Pollock v. Farmers' Loan and Trust Company (1895)
I normally don’t ask my readers to sift through an entire Court case, but I’ll make an exception. For my Constitutional Law class, I’m currently reading Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company, which dealt with the income tax long before Woodrow Wilson’s tenure. What I find most fascinating about this case is its obvious nature as a Progressive Era case. While I tend to agree with the majority opinion, the dissent touches question of wealth inequality and implies the “fair share” question which we have all grown to know and love (or hate.). Most importantly though, Justice White (dissent) presents a very blatant vision of the Constitution as a “living document.” Below I’ve included the syllabus, majority opinion, concurring opinion, and dissenting opinion. For brevity, I bolded the important phrases.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
157 U.S. 429
Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORKNo. 898 Argued: March 7, 8. 11, 12, 13, 1895 — Decided: April 8, 1895.A court of equity has jurisdiction to prevent a threatened breach of trust in the misapplication or diversion of the funds of a corporation by illegal payments out of its capital or profits.
Such a bill being filed by a stockholder to prevent a trust company from voluntarily making returns for the imposition and payment of a tax claimed to be unconstitutional, and on the further ground of threatened multiplicity of suits and irreparable injury, and the objection of adequate remedy at law not having been raised below or in this court, and the question of jurisdiction having been waived by the United States so far as it was within its power to do so, and the relief sought being to prevent the voluntary action of the trust company, and not in respect to the assessment and collection of the tax, the court will proceed to judgment on the merits.
The doctrine of stare decisis is a salutary one, and is to be adhered to on proper occasions, in respect of decisions directly upon points in issue; but this court should not extend any decision upon a constitutional question if it is convinced that error in principle might supervene.
In the cases referred to in the opinion of the court in this case, beginning withHylton v. United States, 3 Dall. 171, (February Term, 1796) and ending withSpringer v. United States, 102 U.S. 586 (October Term, 1880), taxes on land are conceded to be direct taxes, and in none of them is it determined that a tax on rent or income derived from land is not a tax on land.
A tax on the rents or income of real estate is a direct tax within the meaning of that term as used in the Constitution of the United States.
A tax upon income derived from the interest of bonds issued by a municipal corporation is a tax upon the power of the State and its instrumentalities to borrow money, and is consequently repugnant to the Constitution of the United States.
So much of the act “to reduce taxation, to provide revenue for the government, and for other purposes,” 28 Stat. 509, c. 349, as provides for levying taxes upon rents or income derived from real estate, or from the interest on municipal bonds, is repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, and is invalid.
Upon each of the other questions argued at the bar, to-wit: 1, whether the void provision as to rents and income from real estate invalidates [p430] the whole act? 2, whether, as to the income from personal property a such, the act is unconstitutional as laying direct taxes? 3, whether any part of the tax, if not considered as a direct tax, is invalid for want of uniformity on either of the grounds suggested? — the Justices who heard the argument are equally divided, and, therefore, no opinion is expressed.
This was a bill filed by Charles Pollock, a citizen of the State of Massachusetts, on behalf of himself and all other stockholders of the defendant company similarly situated against the Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company, a corporation of the State of New York, and its directors, alleging that the capital stock of the corporation consisted of one million dollars, divided into forty thousand shares of the par value of twenty-five dollars each; that the company was authorized to invest its assets in public stocks and bonds of the United States, of individual States, or of any incorporated city, or county, or in such real or personal securities as it might deem proper, and also to take, accept, and execute all such trusts of every description as might be committed to it by any person or persons or any corporation, by grant, assignment, devise, or bequest, or by order of any court of record of New York, and to receive and take any real estate which might be the subject of such trust; that the property and assets of the company amounted to more than five million dollars, of which at least one million was invested in real estate owned by the company in fee; at least two millions in bonds of the city of New York, and at least one million in the bonds and stocks of other corporations of the United States; that the net profits or income of the defendant company during the year ending December 31, 1894, amounted to more than the sum of $300,000 above its actual operating and business expenses, including losses and interest on bonded and other indebtedness; that, from its real estate, the company derived an income of $50,000 per annum, after deducting all county, state, and municipal taxes, and that the company derived an income or profit of about $60,000 per annum from its investments in municipal bonds.
It was further alleged that, under and by virtue of the powers [p431] conferred upon the company, it had from time to time taken and executed, and was holding and executing, numerous trusts committed to the company by many persons, copartnerships, unincorporated associations, and corporations, by grant, assignment, devise, and bequest, and by orders of various courts, and that the company now held as trustee for many minors, individuals, copartnerships, associations, and corporations, resident in the United States and elsewhere, many parcels of real estate situated in the various States of the United States, and amounting, in the aggregate, to a value exceeding five millions of dollars, the rents and income of which real estate collected and received by said defendant in its fiduciary capacity annually exceeded the sum of two hundred thousand dollars.
The bill also averred that complainant was and had been since May 20, 1892, the owner and registered holder of ten shares of the capital stock of the company, of a value exceeding the sum of $5,000; that the capital stock was divided among a large number of different persons who, as such stockholders, constituted a large body; that the bill was filed for an object common to them all, and that he therefore, brought suit not only in his own behalf as a stockholder of the company, but also as a representative of and on behalf of such of the other stockholders similarly situated and interested as might choose to intervene and become parties.
It was then alleged that the management of the stock, property, affairs, and concerns of the company was committed under its acts of incorporation to its directors, and charged that the company and a majority of its directors claimed and asserted that, under and by virtue of the alleged authority of the provisions of an act of Congress of the United States entitled, “An act to reduce taxation, to provide revenue for the government, and for other purposes,” passed August 15, 1894, the company was liable, and that they intended to pay to the United States before July 1, 1895, a tax of two percentum on the net profits of said company for the year ending December 31, 1894, above actual operating and business expenses, including the income derived from its real estate and [p432]its bonds of the city of New York, and that the directors claimed and asserted that a similar tax must be paid upon the amount of the incomes, gains, and profits, in excess of $4000, of all minors and others for whom the company was acting in a fiduciary capacity. And further, that the company and its directors had avowed their intention to make and file with the collector of internal revenue for the second district of the city of New York a list, return, or statement showing the amount of the net income of the company received during the year 1894 as aforesaid, and likewise to make and render a list or return to said collector of internal revenue, prior to that date, of the amount of the income, gains, and profits of all minors and other persons having incomes in excess of $300, for whom the company was acting in a fiduciary capacity.
The bill charged that the provisions in respect of said alleged income tax incorporated in the act of Congress were unconstitutional, null, and void, in that the tax was a direct tax in respect of the real estate held and owned by the company in its own right and in its fiduciary capacity as aforesaid by being imposed upon the rents, issues, and profits of said real estate, and was likewise a direct tax in respect of its personal property and the personal property held by it for others for whom it acted in its fiduciary capacity as aforesaid, which direct taxes were not in and by said act apportioned among the several States as required by section 2 of article I of the Constitution, and that, if the income tax so incorporated in the act of Congress aforesaid were held not to be a direct tax, nevertheless its provisions were unconstitutional, null and void in that they were not uniform throughout the United States as required in and by section of article I of the Constitution of the United States, upon many grounds and in many particulars specifically set forth.
The bill further charged that the income tax provisions of the act were likewise unconstitutional in that they imposed a tax on incomes not taxable under the Constitution and likewise income derived from the stocks and bonds of the States of the United States and counties and municipalities therein, [p433]which stocks and bonds are among the means and instrumentalities employed for carrying on their respective governments, and are not proper subjects of the taxing power of Congress, and which States and their counties and municipalities are independent of the general government of the United States, and the respective stocks and bonds of which are, together with the power of the States to borrow in any form, exempt from Federal taxation.
Other grounds of unconstitutionality were assigned, and the violation of articles IV and V of the Constitution asserted.
The bill further averred that the suit was not a collusive one to confer on a court of the United States jurisdiction of the case of which it would not otherwise have cognizance, and that complainant had requested the company and its directors to omit and refuse to pay said income tax, and to contest the constitutionality of said act, and to refrain from voluntarily making lists, returns, and statements on its own behalf and on behalf of the minors and other persons for whom it was acting in a fiduciary capacity, and to apply to a court of competent jurisdiction to determine its liability under said act, but that the company and a majority of its directors, after a meeting of the directors at which the matter and the request of complainant were formally laid before them for action, had refused and still refuse, and intend omitting to comply with complainant’s demand, and had resolved and determined, and intended to comply with all and singular the provisions of the said act of Congress, and to pay the tax upon all its net profits or income as aforesaid, including its rents from real estate and its income from municipal bonds, and a copy of the refusal of the company was annexed to the complaint.
It was also alleged that, if the company and its directors, as they proposed and had declared their intention to do, should pay the tax out of its gains, income, and profits, or out of the gains, income, and profits of the property held by it in its fiduciary capacity, they will diminish the assets of the company and lessen the dividends thereon and the value of the shares; that voluntary compliance with the income tax provisions would expose the company to a multiplicity of suits, not only by and [p434] on behalf of its numerous shareholders, but by and on behalf of numerous minors and others for whom it acts in a fiduciary capacity, and that such numerous suits would work irreparable injury to the business of the company, and subject it to great and irreparable damage, and to liability to the beneficiaries aforesaid, to the irreparable damage of complainant and all its shareholders.
The bill further averred that this was a suit of a civil nature in equity; that the matter in dispute exceeded, exclusive of costs, the sum of five thousand dollars, and arose under the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that there was furthermore a controversy between citizens of different States
The prayer was that it might be adjudged and decreed that the said provisions known as the income tax incorporated in said act of Congress passed August 1, 1894, are unconstitutional, null, and void; that the defendants be restrained from voluntarily complying with the provisions of said act and making the lists, returns, and statements above referred to, or paying the tax aforesaid, and for general relief.
The defendants demurred on the ground of want of equity, and the cause having been brought on to be heard upon the bill and demurrer thereto, the demurrer was sustained and the bill of complaint dismissed with costs, whereupon the record recited that the constitutionality of a law of the United States was drawn in question, and an appeal was allowed directly to this court.
By the third clause of section two of Article I of the Constitution, it was provided:
Representatives and direct taxes shall [p436] be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, [p437] which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for term of [p438] years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons.
This was amended by the second section of the [p439] Fourteenth Article, declared ratified July 28, 1868, so that the whole number of persons in each State should be counted, [p440] Indians not taxed excluded, and the provision, as thus amended, remains in force. [p441]
The actual enumeration was prescribed to be made within three years after the first meeting of Congress and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as should be directed.
Section 7 requires “all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.”
The first clause of section 8 reads thus:
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.
And the third clause thus:
To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.
The fourth, fifth, and sixth clauses of section are as follows:
No capitation, or other direct, tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration hereinbefore directed to be taken.
No tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any State.
No preference shall be given by any regulation of commerce or revenue to the ports of one State over those of another; nor shall vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties in another.
It is also provided by the second clause of section 10 that
no State shall, without the consent of the Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except what may be [p442]absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws;
and, by the third clause, that “no State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any duty of tonnage.”
The first clause of section 9 provides:
The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importations, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.
Article V prescribes the mode for the amendment of the Constitution, and concludes with this proviso:
Provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article. [p553]
FULLER, J., Opinion of the Court
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
157 U.S. 429
Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust CompanyAPPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORKNo. 898 Argued: March 7, 8. 11, 12, 13, 1895 — Decided: April 8, 1895.MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER, after stating the case as above reported. delivered the opinion of the court.
The jurisdiction of a court of equity to prevent any threatened breach of trust in the misapplication or diversion of the funds of a corporation by illegal payments out of its capital or profits has been frequently sustained. Dodge v. Woolsey, 18 How. 331; Hawes v. Oakland, 104 U.S. 450. [p554]
As in Dodge v. Woolsey, this bill proceeds on the ground that the defendants would be guilty of such breach of trust or duty in voluntarily making returns for the imposition of, and paying, an unconstitutional tax, and also on allegations of threatened multiplicity of suits and irreparable injury.
The objection of adequate remedy at law was not raised below, nor is it now raised by appellees, if it could be entertained at all at this stage of the proceedings; and, so far as it was within the power of the government to do so, the question of jurisdiction, for the purposes of the case, was explicitly waived on the argument. The relief sought was in respect of voluntary action by the defendant company, and not in respect of the assessment and collection themselves. Under these circumstances, we should not be justified in declining to proceed to judgment upon the merits. Pelton. v. National Bank, 101 U.S. 143148; Cummings v. National Bank, 101 U.S. 153 157; Reynes v. Dumont, 130 U.S. 354.
Since the opinion in Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 1 Cranch 177, was delivered, it has not been doubted that it is within judicial competency, by express provisions of the Constitution or by necessary inference and implication, to determine whether a given law of the United States is or is not made in pursuance of the Constitution, and to hold it valid or void accordingly. “If,” said Chief Justice Marshall,
both the law and the Constitution apply to a particular case, so that the court must either decide that case conformably to the law, disregarding the Constitution; or conformably to the Constitution, disregarding the law; the court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case. This is of the very essence of judicial duty.
And the Chief Justice added that the doctrine
that courts must close their eyes on the Constitution, and see only the law . . . would subvert the very foundation of all written constitutions.
Necessarily, the power to declare a law unconstitutional is always exercised with reluctance; but the duty to do so, in a proper case, cannot be declined, and must be discharged in accordance with the deliberate judgment of the tribunal in which the validity of the enactment is directly drawn in question.[p555]
The contention of the complainant is:
First. That the law in question, in imposing a tax on the income or rents of real estate, imposes a tax upon the real estate itself, and in imposing a tax on the interest or other income of bonds or other personal property held for the purposes of income or ordinarily yielding income, imposes a tax upon the personal estate itself; that such tax is a direct tax, and void because imposed without regard to the rule of apportionment, and that, by reason thereof, the whole law is invalidated.
Second. That the law is invalid because imposing indirect taxes in violation of the constitutional requirement of uniformity, and therein also in violation of the implied limitation upon taxation that all tax laws must apply equally, impartially, and uniformly to all similarly situated. Under the second head, it is contended that the rule of uniformity is violated in that the law taxes the income of certain corporations, companies, and associations, no matter how created or organized, at a higher rate than the incomes of individuals or partnerships derived from precisely similar property or business; in that it exempts from the operation of the act and from the burden of taxation numerous corporations, companies, and associations having similar property and carrying on similar business to those expressly taxed, in that it denies to individuals deriving their income from shares in certain corporations, companies, and associations the benefit of the exemption of $4,000 granted to other persons interested in similar property and business; in the exemption of $4,000; in the exemption of building and loan associations, savings banks, mutual life, fire, marine, and accident insurance companies, existing solely for the pecuniary profit of their members; these and other exemptions being alleged to be purely arbitrary and capricious, justified by no public purpose, and of such magnitude as to invalidate the entire enactment, and in other particulars.
Third. That the law is invalid so far as imposing a tax upon income received from state and municipal bonds.
The Constitution provides that representatives and direct [p556] taxes shall be apportioned among the several States according to numbers, and that no direct tax shall be laid except according to the enumeration provided for, and also that all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.
The men who framed and adopted that instrument had just emerged from the struggle for independence whose rallying cry had been that “taxation and representation go together.”
The mother country had taught the colonists, in the contests waged to establish that taxes could not be imposed by the sovereign except as they were granted by the representatives of the realm, that self-taxation constituted the main security against oppression. As Burke declared in his speech on Conciliation with America, the defenders of the excellence of the English constitution
took infinite pains to inculcate, as a fundamental principle, that, in all monarchies, the people must, in effect, themselves, mediately or immediately, possess the power of granting their own money, or no shadow of liberty could subsist.
The principle was that the consent of those who were expected to pay it was essential to the validity of any tax.
The States were about, for all national purposes embraced in the Constitution, to become one, united under the same sovereign authority and governed by the same laws. But as they still retained their jurisdiction over all persons and things within their territorial limits, except where surrendered to the general government or restrained by the Constitution. they were careful to see to it that taxation and representation should go together, so that the sovereignty reserved should not be impaired, and that, when Congress, and especially the House of Representatives, where it was specifically provided that all revenue bills must originate, voted a tax upon property, it should be with the consciousness, and under the responsibility, that, in so doing, the tax so voted would proportionately fall upon the immediate constituents of those who imposed it.
More than this, by the Constitution, the States not only gave to the action the concurrent power to tax persons and [p557] property directly, but they surrendered their own power to levy taxes on imports and to regulate commerce. All the thirteen were seaboard States, but they varied in maritime importance, and differences existed between them in population, in wealth, in the character of property and of business interests. Moreover, they looked forward to the coming of new States from the great West into the vast empire of their anticipations. So when the wealthier States, as between themselves and their less favored associates, and all as between themselves and those who were to come, gave up for the common good the great sources of revenue derived through commerce, they did so in reliance on the protection afforded by restrictions on the grant of power.
Thus, in the matter of taxation, the Constitution recognizes the two great classes of direct and indirect taxes, and lays down two rules by which their imposition must be governed, namely: the rule of apportionment as to direct taxes, and the rule of uniformity as to duties, imposts and excises.
The rule of uniformity was not prescribed to the exercise of the power granted by the first paragraph of section eight, to lay and collect taxes, because the rule of apportionment as to taxes had already been laid down in the third paragraph of the second section.
And this view was expressed by Mr. Chief Justice Chase in The License Tax Cases, 5 Wall. 462, 471, when he said:
It is true that the power of Congress to tax is a very extensive power. It is given in the Constitution, with only one exception and only two qualifications. Congress cannot tax exports, and it must impose direct taxes by the rule of apportionment, and indirect taxes by the rule of uniformity. Thus limited, and thus only it reaches every subject, and may be exercised at discretion.
And although there have been from time to time intimations that there might be some tax which was not a direct tax nor included under the words “duties, imposts and excises,” such a tax, for more than one hundred years of national existence, has as yet remained undiscovered, notwithstanding the stress of particular circumstances has invited thorough investigation into sources of revenue. [p558]
The first question to be considered is whether a tax on the rents or income of real estate is a direct tax within the meaning of the Constitution. Ordinarily, all taxes paid primarily by persons who can shift the burden upon someone else, or who are under no legal compulsion to pay them, are considered indirect taxes; but a tax upon property holders in respect of their estates, whether real or personal, or of the income yielded by such estates, and the payment of which cannot be avoided, are direct taxes. Nevertheless, it may be admitted that, although this definition of direct taxes is prima facie correct, and to be applied in the consideration of the question before us, yet that the Constitution may bear a different meaning, and that such different meaning must be recognized. But in arriving at any conclusion upon this point, we are at liberty to refer to the historical circumstances attending the framing and adoption of the Constitution, as well as the entire frame and scheme of the instrument, and the consequences naturally attendant upon the one construction or the other.
We inquire, therefore, what, at the time the Constitution was framed and adopted, were recognized as direct taxes? What did those who framed and adopted it understand the terms to designate and include?
We must remember that the fifty-five members of the constitutional convention were men of great sagacity, fully conversant with governmental problems, deeply conscious of the nature of their task, and profoundly convinced that they were laying the foundations of a vast future empire.
To many in the assembly, the work of the great French magistrate on the “Spirit of Laws,” of which Washington, with his own hand, had copied an abstract by Madison, was the favorite manual; some of them had made an analysis of all federal governments in ancient and modern times, and a few were well versed in the best English, Swiss, and Dutch writers on government. They had immediately before them the example of Great Britain, and they had a still better school of political wisdom in the republican constitutions of their several States, which many of them had assisted to frame.
2 Bancroft’s Hist.Const.
The Federalist demonstrates the value attached by Hamilton, [p559] Madison, and Jay to historical experience, and shows that they had made a careful study of many forms of government. Many of the framers were particularly versed in the literature of the period, Franklin, Wilson, and Hamilton, for example. Turgot had published in 1764 his work on taxation, and in 1766 his essay on “The Formation and Distribution of Wealth,” while Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” was published in 1776. Franklin, in 1766, had said upon his examination before the House of Commons that:
An external tax is a duty laid on commodities imported; that duty is added to the first cost and other charges on the commodity, and, when it is offered to sale, makes a part of the price. If the people do not like it at that price, they refuse it; they are not obliged to pay it. But an internal tax is forced from the people without their consent if not laid by their own representatives. The stamp act says, we shall have no commerce, make no exchange of property with each other, neither purchase nor grant, nor recover debts; we shall neither marry nor make our wills, unless we pay such and such sums; and thus it is intended to extort our money from us or ruin us by the consequences of refusing to pay.
16 Parl.Hist. 144.
They were, of course, familiar with the modes of taxation pursued in the several States. From the report of Oliver Wolcott, when Secretary of the Treasury, on direct taxes, to the House of Representatives, December 14, 1796, his most important state paper, (Am.State Papers, 1 Finance 431) and the various state laws then existing, it appears that, prior to the adoption of the Constitution, nearly all the States imposed a poll tax, taxes on land, on cattle of all kinds, and various kinds of personal property, and that, in addition, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, and South Carolina assessed their citizens upon their profits from professions, trades, and employments.
Congress, under the articles of confederation, had no actual operative power of taxation. It could call upon the States for their respective contributions or quotas as previously determined on, but in case of the failure or omission of the States to furnish such contribution, there were no means of [p560] compulsion, as Congress had no power whatever to lay any tax upon individuals. This imperatively demanded a remedy, but the opposition to granting the power of direct taxation in addition to the substantially exclusive power of laying imposts and duties was so strong that it required the convention, in securing effective powers of taxation to the Federal government, to use the utmost care and skill to so harmonize conflicting interests that the ratification of the instrument could be obtained.
The situation and the result are thus described by Mr. Chief Justice Chase inLane County v. Oregon, 7 Wall. 71, 76:
The people of the United States constitute one nation, under one government, and this government, within the scope of the powers with which it is invested, is supreme. On the other hand, the people of each State compose a State, having its own government, and endowed with all the functions essential to separate and independent existence. The States, disunited, might continue to exist. Without the States in union, there could be no such political body as the United States. Both the States and the United States existed before the Constitution. The people, through that instrument, established a more perfect union by substituting a national government, acting, with ample power, directly upon the citizens, instead of the confederate government, which acted with powers, greatly restricted, only upon the States. But, in many articles of the Constitution, the necessary existence of the States, and, within their proper spheres, the independent authority of the States, is distinctly recognized. To them, nearly the whole charge of interior regulation is committed or left; to them and to the people, all powers not expressly delegated to the national government are reserved. The general condition was well stated by Mr. Madison in the Federalist, thus:
The Federal and state governments are, in fact, but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers and designated for different purposes.
