Hamilton vs. Jefferson in Supreme Court Direct Tax Jurisprudence

80 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2022 Last revised: 23 Sep 2022

See all articles by Joshua Cutler

Joshua Cutler

Boise State University, College of Business and Economics, Department of Accountancy

Date Written: August 1, 2022

Abstract

Increasingly frequent calls for some form of a wealth tax highlight the importance of understanding whether such a tax would be considered an unconstitutional “direct tax” if not apportioned according to population. The definition of direct tax was left deliberately vague at the Constitutional Convention, and consequently its meaning has been shaped through battles between the opposing political philosophies of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton and his allies prioritized an energetic national government with adequate taxing powers to support its functions and unite the states; had great respect for tradition, precedent, and practical experience; and preferred a broad mode of constitutional interpretation that showed strong deference to Congress. Jefferson and his allies prized individual liberty above all and viewed the national government as the chief threat to that liberty. Accordingly, Jeffersonians wanted strict limits on the national government’s taxing powers; supported the rights and powers of state governments as a buffer between individuals and the national government; and wanted the Supreme Court to strictly interpret the Constitution and exercise judicial supremacy over Congress. I trace the key Supreme Court cases interpreting the Direct Tax clause and show that these Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian beliefs consistently appear in and shape the Court’s opinions. The Hamiltonian vs. Jeffersonian contest is far from settled, and will surely play a role in deciding the fate of any future wealth tax.

Keywords: Taxation, Constitution, Wealth Tax, Hamilton, Jefferson, Supreme Court

Suggested Citation

Cutler, Joshua, Hamilton vs. Jefferson in Supreme Court Direct Tax Jurisprudence (August 1, 2022). Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4212763 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4212763

Joshua Cutler (Contact Author)

Boise State University, College of Business and Economics, Department of Accountancy ( email )

Boise, ID
United States

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