Last week one of the attendees of my Constitution Study in Temecula asked in regards to Article I, Section 9, Clause 4, “What’s Capitation.” For some reason I was unable to pull the answer out of the normally accessible file drawers of my mind, so I told him I would have the answer to him tonight.
Once I looked it up that Capitation is a Poll Tax, all that I know on the subject came rushing back to me.
In the context of the period, Capitation was any tax that singles out groups both directly and indirectly regardless of possession of lands or personal property. Since Article I, Section 9 is a prohibitory section, the specific call by the Founding Fathers in that clause was that there shall be No Capitation, which included No Poll Tax.
In early New England, in keeping with traditions from the homeland, capitation (caput, meaning head) or poll taxes were common. These taxes were levied as a way to manipulate the people for the supposed good of the government.
Our good leftist friend Alexander Hamilton, though condemning capitation taxes in his Federalist Papers writings, was in favor of “head taxes” for emergency revenue reasons. He felt that since sources for revenue were so few, if the government needed to expand for any reason, the ability to lay head taxes, or direct taxation, needed to be an option. However, most of the Founding Fathers disagreed, not only because of their belief that taxation must be indirect and small, but also because of their opinion that the federal government must remain limited to the few authorities granted to it by the U.S. Constitution.
Article I, Section 9, Clause 4 forbids Congress to lay a tax upon individuals except uniformly, and in proportion to the census provided for in Article I, Section 2, Clause 3, where this subject is first brought up.
As we have learned, the U.S. Constitution is not designed to necessarily tell the federal government what it can't do, as much as it is designed to tell it what few authorities it has. But the Founders felt this to be so important that in addition to not giving such taxation to the Federal Government as an authority, they felt they must also spell it out that the Federal Government cannot tax in this manner. This clause restricts the Congress a lot more because it is prohibitive. Article 1, Section 8 provides a list of "enumerated powers," but knowing that politicians would bend and twist meanings to gain more power, as they have with the Commerce Clause of Section 8, Article 1, Section 9 was designed to spell out some very specific things the Congress is prohibited from doing (such as direct taxation and capitation taxes).
The intent of the Founding Fathers was to provide as little power as necessary to Congress (the part of the Federal Government that “makes law”). The fear, however, was without some specificity on certain things that the Federal Government cannot do, there would be a tendency toward using what may be considered unclear for power grabs.
Within a few years of the ratification of the Constitution, these fears found their way into the Constitution in the form of the Bill of Rights. The first eight amendments restricts the powers of Congress much more specifically, even though the main text of the Constitution already forbid such actions by not giving the Federal Government those powers in the first place.
In regards to Article I, Section 9, Clause 4 we must also remember that the 16th Amendment in 1913 rendered this clause obsolete.
When The South tried to apply poll taxes in elections, meaning that one must pay a tax in order to vote (which would make blacks unable to vote because they could not afford the tax), Article I, Section 9, Clause 4 was used to stop the practice (even though technically the clause only applied to Congress).
After 1913, with the passage of the 16th Amendment (which created the Federal Income Tax), the clause was no longer in force. So when the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s resulted in Southern States once again applying poll taxes, one of the arguments was that poll taxes was no longer unconstitutional because of the passage of the 16th Amendment. As a result, the 24th Amendment was ratified in 1964, which in addition to requiring that all citizens shall not be denied the opportunity to vote for any reason, the amendment also provided the prohibition once again against poll taxes. This time, however, the law was careful to ensure that included in the wording was that the Federal Government, or any State, could not deny anyone the ability to vote by reason of failure to pay any poll tax, or any other tax.
If you are in Southern California, join us for more lessons on the Constitution at our Constitution Study Group in Temecula, California. The group meets every Thursday Night (with a break for Thanksgiving, of course) from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm. We meet at Faith Armory, 27498 Enterprise Circle West in Temecula.
-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary