The Progressive Era
In the past 218 years since ratification of the Bill of Rights, only seventeen amendments have been added to our Constitution. Except for the Civil War Amendments involving the rights of former slaves and a few other issues growing out of the war, most are minor adjustments to the various articles of the Constitution. However, two of the four Amendments ratified during the Progressive Era (1896-1932) have proven by experience to be disastrous to the structure of Government established by the Framers, and leads directly to the current attempted statists takeover of the Government by President Barack Obama and his socialist supporters. Both were proposed during the term of Republican President William Howard Taft and ratified in1913 during the administration of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson.
Sixteenth Amendment—Income Tax
“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” Amendment 16, Ratified February 3, 1913
The Progressive Era was one of the high points in the advancement of the socialist movement in America; this in spite of the fact that the socialists parties never garnered more than nine percent of the vote in presidential elections. Since Marx’s Communist Manifesto, a goal of socialism had always been the establishment of a graduated, progressive income tax for the redistribution of wealth. The Sixteenth Amendment provided the opportunity to realize that goal.
Although the Socialist Parties themselves were never able to muster a significant amount of support at the polls, their ideas permeated much of society at the turn of the twentieth century. It was during the Progressive Era that we got the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Trade Commission, the Hepburn Act strengthening the ICC, four constitutional amendments and the Federal Reserve Bank. In the Presidential Elections of 1912, all four presidential candidates—Democrat Woodrow Wilson, Republican William Howard Taft, Progressive Theodore Roosevelt, and Socialist Eugene Debs—supported the income tax.
When the income tax first came into force, the rate was 7% on the wealthiest earners. Four years later the top marginal rate was 77%, an eleven-fold increase. The tax code today is over 40,000 pages and is used as much for social engineering and wealth redistribution as it is for the constitutional purpose of funding the essential functions of government.
The Sixteenth Amendment repeals Article One, section nine, clause four of the Constitution. It does not repeal clause one in section eight which limits taxes to paying the public debt and funding the enumerated functions of government. Nowhere does the Constitution authorize a progressive income tax. In fact, it could be argued that a progressive tax violates the principle of uniformity called for in Article One, section eight, clause one.
Seventeenth Amendment—Election of Senators
Socialists, liberals, and progressives habitually use language in a cynical and misleading way to promote their agenda. One of their favorites is “the people”. However, when they speak of the people they are usually talking about the people in mass, not as individuals. The masses are easily controlled and generally follow the leadership of demigods in herd-like fashion. On the other hand, when conservatives speak of “the people” they are referring to a consensus of individuals each acting in their own self-interest.
Because the masses are so easily influenced by populist rhetoric, progressives cloak their agenda in appeals to democracy and democratic ideals, overlooking the fact that the Constitution was constructed as it is specifically to guard against the fickle whims of the uninformed or misinformed masses. This accounts for the continued attempts to eliminate the Electoral College. It also provided the impetus for the popularity of the Seventeenth Amendment providing for the popular election of Senators.
“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote…” Amendment Seventeen, Ratified April 8, 1913
There is no denying the popular appeal of the idea of electing members of the Senate by the popular vote of the people rather than by the State Legislatures. However, this change in the structure of government, more than any other, is responsible for the transformation from a federal to a national government abolishing the sovereignty of the states.
After ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment the accountability of Senators shifted from State Legislatures to the people and ultimately to the political parties. One of the last important changes of the Progressive Era was the formalization of authority, in 1925, in the office of the Senate Majority Leader replacing the constitutional authority of the President of the Senate held by the Vice President for the first 135 years of our existence as a Constitutional Republic. This change cemented the loyalty of Senators to their party leadership rather than the interest of their states or the country.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, one of the consequences of the Seventeenth Amendment was the shift of power from the state legislatures to the Congress in Washington, in effect, nullifying the Tenth Amendment. For more than a century, the Senate had been the guardian of the Tenth Amendment. As representatives of the state legislatures, Senators were sensitive to efforts by Congress to usurp the authority of the states and succeeded, for the most part, in preventing the federal government from establishing a tyranny over the lives of the people.
The doctrine that facilitated the eventual decline in state power and the increase in federal power was “supremacy of federal law”. Constitutionally that supremacy is limited. The doctrine is found in Article VI of the Constitution which reads:
“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof…shall be the supreme law of the land.” Article VI, Clause 2.
Just as the proponents of big government overlook the phrase “foregoing powers” in the so-called “elastic clause” of Article One, here they overlook the phrase “in pursuance thereof”. Federal law is supreme only when the law is in pursuance to the requirements and limitations of the Constitution. A countering doctrine to the supremacy of federal law is one that appears often in the writings of the founders and in opinions handed down by early Supreme Courts.
That doctrine holds that unconstitutional acts of Congress are null and void and should not be binding on the states or citizens of the states. In Marbury vs. Madison, for example, Justice John Marshall wrote in the Majority Opinion, “Laws repugnant to the Constitution are null and void.” While the federal government has the police power to enforce adherence to unconstitutional laws, that does not make them constitutional or legal.
The abuse of these two amendments has done more to promote the federal tyranny we are experiencing today under the Obama administration than any other, with the possible exception of the exploitation of the “equal protection” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.