Now, to the existence of the States, themselves necessary to the existence of the United States, the power of taxation is indispensable. It is an essential function of [p561] government. It was exercised by the colonies, and when the colonies became States, both before and after the formation of the confederation, it was exercised by the new governments. Under the Articles of Confederation, the government of the United States was limited in the exercise of this power to requisitions upon the States, while the whole power of direct and indirect taxation of persons and property, whether by taxes on polls, or duties on imports, or duties on internal production, manufacture, or use, was acknowledged to belong exclusively to the States, without any other limitation than that of noninterference with certain treaties made by Congress. The Constitution, it is true, greatly changed this condition of things. It gave the power to tax, both directly and indirectly, to the national government, and, subject to the one prohibition of any tax upon exports and to the conditions of uniformity in respect to indirect and of proportion in respect to direct taxes, the power was given without any express reservation. On the other hand, no power to tax exports, or imports except for a single purpose and to an insignificant extent, or to lay any duty on tonnage, was permitted to the States. In respect, however, to property, business, and persons within their respective limits, their power of taxation remained and remains entire. It is indeed a concurrent power, and, in the case of a tax on the same subject by both governments, the claim of the United States, as the supreme authority, must be preferred; but, with this qualification, it is absolute. The extent to which it shall be exercised, the subjects upon which it shall be exercised, and the mode in which it shall be exercised are all equally within the discretion of the legislatures to which the States commit the exercise of the power. That discretion is restrained only by the will of the people expressed in the state constitutions or through elections, and by the condition that it must not be so used as to burden or embarrass the operations of the national government. There is nothing in the Constitution which contemplates or authorizes any direct abridgment of this power by national legislation. To the extent just indicated, it is as complete in the States as the like [p562] power, within the limits of the Constitution, is complete in Congress.
On May 29, 1787, Charles Pinckney presented his draft of a proposed constitution, which provided that the proportion of direct taxes should be regulated by the whole number of inhabitants of every description, taken in the manner prescribed by the legislature, and that no tax should be paid on articles exported from the United States. 1 Elliot 147, 148.
Mr. Randolph’s plan declared
that the right of suffrage in the national legislature ought to be proportioned to the quotas of contribution, or to the number of free inhabitants, as the one or the other may seem best in different cases.
1 Elliot 143.
On June 15, Mr. Paterson submitted several resolutions, among which was one proposing that the United States in Congress should be authorized to make requisitions in proportion to the whole number of white and other free citizens and inhabitants, including those bound to servitude for a term of years, and three-fifths of all other persons, except Indians not taxed. 1 Elliot 175, 176.
On the ninth of July, the proposition that the legislature be authorized to regulate the number of representatives according to wealth and inhabitants was approved, and on the eleventh, it was voted that “in order to ascertain the alterations that may happen in the population and wealth of the several States, a census shall be taken,” although the resolution of which this formed a part was defeated. Elliot (Madison Papers) 288, 295; 1 Elliot 200.
On July 12, Gouverneur Morris moved to add to the clause empowering the legislature to vary the representation according to the amount of wealth and number of the inhabitants, a proviso that taxation should be in proportion to representation, and, admitting that some objections lay against his proposition which would be removed by limiting it to direct taxation, since, with regard to indirect taxes on exports and imports, and on consumption, the rule would be inapplicable, varied his motion by inserting the word “direct,” whereupon it passed as follows: “Provided always that direct taxation [p563] ought to be proportioned to representation.” 5 Elliot (Madison Papers) 302.
Amendments were proposed by Mr. Ellsworth and Mr. Wilson to the effect that the rule of contribution by direct taxation should be according to the number of white inhabitants and three-fifths of every other description, and that, in order to ascertain the alterations in the direct taxation which might be required from time to time, a census should be taken; the word wealth was struck out of the clause, on motion of Mr. Randolph, and the whole proposition, proportionate representation to direct taxation, and both to the white and three-fifths of the colored inhabitants, and requiring a census, was adopted.
In the course of the debates, and after the motion of Mr. Ellsworth that the first census be taken in three years after the meeting of Congress had been adopted, Mr. Madison records: “Mr. King asked what was the precise meaning of direct taxation. No one answered.” But Mr. Gerry immediately moved to amend by the insertion of the clause that
from the first meeting of the legislature of the United States until a census shall be taken, all moneys for supplying the public treasury by direct taxation shall be raised from the several States according to the number of their representatives respectively in the first branch.
This left for the time the matter of collection to the States. Mr. Langdon objected that this would bear unreasonably hard against New Hampshire, and Mr. Martin said that direct taxation should not be used but in cases of absolute necessity, and then the States would be the best judges of the mode. 5 Elliot (Madison Papers) 451, 453.
Thus was accomplished one of the great compromises of the Constitution, resting on the doctrine that the right of representation ought to be conceded to every community on which tax is to be imposed, but crystallizing it in such form as to allay jealousies in respect of the future balance of power; to reconcile conflicting views in respect of the enumeration of slaves, and to remove the objection that, in adjusting a system of representation between the States, regard should be had to their relative wealth, since those who were to be most heavily [p564] taxed ought to have a proportionate influence in the government.
The compromise, in embracing the power of direct taxation, consisted not simply in including part of the slaves in the enumeration of population, but in providing that, as between State and State, such taxation should be proportioned to representation. The establishment of the same rule for the apportionment of taxes as for regulating the proportion of representatives, observed Mr. Madison in No. 54 of the Federalist, was by no means founded on the same principle, for, as to the former, it had reference to the proportion of wealth, and although in respect of that it was, in ordinary cases, a very unfit measure, it “had too recently obtained the general sanction of America not to have found a ready preference with the convention,” while the opposite interests of the States, balancing each other, would produce impartiality in enumeration. By prescribing this rule, Hamilton wrote (Federalist, No. 36) that the door was shut “to partiality or oppression,” and “the abuse of this power of taxation to have been provided against with guarded circumspection;” and obviously the operation of direct taxation on every State tended to prevent resort to that mode of supply except under pressure of necessity and to promote prudence and economy in expenditure.
We repeat that the right of the Federal government to directly assess and collect its own taxes, at least until after requisitions upon the States had been made and failed, was one of the chief points of conflict, and Massachusetts, in ratifying, recommended the adoption of an amendment in these words:
That Congress do not lay direct taxes but when the moneys arising from the impost and excise are insufficient for the public exigencies, nor then until Congress shall have first made a requisition upon the States to assess, levy, and pay, their respective proportions of such requisition, agreeably to the census fixed in the said Constitution, in such way and manner as the legislatures of the States shall think best.
1 Elliot 322. And in this South Carolina, New York, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island concurred. Id. 325, 326, 329, 336. [p565]
Luther Martin, in his well known communication to the legislature of Maryland in January, 1788, expressed his views thus:
By the power to lay and collect taxes, they may proceed to direct taxation on every individual, either by a capitation tax on their heads or an assessment on their property. . . . Many of the members, and myself in the number, thought that states were much better judges of the circumstances of their citizens, and what sum of money could be collected from them by direct taxation, and of the manner in which it could be raised with the greatest ease and convenience to their citizens, than the general government could be, and that the general government ought not to have the power of laying direct taxes in any case but in that of the delinquency of a State.
1 Elliot 34, 38, 369.
Ellsworth and Sherman wrote the governor of Connecticut, September 26, 1787, that it was probable
that the principal branch of revenue will be duties on imports. What may be necessary to be raised by direct taxation is to be apportioned on the several States, according to the number of their inhabitants, and although Congress may raise the money by their own authority, if necessary, yet that authority need not be exercised, if each State will furnish its quota.
1 Elliot 49.
And Ellsworth, in the Connecticut convention, in discussing the power of Congress to lay taxes, pointed out that all sources of revenue, excepting the impost, still lay open to the States, and insisted that it was
necessary that the power of the general legislature should extend to all the objects of taxation, that government should be able to command all the resources of the country, because no man can tell what our exigencies may be. Wars have now become rather wars of the purse than of the sword. Government must therefore be able to command the whole power of the purse. . . . Direct taxation can go but little way towards raising a revenue. To raise money in this way, people must be provident; they must constantly be laying up money to answer the demands of the collector. But you cannot make people thus provident. If you would do anything to the purpose, you must come in when they are spending, and take a part with them. . . .[p566] All nations have seen the necessity and propriety of raising a revenue by indirect taxation, by duties upon articles of consumption. . . . In England, the whole public revenue is about twelve millions sterling per annum. The land tax amounts to about two millions; the window and some other taxes, to about two millions more. The other eight millions are raised upon articles of consumption. . . . This Constitution defines the extent of the powers of the general government. If the general legislature should at any time overleap their limits, the judicial department is a constitutional check. If the United States go beyond their powers, if they make a law which the Constitution does not authorize, it is void, and the judicial power, the national judges, who, to secure their impartiality, are to be made independent, will declare it to be void.
2 Elliot 191, 192, 196.
In the convention of Massachusetts by which the Constitution was ratified, the second section of article I being under consideration, Mr. King said:
It is a principle of this Constitution that representation and taxation should go hand in hand. . . . By this rule are representation and taxation to be apportioned. And it was adopted because it was the language of all America. According to the confederation, ratified in 1781, the sums for the general welfare and defence should be apportioned according to the surveyed lands, and improvements thereon, in the several States; but that it hath never been in the power of Congress to follow that rule, the returns from the several States being so very imperfect.
2 Elliot 36.
Theophilus Parsons observed:
Congress have only a concurrent right with each State in laying direct taxes, not an exclusive right, and the right of each State to direct taxation is equally extensive and perfect as the right of Congress.
Id. 93. And John Adams, Dawes, Sumner, King, and Sedgwick all agreed that a direct tax would be the last source of revenue resorted to by Congress.
In the New York convention, Chancellor Livingston pointed out that, when the imposts diminished and the expenses of the government increased, “they must have recourse to direct [p567] taxes; that is, taxes on land and specific duties.” 2 Elliot 341. And Mr. Jay, in reference to an amendment that direct taxes should not be imposed until requisition had been made and proved fruitless, argued that the amendment would involve great difficulties, and that it ought to be considered that direct taxes were of two kinds, general and specific. Id. 380, 381.
In Virginia, Mr. John Marshall said:
The objects of direct taxes are well understood; they are but few; what are they? Lands, slaves, stock of all kinds, and a few other articles of domestic property. . . . They will have the benefit of the knowledge and experience of the state legislature. They will see in what manner the legislature of Virginia collects its taxes. . . . Cannot Congress regulate the taxes so as to be equal on all parts of the community? Where is the absurdity of having thirteen revenues? Will they clash with, or injure, each other? If not, why cannot Congress make thirteen distinct laws, and impose the taxes on the general objects of taxation in each State, so as that all persons of the society shall pay equally, as they ought?
3 Elliot 229, 235. At that time, in Virginia, lands were taxed, and specific taxes assessed on certain specified objects. These objects were stated by Secretary Wolcott to be taxes on lands, houses in towns, slaves, stud horses, jackasses, other horses and mules, billiard tables, four-wheel riding carriages, phaetons, stage wagons, and riding carriages with two wheels, and it was undoubtedly to these objects that the future Chief Justice referred.
Mr. Randolph said:
But in this new Constitution, there is a more just and equitable rule fixed — a limitation beyond which they cannot go. Representatives and taxes go hand in hand; according to the one will the other be regulated. The number of representatives is determined by the number of inhabitants; they have nothing to do but to lay taxes accordingly.
3 Elliot 121.
Mr. George Nicholas said:
the proportion of taxes is fixed by the number of inhabitants, and not regulated by the extent of territory, or fertility of soil. . . . Each State[p568] will know, from its population, its proportion of any general tax. As it was justly observed by the gentleman over the way (Mr. Randolph), they cannot possibly exceed that proportion; they are limited and restrained expressly to it. The state legislatures have no check of this kind. Their power is uncontrolled.
3 Elliot 243, 244.
Mr. Madison remarked that
they will be limited to fix the proportion of each State, and they must raise it in the most convenient and satisfactory manner to the public.
3 Elliot 255.
From these references, and they might be extended indefinitely, it is clear that the rule to govern each of the great classes into which taxes were divided was prescribed in view of the commonly accepted distinction between them and of the taxes directly levied under the systems of the States. And that the difference between direct and indirect taxation was fully appreciated is supported by the congressional debates after the government was organized.
In the debates in the House of Representatives preceding the passage of the act of Congress to lay “duties upon carriages for the conveyance of persons,” approved June 5, 1794 (1 Stat. 373, c. 45), Mr. Sedgwick said that
a capitation tax, and taxes on land and on property and income generally were direct charges, as well in the immediate as ultimate sources of contribution. He had considered those, and those only, as direct taxes in their operation and effects. On the other hand, a tax imposed on a specific article of personal property, and particularly if objects of luxury, as in the case under consideration, he had never supposed had been considered a direct tax within the meaning of the Constitution.
Mr. Dexter observed that his colleague
had stated the meaning of direct taxes to be a capitation tax, or a general tax on all the taxable property of the citizens, and that a gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Nicholas) thought the meaning was that all taxes are direct which are paid by the citizen without being recompensed by the consumer; but that, where the tax was only advanced and repaid by the consumer, the tax was indirect. He thought that both opinions were just, [p569] and not inconsistent, though the gentlemen had differed about them. He thought that a general tax on all taxable property was a direct tax, because it was paid without being recompensed by the consumer.
Annals 3d Congress 644, 646.
At a subsequent day of the debate, Mr. Madison objected to the tax on carriages as “an unconstitutional tax,” but Fisher Ames declared that he had satisfied himself that it was not a direct tax, as “the duty falls not on the possession, but on the use.” Annals 730.
Mr. Madison wrote to Jefferson on May 11, 1794:
And the tax on carriages succeeded, in spite of the Constitution, by a majority of treaty, the advocates for the principle being reinforced by the adversaries to luxuries. . . . Some of the motives which they decoyed to their support ought to premonish them of the danger. By breaking down the barriers of the Constitution, and giving sanction to the idea of sumptuary regulations, wealth may find a precarious defence in the shield of justice. If luxury, as such, is to be taxed, the greatest of all luxuries, says Paine, is a great estate. Even on the present occasion, it has been found prudent to yield to a tax on transfers of stock in the funds and in the banks.
2 Madison’s Writings 14.
But Albert Gallatin, in his “Sketch of the Finances of the United States,” published in November, 1796, said:
The most generally received opinion, however, is that, by direct taxes in the Constitution, those are meant which are raised on the capital or revenue of the people; by indirect, such as are raised on their expense. As that opinion is, in itself, rational and conformable to the decision which has taken place on the subject of the carriage tax, and as it appears important, for the sake of preventing future controversies, which may be not more fatal to the revenue than to the tranquility of the Union, that a fixed interpretation should be generally adopted, it will not be improper to corroborate it by quoting the author from whom the idea seems to have been borrowed.
He then quotes from Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and continues:
The remarkable coincidence of the clause of the Constitution with this passage in using the word “capitation” as a generic [p570]expression, including the different species of direct taxes, an acceptation of the word peculiar, it is believed, to Dr. Smith, leaves little doubt that the framers of the one had the other in view at the time, and that they, as well as he, by direct taxes, meant those paiddirectly from, and falling immediately on, the revenue, and, byindirect, those which are paid indirectly out of the revenue by falling immediately upon the expense.
3 Gallatin’s Writings (Adams’ ed.) 74, 75.
The act provided in its first section
that there shall be levied, collected, and paid upon all carriages for the conveyance of persons, which shall be kept by or for any person for his or her own use, or to be let out to hire or for the conveyance of passengers, the several duties and rates following,
and then followed a fixed yearly rate on every coach, chariot, phaeton, and coachee, every four-wheel and every two-wheel top carriage, and upon every other two-wheel carriage, varying according to the vehicle.
In Hylton v. United States, 3 Dall. 171, decided in March, 1796, this court held the act to be constitutional, because not laying a direct tax. Chief Justice Ellsworth and Mr. Justice Cushing took no part in the decision, and Mr. Justice Wilson gave no reasons.
Mr. Justice Chase said that he was inclined to think, but of this he did not “give a judicial opinion,” that
the direct taxes contemplated by the Constitution are only two, to-wit, a capitation, or poll tax, simply, without regard to property, profession, or any other circumstance, and a tax on land;
and that he doubted “whether a tax, by a general assessment on personal property within the United States is included within the term direct tax.” But he thought that
an annual tax on carriages for the conveyance of persons may be considered as within the power granted to Congress to lay duties. The term duty is the most comprehensive next to the generical term tax, and practically, in Great Britain (whence we take our general ideas of taxes, duties, imposts, excises, customs, etc.), embraces taxes on stamps, tolls for passage, etc., and is not confined to taxes on importation only., It seems to me that a tax on expense is an indirect [p571] tax, and I think an annual tax on a carriage for the conveyance of persons is of that kind, because a carriage is a consumable commodity, and such annual tax on it is on the expense of the owner.
Mr. Justice Paterson said that
the Constitution declares that a capitation tax is a direct tax, and, both in theory and practice, a tax on land is deemed to be a direct tax. . . . It is not necessary to determine whether a tax on the product of land be a direct or indirect tax. Perhaps the immediate product of land, in its original and crude state, ought to be considered as the land itself; it makes part of it; or else the provision made against taxing exports would be easily eluded. Land, independently of its produce, is of no value. . . . Whether direct taxes, in the sense of the Constitution, comprehend any other tax than a capitation tax and taxes on land is a questionable point. . . . But as it is not before the court, it would be improper to give any decisive opinion upon it.
And he concluded: “All taxes on expenses or consumption are indirect taxes. A tax on carriages is of this kind, and, of course, is not a direct tax.” This conclusion he fortified by reading extracts from Adam Smith on the taxation of consumable commodities.
Mr. Justice Iredell said:
There is no necessity or propriety in determining what is or is not a direct or indirect tax in all cases. Some difficulties may occur which we do not at present foresee. Perhaps a direct tax, in the sense of the Constitution, can mean nothing but a tax on something inseparably annexed to the soil; something capable of apportionment under all such circumstances. A land or a poll tax may be considered of this description. . . . In regard to other articles, there may possibly be considerable doubt. It is sufficient, on the present occasion, for the court to be satisfied that this is not a direct tax contemplated by the Constitution in order to affirm the present judgment.
It will be perceived that each of the justices, while suggesting doubt whether anything but a capitation or a land tax was a direct tax within the meaning of the Constitution, distinctly avoided expressing an opinion upon that question or [p572] laying down a comprehensive definition, but confined his opinion to the case before the court.
The general line of observation was obviously influenced by Mr. Hamilton’s brief for the government, in which he said:
The following are presumed to be the only direct taxes: capitation or poll taxes, taxes on lands and buildings, general assessments, whether on the whole property of individuals or on their whole real or personal estate. All else must of necessity be considered as indirect taxes.
7 Hamilton’s Works (Lodge’s ed.) 332.
Mr. Hamilton also argued:
If the meaning of the word “excise” is to be sought in a British statute, it will be found to include the duty on carriages, which is there considered as an “excise.” . . . An argument results from this, though not perhaps a conclusive one, yet, where so important a distinction in the Constitution is to be realized, it is fair to see the meaning of terms in the statutory language of that country from which our jurisprudence is derived.
If the question had related to an income tax, the reference would have been fatal, as such taxes have been always classed by the law of Great Britain as direct taxes.
The above act was to be enforced for two years, but, before it expired, was repealed, as was the similar act of May 28, 1796, c. 37, which expired August 31, 1801, 1 Stat. 478, 482.
By the act of July 14, 1798, when a war with France was supposed to be impending, a direct tax of two millions of dollars was apportioned to the States respectively, in the manner prescribed, which tax was to be collected by officers of the United States and assessed upon “dwelling houses, lands, and slaves” according to the valuations and enumerations to be made pursuant to the act of July 9, 1798, entitled “An act to provide for the valuation of lands and dwelling houses and the enumeration of slaves within the United States.” 1 Stat. 597, c. 75; id., 580, c. 70. Under these acts, every dwelling house was assessed according to a prescribed value, and the sum of fifty cents upon every slave enumerated, and the residue of the sum apportioned was directed to be assessed upon the lands within each State according to the valuation [p573]made pursuant to the prior act and at such rate percentum as would be sufficient to produce said remainder. By the act of August 2, 1813, a direct tax of three millions of dollars was laid and apportioned to the States respectively, and reference had to the prior act of July 22, 1813, which provided that, whenever a direct tax should be laid by the authority of the United States, the same should be assessed and laid
on the value of all lands, lots of ground with their improvements, dwelling houses, and slaves, which several articles subject to taxation shall be enumerated and valued by the respective assessors at the rate each of them is worth in money.
3 Stat. 3, c. 37; id., 22, c. 16. The act of January 9, 1815, laid a direct tax of six millions of dollars, which was apportioned, assessed, and laid as in the prior act on all lands, lots of grounds with their improvements, dwelling houses, and slaves. These acts are attributable to the war of 1812.
The act of August, 1861 (12 Stat. 292, 294, c. 4), imposed a tax of twenty millions of dollars, which was apportioned and to be levied wholly on real estate, and also levied taxes on incomes whether derived from property or profession, trade or vocation (12 Stat. 309), and this was followed by the acts of July 1, 1862 (12 Stat. 432, 473, c. 119), March 3, 1863 (12 Stat. 713, 723, c. 74), June 30, 1864 (13 Stat. 223, 281, c. 173), March 3, 1863 (13 Stat. 469, 479, c. 78), March 10, 1866 (14 Stat. 4, c. 1), July 13, 1866 (14 Stat. 98, 137, c. 184), March 2, 1867 (14 Stat. 471, 477, c. 169), and July 14, 1870 (16 Stat. 256, c. 255). The differences between the latter acts and that of August 1, 1894, call for no remark in this connection. These acts grew out of the war of the rebellion, and were, to use the language of Mr. Justice Miller,
part of the system of taxing incomes, earnings, and profits adopted during the late war and abandoned as soon after that war was ended as it could be done safely.
Railroad Company v. Collector, 100 U.S. 95, 98.
From the foregoing, it is apparent: 1. That the distinction between direct and indirect taxation was well understood by the framers of the Constitution and those who adopted it. 2. That, under the state systems of taxation, all taxes on[p574] real estate or personal property or the rents or income thereof were regarded as direct taxes. 3. That the rules of apportionment and of uniformity were adopted in view of that distinction and those systems. 4. That whether the tax on carriages was direct or indirect was disputed, but the tax was sustained as a tax on the use and an excise. 5. That the original expectation was that the power of direct taxation would be exercised only in extraordinary exigencies, and down to August 1894, this expectation has been realized. The act of that date was passed in a time of profound peace, and if we assume that no special exigency called for unusual legislation, and that resort to this mode of taxation is to become an ordinary and usual means of supply, that fact furnishes an additional reason for circumspection and care in disposing of the case.
We proceed then to examine certain decisions of this court under the acts of 1861 and following years in which it is claimed that this court has heretofore adjudicated that taxes like those under consideration are not direct taxes and subject to the rule of apportionment, and that we are bound to accept the rulings thus asserted to have been made as conclusive in the premises. Is this contention well founded as respects the question now under examination? Doubtless the doctrine of stare decisis is a salutary one, and to be adhered to on all proper occasions, but it only arises in respect of decisions directly upon the points in issue.
The language of hie Justice Marshall, in Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264, 399, may profitably again be quoted:
It is a maxim not to be disregarded that general expressions, in every opinion, are to be taken in connection with the case in which those expressions are used. If they go beyond the case, they may be respected, but ought not to control the judgment in a subsequent suit when the very point is presented for decision. The reason for this maxim is obvious. The question actually before the court is investigated with care and considered in its full extent. Other principles, which may serve to illustrate it, are considered in their relation to the case decided, but their possible bearing on all other cases is seldom completely investigated. [p575]
So, in Carroll v. Lessee of Carroll, 16 How. 275, 286, where a statute of the State of Maryland came under review, Mr Justice Curtis said:
If the construction put by the court of a State upon one of its statutes was not a matter in judgment, if it might have been decided either way without affecting any right brought into question, then, according to the principles of the common law, an opinion on such a question is not a decision. To make it so, there must have been an application of the judicial mind to the precise question necessary to be determined to fix the rights of the parties and decide to whom the property in contestation belongs. And therefore this court, and other courts organized under the common law, has never held itself bound by any part of an opinion, in any case, which was not needful to the ascertainment of the right or title in question between the parties.
Nor is the language of Mr. Chief Justice Taney inapposite, as expressed in The Genesee Chief, 12 How. 443, 455, wherein it was held that the lakes and navigable waters connecting them are within the scope of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction as known and understood in the United States when the Constitution was adopted, and the preceding case of The Thomas Jefferson, 10 Wheat. 428, was overruled. The Chief Justice said:
It was under the influence of these precedents and this usage that the case of The Thomas Jefferson, 10 Wheat. 428, was decided in this court, and the jurisdiction of the courts of admiralty of the United States declared to be limited to the ebb and flow of the tide.The Steamboat Orleans v. Phoebus, 11 Pet. 175, afterwards followed this case, merely as a point decided. It is the decision in the case ofThe Thomas Jefferson which mainly embarrasses the court in the present inquiry. We are sensible of the great weight to which it is entitled. But, at the same time, we are convinced that, if we follow it, we follow an erroneous decision into which the court fell when the great importance of the question as it now presents itself could not be foreseen, and the subject did not therefore receive that deliberate consideration which at this time would have been given to it by the eminent men who presided here when that case was decided. [p576] For the decision was made in 1825, when the commerce on the rivers of the West and on the Lakes was in its infancy and of little importance, and but little regarded compared with that of the present day. Moreover, the nature of the questions concerning the extent of the admiralty jurisdiction which have arisen in this court were not calculated to call its attention particularly to the one we are now considering.
Manifestly, as this court is clothed with the power, and entrusted with the duty, to maintain the fundamental law of the Constitution, the discharge of that duty requires it not to extend any decision upon a constitutional question if it is convinced that error in principle might supervene.
Let us examine the cases referred to in the light of these observations.
In Pacific Insurance Co. v. Soule, 7 Wall. 433, the validity of a tax which was described as “upon the business of an insurance company” was sustained on the ground that it was “a duty or excise,” and came within the decision in Hylton’scase. The arguments for the insurance company were elaborate, and took a wide range, but the decision rested on narrow ground, and turned on the distinction between an excise duty and a tax strictly so termed, regarding the former a charge for a privilege, or on the transaction of business, without any necessary reference to the amount of property belonging to those on whom the charge might fall, although it might be increased or diminished by the extent to which the privilege was exercised or the business done. This was in accordance with Society for Savings v. Coite, 6 Wall. 594; Provident Institution v. Massachusetts, 6 Wall. 611, and Hamilton Company v. Massachusetts, 6 Wall. 632, in which cases there was a difference of opinion on the question whether the tax under consideration was a tax on the property, and not upon the franchise or privilege. And see Van Allen v. The Assessors, 3 Wall. 573; Home Insurance Co. v. New York, 134 U.S. 594; Pullman Co. v. Pennsylvania, 141 U.S. 18.
In Veazie Bank v. Fenno, 8 Wall. 533, 544, 546, a tax was laid on the circulation of state banks or national banks paying out the notes of individuals or state banks, and it was [p577] held that it might well be classed under the head of duties, and as falling within the same category as Soule’s case, 8 Wall. 547. It was declared to be of the same nature as excise taxation on freight receipts, bills of lading, and passenger tickets issued by a railroad company. Referring to the discussions in the convention which framed the Constitution, Mr. Chief Justice Chase observed that what as said there
doubtless shows uncertainty as to the true meaning of the term direct tax; but it indicates also an understanding that direct taxes were such as may be levied by capitation, and on lands and appurtenances; or, perhaps, by valuation and assessment of personal property upon general lists. For these were the subjects from which the States at that time usually raised their principal supplies.
And in respect of the opinions in Hylton’s case, the Chief Justice said:
It may further be taken as established upon the testimony of Paterson, that the words direct taxes, as used in the Constitution, comprehended only capitation taxes and taxes on land, and perhaps taxes on personal property by general valuation and assessment of the various descriptions possessed within the several States.
In National Bank v. United States, 101 U.S. 1, involving the constitutionality of § 3413 of the Revised Statutes, enacting that
every national banking association, state bank, or banker, or association, shall pay a tax of ten percentum on the amount of notes of any town, city, or municipal corporation, paid out by them,
Veazie Bank v. Fenno was cited with approval to the point that Congress, having undertaken to provide a currency for the whole country, might, to secure the benefit of it to the people, restrain, by suitable enactments, the circulation as money of any notes not issued under its authority, and Mr. Chief Justice Waite, speaking for the court, said: ” The tax thus laid is not on the obligation, but on its use in a particular way.”
Scholey v. Rew, 3 Wall. 331, was the case of a succession tax which the court held to be
plainly an excise tax or duty upon the devolution of the estate or the right to become beneficially entitled to the same, or the income thereof, in [p578] possession or expectancy.
It was like the succession tax of a State, held constitutional in Mager v. Grima,8 How. 490, and the distinction between the power of a State and the power of the United States to regulate the succession of property was not referred to, and does not appear to have been in the mind of the court. The opinion stated that the act of Parliament from which the particular provision under consideration was borrowed had received substantially the same construction, and cases under that act hold that a succession duty is not a tax upon income or upon property, but on the actual benefit derived by the individual, determined as prescribed. In re Elwes, 3 H. & N. 719; Attorney General v. Sefton, 2 H. & C. 362; S.C. (H.L.) 3 H. & C. 1023; 11 H.L.Cas. 257..
In Railroad Company v. Collector, 100 U.S. 595, 596, the validity of a tax collected of a corporation upon the interest paid by it upon its bonds was held to be “essentially an excise on the business of the class of corporations mentioned in the statute.” And Mr. Justice Miller, in delivering the opinion, said:
As the sum involved in this suit is small, and the law under which the tax in question was collected has long since been repealed, the case is of little consequence as regards any principle involved in it as a rule of future action.
All these cases are distinguishable from that in hand, and this brings us to consider that of Springer v. United States, 102 U.S. 586, 602, chiefly relied on and urged upon us as decisive.
That was an action of ejectment brought on a tax deed issued to the United States on sale of defendant’s real estate for income taxes. The defendant contended that the deed was void because the tax was a direct tax, not levied in accordance with the Constitution. Unless the tax were wholly invalid, the defence failed.
The statement of the case in the report shows that Springer returned a certain amount as his net income for the particular year, but does not give the details of what his income, gains, and profits consisted in.
The original record discloses that the income was not [p579] derived in any degree from real estate, but was in part professional as attorney at law and the rest interest on United States bonds. It would seem probable that the court did not feel called upon to advert to the distinction between the latter and the former source of income, as the validity of the tax as to either would sustain the action.
The opinion thus concludes:
Our conclusions are that direct taxes, within the meaning of the Constitution, are only capitation taxes, as expressed in that instrument, and taxes on real estate, and that the tax of which the plaintiff in error complains is within the category of an excise or duty.
While this language is broad enough to cover the interest as well as the professional earnings, the case would have been more significant as a precedent if the distinction had been brought out in the report and commented on in arriving at judgment, for a tax on professional receipts might be treated as an excise or duty, and therefore indirect, when a tax on the income of personalty might be held to be direct.
Be this as it may, it is conceded in all these cases, from that of Hylton to that of Springer, that taxes on land are direct taxes, and in none of them is it determined that taxes on rents or income derived from land are not taxes on land.
We admit that it may not unreasonably be said that logically, if taxes on the rents, issues and profits of real estate are equivalent to taxes on real estate, and are therefore direct taxes, taxes on the income of personal property as such are equivalent to taxes on such property, and therefore direct taxes. But we are considering the rule stare decisis, and we must decline to hold ourselves bound to extend the scope of decisions — none of which discussed the question whether a tax on the income from personalty is equivalent to a tax on that personalty, but all of which held real estate liable to direct taxation only — so as to sustain a tax on the income of realty on the ground of being an excise or duty.
As no capitation, or other direct, tax was to be laid otherwise than in proportion to the population, some other direct tax than a capitation tax (and it might well enough be argued some other tax of the same kind as a capitation tax) must be [p580] referred to, and it has always been considered that a tax upon real estate eo nomine or upon its owners in respect thereof is a direct tax within the meaning of the Constitution. But is there any distinction between the real estate itself or its owners in respect of it and the rents or income of the real estate coming to the owners as the natural and ordinary incident of their ownership?
If the Constitution had provided that Congress should not levy any tax upon the real estate of any citizen of any State, could it be contended that Congress could put an annual tax for five or any other number of years upon the rent or income of the real estate? And if, as the Constitution now reads, no unapportioned tax can be imposed upon real estate, can Congress, without apportionment, nevertheless impose taxes upon such real estate under the guise of an annual tax upon its rents or income?
As, according to the feudal law, the whole beneficial interest in the land consisted in the right to take the rents and profits, the general rule has always been, in the language of Coke, that
if a man seized of land in fee by his deed granteth to another the profits of those lands, to have and to hold to him and his heirs, and marketh livery secundum formam chartae, the whole land itself doth pass. For what is the land but the profits thereof?
Co.Lit. 45. And that a devise of the rents and profits or of the income of lands passes the land itself both at law and in equity. 1 Jarm. on Wills (5th ed.) *98 and cases cited.
The requirement of the Constitution is that no direct tax shall be laid otherwise than by apportionment — the prohibition is not against direct taxes on land, from which the implication is sought to be drawn that indirect taxes on land would be constitutional, but it is against all direct taxes — and it is admitted that a tax on real estate is a direct tax. Unless, therefore, a tax upon rents or income issuing out of lands is intrinsically so different from a tax on the land itself that it belongs to a wholly different class of taxes, such taxes must be regarded as falling within the same category as a tax on real estate eo nomine.The name of the tax is unimportant. [p581] The real question is, is there any basis upon which to rest the contention that real estate belongs to one of the two great classes of taxes, and the rent or income which is the incident of its ownership belongs to the other? We are unable to perceive any ground for the alleged distinction. An annual tax upon the annual value or annual user of real estate appears to us the same in substance as an annual tax on the real estate, which would be paid out of the rent or income. This law taxes the income received from land and the growth or produce of the land. Mr. Justice Paterson observed in Hylton’s case, “land, independently of its produce, is of no value;” and certainly had no thought that direct taxes were confined to unproductive land.
If it be true that, by varying the form, the substance may be changed, it is not easy to see that anything would remain of the limitations of the Constitution, or of the rule of taxation and representation, so carefully recognized and guarded in favor of the citizens of each State. But constitutional provisions cannot be thus evaded. It is the substance, and not the form, which controls, as has indeed been established by repeated decisions of this court. Thus, inBrown v. Maryland, 12 Wheat. 419, 444, it was held that the tax on the occupation of an importer was the same as a tax on imports, and therefore void. And Chief Justice Marshall said:
It is impossible to conceal from ourselves that this is varying the form without varying the substance. It is treating a prohibition which is general as if it were confined to a particular mode of doing the forbidden thing. All must perceive that a tax on the sale of an article imported only for sale is a tax on the article itself.
In Weston v. Charleston, 2 Pet. 449, it was held that a tax on the income of United States securities was a tax on the securities themselves, and equally inadmissible. The ordinance of the city of Charleston involved in that case was exceedingly obscure; but the opinions of Mr. Justice Thompson and Mr. Justice Johnson, who dissented, make it clear that the levy was upon the interest of the bonds, and not upon the bonds, and they held that it was an income tax, and, as [p582] such, sustainable; but the majority of the court, Chief Justice Marshall delivering the opinion, overruled that contention.
So, in Dobbins v. Commissioners, 16 Pet. 435, it was decided that the income from an official position could not be taxed if the office itself was exempt.
In Almy v. California, 24 How. 169, it was held that a duty on a bill of lading was the same thing as a duty on the article which it represented; in Railroad v. Jackson, 7 Wall. 262, that a tax upon the interest payable on bonds was a tax not upon the debtor, but upon the security, and in Cook v. Pennsylvania, 97 U.S. 566, that a tax upon the amount of sales of goods made by an auctioneer was a tax upon the goods sold.
In Philadelphia Steamship Co. v. Pennsylvania, 122 U.S. 326, and Leloup v. Mobile, 127 U.S. 640, it was held that a tax on income received from interstate commerce was a tax upon the commerce itself, and therefore unauthorized. And so, although it is thoroughly settled that, where by way of duties laid on the transportation of the subjects of interstate commerce, and on the receipts derived therefrom, or on the occupation or business of carrying it on.a tax is levied by a State on interstate commerce, such taxation amounts to a regulation of such commerce, and cannot be sustained, yet the property in a State belonging to a corporation, whether foreign or domestic, engaged in foreign or domestic commerce, may be taxed, and when the tax is substantially a mere tax on property, and not one imposed on the privilege of doing interstate commerce, the exaction may be sustained. “The substance, and not the shadow, determines the validity of the exercise of the power.” Postal Telegraph Co. v. Adams, 155 U.S. 688, 698.
Nothing can be clearer than that what the Constitution intended to guard against was the exercise by the general government of the power of directly taxing persons and property within any State through a majority made up from the other States. It is true that the effect of requiring direct taxes to be apportioned among the States in proportion to their population is necessarily that the amount of taxes on the individual [p583] taxpayer in a State having the taxable subject matter to a larger extent in proportion to its population than another State has would be less than in such other State, but this inequality must be held to have been contemplated, and was manifestly designed to operate to restrain the exercise of the power of direct taxation to extraordinary emergencies, and to prevent an attack upon accumulated property by mere force of numbers.
It is not doubted that property owners ought to contribute in just measure to the expenses of the government. As to the States and their municipalities, this is reached largely through the imposition of direct taxes. As to the Federal government, it is attained in part through excises and indirect taxes upon luxuries and consumption generally, to which direct taxation may be added to the extent the rule of apportionment allows. And, through one mode or the other, the entire wealth of the country, real and personal, may be made, as it should be, to contribute to the common defence and general welfare.
But the acceptance of the rule of apportionment was one of the compromises which made the adoption of the Constitution possible, and secured the creation of that dual form of government, so elastic and so strong, which has thus far survived in unabated vigor. If, by calling a tax indirect when it is essentially direct, the rule of protection could be frittered away, one of the great landmarks defining the boundary between the Nation and the States of which it is composed would have disappeared, and with it one of the bulwarks of private rights and private property.
We are of opinion that the law in question, so far as it levies a tax on the rents or income of real estate, is in violation of the Constitution, and is invalid.
Another question is directly presented by the record as to the validity of the tax levied by the act upon the income derived from municipal bonds. The averment in the bill is that the defendant company owns two millions of the municipal bonds of the city of New York, from which it derives an annual income of $60,000, and that the directors of the company intend to return and pay the taxes on the income so derived.
The Constitution contemplates the independent exercise by [p584] the Nation and the State, severally, of their constitutional powers.
As the States cannot tax the powers, the operations, or the property of the United States, nor the means which they employ to carry their powers into execution, so it has been held that the United States have no power under the Constitution to tax either the instrumentalities or the property of a State.
A municipal corporation is the representative of the State and one of the instrumentalities of the state government. It was long ago determined that the property and revenues of municipal corporations are not subjects of Federal taxation. Collector v. Day, 11 Wall. 113, 124; United States v. Railroad Company,17 Wall. 322, 332. In Collector v. Day, it was adjudged that Congress had no power, even by an act taxing all incomes, to levy a tax upon the salaries of judicial officers of a State, for reasons similar to those on which it had been held in Dobbin v. Commissioner, 16 Pet. 435, that a State could not tax the salaries of officers of the United States. Mr. Justice Nelson, in delivering judgment, said:
The general government, and the States, although both exist within the same territorial limits, are separate and distinct sovereignties, acting separately and independently of each other within their respective spheres. The former in its appropriate sphere is supreme; but the States within the limits of their powers not granted, or, in the language of the tenth amendment, “reserved,” are as independent of the general government as that government within its sphere is independent of the States.
This is quoted in Van Brocklin v. Tennessee, 117 U.S. 151, 178, and the opinion continues:
Applying the same principles, this court, in United States v. Railroad Company, 17 Wall. 322, held that a municipal corporation within a State could not be taxed by the United States on the dividends or interest of stock or bonds held by it in a railroad or canal company, because the municipal corporation was a representative of the State, created by the State to exercise a limited portion of its powers of government, and therefore its revenues, like those of the State itself, were not taxable by the United States. The revenues thus adjudged to be exempt from Federal taxation [p585] were not themselves appropriated to any specific public use, nor derived from property held by the State or by the municipal corporation for any specific public us, but were part of the general income of that corporation, held for the public use in no other sense than all property and income, belonging to it in its municipal character, must be so held. The reasons for exempting all the property and income of a State, or of a municipal corporation, which is a political division of the State, from Federal taxation, equally require the exemption of all the property and income of the national government from state taxation.
In Mercantile Bank v. New York, 131 U.S. 138, 169., this Court said:
Bonds issued by the State of New York, or under its authority by its public municipal bodies, are means for carrying on the work of the government, and are not taxable even by the United States, and it is not a part of the policy of the government which issues them to subject them to taxation for its own purposes.
The question in Bonaparte v. Tax Court, 104 U.S. 592, was whether the registered public debt of one State, exempt from taxation by that State or actually taxed there, was taxable by another State when owned by a citizen of the latter, and it was held that there was no provision of the Constitution of the United States which prohibited such taxation. The States had not covenanted that this could not be done, whereas, under the fundamental law, as to the power to borrow money, neither the United States, on the one hand, nor the States, on the other, can interfere with that power as possessed by each and an essential element of the sovereignty of each.
The law under consideration provides “that nothing herein contained shall apply to States, counties or municipalities.” It is contended that, although the property or revenues of the States or their instrumentalities cannot be taxed, nevertheless the income derived from state, county, and municipal securities can be taxed. But we think the same want of power to tax the property or revenues of the States or their instrumentalities exists in relation to a tax on the income from their securities, and for the same reason, and that reason[p586] is given by Chief Justice Marshall in Weston v. Charleston, 2 Pet. 449, 468, where he said:
The right to tax the contract to any extent, when made, must operate upon the power to borrow before it is exercised, and have a sensible influence on the contract. The extent of this influence, depends on the will of a distinct government. To any extent, however inconsiderable, it is a burthen on the operations of government. It may be carried to an extent which shall arrest them entirely. . . . The tax on government stock is thought by this court to be a tax on the contract, a tax on the power to borrow money on the credit of the United States, and consequently to be repugnant to the Constitution.
Applying this language to these municipal securities, it is obvious that taxation on the interest therefrom would operate on the power to borrow before it is exercised, and would have a sensible influence on the contract, and that the tax in question is a tax on the power of the States and their instrumentalities to borrow money, and consequently repugnant to the Constitution. Upon each of the other questions argued at the bar, to-wit, 1, Whether the void provisions as to rents and income from real estate invalidated the whole act? 2, whether, as to the income from personal property as such, the act is unconstitutional as laying direct taxes? 3, Whether any part of the tax, if not considered as a direct tax, is invalid for want of uniformity on either of the grounds suggested? — the justices who heard the argument are equally divided, and, therefore no opinion is expressed.
The result is that the decree of the Circuit Court is reversed and the case remanded with directions to enter a decree in favor of the complainant in respect only of the voluntary payment of the tax on the rents and income of the real estate of the defendant company, and of that which it holds in trust, and on the income from the municipal bonds owned or so held by it.
* By sections 27 to 37, inclusive, of the act of Congress entitled “An act to reduce taxation, to provide revenue for the government, and for other purposes,” received by the President August 15, 1894, and which, not having been returned by him to the House in which it originated within the time prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, became a law without approval (28 Stat. 509, c. 349), it was provided that, from and after January 1, 1895, and until January 1, 1900,
there shall be assessed, levied, collected, and paid annually upon the gains, profits, and income received in the preceding calendar year by every citizen of the United States, whether residing at home or abroad, and every person residing therein, whether said gains, profits, or income be derived from any kind of property, rents, interest, dividends, or salaries, or from any profession, trade, employment, or vocation carried on in the United States or elsewhere, or from any other source whatever, a tax of two percentum on the amount so derived over and above four thousand dollars, and a like tax shall be levied, collected and paid annually upon the gains, profits, and income from all property owned and of every business, trade, or profession carried on in the United States by persons residing without the United States. . . .
SEC. 28. That in estimating the gains, profits, and income of any person there shall be included all income derived from interest upon notes, bonds, and other securities, except such bonds of the United States the principal and interest of which are by the law of their issuance exempt from all Federal taxation; profits realized within the year from sales of real estate purchased within two years previous to the close of the year for which income is estimated; interest received or accrued upon all notes, bonds, mortgages, or other forms of indebtedness bearing interest, whether paid or not, if good and collectible, less the interest which has become due from said person or which has been paid by him during the year; the amount of all premium on bonds, notes, or coupons; the amount of sales of livestock, sugar, cotton, wool, butter, cheese, pork, beef, mutton, or other meats, hay, and grain, or other vegetable or other productions, being the growth or produce of the estate of such person, less the amount expended in the purchase or production of said stock or produce, and not including any part thereof consumed directly by the family; money and the value of all personal property acquired by gift or inheritance; all other gains, profits, and income derived from any source whatever except that portion of the salary, compensation, or pay received for services in the civil, military, naval, or other service of the United States, including Senators, Representatives, and Delegates in Congress, from which the tax has been deducted, and except that portion of any salary upon which the employer is required by law to withhold, and does withhold the tax and pays the same to the officer authorized to receive it. In computing incomes the necessary expenses actually incurred in carrying on any business, occupation, or profession shall be deducted and also all interest due or paid within the year by such person on existing indebtedness. And all national, state, county, school, and municipal taxes, not including those assessed against local benefits, paid within the year shall be deducted from the gains, profits, or income of the person who has actually paid the same, whether such person be owner, tenant, or mortgagor; also losses actually sustained during the year, incurred in trade or arising from fires, storms, or shipwreck, and not compensated for by insurance or otherwise, and debts ascertained to be worthless, but excluding all estimated depreciation of values and losses within the year on sales of real estate purchased within two years previous to the year for which income is estimated: Provided,That no deduction shall be made for any amount paid out for new buildings, permanent improvements, or betterments, made to increase the value of any property or estate: Provided further, That only one deduction of four thousand dollars shall be made from the aggregate income of all the members of any family, composed of one or both parents, and one or more minor children, or husband and wife; that guardians shall be allowed to make a deduction in favor of each and every ward, except that, in case where two or more wards are comprised in one family, and have joint property interests, the aggregate deduction in their favor shall not exceed four thousand dollars: and provided further, that in cases where the salary or other compensation paid to any person in the employment or service of the United States shall not exceed the rate of four thousand dollars per annum, or shall be by fees, or uncertain or irregular in the amount or in the time during which the same shall have accrued or been earned, such salary or other compensation shall be included in estimating the annual gains, profits, or income of the person to whom the same shall have been paid, and shall include that portion of any income or salary upon which a tax has not been paid by the employer, where the employer is required by law to pay on the excess over four thousand dollars: Provided also, that in computing the income of any person, corporation, company, or association there shall not be included the amount received from any corporation, company, or association as dividends upon the stock of such corporation, company, or association if the tax of two percentum has been paid upon its net profits by said corporation, company, or association as required by this act.
SEC. 29. That it shall be the duty of all persons of lawful age having an income of more than three thousand five hundred dollars for the taxable year, computed on the basis herein prescribed, to make and render a list or return, on or before the day provided by law, in such form and manner as may be directed by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, to the collector or a deputy collector of the district in which they reside, of the amount of their income, gains, and profits, as aforesaid, and all guardians and trustees, executors, administrators, agents, receivers, and all persons or corporations acting in any fiduciary capacity, shall make and render a list or return as aforesaid, to the collector or a deputy collector of the district in which such person or corporation acting in a fiduciary capacity resides or does business, of the amount of income, gains, and profits of any minor or person for whom they act, but persons having less than three thousand five hundred dollars income are not required to make such report; and the collector or deputy collector shall require every list or return to be verified by the oath or affirmation of the party rendering it, and may increase the amount of any list or return if he has reason to believe that the same is understated, and in case any such person having a taxable income shall neglect or refuse to make and render such list and return, or shall render a willfully false or fraudulent list or return, it shall be the duty of the collector or deputy collector, to make such list, according to the best information he can obtain, by the examination of such person, or any other evidence, and to add fifty percentum as a penalty to the amount of the tax due on such list in all cases of willful neglect or refusal to make and render a list or return, and in all cases of a willfully false or fraudulent list or return having been rendered to add one hundred percentum as a penalty to the amount of tax ascertained to be due, the tax and the additions thereto as a penalty to be assessed and collected in the manner provided for in other cases of willful neglect or refusal to render a list or return, or of rendering a false or fraudulent returGR:”157 U.S. 429“>A proviso was added that any person or corporation might show that he or its ward had no taxable income, or that the same had been paid elsewhere, and the collector might exempt from the tax for that year.
Any person or company, corporation, or association, feeling aggrieved by the decision of the deputy collector in such cases may appeal to the collector of the district, and his decision thereon, unless reversed by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, shall be final. If dissatisfied with the decision of the collector, such person or corporation, company, or association may submit the case, with all the papers, to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue for his decision, and may furnish the testimony of witnesses to prove any relevant facts, having served notice to that effect upon the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, as herein prescribed.
Provision was made for notice of time and place for taking testimony on both sides, and that no penalty should be assessed until after notice.
By section 30, the taxes on incomes were made payable on or before July 1 of each year, and five percent penalty levied on taxes unpaid, and interest.
By section 31, any nonresident might receive the benefit of the exemptions provided for, and
in computing income he shall include all income from every source, but unless he be a citizen of the United States he shall only pay on that part of the income which is derived from any source in the United States. In case such nonresident fails to file such statement, the collector of each district shall collect the tax on the income derived from property situated in his district, subject to income tax, making no allowance for exemptions, and all property belonging to such nonresident shall be liable to distraint for tax: Provided, That nonresident corporations shall be subject to the same laws as to tax as resident corporations, and the collection of the tax shall be made in the same manner as provided for collections of taxes against nonresident persons.
SEC. 32. That there shall be assessed, levied, and collected, except as herein otherwise provided, a tax of two percentum annually on the net profits or income above actual operating and business expenses, including expenses for materials purchased for manufacture or bought for resale, losses, and interest on bonded and other indebtedness of all banks, banking institutions, trust companies, saving institutions, fire, marine, life, and other insurance companies, railroad, canal, turnpike, canal navigation, slack water, telephone, telegraph, express, electric light, gas, water, street railway companies, and all other corporations, companies, or associations doing business for profit in the United States, no matter how created and organized but not including partnerships.
The tax is made payable on or before the first day of July in each year, and if the president or other chief officer of any corporation, company, or association, or in the case of any foreign corporation, company, or association, the resident manager or agent shall neglect or refuse to file with the collector of the internal revenue district in which said corporation, company, or association shall be located or be engaged in business, a statement verified by his oath or affirmation, in such form as shall be prescribed by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, showing the amount of net profits or income received by said corporation, company, or association during the whole calendar year last preceding the date of filing said statement as hereinafter required, the corporation, company, or association making default shall forfeit as a penalty the sum of one thousand dollars and two percentum on the amount of taxes due, for each month until the same is paid, the payment of said penalty to be enforced as provided in other cases of neglect and refusal to make return of taxes under the internal revenue laws.
The net profits or income of all corporations, companies, or associations shall include the amounts paid to shareholders, or carried to the account of any fund, or used for construction, enlargement of plant, or any other expenditure or investment paid from the net annual profits made or acquired by said corporations, companies, or associations.
That nothing herein contained shall apply to States, counties, or municipalities; nor to corporations, companies, or associations organized and conducted solely for charitable, religious, or educational purposes, including fraternal beneficiary societies, orders, or associations operating upon the lodge system and providing for the payment of life, sick, accident, and other benefits to the members of such societies, orders, or associations and dependents of such members; nor to the stocks, shares, funds, or securities held by any fiduciary or trustee for charitable, religious, or educational purposes; nor to building and loan associations or companies which make loans only to their shareholders; nor to such savings banks, savings institutions or societies as shall, first, have no stockholders or members except depositors and no capital except deposits; secondly, shall not receive deposits to an aggregate amount, in any one year, of more than one thousand dollars from the same depositor; thirdly, shall not allow an accumulation or total of deposits, by any one depositor exceeding ten thousand dollars; fourthly, shall actually divide and distribute to its depositors, ratably to deposits, all the earnings over the necessary and proper expenses of such bank, institution, or society, except such as shall be applied to surplus; fifthly, shall not possess, in any form, a surplus fund exceeding ten percentum of its aggregate deposits; nor to such savings banks, savings institutions, or societies composed of members who do not participate in the profits thereof and which pay interest or dividends only to their depositors; nor to that part of the business of any savings bank, institution, or other similar association having a capital stock, that is conducted on the mutual plan solely for the benefit of its depositors on such plan, and which shall keep its accounts of its business conducted on such mutual plan separate and apart from its other accounts.
Nor to any insurance company or association which conducts all its business solely upon the mutual plan, and only for the benefit of its policy holders or members, and having no capital stock and no stock or shareholders, and holding all its property in trust and in reserve for its policyholders or members; nor to that part of the business of any insurance company having a capital stock and stock and shareholders, which is conducted on the mutual plan, separate from its stock plan of insurance, and solely for the benefit of the policyholders and members insured on said mutual plan, and holding all the property belonging to and derived from said mutual part of its business in trust and reserve for the benefit of its policyholders and members insured on said mutual plan.
That all state, county, municipal, and town taxes paid by corporations, companies, or associations, shall be included in the operating and business expenses of such corporations, companies, or associations.
SEC. 33. That there shall be levied, collected, and paid on all salaries of officers, or payments for services to persons in the civil, military, naval, or other employment or service of the United States, including Senators and Representatives and Delegates in Congress, when exceeding the rate of four thousand dollars per annum, a tax of two percentum on the excess above the said four thousand dollars, and it shall be the duty of all paymasters and all disbursing officers under the government of the United States, or persons in the employ thereof, when making any payment to any officers or persons as aforesaid, whose compensation is determined by a fixed salary, or upon settling or adjusting the accounts of such officers or persons, to deduct and withhold the aforesaid tax of two percentum, and the payroll, receipts, or account of officers or persons paying such tax as aforesaid shall be made to exhibit the fact of such payment. And it shall be the duty of the accounting officers of the Treasury Department, when auditing the accounts of any paymaster or disbursing officer, or any officer withholding his salary from moneys received by him, or when settling or adjusting the accounts of any such officer, to require evidence that the taxes mentioned in this section have been deducted and paid over to the Treasurer of the United States, or other officer authorized to receive the same. Every corporation which pays to any employee a salary or compensation exceeding four thousand dollars per annum shall report the same to the collector or deputy collector of his district and said employee shall pay thereon, subject to the exemptions herein provided for, the tax of two percentum on the excess of his salary over four thousand dollars: Provided, That salaries due to state, county, or municipal officers shall be exempt from the income tax herein levied.
By section 34, sections thirty-one hundred and sixty-seven, thirty-one hundred and seventy-two, thirty-one hundred and seventy-three, and thirty-one hundred and seventy-six of the Revised Statutes of the United States as amended were amended so as to provide that it should be unlawful for the collector and other officers to make known, or to publish amount or source of income under penalty; that every collector should
from time to time cause his deputies to proceed through every part of his district and inquire after and concerning all persons therein who are liable to pay any internal revenue tax, and all persons owning or having the care and management of any objects liable to pay any tax, and to make a list of such persons and enumerate said objects;
that the tax returns must he made on or before the first Monday in March; that the collectors may make returns when particulars are furnished; that notice be given to absentees to render returns; that collectors may summon persons to produce books and testify concerning returns; that collectors may enter other districts to examine persons and books, and may make returns, and that penalties may be imposed on false returns.
By section 35, it was provided that corporations doing business for profit should make returns on or before the first Monday of March of each year
of all the following matters for the whole calendar year last preceding the date of such return:
First. The gross profits of such corporation, company, or association, from all kinds of business of every name and nature.
Second. The expenses of such corporation, company, or association, exclusive of interest, annuities, and dividend.
Third. The net profits of such corporation, company, or association, without allowance for interest, annuities, or dividends.
Fourth. The amount paid on account of interest, annuities, and dividends, stated separately.
Fifth. The amount paid in salaries of four thousand dollars or less to each person employed.
Sixth. The amount paid in salaries of more than four thousand dollars to each person employed and the name and address of each of such persons and the amount paid to each.
By section 36, that books of account should be kept by corporations as prescribed, and inspection thereof be granted under penalty.
By section 37, provision is made for receipts for taxes paid.
By a joint resolution of February 21, 1895, the time for making returns of income for the year 1894 was extended, and it was provided that,
in computing incomes under said act, the amounts necessarily paid for fire insurance premiums and for ordinary repairs shall be deducted; and that
in computing incomes under said act, the amounts received as dividends upon the stock of any corporation, company, or association shall not be included in case such dividends are also liable to the tax of two percentum upon the net profits of said corporation, company, or association although such tax may not have been actually paid by said corporation, company, or association at the time of making returns by the person, corporation, or association receiving such dividends, and returns or reports of the names and salaries of employees shall not be required from employers unless called for by the collector in order to verify the returns of employees.
FIELD, J., Separate Opinion
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
157 U.S. 429
Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust CompanyAPPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORKNo. 898 Argued: March 7, 8. 11, 12, 13, 1895 — Decided: April 8, 1895.MR. JUSTICE FIELD.
I also desire to place my opinion on record upon some of the important questions discussed in relation to the direct and indirect taxes proposed by the income tax law of 1894. [p587]
Several suits have been instituted in state and Federal courts, both at law and in equity, to test the validity of the provisions of the law, the determination of which will necessitate careful and extended consideration.
The subject of taxation in the new government which was to be established created great interest in the convention which framed the Constitution, and was the cause of much difference of opinion among its members and earnest contention between the States. The great source of weakness of the confederation was its inability to levy taxes of any kind for the support of its government. To raise revenue, it was obliged to make requisitions upon the States, which were respected or disregarded at their pleasure. Great embarrassments followed the consequent inability to obtain the necessary funds to carry on the government. One of the principal objects of the proposed new government was to obviate this defect of the confederacy by conferring authority upon the new government by which taxes could be directly laid whenever desired. Great difficulty in accomplishing this object was found to exist. The States bordering on the ocean were unwilling to give up their right to lay duties upon imports, which were their chief source of revenue. The other States, on the other hand, were unwilling to make any agreement for the levying of taxes directly upon real and personal property, the smaller States fearing that they would be overborne by unequal burdens forced upon them by the action of the larger States. In this condition of things, great embarrassment was felt by the members of the convention. It was feared at times that the effort to form a new government would fail. But happily, a compromise was effected by an agreement that direct taxes should be laid by Congress by apportioning them among the States according to their representation. In return for this concession by some of the States, the other States bordering on navigable waters consented to relinquish to the new government the control of duties, imposts, and excises, and the regulation of commerce, with the condition that the duties, imposts, and excises should be uniform throughout the United States. So that, on the one [p588] hand, anything like oppression or undue advantage of any one State over the others would be prevented by the apportionment of the direct taxes among the States according to their representation, and, on the other hand, anything like oppression or hardship in the levying of duties, imposts, and excises would be avoided by the provision that they should be uniform throughout the United States. This compromise was essential to the continued union and harmony of the States. It protected every State from being controlled in its taxation by the superior numbers of one or more other States.
The Constitution accordingly, when completed, divided the taxes which might be levied under the authority of Congress into those which were direct and those which were indirect. Direct taxes, in a general and large sense, may be described as taxes derived immediately from the person, or from real or personal property, without any recourse therefrom to other sources for reimbursement. In a more restricted sense, they have sometimes been confined to taxes on real property, including the rents and income derived therefrom. Such taxes are conceded to be direct taxes, however taxes on other property are designated, and they are to be apportioned among the States of the Union according to their respective numbers. The second section of article I of the Constitution declares that representatives and direct taxes shall be thus apportioned. It had been a favorite doctrine in England and in the colonies, before the adoption of the Constitution, that taxation and representation should go together. The Constitution prescribes such apportionment among the several States according to their respective numbers, to be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons.
Some decisions of this court have qualified or thrown doubts upon the exact meaning of the words “direct taxes.” Thus, in Springer v. United States, 102 U.S. 586, it was held that a tax upon gains, profits, and income was an excise or duty, and not a direct tax within the meaning of the Constitution, and [p589]that its imposition was not therefore unconstitutional. And in Pacific Insurance Co. v. Soule, 7 Wall. 433, it was held that an income tax or duty upon the amounts insured, renewed or continued by insurance companies, upon the gross amounts of premiums received by them and upon assessments made by them, and upon dividends and undistributed sums, was not a direct tax, but a duty or excise.
In the discussions on the subject of direct taxes in the British Parliament, an income tax has been generally designated as a direct tax, differing in that respect from the decision of this court in Springer v. United States. But whether the latter can be accepted as correct or otherwise, it does not affect the tax upon real property and its rents and income as a direct tax. Such a tax is by universal consent recognized to be a direct tax.
As stated, the rents and income of real property are included in the designation of direct taxes as part of the real property. Such has been the law in England for centuries, and in this country from the early settlement of the colonies, and it is strange that any member of the legal profession should, at this day, question a doctrine which has always been thus accepted by common law lawyers. It is so declared in approved treatises upon real property and in accepted authorities on particular branches of real estate law, and has been so announced in decisions in the English courts and our own courts without number. Thus, in Washburn on Real Property, it is said that
a devise of the rents and profits of land, or the income of land, is equivalent to a devise of the land itself, and will be for life or in fee according to the limitation expressed in the devise.
Vol. 2, p. 695, § 30.
In Jarman on Wills, Vol. 1, page 40, it is laid down that
a devise of the rents and profits or of the income of land passes the land itself both at law and in equity; a rule, it is said, founded on the feudal law, according to which the whole beneficial interest in the land consisted in the right to take the rents and profits. And since the act 1 Vict. c. 26, such a devise carries the fee simple; but before that act, it carried no more than an estate for life unless words of inheritance were [p590] added.
Mr. Jarman cites numerous authorities in support of his statement. South v. Alleine, 1 Salk. 228; Doe d. Goldin v. Lakeman, 2 B. & Ad. 30, 42; Johnson v. Arnold, 1 Ves.Sen. 171; Baines v. Dixon, 1 Ves.Sen. 42; Mannox v. Greener, L.R. 14 Eq. 46; Blann v. Bell, 2 De G., M. & G. 781; Plenty v. West, 6 C.B. 201.
Coke upon Littleton says:
If a man seised of lands in fee by his deed granteth to another the profit of those lands, to have and to hold to him and his heires, and maketh livery secundum formam chartae, the whole land itselfe doth passe; for what is the land but the profits thereof?
Lib. 1, cap. 1, § 1, p. 4b.
In Doe d. Goldin v. Lakeman, Lord Tenterden, Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench, to the same effect, said: “It is an established rule that a devise of the rents and profits is a devise of the land.” And in Johnson v. Arnold, Lord Chancellor Hardwicke reiterated the doctrine that a “devise of the profits of lands is a devise of the lands themselves.”
The same rule is announced in this country; the Court of Errors of New York inPaterson v. Ellis, 11 Wend. 29, 98, holding that the
devise of the interest or of the rents and profits is a devise of the thing itself, out of which that interest or those rents and profits may issue;
and the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, in Reed v. Reed, 9 Mass. 372, 374, that “a devise of the income of lands is the same in its effect as a devise of the lands.” The same view of the law was expressed in Anderson v. Greble, 1 Ashmead (Penn.) 136, 138, King, the president of the court, stating: “I take it to be a well settled rule of law that, by a devise of the rent, profits, and income of land, the land itself passes.” Similar adjudications might be repeated almost indefinitely. One may have the reports of the English courts examined for several centuries without finding a single decision or even a dictum of their judges in conflict with them. And what answer do we receive to these adjudications? Those rejecting them furnish no proof that the framers of the Constitution did not follow them, as the great body of the people of the country then did. An incident which occurred in this court and room twenty[p591] years ago may have become a precedent. To a powerful argument then being made by a distinguished counsel on a public question, one of the judges exclaimed that there was a conclusive answer to his position, and that was that the court was of a different opinion. Those who decline to recognize the adjudications cited may likewise consider that they have a conclusive answer to them in the fact that they also are of a different opinion. I do not think so. The law as expounded for centuries cannot be set aside or disregarded because some of the judges are now of a different opinion from those who, a century ago, followed it in framing our Constitution.
Hamilton, speaking on the subject, asks: “What, in fact, is property but a fiction without the beneficial use of it?” And adds: “In many cases, indeed, the income or annuity is the property itself.” 3 Hamilton’s Works, Putnam’s ed. 34.
It must be conceded that whatever affects any element that gives an article its value, in the eye of the law affects the article itself.
In Brown v. Maryland, 12 Wheat. 419, 444, it was held that a tax on the occupation of an importer is the same as a tax on his imports, and, as such, was invalid. It was contended that the State might tax occupations, and that this was nothing more, but the court said, by Chief Justice Marshall (p. 444):
It is impossible to conceal from ourselves that this is varying the form without varying the substance. It is treating a prohibition which is general as if it were confined to a particular mode of doing the forbidden thing. All must perceive that a tax on the sale of an article imported only for sale is a tax on the article itself.
In Weston v. Charleston, 2 Pet. 449, it was held that a tax upon stock issued for loans to the United States was a tax upon the loans themselves, and equally invalid. In Dobbins v. Commissioners, 16 Pet. 435, it was held that the salary of an officer of the United States could not be taxed if the office was itself exempt. In Almy v. California, 24 How. 169, it was held that a duty on a bill of lading was the same thing as a duty on the article transported. In Cook v. Pennsylvania, 97 U.S. 566 it was held that a tax upon the amount [p592] of sales of goods made by an auctioneer was a tax upon the goods sold. In Philadelphia & Southern Steamship Co. v. Pennsylvania, 122 U.S. 326, and Leloup v. Mobile,127 U.S. 640, 648, it was held that a tax upon the income received from interstate commerce was a tax upon the commerce itself, and equally unauthorized. The same doctrine was held in People v. Commissioners of Taxes, 90 N.Y. 63; State Freight Tax, 15 Wall. 232, 274; Welton v. Missouri, 91 U.S. 75, 78, and in Fargo v. Michigan, 121 U.S. 230.
The law, so far as it imposes a tax upon land by taxation of the rents and income thereof, must therefore fail, as it does not follow the rule of apportionment. The Constitution is imperative in its direction on this subject, and admits of no departure from them.
But the law is not invalid merely in its disregard of the rule of apportionment of the direct tax levied. There is another and an equally cogent objection to it. In taxing incomes other than rents and profits of real estate, it disregards the rule of uniformity which is prescribed in such cases by the Constitution. The eighth section of the first article of the Constitution declares that
the Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.
Excise are a species of tax consisting generally of duties laid upon the manufacture, sale, or consumption of commodities within the country, or upon certain callings or occupations, often taking the form of exactions for licenses to pursue them. The taxes created by the law under consideration as applied to savings banks, insurance companies, whether of fire, life, or marine, to building or other associations, or to the conduct of any other kind of business, are excise taxes, and fall within the requirement, so far as they are laid by Congress, that they must be uniform throughout the United States.
The uniformity thus required is the uniformity throughout the United States of the duty, impost, and excise levied. That is, the tax levied cannot be one sum upon an article at one [p593] place and a different sum upon the same article at another place. The duty received must be the same at all places throughout the United States, proportioned to the quantity of the article disposed of or the extent of the business done. If, for instance, one kind of wine or grain or produce has a certain duty laid upon it proportioned to its quantity in New York, it must have a like duty proportioned to its quantity when imported at Charleston or San Francisco, or if a tax be laid upon a certain kind of business proportioned to its extent at one place, it must be a like tax on the same kind of business proportioned to its extent at another place. In that sense, the duty must be uniform throughout the United States. It is contended by the government that the Constitution only requires an uniformity geographical in its character. That position would be satisfied if the same duty were laid in all the States, however variant it might be in different places of the same State. But it could not be sustained in the latter case without defeating the equality, which is an essential element of the uniformity required, so far as the same is practicable.
In United States v. Singer, 15 Wall. 111, 121, a tax was imposed upon a distiller, in the nature of an excise, and the question arose whether, in its imposition upon different distillers, the uniformity of the tax was preserved, and the court said:
The law is not in our judgment subject to any constitutional objection. The tax imposed upon the distiller is in the nature of an excise, and the only limitation upon the power of Congress in the imposition of taxes of this character is that they shall be “uniform throughout the United States.” The tax here is uniform in its operation; that is, it is assessed equally upon all manufacturers of spirits wherever they are. The law does not establish one rule for one distiller and a different rule for another, but the same rule for all alike.
In the Head Money Cases, 112 U.S. 580, 594, a tax was imposed upon the owners of steam vessels for each passenger landed at New York from a foreign port, and it was objected that the tax was not levied by any rule of uniformity, but the court, by Justice Miller, replied:
The tax is uniform when [p594] it operates with the same force and effect in every place where the subject of it is found. The tax in this case, which, as far as it can be called a tax, is an excise duty on the business of bringing passengers from foreign countries into this by ocean navigation, is uniform, and operates precisely alike in every port of the United States where such passengers can be landed.
In the decision in that case in the Circuit Court, 18 Fed.Rep. 135, 139, Mr. Justice Blatchford, in addition to pointing out that “the act was not passed in the exercise of the power of laying taxes,” but was a regulation of commerce, used the following language:
Aside from this, the tax applies uniformly to all steam and sail vessels coming to all ports in the United States, from all foreign ports, with all alien passengers. The tax being a license tax on the business, the rule of uniformity is sufficiently observed if the tax extends to all persons of the class selected by Congress; that is, to all owners of such vessels. Congress has the exclusive power of selecting the class. It has regulated that particular branch of commerce which concerns the bringing of alien passengers,
and that taxes shall be levied upon such property as shall be prescribed by law. The object of this provision was to prevent unjust discriminations. It prevents property from being classified and taxed, as classed, by different rules. All kinds of property must be taxed uniformly or be entirely exempt. The uniformity must be coextensive with the territory to which the tax applies.
