Important as these matters are, however, the case for reduced taxation is also compelled by moral considerations.
Every generation of Americans has understood that taxation is a fact of life. Ben Franklin famously remarked that in life “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” However, our founders worked to keep taxes limited and uniform. “[A]ll duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States,” reads the U.S. Constitution. [emphasis added] That is why they not only rejected progressive income taxation, but income taxation entirely. The early republic instead applied taxes primarily to goods, which provided maximum personal choice (to avoid the tax one could avoid purchasing the product).
This vision generally held until the early 20th century, although there were two brief experiments with an income tax prior to that period. The first involved income taxation as high as ten percent during the civil war, which was repealed shortly thereafter. The second was in 1894, when congress passed an income tax that applied to the top two percent of wealth holders. However, it was quickly struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. As historian Burt Folsom notes, “At age 77, [Stephen] Field,” who was a Supreme Court justice at the time, “not only repudiated Congress’s actions, he also penned a prophecy. A small progressive tax, he predicted, ‘will be but the stepping stone to others, larger and more sweeping, till our political contests will become a war of the poor against the rich.’”