Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

*

*

*

*

*

*

enforced subtraction from the yield of all the owner's real or personal property, in the manner prescribed, is so different from a tax upon the property itself, that it is not a direct, but an indirect tax, in the meaning of the Constitution.

We know of no reason for holding otherwise than that the words "direct taxes," on the one hand, and "duties, imposts and excises," on the other, were used in the Constitution in their natural and obvious sense. Nor, in arriving at what those terms embrace, do we perceive any ground for enlarging them beyond, or narrowing them within, their natural and obvious import at the time the Constitution was framed and ratified.

The reasons for the clauses of the Constitution in respect of direct taxation are not far to seek. The States, respectively, possessed plenary powers of taxation. They could tax the property of their citizens in such manner and to such extent as they saw fit; they had unrestricted powers to impose duties or imposts on imports from abroad, and excises on manufactures, consumable commodities, or otherwise. They gave up the great sources of revenue derived from commerce; they retained the concurrent power of levying excises, and duties if covering anything other than excises; but in respect of them the range of taxation was narrowed by the power granted over interstate commerce, and by the danger of being put at disadvantage in dealing with excises and manufactures. They retained the power of direct taxation, and to that they looked as their chief resource; but even in respect of that, they granted the concurrent power, and if the tax were placed by both governments on the same subject, the claim of the United States had preference. Therefore, they did not grant the power of direct taxation without regard to their own condition and resources as States; but they granted the power of apportioned direct taxation, a power just as efficacious to serve the needs of the general government, but securing to the States the opportunity to pay the amount apportioned, to recoup from their own citizens in the most feasible way, and in harmony with their system of local self-government. If, in the changes of wealth and population in particular States, apportionment produced inequality, it was an inequality stipulated for, just as the equal representation of the States, however small, in the Senate, was stipulated for. The Constitution ordains affirmatively that each State shall have two members of that body, and negatively that no State shall by amendment be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate without its consent. The Constitution ordains affirmatively that representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States according to numbers, and negatively that no direct tax shall be laid unless in proportion to the enumeration.

The founders anticipated that the expenditures of the States, their counties, cities, and towns, would chiefly be met by direct taxation on accumulated property, while they expected that those of the Federal government would be for the most part met by in

* * * *

direct taxes. And in order that the power of direct taxation by the general government should not be exercised, except on necessity; and, when the necessity arose, should be so exercised as to leave the States at liberty to discharge their respective obligations, and should not be so exercised, unfairly and discriminately, as to particular States or otherwise, by a mere majority vote, possibly of those whose constituents were intentionally not subjected to any part of the burden, the qualified grant was made. Those who made it knew that the power to tax involved the power to destroy, and that, in the language of Chief Justice Marshall, in McCulloch v. Maryland, "the only security against the abuse of this power is found in the structure of the government itself. In imposing a tax, the legislature acts upon its constituents. This is, in general, a sufficient security against erroneous and oppressive taxation.' 4 Wheat. 428. And they retained this security by providing that direct taxation and representation in the lower house of Congress should be adjusted on the same measure.

Moreover, whatever the reasons for the constitutional provisions, there they are, and they appear to us to speak in plain language.

It is said that a tax on the whole income of property is not a direct tax in the meaning of the Constitution, but a duty, and, as a duty, leviable without apportionment, whether direct or indirect. We do not think so. Direct taxation was not restricted in one breath, and the restriction blown to the winds in another.

The Constitution prohibits any direct tax, unless in proportion to numbers as ascertained by the census; and, in the light of the circumstances to which we have referred, it is not an evasion of that prohibition to hold that a general unapportioned tax, imposed upon all property owners as a body for or in respect of their property, is not direct, in the meaning of the Constitution, because confined to the income therefrom.

Whatever the speculative views of political economists or revenue reformers may be, can it be properly held that the Constitution, taken in its plain and obvious sense, and with due regard to the circumstances attending the formation of the government, authorizes a general unapportioned tax on the products of the farm and the rents of real estate, although imposed merely because of ownership and with no possible means of escape from payment, as belonging to a totally different class from that which includes the property from whence the income proceeds.

There can be but one answer unless the constitutional restriction is to be treated as utterly illusory and futile, and the object of its framers defeated. We find it impossible to hold that a fundamental requisition, deemed so important as to be enforced by two provisions, one affirmative and one negative, can be refined away by forced distinctions between that which gives value to property, and the property itself.

Nor can we perceive any ground why the same reasoning does not apply to capital in personalty held for the purpose of income or

*

*

*

ordinarily yielding income, and to the income therefrom. All the real estate of the country, and all its invested personal property, is open to direct operation of the taxing power if an apportionment be made according to the Constitution. The Constitution does not say that no direct tax shall be laid by apportionment on any other property than land; on the contrary, it forbids all unapportioned direct taxes; and we know of no warrant for excepting personal property from the exercise of the power, or any reason why an apportioned direct tax cannot be laid and assessed, as Mr. Gallatin said in his report when Secretary of the Treasury in 1812, “upon the same objects of taxation on which the direct taxes levied under the authority of the State are laid and assessed.” *

The stress of the argument is thrown, however, on the assertion that an income tax is not a property tax at all; that it is not a real estate tax, or a crop tax, or a bond tax; that it is an assessment upon the taxpayer or account of his money-spending power as shown by his revenue for the year preceding the assessment; that rents received, crops harvested, interest collected, have lost all connection with their origin, and although once not taxable, have become transmuted in their new form into taxable subject-matter; in other words, that income is taxable irrespective of the source from whence it is derived.