Mr. Justice Miller, in his lectures on the Constitution (N.Y. 1891) pp. 240, 241, said of taxes levied by Congress:
The tax must be uniform on the particular article, and it is uniform, within the meaning of the constitutional requirement, if it is made to bear the same percentage over all the United States. That is manifestly the meaning of this word as used in this clause. The framers of the Constitution could not have meant to say that the government, in raising its revenues, should not be allowed to discriminate between the articles which it should tax.
In discussing generally the requirement of uniformity found in state constitutions, he said:
The difficulties in the way of this construction have, however, been very largely obviated by the meaning of the word [p595] “uniform” which has been adopted, holding that the uniformity must refer to articles of the same class. That is, different articles may be taxed at different amounts, provided the rate is uniform on the same class everywhere, with all people, and at all times.
One of the learned counsel puts it very clearly when he says that the correct meaning of the provisions requiring duties, imposts, and excises to be “uniform throughout the United States” is that the law imposing them should “have an equal and uniform application in every part of the Union.”
If there were any doubt as to the intention of the States to make the grant of the right to impose indirect taxes subject to the condition that such taxes shall be in all respects uniform and impartial, that doubt, as said by counsel, should be resolved in the interest of justice, in favor of the taxpayer.
Exemptions from the operation of a tax always create inequalities. Those not exempted must, in the end, bear an additional burden or pay more than their share. A law containing arbitrary exemptions can in no just sense be termed uniform. In my judgment, Congress has rightfully no power, at the expense of others, owning property of a like character, to sustain private trading corporations, such as building and loan associations, savings banks, and mutual life, fire, marine, and accident insurance companies, formed under the laws of the various States, which advance no national purpose or public interest and exist solely for the pecuniary profit of their members.
Where property is exempt from taxation, the exemption, as has been justly stated, must be supported by some consideration that the public, and not private, interests will be advanced by it. Private corporations and private enterprises cannot be aided under the pretence that it is the exercise of the discretion of the legislature to exempt them. Loan Association v. Topeka, 20 Wall. 655; Parkersburg v. Brown, 106 U.S. 487; Barbour v. Louisville Board of Trade, 82 Kentucky 645, 654, 655; Lexington v. McQuillan’s Heirs, 9 Dana, 513, 516, 517, and Sutton’s Heirs v. Louisville, 5 Dana, 28, 31.
Cooley, in his treatise on Taxation (2d ed. 215), justly [p596] observes that:
It is difficult to conceive of a justifiable exemption law which should select single individuals or corporations, or single articles of property, and, taking them out of the class to which they belong, make them the subject of capricious legislative favor. Such favoritism could make no pretence to equality; it would lack the semblance of legitimate tax legislation.
The income tax law under consideration is marked by discriminating features which affect the whole law. It discriminates between those who receive an income of four thousand dollars and those who do not. It thus vitiates, in my judgment, by this arbitrary discrimination, the whole legislation. Hamilton says in one of his papers (the Continentalist),
the genius of liberty reprobates everything arbitrary or discretionary in taxation. It exacts that every man, by a definite and general rule, should know what proportion of his property the State demands; whatever liberty we may boast of in theory, it cannot exist in fact while [arbitrary] assessments continue.
1 Hamilton’s Works, ed. 1885, 270. The legislation, in the discrimination it makes, is class legislation. Whenever a distinction is made in the burdens a law imposes or in the benefits it confers on any citizens by reason of their birth, or wealth, or religion, it is class legislation, and leads inevitably to oppression and abuses, and to general unrest and disturbance in society. It was hoped and believed that the great amendments to the Constitution which followed the late civil war had rendered such legislation impossible for all future time. But the objectionable legislation reappears in the act under consideration. It is the same in essential character as that of the English income statute of 1691, which taxed Protestants at a certain rate, Catholics, as a class, at double the rate of Protestants, and Jews at another and separate rate. Under wise and constitutional legislation, every citizen should contribute his proportion, however small the sum, to the support of the government, and it is no kindness to urge any of our citizens to escape from that obligation. If he contributes the smallest mite of his earnings to that purpose, he will have a greater regard for the government, and more self-respect [p597] for himself, feeling that, though he is poor in fact, he is not a pauper of his government. And it is to be hoped that, whatever woes and embarrassments may betide our people, they may never lose their manliness and self-respect. Those qualities preserved, they will ultimately triumph over all reverses of fortune.
There is nothing in the nature of the corporations or associations exempted in the present act, or in their method of doing business, which can be claimed to be of a public or benevolent nature. They differ in no essential characteristic in their business from “all other corporations, companies, or associations doing business for profit in the United States.” Act of August 15, 1894, c. 349, § 32.
A few words as to some of them, the extent of their capital and business, and of the exceptions made to their taxation:
1st. A to mutual savings banks. — Under income tax laws prior to 1870, these institutions were specifically taxed. Under the new law, certain institutions of this class are exempt, provided the shareholders do not participate in the profits, and interest and dividends are only paid to the depositors. No limit is fixed to the property and income thus exempted — it may be $100,000 or $100,000,000. One of the counsel engaged in this case read to us during the argument from the report of the Comptroller of the Currency, sent by the President to Congress December 3, 1894, a statement to the effect that the total number of mutual savings banks exempted was 646, and the total number of stock savings banks was 378, and showed that they did the same character of business and took in the money of depositors for the purpose of making it bear interest, with profit upon it in the same way, and yet the 646 are exempt and the 378 are taxed. He also showed that the total deposits in savings banks were $1,748,000,000.
2d. As to mutual insurance corporations. — These companies were taxed under previous income tax laws. They do business somewhat differently from other companies, but they conduct a strictly private business in which the public has no interest, and have been often held not to be benevolent or charitable organizations. [p598]
The sole condition for exempting them under the present law is declared to be that they make loans to or divide their profits among their members, or depositors or policyholders. Every corporation is carried on, however, for the benefit of its members, whether stockholders or depositors or policyholders. If it is carried on for the benefit of its shareholders, every dollar of income is taxed; if it is carried on for the benefit of its policyholders or depositors, who are but another class of shareholders, it is wholly exempted. In the State of New York, the act exempts the income from over $1,00,000,000 of property of these companies. The leading mutual life insurance company has property exceeding 204,000,000 in value, the income of which is wholly exempted. The insertion of the exemption is stated by counsel to have saved that institution fully $200,000 a year over other insurance companies and associations having similar property and carrying on the same business, simply because such other companies or associations divide their profits among their shareholders, instead of their policyholders.
3d. As to building an loan, associations. — The property of these institutions is exempted from taxation to the extent of millions. They are in no sense benevolent or charitable institutions, and are conducted solely for the pecuniary profit of their members. Their assets exceed the capital stock of the national banks of the country. One, in Dayton, Ohio, has a capital of $10,000,000, and Pennsylvania has $65,000,000 invested in these associations. The census report submitted to Congress by the President, May 1, 1894, shows that their property in the United States amounts to over $628,000,000. Why should these institutions and their immense accumulations of property be singled out for the special favor of Congress and be freed from their just, equal, and proportionate share of taxation when others engaged under different names, in similar business, are subjected to taxation by this law? The aggregate amount of the saving to these associations, by reason of their exemption, is over $600,000 a year. If this statement of the exemptions of corporations under the law of Congress, taken from the carefully prepared briefs of counsel [p599]and from reports to Congress, will not satisfy parties interested in this case that the act in question disregards, in almost every line and provision, the rule of uniformity required by the Constitution, then “neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” That there should be any question or any doubt on the subject surpasses my comprehension. Take the case of mutual savings banks and stock savings banks. They do the same character of business, and in the same way use the money of depositors, loaning it at interest for profit, yet 646 of them, under the law before us, are exempt from taxation on their income, and 378 are taxed upon it. How the tax on the income of one kind of these banks can be said to be laid upon any principle of uniformity, when the other is exempt from all taxation, I repeat, surpasses my comprehension.
But there are other considerations against the law which are equally decisive. They relate to the uniformity and equality required in all taxation, national and State; to the invalidity of taxation by the United States of the income of the bonds and securities of the States and of their municipal bodies, and the invalidity of the taxation of the salaries of the judges of the United States courts.
As stated by counsel: “There is no such thing in the theory of our national government as unlimited power of taxation in Congress. There are limitations,” as he justly observes,
of its powers arising out of the essential nature of all free governments; there are reservations of individual rights, without which society could not exist, and which are respected by every government. The right of taxation is subject to these limitations.
Loan Association v. Topeka, 20 Wall. 635, and Parkersburg v. Brown, 106 U.S. 487.
The inherent and fundamental nature and character of a tax is that of a contribution to the support of the government, levied upon the principle of equal and uniform apportionment among the persons taxed, and any other exaction does not come within the legal definition of a tax.
This inherent limitation upon the taxing power forbids the imposition of taxes which are unequal in their operation upon [p600] similar kinds of property, and necessarily strikes down the gross and arbitrary distinctions in the income law as passed by Congress. The law, as we have seen, distinguishes in the taxation between corporations by exempting the property of some of them from taxation and levying the tax on the property of others when the corporations do not materially differ from one another in the character of their business or in the protection required by the government. Trifling differences in their modes of business, but not in their results, are made the ground and occasion of the greatest possible differences in the amount of taxes levied upon their income, showing that the action of the legislative power upon them has been arbitrary and capricious and sometimes merely fanciful.
There was another position taken in this case which is not the least surprising to me of the many advanced by the upholders of the law, and that is that, if this court shall declare that the exemptions and exceptions from taxation extended to the various corporations mentioned, fire, life, and marine insurance companies, and to mutual savings banks, building, and loan associations violate the requirement of uniformity, and are therefore void, the tax as to such corporations can be enforced, and that the law will stand as though the exemptions had never been inserted. This position does not, in my judgment, rest upon any solid foundation of law or principle. The abrogation or repeal of an unconstitutional or illegal provision does not operate to create and give force to any enactment or part of an enactment which Congress has not sanctioned and promulgated. Seeming support of this singular position is attributed to the decision of this court in Huntington v. Worthen, 120 U.S. 97. But the examination of that case will show that it does not give the slightest sanction to such a doctrine. There, the constitution of Arkansas had provided that all property subject to taxation should be taxed according to its value, to be ascertained in such manner as the general assembly should direct, making the same equal and uniform throughout the State, and certain public property was declared by statute to be exempt from taxation, which statute was subsequently held to be unconstitutional. The court decided that the unconstitutional [p601] part of the enactment, which was separable from the remainder, could be omitted and the remainder enforced; a doctrine undoubtedly sound, and which has never, that I am aware of, been questioned. But that is entirely different from the position here taken, that exempted things can be taxed by striking out their exemption.
The law of 1894 says there shall be assessed, levied, and collected, “except as hereinafter otherwise provided,” two percentum of the amount, etc. If the exceptions are stricken out, there is nothing to be assessed and collected except what Congress has otherwise affirmatively ordered. Nothing less can have the force of law. This court is impotent to pass any law on the subject. It has no legislative power. I am unable, therefore, to see how we can, by declaring an exemption or exception invalid, thereby give effect to provisions as though they were never exempted. The court, by declaring the exemptions invalid, cannot, by any conceivable ingenuity, give operative force as enacting clauses to the exempting provisions. That result is not within the power of man.
The law is also invalid in its provisions authorizing the taxation of the bonds and securities of the States and of their municipal bodies. It is objected that the cases pending before us do not allege any threatened attempt to tax the bonds or securities of the State, but only of municipal bodies of the States. The law applies to both kinds of bonds and securities, those of the States as well as those of municipal bodies, and the law of Congress we are examining, being of a public nature, affecting the whole community, having been brought before us and assailed as unconstitutional in some of its provisions, we are at liberty, and I think it is our duty, to refer to other unconstitutional features brought to our notice in examining the law, though the particular points of their objection may not have been mentioned by counsel. These bonds and securities are as important to the performance of the duties of the State as like bonds and securities of the United States are important to the performance of their duties, and are as exempt from the taxation of the United States as the former are exempt from the taxation of the States. As stated by Judge [p602] Cooley in his work on the principles of constitutional law:
The power to tax, whether by the United States or by the States, is to be construed in the light of, and limited by, the fact that the States and the Union are inseparable, and that the Constitution contemplates the perpetual maintenance of each with all its constitutional powers, unembarrassed and unimpaired by any action of the other. The taxing power of the Federal government does not therefore extend to the means or agencies through or by the employment of which the States perform their essential functions, since, if these were within its reach, they might be embarrassed, and perhaps wholly paralyzed, by the burdens it should impose.
That the power to tax involves the power to destroy; that the power to destroy may defeat and render useless the power to create; that there is a plain repugnance in conferring on one government a power to control the constitutional measures of another, which other, in respect to those very measures, is declared to be supreme over that which exerts the control — are propositions not to be denied.
It is true that taxation does not necessarily and unavoidably destroy, and that to carry it to the excess of destruction would be an abuse not to be anticipated, but the very power would take from the States a portion of their intended liberty of independent action within the sphere of their powers, and would constitute to the State a perpetual danger of embarrassment and possible annihilation. The Constitution contemplates no such shackles upon state powers, and, by implication, forbids them.
The Internal Revenue Act of June 30, 1864, in section 122, provided that railroad and certain other companies specified, indebted for money for which bonds had been issued upon which interest was stipulated to be paid, should be subject to pay a tax of five percent on the amount of all such interest, to be paid by the corporations and by them deducted from the interest payable to the holders of such bonds, and the question arose in United States v. Railroad Co., 17 Wall. 322, 327, whether the tax imposed could be thus collected from the revenues of a city owning such bonds. This court answered the question as follows:
There is no dispute about the general [p603] rules of the law applicable to this subject. The power of taxation by the Federal government upon the subjects and in the manner prescribed by the act we are considering is undoubted. There are, however, certain departments which are excepted from the general power. The right of the States to administer their own affairs through their legislative, executive, and judicial departments, in their own manner through their own agencies, is conceded by the uniform decisions of this court, and by the practice of the Federal government from its organization. This carries with it an exemption of those agencies and instruments from the taxing power of the Federal government. If they may be taxed lightly, they may be taxed heavily; if justly, oppressively. Their operation may be impeded and may be destroyed if any interference is permitted. Hence, the beginning of such taxation is not allowed on the one side, is not claimed on the other.
A municipal corporation like the city of Baltimore is a representative not only of the State, but it is a portion of its governmental power. It is one of its creatures, made for a specific purpose, to exercise within a limited sphere the powers of the State. The State may withdraw these local powers of government at pleasure, and may, through its legislature or other appointed channels, govern the local territory as it governs the State at large. It may enlarge or contract its powers or destroy its existence. As a portion of the State in the exercise of a limited portion of the powers of the State, its revenues, like those of the State, are not subject to taxation.
In Collector v. Day, 11 Wall. 113, 124, the court, speaking by Mr. Justice Nelson, said:
The general government and the States, although both exist within the same territorial limits, are separate and distinct sovereignties, acting separately and independently of each other within their respective spheres. The former, in its appropriate sphere, is supreme, but the States, within the limits of their powers not granted or, in the language of the tenth amendment, “reserved,” are as independent of the general government as that government within its sphere is independent of the States. [p604]
According to the census reports, the bonds and securities of the States amount to the sum of $1,243,268,000, on which the income or interest exceeds the sum of $65,000,000 per annum, and the annual tax of two percent upon this income or interest would be $1,300,000.
The law of Congress is also invalid in that it authorizes a tax upon the salaries of the judges of the courts of the United States, against the declaration of the Constitution that their compensation shall not be diminished during their continuance in office. The law declares that a tax of two percent shall be assessed, levied, and collected and paid annually upon the gains, profits, and income received in the preceding calendar year by every citizen of the United States, whether said gains, profits, or income be derived from any kind of property, rents, interest, dividends, or salaries, or from any profession, trade, employment, or vocation, carried on within the United States or elsewhere, or from any source whatever. The annual salary of a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States is ten thousand dollars, and this act levies a tax of two percent on six thousand dollars of this amount, and imposes a penalty upon those who do not make the payment or return the amount for taxation.
The same objection, as presented to a consideration of the objection to the taxation of the bonds and securities of the States as not being specially taken in the cases before us is urged here to a consideration of the objection to the taxation by the law of the salaries of the judges of the courts of the United States. The answer given to that objection may be also given to the present one. The law of Congress being of a public nature, affecting the interests of the whole community, and attacked for its unconstitutionality in certain particulars, may be considered with reference to other unconstitutional provisions called to our attention upon examining the law, though not specifically noticed in the objections taken in the records or briefs of counsel, that the Constitution may not be violated from the carelessness or oversight of counsel in any particular.See O’Neil v. Vermont, 144 U.S. 323, 359.
Besides, there is a duty which this court owes to the one [p605] hundred other United States judges who have small salaries and who, having their compensation reduced by the tax, may be seriously affected by the law.
The Constitution of the United States provides in the first section of article III that:
The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The judges, both of the Supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behavior, and shall, at stated times, receive for their services a compensation,which shall not be diminished during their continance in office.
The act of Congress under discussion imposes, as said, a tax on six thousand dollars of this compensation, and therefore diminishes, each year, the compensation provided for every justice. How a similar law of Congress was regarded thirty years ago may be shown by the following incident in which the justices of this court were assessed at three percent upon their salaries. Against this, Chief Justice Taney protested in a letter to Mr. Chase, then Secretary of the Treasury, appealing to the above article in the Constitution, and adding:
If it [his salary] can be diminished to that extent by the means of a tax, it may in the same way be reduced from time to time at the pleasure of the legislature.
He explained in his letter the object of the constitutional inhibition thus:
The judiciary is one of the three great departments of the government created and established by the Constitution. Its duties and powers are specifically set forth, and are of a character that require it to be perfectly independent of the other departments. And in order to place it beyond the reach, and above even the suspicion, of any such influence, the power to reduce their compensation is expressly withheld from Congress and excepted from their power of legislation.
Language could not be more plain than that used in the Constitution. It is, moreover, one of its most important and essential provisions. For the articles which limit the powers of the legislative and executive branches of the government, and those which provide safeguards for the protection of the citizen in his person and property, would be of little value [p606] without a judiciary to uphold and maintain them which was free from every influence, direct or indirect, that might by possibility, in times of political excitement, warp their judgment.
Upon these grounds, I regard an act of Congress retaining in the Treasury a portion of the compensation of the judges as unconstitutional and void.
This letter of Chief Justice Taney was addressed to Mr. Chase, then Secretary of the Treasury and afterwards the successor of Mr. Taney as Chief Justice. It was dated February 16, 1863, but, as no notice was taken of it, on the 10th of March following, at the request of the Chief Justice, the Court ordered that his letter to the Secretary of the Treasury be entered on the records of the court, and it was so entered. And in the Memoir of the Chief Justice, it is stated that the letter was, by this order, preserved “to testify to future ages that, in war, no less than in peace, Chief Justice Taney strove to protect the Constitution from violation.”
Subsequently, in 1869 and during the administration of President Grant, when Mr. Boutwell was Secretary of the Treasury and Mr. Hoar, of Massachusetts, was Attorney General, there were in several of the statutes of the United States for the assessment and collection of internal revenue provisions for taxing the salaries of all civil officers of the United States, which included, in their literal application, the salaries of the President and of the judges of the United States. The question arose whether the law which imposed such a tax upon them was constitutional. The opinion of the Attorney General thereon was requested by the Secretary of the Treasury. The Attorney General, in reply, gave an elaborate opinion advising the Secretary of the Treasury that no income tax could be lawfully assessed and collected upon the salaries of those officers who were in office at the time the statute imposing the tax was passed, holding on this subject the views expressed by Chief Justice Taney. His opinion is published in volume XIII of the Opinions of the Attorneys General, at page 161. I am informed that it has been followed [p607] ever since without question by the department supervising or directing the collection of the public revenue.
Here I close my opinion. I could not say less in view of questions of such gravity that go down to the very foundation of the government. If the provisions of the Constitution can be set aside by an act of Congress, where is the course of usurpation to end? The present assault upon capital is but the beginning. It 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; a war constantly growing in intensity and bitterness.
“If the court sanctions the power of discriminating taxation, and nullifies the uniformity mandate of the Constitution,” as said by one who has been all his life a student of our institutions, “it will mark the hour when the sure decadence of our present government will commence.” If the purely arbitrary limitation of $4,000 in the present law can be sustained, none having less than that amount of income being assessed or taxed for the support of the government, the limitation of future Congresses may be fixed at a much larger sum, at five or ten or twenty thousand dollars, parties possessing an income of that amount alone being bound to bear the burdens of government; or the limitation may be designated at such an amount as a board of “walking delegates” may deem necessary. There is no safety in allowing the limitation to be adjusted except in strict compliance with the mandates of the Constitution which require its taxation, if imposed by direct taxes, to be apportioned among the States according to their representation, and if imposed by indirect taxes, to be uniform in operation and, so far as practicable, in proportion to their property, equal upon all citizens. Unless the rule of the Constitution governs, a majority may fix the limitation at such rate as will not include any of their own number.
I am of opinion that the whole law of 1894 should be declared void and without any binding force — that part which relates to the tax on the rents, profits or income from real estate, that is, so much as constitutes part of the direct tax, because not imposed by the rule of apportionment according [p608] to the representation of the States, as prescribed by the Constitution — and that part which imposes a tax upon the bonds and securities of the several States, and upon the bonds and securities of their municipal bodies, and upon the salaries of judges of the courts of the United States as being beyond the power of Congress, and that part which lays duties, imposts and excises as void in not providing for the uniformity required by the Constitution in such cases.
WHITE, J., Dissenting Opinion
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
157 U.S. 429
Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust CompanyAPPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORKNo. 898 Argued: March 7, 8. 11, 12, 13, 1895 — Decided: April 8, 1895.MR. JUSTICE WHITE with whom concurred MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, dissenting.
My brief judicial experience has convinced me that the custom of filing long dissenting opinions is one “more honored in the breach than in the observance.” The only purpose which an elaborate dissent can accomplish, if any, is to weaken the effect of the opinion of the majority, and thus engender want of confidence in the conclusions of courts of last resort. This consideration would impel me to content myself with simply recording my dissent in the present case were it not for the fact that I consider that the result of the opinion of the court just announced is to overthrow a long and consistent line of decisions, and to deny to the legislative department of the government the possession of a power conceded to it by universal consensus for one hundred years, and which has been recognized by repeated adjudications of this court. The issues presented are as follows:
Complainant, as a stockholder in a corporation, avers that the latter will voluntarily pay the income tax levied under the recent act of Congress; that such tax is unconstitutional, and that its voluntary payment will seriously affect his interest by defeating his right to test the validity of the exaction, and also lead to a multiplicity of suits against the corporation. The prayer of the bill is as follows: First. That it may be decreed that the provisions known as “The Income Tax Law,” incorporated in the act of Congress, passed August 15, 1894, are unconstitutional, null, and void. Second. That the defendant be restrained from voluntarily complying with the provisions of that act by making its returns and statements, [p609] and paying the tax. The bill, therefore, presents two substantial questions for decision: the right of the plaintiff to relief in the form in which he claims it, and his right to relief on the merits.
