The Wisdom Of John C Calhoun


The vice president warned against allowing the government to divide us into “tax-payers and tax-consumers.” This, he said, “would give rise to two parties and to violent conflicts and struggles between them, to obtain the control of the government.”

The vice president was John C. Calhoun. The year was 1850.

Heritage Foundation scholars, William Beach and Patrick Tyrrell:

“Today, 67.3 million Americans – from college students to retirees to welfare beneficiaries – depend on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid or other assistance. The United States reached another milestone in 2010: For the first time in history, half the population pays no federal income taxes.”

So what did the 19th century statesman John C. Calhoun predict would happen as a result – as he warned against allowing the government to divide us into “tax-payers and tax-consumers”?

“This would give rise to two parties and to violent conflicts and struggles between them, to obtain the control of the government.” 

We are there, Mr. Calhoun, we are there.

You see, folks, the ugly little secret of liberal ideology is this: Democrats not only want a majority consisting of a permanent underclass – liberalism requires that it be so; if liberal ideology and the Democratic Party – in its current state – are to survive.

Mitt Romney has the courage to “out” the “secret” – and the liberal media calls him everything short of un-American.

Think about it. And this is where Mitt was (and is) absolutely right: Why would 47% of Americans who pay no federal income tax ever vote for a candidate who talks of lowering taxes? Hell – in their entitled minds, lowering taxes on those who pay those taxes would mean less money in the kitty to redistribute to them!

Conversely, let’s pretend every working American pays some amount of federal income tax – be at a progressive level or flat. And, let’s also pretend presidential candidate “A” (party, irrelevant) runs on a platform of reducing taxes (or not raising them) for everyone - and candidate “B” does not. Which candidate would receive more support?

Pre-Civil War Southern political philosopher John C. Calhoun understood this reality all to well. In a critique of The Federalist, (not referred to as “The Federalist Papers” until the 20th century) he argued that any system of taxation inevitably divided citizens into two antagonistic groups – the net tax-payers and the net tax-consumers:

Whatever amount is taken from the community, in the form of taxes, if not lost, goes to expenditures or disbursements. Disbursement and taxation constitute the fiscal action of the government. They are correlatives. What the government takes from the community, under the name of taxes, is transferred to the portion of the community who are the recipients, under that of disbursements. But, as the recipients constitute only a portion of the community, it follows, taking the two parts of the fiscal process together, that its action must be unequal between the payers of the taxes and the recipients of their proceeds. Nor can it be otherwise, unless what is collected from each individual in the shape of taxes, shall be returned to him, in that of disbursements; which would make the process nugatory and absurd. Taxation may, indeed, be made equal, regarded separately from disbursement.

The necessary result of unequal fiscal action of the government is, to divide the community into two great classes; one consisting of those who, in reality, pay the taxes, and, of course, bear exclusively the burden of supporting the government; and the other, of those who are the recipients of their proceeds, through disbursements, and who are, in fact, supported by the government; or, in fewer words, to divide it into tax-payers and tax-consumers.

The effect of this is to place them in antagonistic relations, in reference to the fiscal action of the government, and the entire course of policy therewith is connected. For, the greater the taxes and disbursements, the greater the gain of the one and the loss of the other – and vice versa; and consequently, the more the policy of the government is calculated to increase taxes and disbursements, the more it will be favored by the one and opposed by the other.

The effect, then, of every increase is to enrich and strengthen the one, and weaken the other. If such may be the effect of taxes and disbursements, when confined to their legitimate objects – that of raising revenue for the public service – some conception may be formed, how one portion of the community may be crushed, and another elevated, by systematically perverting the power of taxation and disbursement – for the purpose of aggrandizing and building up one portion of the community at the expense of the other. That it will be so used, unless prevented, it must give rise to two parties, and to violent conflicts and struggles between them – to obtain the control of the government.

Brilliant. More than 160 years ago. George Bernard Shaw, whose quote is permanently affixed to the right sidebar of my personal blog says it succinctly:

“A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”

Smart man, that John C. Calhoun. George Bernard Shaw wasn’t too bad either.

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