Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Whiskey Rebellion, French Revolution, New French-British War and Proclamation of Neutrality

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 23rd, 2012

Politics 101

America’s First Tax was a 25% Excise Tax on American Whiskey made from Corn

Thomas Jefferson held a dinner party where he, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison met to resolve some issues.  Hamilton was stressed out.  He was facing strong opposition for his assumption plan.  Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton wanted to assume all the states’ debts and lump them into the federal debt.  To get the nation’s finances in order.  Establish good credit.  And raise revenue for the new nation.  The Virginians, Jefferson and Madison, offered their assistance if Hamilton would give them the nation’s capital.  Hamilton got his assumption.  And the Virginians got the nation’s new capital on the Potomac River.  Across from Virginia.  Where they could keep a close eye on the nation’s business.  And everyone lived happily ever after.

Well, not exactly.  There was already growing discontent across the land.  Hamilton understood business and commerce.  And banking.  Farmers don’t like bankers.  Or commerce.  Or business.  Many in the south and on the frontier worked the land.  As yeoman farmers.  Families working small farms that they owned.  They believed, as Jefferson believed, that the most honorable work in America was farming.  And that America’s future was the growth of farming.  Small farms.  Owned by families working the land.  Yeoman farmers.  Proud.  Pure.  And wholly American.  This despite Jefferson being a member of the slave-owning planter elite.  Who indulged in little physical labor.

So the south and the frontier were no Hamilton supporters.  They didn’t like his high finance ideas for the new nation.  And they especially didn’t like his whiskey tax.  A tax of 25% on western corn products.  Which you made whiskey from.  The new American alcoholic beverage of choice after they eschewed beer.  The beverage of choice before the rebellion.  When they were all content British citizens.  But an excise tax on corn products was little different from the excise taxes that caused the colonies to rebel against Great Britain in the first place.  Sure, there was one subtle difference this time.  The whiskey tax was taxation with representation.  And, technically speaking, legal.  But on corn?  The new tax seemed to fall unfairly on the West.  Which had a corn economy.  And used the whiskey they made from it for money.  So these frontier people were not just going to sit idly by and take this new taxation without a fight.

The Washington Administration took Decisive Action in Suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion

This first tax was to help finance Hamilton’s assumption.  But it was more important than the revenue it would raise.  The whiskey tax was a matter of principle.  It was probably poor policy.  And probably not the smartest thing to do.  Picking a fight with the toughest and most fiercely independent people in the country.  Frontier people.  Who lived off the land without any of the city comforts enjoyed back east.  But the tax was the law.  And the first test of the new nation.  If the government retreated in the face of opposition to a law passed by Congress their experiment in self-government would fail.  For as unpleasant as taxation was it was the reason they formed a new nation in 1787.  To levy taxes so they could pay their past debt.  And their current bills.  So President Washington and Hamilton hunkered down on the tax.

And the riots came.  The Whiskey Rebellion.  Around Pittsburg.  Kentucky (aka bourbon country).  The backcountry of the Carolinas.  And elsewhere.  They refused to pay the tax.  And attacked the tax collecting apparatus.  Even the courts.  It was war.  The spirit of ’76 was alive again.  Protesting a distant central power trying to impose a tax on them.  Washington offered amnesty if they just dispersed and went home.  They refused.  So Washington raised an army of some 13,000 strong.  Larger than any army he commanded during the Revolutionary War.  And led the army west with Hamilton to meet the insurrection.  The first and only time a sitting president led an army.  As the army approached resistance melted away.  So Washington handed command over to Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee (a Revolutionary War veteran and hero) and returned to the capital in Philadelphia.  Hamilton remained with the army.  As the army arrived the insurrection collapsed.  The army caught some rebels and tried them.  And two received death sentences.  Who Washington later pardoned.

Score one for the rule of law.  Washington was pleased with the outcome.  Hamilton, too.  They took decisive action to subdue an insurrection.  The people in general were happy that they restored peace.  And that the country didn’t collapse into anarchy.  All in all a win-win for the people and the government.  Almost.  Not everyone saw it in this light.  Some saw a king leading an army against his own people.  A professional army.  Little different from British redcoats.  Or Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army a century or so earlier.  A professional standing army squashing those who disagreed with the government.  And Jefferson did not like it.  Nor did a lot of those in the south.  Or on the frontier.

President Washington issued a Proclamation of Neutrality in the New War between Great Britain and France

Seeing Hamilton ride at the head of an army only reinforced Jefferson’s opinion of him.  A power-hungry, British-loving puppet master.  And the puppet was President Washington.  The dislike between Hamilton and Jefferson turned into outright hostility.  They had two different visions of America.  And these two visions were mutually exclusive.  Cabinet meetings became insufferable as Hamilton and Jefferson constantly fought.  And the French Revolution didn’t help matters any.  The radical Jefferson supported the radical French.  Who he knew and sat with in the Jacobin clubs while he was in France.  Jefferson was all for overthrowing monarchies.  So when the French and British declared war on each other it was a no brainer who to support for Jefferson.  Vive la France!

Of course there was only one problem with that position.  About 75% of U.S. exports went to Great Britain.  Even more of her imports (approximately 90%) came from Great Britain.  And then there was the Royal Navy (RN).  Who still ruled the high seas.  And all the international trade routes.  In addition to the RN there was the British Army.  Who still occupied forts on the American western frontier.  And who were still in contact with their Indian allies from the Revolutionary War.  Couple this with the fact that the U.S. had no comparable army or navy.  And was already having trouble on the frontier with the Indians (from the influx of settlers into the western territories).  So siding with France against Britain was not the smart move.  Yes, the French were instrumental in helping the Americans achieve their independence from Great Britain.  But America was a country emerging from 8 years of war that just had to suppress a tax rebellion over a sin tax.  She did not have the wealth to enter a European war.  Besides, the Americans were supported by the monarch (King Louis XVI) the French were overthrowing.  Which complicated matters.

Washington and Hamilton saw things differently than Jefferson.  More like realists than the idealist Jefferson.  The Revolution was over.  The British and Americans were no longer enemies.  But important trade partners.  That shared a common British past.  Of laws and traditions firmly established in what was once British America.  So Washington issued his Proclamation of Neutrality (1793).  They would support neither in this European war.  Which infuriated the French.  And Jefferson.  For though they were neutral it was clear that their neutrality would favor the British.  As well as Hamilton.  And it did.  But it also favored America’s best interests.  For another long war would have probably bankrupted the nation.  And perhaps resulted with her partitioned among the European nations.  For the French Revolution lasted for a decade.  And the Napoleonic Wars it begot lasted another 11 years.  Which let us not forget the French lost.  In large part due to the Royal Navy.  And Great Britain’s wealth generated by her international trade.  Something the Americans could not have altered had she entered the war on France’s side.  A wise foreign policy call by President Washington (and yet another time he saved his country).  But it was one that tore his administration apart.  Firmly establishing the opposition party.  With Jefferson at its head.  With but one purpose.  To destroy Hamilton.  And to lead the nation away from where Hamilton was taking it.

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The Federal Government taxes away about Half of Every Dollar the Middle Class Earns

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 19th, 2012

Week in Review

Thanks to withholding tax people don’t fully appreciate how high their taxes are.  They know they’re high.  So high that gross pay means nothing to them.  Workers only speak of ‘net’ pay.  Or ‘take home’ pay.  The money they actually get.  Not that strange fictitious ‘gross’ pay on their paycheck stub.  Whatever that is.  And what is gross pay?  Their pay.  It’s their money.  And they would have had it when they cashed their paychecks if their employers didn’t withhold it so they could give it to the government.  And why does the government use the withholding tax to take our money?  Because if we had to write a check at the end of the year for our full tax amount there would probably be a nationwide tax revolt.  Which is why the taxing authorities take that money before it gets into our hands.  Because once it is in our hands people may be less willing to hand it over to the taxman.  Which is probably why the Founding Fathers didn’t include any withholding taxes in the Constitution.  They did not want to make it easy for the government to take our money.

So how high are the taxes on the middle class?  Pretty high (see Government Will Take Almost Half Your Paycheck in 2013 by Patrick Tyrrell posted 8/13/2012 on The Foundry).

A middle-class taxpayer’s income is subject to a 25 percent federal income tax. Then there is the federal Social Security and Medicare payroll tax of 13.3 percent in 2012—5.65 percent of that is removed from the employee’s paycheck, and the remaining 7.65 percent is paid by the employer. (In reality, the employee pays the entire 13.3 percent, because the employer’s portion of the tax does not affect the cost of labor: The employer would pay the employee 7.65 percent more if there were no employer’s portion of the payroll tax.)

So the 25 percent federal income tax plus 13.3 Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes equals 38.3 percent going to federal taxes in 2012.

And then there are state taxes. According to the Tax Foundation, the average state’s income tax rate for the middle-class taxpayer is 4.82 percent, which brings the total to 43.12 percent in federal and state taxes.

In Billy Joe’s Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) he says, “You can pay Uncle Sam with the overtime.  Is that all you get for your money?”  The point being is this.  Yes you can give up your Saturday and work some overtime.  But is it really worth it when you can only keep about $0.57 of each additional dollar you earn?  Not really.  Which is why a lot of people who work with their hands will do ‘side work’ for cash under the table.  So they can keep every penny of every dollar they earn.

Or some will work some hours serving tables in a restaurant.  For a little extra spending cash.  I worked with a lady who did.  A devout liberal Democrat.  And part of the middle class.  I asked her if she reported all her tips so she could pay her fair share of taxes on those earnings.  Even though she was a steadfast liberal Democrat voter who always voted ‘yes’ to increase tax rates on others she said the government had already taxed her enough.  So that those supplemental earnings should be hers free and clear.  Of course, that’s not how the tax law works.  You make more you pay more.  She wouldn’t give me a definitive answer on whether she reported all her tips as income.  But it was interesting to hear her say that high tax rates were fair.  As long as she didn’t have to pay them.  Well, her taxes will be going up.  Fair or not.

And it’s going higher, thanks to the nearly $500 billion in tax increases for 2013 that some have called Taxmageddon. In January of next year, the federal income tax rate for middle-class taxpayers is scheduled to rise from 25 percent to 28 percent, and the payroll tax is scheduled to rise from 13.3 percent to 15.3 percent. This drives the marginal tax rate based on the aforementioned three taxes to 48.12 percent. Add in state and local property, corporate, excise, and other state and local taxes, and the percentage of each additional dollar that is taxed hovers around 50 percent.

When half of each additional dollar earned is taxed away, taxpayers experience a disincentive to start businesses or expand existing ones. This leads to fewer jobs being created.

It’s like we divorced our government in the state of California.  And we lost half of everything we earn to a spiteful ex.  Half!  Yeah, that really encourages you to work hard and build your business and hire more people.  So you can deal with the labyrinth of government regulatory compliance.  Lawsuits.  Insurances.  Drug testing.  Sexual harassment training.  All the while hearing the government tell you, “You didn’t build that.”  That you somehow won life’s lottery to riches.  And that you’re greedy for not wanting to pay more taxes.  And for what?  To keep half of every dollar you earn?  It would be a lot easier just to lay off all your workers. Shut down your business.  And go to work for someone else.  And let them deal with these headaches.  Like they did in the Roman Empire as it was collapsing under the weight of her welfare state.  Until the Romans passed laws forbidding people from quitting the work they were doing.

The sad thing is that so many people will vote to perpetuate this binge of taxation.  While they themselves will do everything within their power to avoid paying their own ‘fair share’ of taxes.  While demanding the rich pay more.  Even though the top 10% are already paying 70% of all federal taxes.  The truth is that the rich can’t pay these taxes.  There just aren’t enough of them.  Even if you take everything they earn.  Which leaves the middle class to make up this tax shortfall.  So they take half of everything they earn.  And will continue to take more as their spending continues to grow.  And if people begin to quit the hard jobs because they can’t keep their earnings perhaps the government will step in like the Romans did.  And force people to be doctors.  To run pharmaceutical companies.  To build the next new technology.  It’s happened before to an empire that began as a limited republican government.  So it can probably happen again.  Besides who would have ever thought that the country borne out of a tax rebellion would one day take half of every dollar a middle class worker made?  No one would have seen this coming.  And yet here we are.  Paying half of every dollar we earn to Uncle Sam.

The Founding Fathers would be flabbergasted.  Upset.  And saddened.  To see what had become of their beloved republic.  And their experiment in limited self-government.

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