The decisions of this Court hold that the collection of a tax levied by the government of the United States will not be restrained by its courts. Cheatham v. United States, 92 U.S. 85; Snyder v. Marks, 109 U.S. 189. See also Elliott v. Swartwout, 10 Pet. 137; City of Philadelphia v. The Collector, 5 Wall. 720;Hornthall v. The Collector, 9 Wall. 560. The same authorities have established the rule that the proper course, in a case of illegal taxation, is to pay the tax under protest or with notice of suit, and then bring an action against the officer who collected it. The statute law of the United States, in express terms, gives a party who has paid a tax under protest the right to sue for its recovery. Rev.Stat. § 3226.
The act of 1867 forbids the maintenance of any suit “for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax.” The provisions of this act are now found in Rev.Stat. § 3224.
The complainant is seeking to do the very thing which, according to the statute and the decisions above referred to, may not be done. If the corporator cannot have the collection of the tax enjoined, it seems obvious that he cannot have the corporation enjoined from paying it, and thus do by indirection what he cannot do directly.
It is said that such relief as is here sought has been frequently allowed. The cases relied on are Dodge v. Woolsey, 18 How. 331, and Hawes v. Oakland, 104 U.S. 450. Neither of these authorities, I submit, is in point. In Dodge v. Woolsey, the main question at issue was the validity of a state tax, and that case did not involve the act of Congress to which I have referred. Hawes v. Oakland was a controversy between a stockholder and a corporation, and had no reference whatever to taxation.
The complainant’s attempt to establish a right to relief upon the ground that this is not a suit to enjoin the tax, but [p610] one to enjoin the corporation from paying it, involves the fallacy already pointed out — that is, that a party can exercise a right indirectly which he cannot assert directly — that he can compel his agent, through process of this court, to violate an act of Congress.
The rule which forbids the granting of an injunction to restrain the collection of a tax is founded on broad reasons of public policy, and should not be ignored. InCheatham v. United States, 92 U.S. 85, 89, which involved the validity of an income tax levied under an act of Congress prior to the one here in issue, this court, through Mr. Justice Miller, said:
If there existed in the courts, state or National, any general power of impeding or controlling the collection of taxes or relieving the hardship incident to taxation, the very existence of the government might be placed in the power of a hostile judiciary. Dows v. The City of Chicago, 11 Wall. 108. While a free course of remonstrance and appeal is allowed within the departments before the money is finally exacted, the general government has wisely made the payment of the tax claimed, whether of customs or of internal revenue, a condition precedent to a resort to the courts by the party against whom the tax is assessed. In the internal revenue branch, it has further prescribed that no such suit shall be brought until the remedy by appeal has been tried; and, if brought after this, it must be within six months after the decision on the appeal. We regard this as a condition on which alone the government consents to litigate the lawfulness of the original tax. It is not a hard condition. Few governments have conceded such a right on any condition. If the compliance with this condition requires the party aggrieved to pay the money, he must do it.
92 U.S. 85, 89.
Again, in Railroad Tax Cases, 92 U.S. 575, 613, the court said:
That there might be no misunderstanding of the universality of this principle, it was expressly enacted, in 1867, that “no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court.” Rev.Stat. sect. 3224. And though this was intended to apply alone to taxes levied by the United States, it shows the sense [p611] of Congress of the evils to be feared if courts of justice could, in any case, interfere with the process of collecting the taxes on which the government depends for its continued existence. It is a wise policy. It is founded in the simple philosophy, derived from the experience of ages, that the payment of taxes has to be enforced by summary and stringent means against a reluctant and often adverse sentiment, and, to do this successfully, other instrumentalities and other modes of procedure are necessary than those which belong to courts of justice. See Cheatham v. Norvell, decided at this term;Nicoll v. United States, 7 Wall. 122; Dows v. Chicago, 11 Wall. 108.
The contention that a right to equitable relief arises from the fact that the corporator is without remedy unless such relief be granted him is, I think, without foundation. This court has repeatedly said that the illegality of a tax is not ground for the issuance of an injunction against its collection if there be an adequate remedy at law open to the payer. Dows v. City of Chicago, 11 Wall. 108; Hannewinkle v. Georgetown, 15 Wall. 547; Board of Liquidation v. McComb,92 U.S. 531; State Railroad Tax Cases, 92 U.S. 575; Union Pacific Railway v. Cheyenne, 113 U.S. 516; Milwaukee v. Koeffler, 116 U.S. 219; Pacific Express Co. v. Seibert, 142 U.S. 339 — as in the case where the state statute by which the tax is imposed allows a suit for its recovery after payment under protest.Shelton v. Platt, 139 U.S. 591; Allen v. Pullman’s Palace Car Co., 139 U.S. 658.
The decision here is that this court will allow, on the theory of equitable right, a remedy expressly forbidden by the statutes of the United States, though it has denied the existence of such a remedy in the case of a tax levied by a State.
Will it be said that, although a stockholder cannot have a corporation enjoined from paying a state tax where the state statute gives him the right to sue for its recovery, yet, when the United States not only gives him such right, but, in addition, forbids the issue of an injunction to prevent the payment of Federal taxes, the court will allow to the stockholder [p612] a remedy against the United States tax which it refuses against the state tax?
The assertion that this is only a suit to prevent the voluntary payment of the tax suggests that the court may, by an order operating directly upon the defendant corporation, accomplish a result which the statute manifestly intended should not be accomplished by suit in any court. A final judgment forbidding the corporation from paying the tax will have the effect to prevent its collection, for it could not be that the court would permit a tax to be collected from a corporation which it had enjoined from paying. I take it to be beyond dispute that the collection of the tax in question cannot be restrained by any proceeding or suit, whatever its form, directly against the officer charged with the duty of collecting such tax. Can the statute be evaded, in a suit between a corporation and a stockholder, by a judgment forbidding the former from paying the tax, the collection of which cannot be restrained by suit in any court? Suppose, notwithstanding the final judgment just rendered, the collector proceeds to collect from the defendant corporation the taxes which the court declares, in this suit, cannot be legally assessed upon it. If that final judgment is sufficient in law to justify resistance against such collection, then we have a case in which a suit has been maintained to restrain the collection of taxes. If such judgment does not conclude the collector, who was not a party to the suit in which it was rendered, then it is of no value to the plaintiff. In other words, no form of expression can conceal the fact that the real object of this suit is to prevent the collection of taxes imposed by Congress, notwithstanding the express statutory requirement that “no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court.” Either the decision of the constitutional question is necessary or it is not. If it is necessary, then the court, by way of granting equitable relief, does the very thing which the act of Congress forbids. If it is unnecessary, then the court decides the act of Congress here asserted unconstitutional, without being obliged to do so by the requirements of the case before it. [p613]
This brings me to the consideration of the merits of the cause.
The constitutional provisions respecting Federal taxation are four in number, and are as follows:
1. “Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States, which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons.” Art. I, sec. 2, clause 3. (TheFourteenth Amendment modified this provision, so that the whole number of persons in each State should be counted, “Indians not taxed” excluded.)
2. “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” Art. I, sec. 8, clause 1.
3. “No capitation or other direct tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration hereinbefore directed to be taken.” Art. I, sec. 9, clause 4.
4. “No tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any State.” Art. I, sec. 9, clause 5.
It has been suggested that, as the above provisions ordain the apportionment of direct taxes, and authorize Congress to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises,” therefore there is a class of taxes which are neither direct, and are not duties, imposts, and excises, and are exempt from the rule of apportionment on the one hand or of uniformity on the other. The soundness of this suggestion need not be discussed, as the words, “duties, imposts, and excises,” in conjunction with the reference to direct taxes, adequately convey all power of taxation to the Federal government.
It is not necessary to pursue this branch of the argument, since it is unquestioned that the provisions of the Constitution vest in the United States plenary powers of taxation, that is, all the powers which belong to a government as such, except [p614] that of taxing exports. The court in this case so says, and quotes approvingly the language of this court, speaking through Mr. Chief Justice Chase, in License Tax Cases, 5 Wall. 462, 471, as follows:
It is true that the power of Congress to tax is a very extensive power. It is given in the Constitution with only one exception and only two qualifications. Congress cannot tax exports, and it must impose direct taxes by the rule of apportionment, and indirect taxes by the rule of uniformity. Thus limited and thus only, it reaches every subject, and may be exercised at discretion.
In deciding, then, the question of whether the income tax violates the Constitution, we have to determine not the existence of a power in Congress, but whether an admittedly unlimited power to tax (the income tax not being a tax on exports) has been used according to the restrictions as to methods for its exercise, found in the Constitution. Not power, it must be borne in mind, but the manner of its use is the only issue presented in this case. The limitations in regard to the mode of direct taxation imposed by the Constitution are that capitation and other direct taxes shall be apportioned among the States according to their respective numbers, while duties, imposts, and excises must be uniform throughout the United States. The meaning of the word “uniform” in the Constitution need not be examined, as the court is divided upon that subject, and no expression of opinion thereon is conveyed or intended to be conveyed in this dissent.
In considering whether we are to regard an income tax as “direct” or otherwise, it will, in my opinion, serve no useful purpose, at this late period of our political history, to seek to ascertain the meaning of the word “direct” in the Constitution by resorting to the theoretical opinions on taxation found in the writings of some economists prior to the adoption of the Constitution or since. These economists teach that the question of whether a tax is direct or indirect depends not upon whether it is directly levied upon a person, but upon whether, when so levied, it may be ultimately shifted from the person [p615] in question to the consumer, thus becoming, while direct in the method of its application, indirect in its final results because it reaches the person who really pays it only indirectly. I say it will serve no useful purpose to examine these writers because whatever may have been the value of their opinions as to the economic sense of the word “direct,” they cannot now afford any criterion for determining its meaning in the Constitution, inasmuch as an authoritative and conclusive construction has been given to that term, as there used, by an interpretation adopted shortly after the formation of the Constitution by the legislative department of the government and approved by the Executive, by the adoption of that interpretation from that time to the present without question, and its exemplification and enforcement in many legislative enactments, and its acceptance by the authoritative text writers on the Constitution, by the sanction of that interpretation, in a decision of this court rendered shortly after the Constitution was adopted, and finally by the repeated reiteration and affirmance of that interpretation, so that it has become imbedded in our jurisprudence, and therefore may be considered almost a part of the written Constitution itself.
Instead, therefore, of following counsel in their references to economic writers and their discussion of the motives and thoughts which may or may not have been present in the minds of some of the framers of the Constitution, as if the question before us were one of first impression, I shall confine myself to a demonstration of the truth of the propositions just laid down.
By the act of June 5, 1794, c. 45, 1 Stat. 373, Congress levied, without reference to apportionment, a tax on carriages “for the conveyance of persons.” The act provided
that there shall be levied, collected, and paid upon all carriages for the conveyance of persons which shall be kept by, or for any person for his or her own use, or to be let out to hire, or for the conveying of passengers, the several duties and rates following;
and then came a yearly tax on every
coach, chariot, phaeton, and coachee, every four-wheeled and every[p616] two-wheeled top carriage, and upon every other two-wheeled carriage,
varying in amount according to the vehicle.
The debates which took place at the passage of that act are meagerly preserved. It may, however, be inferred from them that some considered that whether a tax was “direct” or not in the sense of the Constitution depended upon whether it was levied on the object or on its use. The carriage tax was defended by a few on the ground that it was a tax on consumption. Mr. Madison opposed it as unconstitutional, evidently upon the conception that the word “direct” in the Constitution was to be considered as having the same meaning as that which had been attached to it by some economic writers. His view was not sustained, and the act passed by a large majority — forty-nine to twenty-two. It received the approval of Washington. The Congress which passed this law numbered among its members many who sat in the convention which framed the Constitution. It is moreover safe to say that each member of that Congress, even although he had not been in the convention, had, in some way, either directly or indirectly, been an influential actor in the events which led up to the birth of that instrument. It is impossible to make an analysis of this act which will not show that its provisions constitute a rejection of the economic construction of the word “direct,” and this result equally follows whether the tax be treated as laid on the carriage itself or on its use by the owner. If viewed in one light, then the imposition of the tax on the owner of the carriage, because of his ownership, necessarily constituted a direct tax under the rule as laid down by economists. So, also, the imposition of a burden of taxation on the owner for the use by him of his own carriage made the tax direct according to the same rule. The tax having been imposed without apportionment, it follows that those who voted for its enactment must have given to the word “direct” in the Constitution a different significance from that which is affixed to it by the economists referred to.
The validity of this carriage tax was considered by this court in Hylton v. United States, 3 Dall. 171. Chief Justice Ellsworth and Mr. Justice Cushing took no part in [p617] the decision. Mr. Justice Wilson stated that he had, in the Circuit Court of Virginia, expressed his opinion in favor of the constitutionality of the tax. Mr. Justice Chase, Mr. Justice Paterson, and Mr. Justice Iredell each expressed the reasons for his conclusions. The tax, though laid, as I have said, on the carriage, was held not to be a direct tax under the Constitution. Two of the judges who sat in that case (Mr. Justice Paterson and Mr. Justice Wilson) had been distinguished members of the constitutional convention. Excerpts from the observations of the justices are given in the opinion of the Court. Mr. Justice Paterson, in addition to the language there quoted, spoke as follows, p. 177 (the italics being mine):
I never entertained a doubt that the principal, I will not say the only, objects that the framers of the Constitution contemplated as falling within the rule of apportionment were a capitation tax and a tax on land. Local considerations, and the particular circumstances and relative situation of the States, naturally lead to this view of the subject. The provision was made in favor of the Southern States. They possessed a large number of slaves; they had extensive tracts of territory, thinly settled and not very productive. A majority of the States had but few slaves, and several of them a limited territory, well settled, and in a high state of cultivation. The Southern States, if no provision had been introduced in the Constitution, would have been wholly at the mercy of the other States. Congress, in such case, might tax slaves at discretion or arbitrarily, and land in every part of the Union after the same rate or measure — so much a head in the first instance and so much an acre in the second. To guard them against imposition in these particulars was the reason of introducing the clause in the Constitution which directs that representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the States according to their respective numbers.
It is evident that Mr. Justice Chase coincided with these views of Mr. Justice Paterson, though he was perhaps not quite so firmly settled in his convictions, for he said, p. 176:
I am inclined to think, but of this I do not give a judicial [p618]opinion, that the direct taxes contemplated by the Constitution are only two, to-wit, a capitation or poll tax simply, without regard to property, profession, or any other circumstances, and the tax on land. I doubt whether a tax by a general assessment of personal property within the United States is included within the term “direct tax.”
Mr. Justice Iredell certainly entertained similar views, since he said, p. 183:
Some difficulties may occur which we do not at present foresee. Perhaps a direct tax in the sense of the Constitution can mean nothing but a tax on something inseparably annexed to the soil; something capable of apportionment under all such circumstances. A land or poll tax may be considered of this description. . . . In regard to other articles, there may possibly be considerable doubt.
These opinions strongly indicate that the real convictions of the justices were that only capitation taxes and taxes on land were direct within the meaning of the Constitution, but they doubted whether some other objects of a kindred nature might not be embraced in that word. Mr. Justice Paterson had no doubt whatever of the limitation, and Justice Iredell’s doubt seems to refer only to things which were inseparably connected with the soil, and which might therefore be considered, in a certain sense, as real estate.
That case, however, established that a tax levied without apportionment on an object of personal property was not a “direct tax” within the meaning of the Constitution. There can be no doubt that the enactment of this tax and its interpretation by the court, as well as the suggestion in the opinions delivered, that nothing was a direct tax within the meaning of the Constitution but a capitation tax and a tax on land, was all directly in conflict with the views of those who claimed at the time that the word “direct” in the Constitution was to be interpreted according to the views of economists. This is conclusively shown by Mr. Madison’s language. He asserts not only that the act had been passed contrary to the Constitution, but that the decision of the court was likewise in violation of that instrument. Ever since the announcement [p619] of the decision in that case, the legislative department of the government has accepted the opinions of the justices as well as the decision itself as conclusive in regard to the meaning of the word “direct,” and it has acted upon that assumption in many instances, and always with Executive endorsement. All the acts passed levying direct taxes confined them practically to a direct levy on land. True, in some of these acts, a tax on slaves was included, but this inclusion, as has been said by this court, was probably based upon the theory that these were, in some respects, taxable along with the land, and therefore their inclusion indicated no departure by Congress from the meaning of the word “direct,” necessarily resulting from the decision in the Hylton case, and which, moreover, had been expressly elucidated and suggested as being practically limited to capitation taxes and taxes on real estate by the justices who expressed opinions in that case.
These acts imposing direct taxes having been confined in their operation exclusively to real estate and slaves, the subject matters indicated as the proper object of direct taxation in the Hylton case, are the strongest possible evidence that this suggestion was accepted as conclusive, and had become a settled rule of law. Some of these acts were passed at times of great public necessity, when revenue was urgently required. The fact that no other subjects were selected for the purposes of direct taxation except those which the judges in the Hylton case had suggested as appropriate therefor seems to me to lead to a conclusion which is absolutely irresistible — that the meaning thus affixed to the word “direct” at the very formation of the government was considered as having been as irrevocably determined as if it had been written in the Constitution in express terms. As I have already observed, every authoritative writer who has discussed the Constitution from that date down to this has treated this judicial and legislative ascertainment of the meaning of the word “direct” in the Constitution as giving it a constitutional significance without reference to the theoretical distinction between “direct” and “indirect” made by some economists prior to the Constitution or since. This doctrine[p620] has become a part of the hornbook of American constitutional interpretation, has been taught as elementary in all the law schools, and has never since then been anywhere authoritatively questioned. Of course, the textbooks may conflict in some particulars, or indulge in reasoning not always consistent, but, as to the effect of the decision in the Hylton case and the meaning of the word “direct” in the Constitution resulting therefrom, they are a unit. I quote briefly from them.
Chancellor Kent, in his Commentaries thus states the principle:
The construction of the powers of Congress relative to taxation was brought before the Supreme Court in 1796 in the case of Hylton v. The United States. By the act of 5th June, 1794, Congress laid a duty upon carriages for the conveyance of persons, and the question was whether this was a direct tax within the meaning of the Constitution. If it was not a direct tax, it was admitted to be rightly laid under that part of the Constitution which declares that all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States; but if it was a direct tax, it was not constitutionally laid, for it must then be laid according to the census under that part of the Constitution which declares that direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States according to numbers. The Circuit Court in Virginia was divided in opinion on the question, but, on appeal to the Supreme Court, it was decided that the tax on carriages was not a direct tax within the letter or meaning of the Constitution, and was therefore constitutionally laid.
The question was deemed of very great importance, and was elaborately argued. It was held that a general power was given to Congress to lay and collect taxes of every kind or nature, without any restraint. They had plenary power over every species of taxable property except exports. But there were two rules prescribed for their government: the rule of uniformity and the rule of apportionment. Three kinds of taxes, viz., duties, imposts, and excises, were to be laid by the first rule, and capitation and other direct taxes by the second rule. If there were any other species of taxes, as the [p621] court seemed to suppose there might be, that were not direct and not included within the words duties, imposts, or excises, they were to be laid by the rule of uniformity or not as Congress should think proper and reasonable.
The Constitution contemplated no taxes as direct taxes but such as Congress could lay in proportion to the census, and the rule of apportionment could not reasonably apply to a tax on carriages, nor could the tax on carriages be laid by that rule without very great inequality and injustice. If two states, equal in census, were each to pay 8,000 dollars by a tax on carriages, and in one state there were 100 carriages and in another 1,000, the tax on each carriage would be ten times as much in one state as in the other. While A, in the one state, would pay for his carriage eight dollars, B, in the other state, would pay for his carriage eighty dollars. In this way, it was shown by the court that the notion that a tax on carriages was a direct tax within the purview of the Constitution, and to be apportioned according to the census would lead to the grossest abuse and oppression. This argument was conclusive against the construction set up, and the tax on carriages was considered as included within the power to lay duties, and the better opinion seemed to be that the direct taxes contemplated by the Constitution were only two,viz., a capitation or poll tax and a tax on land.
1 Kent Com. 254, 256.
Story, speaking on the same subject, 1 Story Const. § 955, says:
Taxes on lands, houses, and other permanent real estate, or on parts or appurtenances thereof, have always been deemed of the same character, that is, direct taxes. It has been seriously doubted if, in the sense of the Constitution, any taxes are direct taxes except those on polls or on lands. Mr. Justice Chase, in Hylton v. United States, 3 Dall. 171, said:
I am inclined to think that the direct taxes contemplated by the Constitution are only two, viz: a capitation or poll tax simply, without regard to property, profession, or other circumstances, and a tax on land. I doubt whether a tax by a general assessment of personal property within the United States is included within the term “direct tax.”
Mr. Justice Paterson, in the same case, said:
It is not necessary to determine [p622] whether a tax on the produce of land be a direct or an indirect tax. Perhaps the immediate product of land, in its original and crude state, ought to be considered as a part of the land itself. When the produce is converted into a manufacture, it assumes a new shape, etc. Whether “direct taxes,” in the sense of the Constitution, comprehend any other tax than a capitation tax or a tax on land is a questionable point, etc. I never entertained a doubt that the principal, I will not say the only, objects that the framers of the Constitution contemplated, as falling within the rule of apportionment, were a capitation tax and a tax on land.
And he proceeded to state that the rule of apportionment, both as regards representatives and as regards direct taxes, was adopted to guard the Southern States against undue impositions and oppressions in the taxing of slaves. Mr. Justice Iredell, in the same case, said:
Perhaps a direct tax, in the sense of the Constitution, can mean nothing but a tax on something inseparably annexed to the soil; something capable of apportionment under all such circumstances. A land or poll tax may be considered of this description. The latter is to be considered so, particularly under the present Constitution, on account of the slaves in the Southern States, who give a ratio in the representation in the proportion of three to five. Either of these is capable of an apportionment. In regard to other articles, there may possibly be considerable doubt.
The reasoning of the Federalist seems to lead to the same result.
Cooley, in his work on Constitutional Limitations 595, 5th ed., marginal paging *480, thus tersely states the rule:
Direct taxes, when laid by Congress, must be apportioned among the several States according to the representative population. The term “direct taxes,” as employed in the Constitution, has a technical meaning, and embraces capitation and land taxes only.
Miller on the Constitution 37 thus puts it:
Under the provisions already quoted, the question came up as to what is a “direct tax,” and also upon what property it is to be levied, as distinguished from any other tax. In regard to this, it is sufficient to say that it is believed that no other than a capitation tax of so much per head and a land tax is a direct tax [p623] within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States. All other taxes, except imposts are properly called excise taxes. Direct taxes, within the meaning of the Constitution, are only capitation taxes, as expressed in that instrument, and taxes on real estate.
In Pomeroy’s Constitutional Law (§ 281), we read as follows:
It becomes necessary, therefore, to inquire a little more particularly: what are direct and what indirect taxes? Few cases on the general question of taxation have arisen and been decided by the Supreme Court for the simple reason that, until the past few years, the United States has generally been able to obtain all needful revenue from the single source of duties upon imports. There can be no doubt, however, that all the taxes provided for in the internal revenue acts now in operation are indirect.
This subject came before the Supreme Court of the United States in a very early case, Hylton v. The United States. In the year 1794, Congress laid a tax of ten dollars on all carriages, and the rate was thus made uniform. The validity of the statute was disputed; it was claimed that the tax was direct, and should have been apportioned among the states. The court decided that this tax was not direct. The reasons given for the decision are unanswerable, and would seem to cover all the provisions of the present internal revenue laws.
