politicians pushed and pushed for an income tax but they couldn’t get it through. The constitution wouldn’t allow for it. Finally, they accomplished the dirty deed — with an amendment to the constitution — in the early 1900s. Now we all disclose our incomes and/or hand over our paychecks to the powerful central government and they hand back to us — as net pay — what’s left over. The whole process is against the principles of the founding fathers and the original constitution. It’s an end run. It’s a sneaky trick to take power from the people. And, it worked.

Maybe it’s time to re-think this income tax thing. Maybe it’s a bad idea after all. OK, it’s a great idea if you’re in favor of a strong, all powerful, money wasting, corrupt central government. But, if you’re in favor of a government ‘for the people, of the people and by the people,’ then it’s a very bad idea. The income tax is simply incompatible with freedom.

I wonder what Frederick Douglas would have to say about paying income tax?

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Dave Ives is a property investor and author who lives in Alice Springs, Australia. Follow him on Twitter at @ivesguy. Or visit his website

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