Hare, in his treatise on American Constitutional Law (vol. 1, pp. 249, 250), is to the like effect:
Agreeably to section 9 of article I, paragraph 4, “no capitation or other direct tax shall be laid except in proportion to the census or enumeration hereinbefore directed to be taken,” while section 3 of the same article requires that representation and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States . . . according to their respective numbers. Direct taxes in the sense of the Constitution are poll taxes and taxes on land.
Burroughs on Taxation (p. 502) takes the same view:
Direct taxes — The kinds of taxation authorized are both direct and indirect. The construction given to the expression “direct taxes” is that it includes only a tax on land and a poll [p624] tax, and this is in accord with the views of writers upon political economy.
Ordronaux, in his Constitutional Legislation (p. 225), says:
Congress having been given the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises,” the above three provisions are limitations upon the exercise of this authority:
1st. By distinguishing between direct and indirect taxes as to their mode of assessment;
2d. By establishing a permanent freedom of trade between the States; and
3d. By prohibiting any discrimination in favor of particular States through revenue laws establishing a preference between their ports and those of the others.
These provisions should be read together, because they are at the foundation of our system of national taxation.
The two rules prescribed for the government of Congress in laying taxes are those of apportionment for direct taxes and uniformity for indirect. In the first class are to be found capitation or poll taxes and taxes on land; in the second, duties, imposts, and excises.
The provision relating to capitation taxes was made in favor of the Southern States, and for the protection of slave property. While they possessed a large number of persons of this class, they also had extensive tracts of sparsely settled and unproductive lands. At the same time, an opposite condition, both as to land territory and population, existed in a majority of the other States. Were Congress permitted to tax slaves and land in all parts of the country at a uniform rate, the Southern Slave States must have been placed at a great disadvantage. Hence, and to guard against this inequality of circumstances, there was introduced into the Constitution the further provision that “representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the States according to their respective numbers.” This changed the basis of direct taxation from a strictly monetary standard, which could not equitably be made uniform throughout the country, to one resting upon population as the measure of representation. But for this, Congress might have taxed slaves arbitrarily and [p625] at its pleasure as so much property, and land uniformly throughout the Union regardless of differences in productiveness. It is not strange, therefore, that, in Hylton v. United States, the court said that
the rule of apportionment is radically wrong, and cannot be supported by any solid reasoning. It ought not, therefore, to be extended by construction. Apportionment is an operation on States and involves valuations and assessments which are arbitrary, and should not be resorted to but in case of necessity.
Direct taxes being now well settled in their meaning, a tax on carriages left for the use of the owner is not a capitation tax, nor a tax on the business of an insurance company, nor a tax on a bank’s circulation, nor a tax on income, nor a succession tax. The foregoing are not, properly speaking, direct taxes within the meaning of the Constitution, but excise taxes or duties.
Black, writing on Constitutional Law, says:
But the chief difficulty has arisen in determining what is the difference between direct taxes and such as are indirect. In general usage, and according to the terminology of political economy, a direct tax is one which is levied upon the person who is to pay it, or upon his land or personalty, or his business or income, as the case may be. An indirect tax is one assessed upon the manufacturer or dealer in the particular commodity, and paid by him, but which really falls upon the consumer, since it is added to the market price of the commodity which he must pay. But the course of judicial decision has determined that the term “direct,” as here applied to taxes, is to be taken in a more restricted sense. The Supreme Court has ruled that only land taxes and capitation taxes are “direct,” and no others. In 1794, Congress levied a tax of ten dollars on all carriages kept for use, and it was held that this was not a direct tax. And so also an income tax is not to be considered direct. Neither is a tax on the circulation of state banks, nor a succession tax, imposed upon every “devolution of title to real estate.”
Opinions cited on page 162.
Not only have the other departments of the government accepted the significance attached to the word “direct” in the [p626] Hylton case by their actions as to direct taxes, but they have also relied on it as conclusive in their dealings with indirect taxes by levying them solely upon objects which the judges in that case declared were not objects of direct taxation. Thus, the affirmance by the Federal legislature and executive of the doctrine established as a result of the Hylton case has been two-fold.
From 1861 to 1870. many laws levying taxes on income were enacted, as follows: Act of August 5, 1861, c. 45, 12 Stat. 292, 309, 311; Act of July 1, 1862, c. 119, 12 Stat. 432, 473, 47; Act of March 3, 1863, c. 74, 12 Stat. 713, 718, 723 Act of June 30, 1864, c. 173, 13 Stat. 223, 281, 285; Act of March 3, 1865, c. 78, 18 Stat. 469, 479, 481; Act of March 10, 1866, c. 15, 14 Stat. 4, 5; Act of July 13, 1866, c. 184, 14 Stat. 98, 137, 140; Act of March 2, 1867, c. 169, 14 Stat. 471, 477, 480; Act of July 14, 1870, c. 255, 16 Stat. 256, 261.
The statutes above referred to all cover income and every conceivable source of revenue from which it could result — rentals from real estate, products of personal property, the profits of business or professions.
The validity of these laws has been tested before this court. The first case on the subject was that of the Pacific Insurance Company v. Soule, 7 Wall. 433, 443. The controversy in that case arose under the ninth section of the act of July 13, 1866, 14 Stat. 137, 140, which imposed a tax on
all dividends in scrip and money, thereafter declared due, wherever and whenever the same shall be payable, to stockholders, policyholders, or depositors or parties whatsoever, including nonresidents, whether citizens or aliens, as part of the earnings, incomes, or gains of any bank, trust company, savings institution, and of any fire, marine, life, or inland insurance company, either stock or mutual, under whatever name or style known or called in the United States or Territories, whether specially incorporated or existing under general laws, and on all undistributed sum or sums made or added during the year to their surplus or contingent funds.
It will be seen that the tax imposed was levied on the income of insurance companies as a unit, including every possible [p627] source of revenue, whether from personal or real property, from business gains or otherwise. The case was presented here on a certificate of division of opinion below. One of the questions propounded was
whether the taxes paid by the plaintiff and sought to be recovered in this action are not direct taxes within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States?
The issue, therefore, necessarily brought before this court was whether an act imposing an income tax on every possible source of revenue was valid or invalid. The case was carefully, ably, elaborately, and learnedly argued. The brief on behalf of the company, filed by Mr. Wills, was supported by another signed by Mr. W. O. Bartlett, which covered every aspect of the contention. It rested the weight of its argument against the statute on the fact that it included the rents of real estate among the sources of income taxed, and therefore put a direct tax upon the land. Able as have been the arguments at bar in the present case, an examination of those then presented will disclose the fact that every view here urged was there pressed upon the court with the greatest ability, and after exhaustive research, equalled but not surpassed by the eloquence and learning which has accompanied the presentation of this case. Indeed, it may be said that the principal authorities cited and relied on now can be found in the arguments which were then submitted. It may be added that the case on behalf of the government was presented by Attorney General Evarts.
The court answered all the contentions by deciding the generic question of the validity of the tax, thus passing necessarily upon every issue raised, as the whole necessarily includes every one of its parts. I quote the reasoning applicable to the matter now in hand:
The sixth question is:
Whether the taxes paid by the plaintiff and sought to be recovered back in this action are not direct taxes within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.
In considering this subject, it is proper to advert to the several provisions of the Constitution relating to taxation by Congress.
Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which shall be included [p628] in this Union according to their respective numbers,
Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debt and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.
No capitation or other direct tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration hereinbefore directed to be taken.
No tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any State.
These clauses contain the entire grant of the taxing power by the organic law, with the limitations which that instrument imposes.
The national government, though supreme within its own sphere, is one of limited jurisdiction and specific functions. It has no faculties but such as the Constitution has given it either expressly or incidentally by necessary intendment. Whenever any act done under its authority is challenged, the proper sanction must be found in its charter or the act is ultra vires and void. This test must be applied in the examination of the question before us. If the tax to which it refers is a “direct tax,” it is clear that it has not been laid in conformity to the requirements of the Constitution. It is therefore necessary to ascertain to which of the categories named in the eighth section of the first article it belongs.
What are direct taxes was elaborately argued and considered by this court in Hylton v. United States, decided in the year 1796. One of the members of the court, Justice Wilson, had been a distinguished member of the convention which framed the Constitution. It was unanimously held by the four justices who heard the argument that a tax upon carriages kept by the owner for his own use was not a direct tax. Justice Chase said:
I am inclined to think, but of this I do not give a judicial opinion, that the direct taxes contemplated by the Constitution are only two, to-wit, a capitation or poll tax simply, without regard to property, profession, or any other circumstances, and a tax on land.
Paterson, Justice, followed in the same line of remark. He said:
I never entertained a doubt that the principal — I will not say [p629] the only — object the framers of the Constitution contemplated as falling within the rule of apportionment was a capitation tax or a tax on land. . . . The Constitution declares that a capitation tax is a direct tax, and, both in theory and practice, a tax on land is deemed to be a direct tax. In this way, the terms “direct taxes” and “capitation and other direct taxes” are satisfied.
The views expressed in this case are adopted by Chancellor Kent and Justice Story in their examination of the subject. Duties are defined by Tomlin to be things due and recoverable by law. The term, in its widest signification, is hardly less comprehensive than “taxes.” It is applied in its most restricted meaning meaning to customs, and in that sense is nearly the synonym of “imposts.”
Impost is a duty on imported goods and merchandise. In a larger sense, it is any tax or imposition. Cowell says it is distinguished from custom “because custom is rather the profit which the prince makes on goods shipped out.” Mr. Madison considered the terms “duties” and “imposts” in these clauses as synonymous. Judge Tucker thought “they were probably intended to comprehend every species of tax or contribution not included under the ordinary terms, ‘taxes and excises.’”
Excise is defined to be an inland imposition, sometimes upon the consumption of the commodity and sometimes upon the retail sale; sometimes upon the manufacturer and sometimes upon the vendor.
The taxing power is given in the most comprehensive terms. The only limitations imposed are that direct taxes, including the capitation tax, shall be apportioned, that duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform, and that no duties shall be imposed upon articles exported from any State. With these exceptions, the exercise of the power is, in all respects, unfettered.
If a tax upon carriages kept for his own use by the owner is not a direct tax, we can see no ground upon which a tax upon the business of an insurance company can be held to belong to that class of revenue charges.
It has been held that Congress may require direct taxes to [p630] be laid and collected in the Territories as well as in the States.
The consequences which would follow the apportionment of the tax in question among the States and Territories of the Union in the manner prescribed by the Constitution must not be overlooked. They are very obvious. Where such corporations are numerous and rich, it might be light; where none exist, it could not be collected; where they are few and poor, it would fall upon them with such weight as to involve annihilation. It cannot be supposed that the framers of the Constitution intended that any tax should be apportioned the collection of which, on that principle, would be attended with such results. The consequences are fatal to the proposition.
To the question under consideration it must be answered that the tax to which it relates is not a direct tax, but a duty or excise; that it was obligatory on the plaintiff to pay it.
The other questions certified up are deemed to be sufficiently answered by the answers given to the first and sixth questions.
This opinion, it seems to me, closes the door to discussion in regard to the meaning of the word “direct” in the Constitution, and renders unnecessary a resort to the conflicting opinions of the framers or to the theories of the economists. It adopts that construction of the word which confines it to capitation taxes and a tax on land, and necessarily rejects the contention that that word was to be construed in accordance with the economic theory of shifting a tax from the shoulders of the person upon whom it was immediately levied to those of some other person. This decision, moreover, is of great importance because it is an authoritative reaffirmance of the Hylton case and an approval of the suggestions there made by the justices, and constitutes another sanction given by this court to the interpretation of the Constitution adopted by the legislative, executive, and judicial departments of the government, and thereafter continuously acted upon.
Not long thereafter, in Veazie Bank v. Fenno, 8 Wall. 533, 541, 546, the question of the application of the word “direct” was again submitted to this court. The issue there was whether a tax on the circulation of state banks was “direct” within [p631] the meaning of the Constitution. It was ably argued by the most distinguished counsel; Reverdy Johnson and Caleb Cushing representing the bank, and Attorney General Hoar the United States. The brief of Mr. Cushing again presented nearly every point now urged upon our consideration. It cited copiously from the opinions of Adam Smith and others. The constitutionality of the tax was maintained by the government on the ground that the meaning of the word “direct” in the Constitution, as interpreted by the Hylton case, as enforced by the continuous legislative construction, and as sanctioned by the consensus of opinion already referred to, was finally settled. Those who assailed the tax there urged, as is done here, that the Hylton case was not conclusive because the only question decided was the particular matter at issue, and insisted that the suggestions of the judges were mere dicta, and not to be followed. They said that Hylton v. United States adjudged one point alone, which was that a tax on a carriage was not a direct tax, and that. from the utterances of the judges in the case. it was obvious that the general question of what was a direct tax was but crudely considered. Thus, the argument there presented to this court the very view of the Hylton case which has been reiterated in the argument here, and which is sustained now. What did this court say then, speaking through Chief Justice Chase, as to these arguments? I take very fully from its opinion:
Much diversity of opinion has always prevailed upon the question, what are direct taxes? Attempts to answer it by reference to the definitions of political economists have been frequently made, but without satisfactory results. The enumeration of the different kinds of taxes which Congress was authorized to impose was probably made with very little reference to their speculations. The great work of Adam Smith, the first comprehensive treatise on political economy in the English language, had then been recently published; but in this work, though there are passages which refer to the characteristic difference between direct and indirect taxation, there is nothing which affords any valuable light on the use of the words “direct taxes” in the Constitution. [p632]
We are obliged, therefore, to resort to historical evidence, and to seek the meaning of the words in the use and in the opinion of those whose relations to the government and means of knowledge warranted them in speaking with authority.
And, considered in this light, the meaning and application of the rule as to direct taxes appears to us quite clear.
It is, as we think, distinctly shown in every act of Congress on the subject.
In each of these acts, a gross sum was laid upon the United States, and the total amount was apportioned to the several States according to their respective numbers of inhabitants, as ascertained by the last preceding census. Having been apportioned, provision was made for the imposition of the tax upon the subjects specified in the act, fixing its total sum.
In 1798, when the first direct tax was imposed, the total amount was fixed at two millions of dollars; in 1813, the amount of the second direct tax was fixed at three millions; in 1815, the amount of the third at six millions, and it made an annual tax; in 1816, the provision making the tax annual was repealed by the repeal of the first section of the act of 1815, and the total amount was fixed for that year at three millions of dollars. No other direct tax was imposed until 1861, when a direct tax of twenty millions of dollars was laid and made annual; but the provision making it annual was suspended, and no tax, except that first laid, was ever apportioned. In each instance, the total sum was apportioned among the States by the constitutional rule, and was assessed at prescribed rates on the subjects of the tax. These subjects, in 1798, 1813, 1815, 1816, were lands, improvements, dwelling houses, and slaves, and, in 1861, lands, improvements, and dwelling houses only. Under the act of 1798, slaves were assessed at fifty cents on each; under the other acts, according to valuation by assessors.
This review shows that personal property, contracts, occupations, and the like have never been regarded by Congress as proper subjects of direct tax. It has been supposed that slaves must be considered as an exception to this observation. But the exception is rather apparent than real. As persons, slaves [p633] were proper subjects of a capitation tax, which is described in the Constitution as a direct tax; as property, they were, by the laws of some, if not most, of the States classed as real property, descendible to heirs. Under the first view, they would be subject to the tax of 1798, as a capitation tax; under the latter, they would be subject to the taxation of the other years as realty. That the latter view was that taken by the framers of the acts, after 1798, becomes highly probable when it is considered that, in the States where slaves were held, much of the value which would otherwise have attached to land passed into the slaves. If, indeed, the land only had been valued without the slaves, the land would have been subject to much heavier proportional imposition in those States than in States where there were no slaves, for the proportion of tax imposed on each State was determined by population, without reference to the subjects on which it was to be assessed.
The fact, then, that slaves were valued under the acts referred to, far from showing, as some have supposed, that Congress regarded personal property as a proper object of direct taxation under the Constitution, shows only that Congress, after 1798, regarded slaves, for the purposes of taxation, as realty.
It may be rightly affirmed, therefore, that, in the practical construction of the Constitution by Congress, direct taxes have been limited to taxes on land and appurtenances and taxes on polls or capitation taxes.
And this construction is entitled to great consideration, especially in the absence of anything adverse to it in the discussions of the convention which framed and of the conventions which ratified the Constitution.
This view received the sanction of this court two years before the enactment of the first law imposing direct taxes eo nomine.
The court then reviews the Hylton case, repudiates the attack made upon it, reaffirms the construction placed on it by the legislative, executive, and judicial departments, and expressly adheres to the ruling in the insurance company case to which I have referred. Summing up, it said: [p634]
It follows necessarily that the power to tax without apportionment extends to all other objects. Taxes on other objects are included under the heads of taxes not direct, duties, imposts, and excises, and must be laid and collected by the rule of uniformity. The tax under consideration is a tax on bank circulation, and may very well be classed under the head of duties. Certainly it is not, in the sense of the Constitution, a direct tax. It may be said to come within the same category of taxation as the tax on incomes of insurance companies which this court, at the last term, in the case of Pacific Insurance Company v. Soule, held not to be a direct tax.
This case was, so far as the question of direct taxation is concerned, decided by an undivided court, for, although Mr. Justice Nelson dissented from the opinion, it was not on the ground that the tax was a direct tax, but on another question.
Some years after this decision, the matter again came here for adjudication in the case of Scholey v. Rew, 23 Wall. 331, 346. The issue there involved was the validity of a tax placed by a United States statute on the right to take real estate by inheritance. The collection of the tax was resisted on the ground that it was direct. The brief expressly urged this contention, and said the tax in question was a tax on land if ever there was one. It discussed the Hylton case, referred to the language used by the various judges, and sought to place upon it the construction which we are now urged to give it, and which has been so often rejected by this court.
This court again, by its unanimous judgment, answered all these contentions. I quote its language:
Support to the first objection is attempted to be drawn from that clause of the Constitution which provides that direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within the Union according to their respective numbers, and also from the clause which provides that no capitation or other direct tax shall be laid unless in proportion to the census or amended enumeration; but it is clear that the tax or duty levied by the act under consideration is not a direct tax within the meaning of either of those [p635]provisions. Instead of that, it is plainly an excise tax or duty, authorized by section eight of article one, which vests the power in Congress to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence and general welfare.
Indirect taxes, such as duties of impost and excises and every other description of the same, must be uniform, and direct taxes must be laid in proportion to the census or enumeration as remodelled in theFourteenth Amendment. Taxes on lands, houses, and other permanent real estate have always been deemed to be direct taxes, and capitation taxes, by the express words of the Constitution, are within the same category, but it never has been decided that any other legal exactions for the support of the Federal government fall within the condition that, unless laid in proportion to numbers, the assessment is invalid.
Whether direct taxes, in the sense of the Constitution, comprehend any other tax than a capitation tax and a tax on land is a question not absolutely decided, nor is it necessary to determine it in the present case, as it is expressly decided that the term does not include the tax on income, which cannot be distinguished in principle from a succession tax such as the one involved in the present controversy.
What language could more clearly and forcibly reaffirm the previous rulings of the court upon this subject? What stronger endorsement could be given to the construction of the Constitution, which had been given in the Hylton case, and which had been adopted and adhered to by all branches of the government almost from the hour of its establishment? It is worthy of note that the court here treated the decision in the Hylton case as conveying the view that the only direct taxes were “taxes on land and appurtenance.” In so doing, it necessarily again adopted the suggestion of the justices there made, thus making them the adjudged conclusions of this court. It is too late now to destroy the force of the opinions in that case by qualifying them as mere dicta when they have again and again been expressly approved by this court.
If there were left a doubt as to what this established construction [p636] is, it seems to be entirely removed by the case of Springer v. United States, 102 U.S. 86, 602. Springer was assessed for an income tax on his professional earnings and on the interest on United States bonds. He declined to pay. His real estate was sold in consequence. The suit involved the validity of the tax as a basis for the sale. Again every question now presented was urged upon this court. The brief of the plaintiff in error, Springer, made the most copious references to the economic writers, Continental and English. It cited the opinions of the framers of the Constitution. It contained extracts from the journals of the convention, and marshalled the authorities in extensive and impressive array. It reiterated the argument against the validity of an income tax which included rentals. It is also asserted that the Hylton case was not authority, because the expressions of the judges in regard to anything except the carriage tax were mere dicta.
The court adhered to the ruling announced in the previous cases and held that the tax was not direct within the meaning of the Constitution. It reexamined and answered everything advanced here, and said, in summing up the case:
Our conclusions are that direct taxes, within the meaning of the Constitution, are only capitation taxes, as expressed in that instrument, and taxes on real estate, and that the tax of which the plaintiff in error complained is within the category of an excise or duty.
The facts, then, are briefly these: at the very birth of the government, a contention arose as to the meaning of the word “direct.” The controversy was determined by the legislative and executive departments of the government. Their action came to this court for review, and it was approved. Every judge of this court who expressed an opinion made use of language which clearly showed that he thought the word “direct” in the Constitution applied only to capitation taxes and taxes directly on land. Thereafter, the construction thus given was accepted everywhere as definitive. The matter came again and again to this court, and, in every case, the original ruling was adhered to. The suggestions made in the Hylton case were adopted here, and, [p637] in the last case here decided, reviewing all the others, this court said that direct taxes within the meaning of the Constitution were only taxes on land and capitation taxes. And now, after a hundred years, after long-continued action by other departments of the government, and after repeated adjudications of this court, this interpretation is overthrown and the Congress is declared not to have a power of taxation which may at some time, as it has in the past, prove necessary to the very existence of the government. By what process of reasoning is this to be done? By resort to theories in order to construe the word “direct” in its economic sense, instead of in accordance with its meaning in the Constitution, when the very result of the history which I have thus briefly recounted is to show that the economic construction of the word was repudiated by the framers themselves, and has been time and time again rejected by this court; by a resort to the language of the framers and a review of their opinions, although the facts plainly show that they themselves settled the question which the court now virtually unsettles. In view of all that has taken place and of the many decisions of this court, the matter at issue here ought to be regarded as closed forever.
The injustice and harm which must always result from overthrowing a long and settled practice sanctioned by the decisions of this court could not be better illustrated than by the example which this case affords. Under the income tax laws which prevailed in the past for many years, and which covered every conceivable source of income, rentals from real estate, and everything else, vast sums were collected from the people of the United States. The decision here rendered announces that those sums were wrongfully taken, and thereby, it seems to me, creates a claim in equity and good conscience against the government for an enormous amount of money. Thus, from the change of view by this court, it happens that an act of Congress, passed for the purpose of raising revenue in strict conformity with the practice of the government from the earliest time and in accordance with the oft-repeated decisions of this court, furnishes the [p638] occasion for creating a claim against the government for hundreds of millions of dollars; I say creating a claim because, if the government be in good conscience bound to refund that which has been taken from the citizen in violation of the Constitution, although the technical right may have disappeared by lapse of time, or because the decisions of this court have misled the citizen to his grievous injury, the equity endures, and will present itself to the conscience of the government. This consequence shows how necessary it is that the court should not overthrow its past decisions. A distinguished writer aptly points out the wrong which must result to society from a shifting judicial interpretation. He says:
If rules and maxims of law were to ebb and flow with the taste of the judge, or to assume that shape which in his fancy best becomes the times; if the decisions of one case were not to be ruled by, or depend at all upon, former determinations in other cases of a like nature, I should be glad to know what person would venture to purchase an estate without first having the judgment of a court of justice respecting the identical title which he means to purchase? No reliance could be had upon precedents; former resolutions upon titles of the same kind could afford him no assurance at all. Nay, even a decision of a court of justice upon the very identical title would be nothing more than a precarious temporary security; the principle upon which it was founded might, in the course of a few years, become antiquated; the same title might be again drawn into dispute; the taste and fashion of the times might be improved, and, on that ground, a future judge might hold himself at liberty (if not consider it his duty) to pay as little regard to the maxims and decisions of his predecessor as that predecessor did to the maxims and decisions of those who went before him.
Fearne on Contingent Remainders, London ed. 1801, p. 264.
The disastrous consequences to flow from disregarding settled decisions thus cogently described must evidently become greatly magnified in a case like the present, when the opinion of the court affects fundamental principles of the government by denying an essential power of taxation [p639] long conceded to exist and often exerted by Congress. If it was necessary that the previous decisions of this court should be repudiated, the power to amend the Constitution existed, and should have been availed of. Since the Hylton case was decided, the Constitution has been repeatedly amended. The construction which confined the word “direct” to capitation and land taxes was not changed by these amendments, and it should not now be reversed by what seems to me to be a judicial amendment of the Constitution.
The finding of the court in this case, that the inclusion of rentals from real estate in an income tax makes it direct to that extent is, in my judgment, conclusively denied by the authorities to which I have referred and which establish the validity of an income tax in itself. Hence, I submit, the decision necessarily reverses the settled rule which it seemingly adopts in part. Can there be serious doubt that the question of the validity of an income tax in which the rentals of real estate are included is covered by the decisions which say that an income tax is generically indirect, and that, therefore, it is valid without apportionment? I mean, of course, could there be any such doubt were it not for the present opinion of the court? Before undertaking to answer this question, I deem it necessary to consider some arguments advanced or suggestions made.
1st. The opinions of Turgot and Smith and other economists are cited, and it is said their views were known to the framers of the Constitution, and we are then referred to the opinions of the framers themselves. The object of the collocation of these two sources of authority is to show that there was a concurrence between them as to the meaning of the word “direct.” But in order to reach this conclusion, we are compelled to overlook the fact that this court has always held, as appears from the preceding cases, that the opinions of the economists threw little or no light on the interpretation of the word “direct” as found in the Constitution. And the whole effect of the decisions of this court is to establish the proposition that the word has a different significance in the Constitution from that which Smith and Turgot have given to it when used in a general economic sense. Indeed, it seems to me [p640] that the conclusion deduced from this line of thought itself demonstrates its own unsoundness. What is that conclusion? That the framers well understood the meaning of “direct.”
Now it seems evident that the framers, who well understood the meaning of this word, have themselves declared in the most positive way that it shall not be here construed in the sense of Smith and Turgot. The Congress which passed the carriage tax act was composed largely of men who had participated in framing the Constitution. That act was approved by Washington, who had presided over the deliberations of the convention. Certainly Washington himself, and the majority of the framers, if they well understood the sense in which the word “direct” was used, would hare declined to adopt and approve a taxing act which clearly violated the provisions of the Constitution if the w ord “direct,” as therein used, had the meaning which must be attached to it if read by the light of the theories of Turgot and Adam Smith. As has already been noted, all the judges who expressed opinions in the Hylton case suggested that “direct,” in the constitutional sense, referred only to taxes on land and capitation taxes. Could they have possibly made this suggestion if the word had been used as Smith and Turgot used it? It is immaterial whether the suggestions of the judges were dicta or not. They could not certainly have made this intimation, if they understood the meaning of the word “direct” as being that which it must have imported if construed according to the writers mentioned. Take the language of Mr. Justice Paterson:
I never entertained a doubt that the principal, I will not say the only, objects that the framers of the Constitution contemplated a falling within the rule of apportionment were a capitation tax and a tax on land.
He had borne a conspicuous part in the convention. Can we say that he understood the meaning of the framers, and yet, after the lapse of a hundred years, fritter away that language, uttered by him from this bench in the first great case in which this court was called upon to interpret the meaning of the word “direct?” It cannot be said that his language was used carelessly or without a knowledge of its great import. The debate upon the passage [p641] of the carriage tax act had manifested divergence of opinion as to the meaning of the word “direct.” The magnitude of the issue is shown by all contemporaneous authority to have been deeply felt, and its far-reaching consequence was appreciated. Those controversies came here for settlement and were then determined with a full knowledge of the importance of the issues. They should not be now reopened.
The argument, then, it seems to me, reduces itself to this: that the framers well knew the meaning of the word “direct;” that so well understanding it, they practically interpreted it in such a way as to plainly indicate that it had a sense contrary to that now given to it in the view adopted by the court. Although they thus comprehended the meaning of the word and interpreted it at an early day, their interpretation is now to be overthrown by resorting to the economists whose construction was repudiated by them. It is thus demonstrable that the conclusion deduced from the premise that the framers well understood the meaning of the word “direct,” involves a fallacy. In other words, that it draws a faulty conclusion, even if the predicate upon which the conclusion is rested be fully admitted. But I do not admit the premise. The views of the framers cited in the argument conclusively show that they did not well understand, but were in great doubt as to, the meaning of the word “direct.” The use of the word was the result of a compromise. It was accepted as the solution of a difficulty which threatened to frustrate the hopes of those who looked upon the formation of a new government as absolutely necessary to escape the condition of weakness which the Articles of Confederation had shown. Those who accepted the compromise viewed the word in different lights, and expected different results to flow from its adoption. This was the natural result of the struggle which was terminated by the adoption of the provision as to representation and direct taxes. That warfare of opinion had been engendered by the existence of slavery in some of the States, and was the consequence of the conflict of interest thus brought about. In reaching a settlement, the minds of those who acted on it were naturally concerned in the main with the cause of the [p642] contention, and not with the other things which had been previously settled by the convention. Thus, whilst there was in all probability clearness of vision as to the meaning of the word “direct” in relation to its bearing on slave property, there was inattention in regard to other things, and there were, therefore, diverse opinions as to its proper signification. That such was the case in regard to many other clauses of the Constitution has been shown to be the case by those great controversies of the past which have been peacefully settled by the adjudications of this court. Whilst this difference undoubtedly existed, as to the effect to be given the word “direct,” the consensus of the majority of the framers as to its meaning was shown by the passage of the carriage tax act. That consensus found adequate expression in the opinions of the justices in the Hylton case, and in the decree of this court there rendered. The passage of that act, those opinions, and that decree, settled the proposition that the word applied only to capitation taxes and taxes on land.
Nor does the fact that there was difference in the minds of the framers as to the meaning of the word “direct” weaken the binding force of the interpretation placed upon that word from the beginning. For, if such difference existed, it is certainly sound to hold that a contemporaneous solution of a doubtful question, which has been often confirmed by this court, should not now be reversed. The framers of the Constitution, the members of the earliest Congress, the illustrious man first called to the office of Chief Executive, the jurists who first sat in this court, two of whom had borne a great part in the labors of the convention, all of whom dealt with this doubtful question, surely occupied a higher vantage ground for its correct solution than do those of our day. Here, then, is the dilemma: if the framers understood the meaning of the word “direct” in the Constitution, the practical effect which they gave to it should remain undisturbed; if they were in doubt as to the meaning, the interpretation long since authoritatively affixed to it should be upheld.
2d. Nor do I think any light is thrown upon the question of whether the tax here under consideration is direct or indirect [p643] by referring to the principle of “taxation without representation” and the great struggle of our forefathers for its enforcement. It cannot be said that the Congress which passed this act was not the representative body fixed by the Constitution. Nor can it be contended that the struggle for the enforcement of the principle involved the contention that representation should be in exact proportion to the wealth taxed. If the argument be used in order to draw the inference that, because in this instance, the indirect tax imposed will operate differently through various sections of the country, therefore that tax should be treated as direct, it seems to me it is unsound. The right to tax, and not the effects which may follow from its lawful exercise, is the only judicial question which this court is called upon to consider. If an indirect tax, which the Constitution has not subjected to the rule of apportionment, is to be held to be a direct tax because it will bear upon aggregations of property in different sections of the country, according to the extent of such aggregations, then the power is denied to Congress to do that which the Constitution authorizes, because the exercise of a lawful power is supposed to work out a result which, in the opinion of the court, was not contemplated by the fathers. If this be sound, then every question which has been determined in our past history is now still open for judicial reconstruction. The justness of tariff legislation has turned upon the assertion, on the one hand, denied on the other, that it operated unequally on the inhabitants of different sections of the country. Those who opposed such legislation have always contended that its necessary effect was not only to put the whole burden upon one section, but also to directly enrich certain of our citizens at the expense of the rest, and thus build up great fortunes to the benefit of the few and the detriment of the many. Whether this economic contention be true or untrue is not the question. Of course, I intimate no view on the subject. Will it be said that, if tomorrow the personnel of this court should be changed, it could deny the power to enact tariff legislation which has been admitted to exist in Congress from the beginning, upon the ground that such legislation beneficially affects one section or set of people [p644] to the detriment of others within the spirit of the Constitution, and therefore constitutes a direct tax?
3d. Nor, in my judgment, does any force result from the argument that the framers expected direct taxes to be rarely resorted to, and, as the present tax was imposed without public necessity, it should be declared void.
It seems to me that this statement begs the whole question, for it assumes that the act now before us levies a direct tax, whereas the question whether the tax is direct or not is the very issue involved in this case. If Congress now deems it advisable to resort to certain forms of indirect taxation which have been frequently, though not continuously, availed of in the past, I cannot see that its so doing affords any reason for converting an indirect into a direct tax in order to nullify the legislative will. The policy of any particular method of taxation, or the presence of an exigency which requires its adoption, is a purely legislative question. It seems to me that it violates the elementary distinction between the two departments of the government to allow an opinion of this court upon the necessity or expediency of a tax to affect or control our determination of the existence of the power to impose it.
But I pass from these considerations to approach the question whether the inclusion of rentals from real estate in an income tax renders such a tax to that extent “direct” under the Constitution, because it constitutes the imposition of a direct tax on the land itself.
Does the inclusion of the rentals from real estate in the sum going to make up the aggregate income from which (in order to arrive at taxable income) is to be deducted insurance, repairs, losses in business, and four thousand dollars exemption, make the tax on income so ascertained a direct tax on such real estate?
In answering this question, we must necessarily accept the interpretation of the word “direct” authoritatively given by the history of the government and the decisions of this court just cited. To adopt that interpretation for the general purposes of an income tax, and then repudiate it because of one of the elements of which it is composed, would violate every [p645] elementary rule of construction. So also, to seemingly accept that interpretation and then resort to the framers and the economists in order to limit its application and give it a different significance is equivalent to its destruction, and amounts to repudiating it without directly doing so. Under the settled interpretation of the word, we ascertain whether a tax be direct or not by considering whether it is a tax on land or a capitation tax. And the tax on land, to be within the provision for apportionment, must be direct. Therefore we have two things to take into account: is it a tax on land, and is it direct thereon or so immediately on the land as to be equivalent to a direct levy upon it? To say that any burden on land, even though indirect, must be apportioned is not only to incorporate a new provision in the Constitution, but is also to obliterate all the decisions to which I have referred by construing them as holding that, although the Constitution forbids only a direct tax on land without apportionment, it must be so interpreted as to bring an indirect tax on land within its inhibition.
It is said that a tax on the rentals is a tax on the land, as if the act here under consideration imposed an immediate tax on the rentals. This statement, I submit, is a misconception of the issue. The point involved is whether a tax on net income, when such income is made up by aggregating all sources of revenue and deducting repairs, insurance, losses in business, exemptions, etc., becomes, to the extent to which real estate revenues may have entered into the gross income, a direct tax on the land itself. In other words, does that which reaches an income, and thereby reaches rentals indirectly, and reaches the land by a double indirection, amount to direct levy on the land itself? It seems to me the question, when thus accurately stated, furnishes its own negative response. Indeed, I do not see how the issue can be stated precisely and logically without making it apparent on its face that the inclusion of rental from real property in income is nothing more than an indirect tax upon the land.
It must be borne in mind that we are dealing not with the want of power in Congress to assess real estate at all; on [p646] the contrary, as I have shown at the outset, Congress has plenary power to reach real estate both directly and indirectly. If it taxes real estate directly, the Constitution commands that such direct imposition shall be apportioned. But because an excise or other indirect tax, imposed without apportionment, has an indirect effect upon real estate, no violation of the Constitution is committed, because the Constitution has left Congress untrammeled by any rule of apportionment as to indirect taxes — imposts, duties, and excises. The opinions in the Hylton case, so often approved and reiterated, the unanimous views of the text writers, all show that a tax on land, to be direct, must be an assessment of the land itself, either by quantity or valuation. Here there is no such assessment. It is well also to bear in mind, in considering whether the tax is direct on the land, the fact that, if land yields no rental, it contributes nothing to the income. If it is vacant, the law does not force the owner to add the rental value to his taxable income. And so it is if he occupies it himself.
The citation made by counsel from Coke on Littleton, upon which so much stress is laid, seems to me to have no relevancy. The fact that, where one delivers or agrees to give or transfer land with all the fruits and revenues, it will be presumed to be a conveyance of the land in no way supports the proposition that an indirect tax on the rental of land is a direct burden on the land itself.
Nor can I see the application of Brown v. Maryland, 1 Wheat. 419; Weston v. Charleston, 2 Pet. 449; Dobbins v. Erie County Commissioners, 16 Pet. 435;Almy v. California, 24 How. 169; Cook v. Pennsylvania, 97 U.S. 566; Railroad Co. v. Jackson, 7 Wall. 262; Philadelphia &c. Steamship Co. v. Pennsylvania, 122 U.S. 326; Leloup v. Mobile, 127 U.S. 640; Postal Telegraph Co. v. Adams, 155 U.S. 688. All these cases involve the question whether, under the Constitution, if no power existed to tax at all, either directly or indirectly, an indirect tax would be unconstitutional. These cases would be apposite to this if Congress had no power to tax real estate. Were such the case, it might be that the imposition of an excise by Congress which reached real estate indirectly would [p647]necessarily violate the Constitution, because as it had no power in the premises, every attempt to tax directly or indirectly would be null. Here, on the contrary, it is not denied that the power to tax exists in Congress, but the question is, is the tax direct or indirect in the constitutional sense?
But it is unnecessary to follow the argument further, for, if I understand the opinions of this court already referred to, they absolutely settle the proposition that an inclusion of the rentals of real estate in an income tax does not violate the Constitution. At the risk of repetition, I propose to go over he cases again for the purpose of demonstrating this. In doing so, let it be understood at the outset that I do not question the authority of Cohens v. Virginia or Carroll v. Lessee of Carroll, or any other of the cases referred to in argument of counsel. These great opinions hold that an adjudication need not be extended beyond the principles which it decides. Whilst conceding this, it is submitted that, if decided cases do directly, affirmatively, and necessarily, in principle, adjudicate the very question here involved, then, under the very text of the opinions referred to by the court, they should conclude this question. In the first case, that of Hylton, is there any possibility by the subtlest ingenuity to reconcile the decision here announced with what was there established?
In the second case, Insurance Company v. Soule, the levy was upon the company, its premiums, its dividends, and net gains from all sources. The case was certified to this court, and the statement made by the judges in explanation of the question which they propounded says: “The amount of said premiums, dividends, and net gains were truly stated in said lists or returns.” Original Record, p. 27.
It will thus be seen that the issue there presented was not whether an income tax on business gains was valid, but whether an income tax on gains from business and all other net gains was constitutional. Under this state of facts, the question put to the court was:
Whether the taxes paid by the plaintiff, and sought to be recovered back in this action, are not direct taxes within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States. [p648]
This tax covered revenue of every possible nature, and it therefore appears self-evident that the court could not have upheld the statute without deciding that the income derived from realty, as well as that derived from every other source, might be taxed without apportionment. It is obvious that, if the court had considered that any particular subject matter which the statute reached was not constitutionally included, it would have been obliged by every rule of safe judicial conduct to qualify its answer as to this particular subject.
It is impossible for me to conceive that the court did not embrace in its ruling the constitutionality of an income tax which included rentals from real estate, since, without passing upon that question, it could not have decided the issue presented. And another reason why it is logically impossible that this question of the validity of the inclusion of the rental of real estate in an income tax could have been overlooked by the court is found in the fact to which I could have already adverted, that this was one of the principal points urged upon its attention, and the argument covered all the ground which has been occupied here — indeed, the very citation from Coke upon Littleton now urged as conclusive was there made also in the brief of counsel. And although the return of income involved in that case was made “in block,” the very fact that the burden of the argument was that to include rentals from real estate in income subject to taxation made such tax pro tanto direct seems to me to indicate that such rentals had entered into the return made by the corporation.
Again, in the case of Scholey v. Rew, the tax in question was laid directly on the right to take real estate by inheritance, a right which the United States had no power to control. The case could not have been decided, in any point of view, without holding a tax upon that right was not direct, and that, therefore, it could be levied without apportionment. It is manifest that the court could not have overlooked the question whether this was a direct tax on the land or not, because, in the argument of counsel, it was said, if there was any tax in the world that was a tax on real estate which was [p649] direct, that was the one. The court said it was not, and sustained the law. I repeat that the tax there was put directly upon the right to inherit, which Congress had no power to regulate or control. The case was therefore greatly stronger than that here presented, for Congress has a right to tax real estate directly with apportionment. That decision cannot be explained away by saying that the court overlooked the fact that Congress had no power to tax the devolution of real estate, and treated it as a tax on such devolution. Will it be said of the distinguished men who then adorned this bench that, although the argument was pressed upon them that this tax was levied directly on the real estate, they ignored the elementary principle that the control of the inheritance of realty is a state, and not a Federal, function? But even if the case proceeded upon the theory that the tax was on the devolution of the real estate, and was therefore not direct, is it not absolutely decisive of this controversy? If to put a burden of taxation on the right to take real estate by inheritance reaches realty only by indirection, how can it be said that a tax on the income, the result of all sources of revenue, including rentals, after deducting losses and expenses, which thus reaches the rentals indirectly, and the real estate indirectly through the rentals, is a direct tax on the real estate itself?
So it is manifest in the Springer case that the same question was necessarily decided. It seems obvious that the court intended in that case to decide the whole question, including the right to tax rental from real estate without apportionment. It was elaborately and carefully argued there that, as the law included the rentals of land in the income taxed, and such inclusion was unconstitutional, this, therefore, destroyed that part of the law which imposed the tax on the revenues of personal property. Will it be said, in view of the fact that, in this very case, four of the judges of this court think that the inclusion of the rentals from real estate in an income tax renders the whole law invalid, that the question of the inclusion of rentals was of no moment there, because the return there did not contain a mention of such rentals? Were [p650] the great judges who then composed this court so neglectful that they did not see the importance of a question which is now considered by some of its members so vital that the result in their opinion is to annul the whole law, more especially when that question was pressed upon the court in argument with all possible vigor and earnestness? But I think that the opinion in the Springer case clearly shows that the court did consider this question of importance, that it did intend to pass upon it, and that it deemed that it had decided all the questions affecting the validity of an income tax in passing upon the main issue, which included the others as the greater includes the less.
I can discover no principle upon which these cases can be considered as any less conclusive of the right to include rentals of land in the concrete result, income, than they are as to the right to levy a general income tax. Certainly the decisions which hold that an income tax, as such, is not direct decide on principle that to include the rentals of real estate in an income tax does not make it direct. If embracing rentals in income makes a tax on income to that extent a direct tax on the land, then the same word in the same sentence of the Constitution has two wholly distinct constitutional meanings, and signifies one thing when applied to an income tax generally and a different thing when applied to the portion of such a tax made up in part of rentals. That is to say, the word means one thing when applied to the greater and another when applied to the lesser tax.
My inability to agree with the court in the conclusions which it has just expressed causes me much regret. Great as is my respect for any view by it announced, I cannot resist the conviction that its opinion and decree in this case virtually annuls its previous decisions in regard to the powers of Congress on the subject of taxation, and is therefore fraught with danger to the court, to each and every citizen, and to the republic. The conservation and orderly development of our institutions rests on our acceptance of the results of the past and their use as lights to guide our steps in the future. Teach the lesson that settled principles may be overthrown [p651] at any time, and confusion and turmoil must ultimately result. In the discharge of its function of interpreting the Constitution, this court exercises an august power. It sits removed from the contentions of political parties and the animosities of factions. It seems to me that the accomplishment of its lofty mission can only be secured by the stability of its teachings and the sanctity which surrounds them. If the permanency of its conclusions is to depend upon the personal opinions of those who, from time to time, may make up its membership, it will inevitably become a theatre of political strife, and its action will be without coherence or consistency. There is no great principle of our constitutional law, such as the nature and extent of the commerce power, or the currency power, or other powers of the Federal government, which has not been ultimately defined by the adjudications of this court after long and earnest struggle. If we are to go back to the original sources of our political system, or are to appeal to the writings of the economists in order to unsettle all these great principles, everything is lost and nothing saved to the people. The rights of every individual are guaranteed by the safeguards which have been thrown around them by our adjudications. If these are to be assailed and overthrown, as is the settled law of income taxation by this opinion, as I understand it, the rights of property, so far as the Federal Constitution is concerned, are of little worth. My strong convictions forbid that I take part in a conclusion which seems to me so full of peril to the country. I am unwilling to do so without reference to the question of what my personal opinion upon the subject might be if the question were a new one, and was thus unaffected by the action of the framers, the history of the government, and the long line of decisions by this court. The wisdom of our forefathers in adopting a written Constitution has often been impeached upon the theory that the interpretation of a written instrument did not afford as complete protection to liberty as would be enjoyed under a Constitution made up of the traditions of a free people. Writing, it has been said, does not insure greater stability than tradition does, while it [p652] destroys flexibility. The answer has always been that, by the foresight of the fathers, the construction of our written Constitution was ultimately confided to this body, which, from the nature of its judicial structure, could always be relied upon to act with perfect freedom from the influence of faction and to preserve the benefits of consistent interpretation. The fundamental conception of a judicial body is that of one hedged about by precedents which are binding on the court without regard to the personality of its members. Break down this belief in judicial continuity, and let it be felt that, on great constitutional questions, this court is to depart from the settled conclusions of its predecessors and to determine them all according to the mere opinion of those who temporarily fill its bench, and our Constitution will, in my judgment, be bereft of value, and become a most dangerous instrument to the rights and liberties of the people.
In regard to the right to include in an income tax the interest upon the bonds of municipal corporations, I think the decisions of this court holding that the Federal government is without power to tax the agencies of the state government embrace such bonds, and that this settled line of authority is conclusive upon my judgment here. It determines the question that, where there is no power to tax for any purpose whatever, no direct or indirect tax can be imposed. The authorities cited in the opinion are decisive of this question. They are relevant to one case and not to the other because, in the one case, there is full power in the Federal government to tax, the only controversy being whether the tax imposed is direct or indirect, while, in the other, there is no power whatever in the Federal government, and therefore the levy, whether direct or indirect, is beyond the taxing power.
Mr. Justice Harlan authorizes me to say that he concurs in the views herein expressed.