We have considered the act only in respect of the tax on income derived from real estate, and from invested personal property, and have not commented on so much of it as bears on gains or profits from business, privileges, or employments, in view of the instances in which taxation, on business, privilege, or employments has assumed the guise of an excise tax and been sustained as such.

Being of opinion that so much of the sections of this law as lays a tax on income from real and personal property is invalid, we are brought to the question of the effect of that conclusion upon these sections as a whole.

It is elementary that the same statute may be in part constitutional and in part unconstitutional, and if the parts are wholly independent of each other, that which is constitutional may stand, while that which is unconstitutional will be rejected. And in the case before us there is no question as to the validity of this act, except sections twenty-seven and thirty-seven, inclusive, which relate to the subject which has been under discussion; and as to them we think the rule laid down by Chief Justice Shaw in Warren v. Charlestown, 2 Gray, 84, is applicable, that if the different parts "are so mutually connected with and dependent on each other, as conditions, considerations or compensations for each other, as to warrant a belief that the legislature intended them as a whole, and that, if all could not be carried into effect, the legislature would not pass the residue independently, and some parts are unconstitutional, all the provisions which are thus dependent, conditional or connected, must fall with them.”

According to the census, the true valuation of real and personal property in the United States in 1890 was $65,037,091,197, of which real estate with improvements thereon made up $39,544,544,333. Of course, from the latter must be deducted, in applying these sections, all unproductive property and all property whose net yield does not exceed four thousand dollars; but, even with such deductions, it is evident that the income from realty formed a vital part of the scheme for taxation embodied therein. If that be stricken out, and also the income from all invested personal property, bonds, stock, investments of all kinds, it is obvious that by far the largest part of the anticipated revenue would be eliminated, and this would leave the burden of the tax to be borne by professions, trades, employments, or vocations; and in that way what was intended as a tax on capital would remain in substance a tax on occupations and labor. We cannot believe that such was the intention of Congress. We do not mean to say that an act laying by apportionment a direct tax on real estate and personal property, or the income thereof, might not also lay excise taxes on business, privileges, employments, and vocations. But this is not such an act; and the scheme must be considered as a whole. Being invalid as to the greater part, and falling, as the tax would, if any part were held valid, in a direction which could not have been contemplated except in connection with the taxation considered as an entirety, we are constrained to conclude that sections twenty-seven to thirty-seven, inclusive, of the act, which became a law without the signature of the President on August 28, 1894, are wholly inoperative and void.

Our conclusons may, therefore, be summed up as follows:

First. We adhere to the opinion already announced, that, taxes on real estate being indisputably direct taxes, taxes on the rents or income of real estate are equally direct taxes.

Second. We are of opinion that taxes on personal property, or on the income of personal property, are likewise direct taxes.

Third. The tax imposed by sections twenty-seven to thirty-seven, inclusive, of the act of 1894, so far as it falls on the income of real estate and of personal property, being a direct tax within the meaning of the Constitution, and, therefore, unconstitutional and void because not apportioned according to representation, all those sections, constituting one entire scheme of taxation, are necessarily invalid. The decrees hereinbefore entered in this court will be vacated;

the decrees below will be reversed, and the cases remanded, with instructions to grant the relief prayed.

Note.-On February 25, 1913, the XVI Amendment, authorizing Congress to lay and collect taxes on incomes without apportionment was proclaimed in force, and under the authority of this Amendment, on October 3, 1913, Congress enacted the Federal Income Tax Law, which will be found analyzed in the Appendix.

KNOWLTON v. MOORE.

178 U. S., 41. 1900.

The Act of Congress of June 13th, 1898, known as the War Revenue Act, imposed a tax on all personal property passing by will or under the intestate laws of a State, to lineal or collateral heirs. The rate of the tax was graduated according to the amount of the legacy or interest and the relationship to the decedent of the party receiving the same. It was further provided that the tax should be imposed only upon legacies or interests exceeding the sum of ten thousand dollars. One Edwin Knowlton died in Brooklyn, N. Y., in October, 1898, and his will was probated and the executors duly qualified. Moore, the Collector of Internal Revenue, demanded of the executors a full statement showing the amount of the personal estate of the deceased, and the legatees and distributees. The collector levied a tax on the legacies and distributive shares, but in fixing the rate considered the whole of the personal estate of the deceased, and not the amount coming to each individual legatee under the will. As the personal estate which the deceased (Knowlton) left amounted to over two and a half millions of dollars and the rates under the statute were progressive from a low rate on legacies amounting to $10,000, to a high rate on those exceeding $1,000,000, this decision greatly increased the aggregate amount of the taxation. The tax was assessed at $42,084.67. The executors paid the tax under protest and sued in the Circuit Court to recover the amount paid on the grounds (1) That the act was unconstitutional; (2) That the rate of the tax was improperly fixed by the assessor. The Circuit Court dismissed the suit, whereupon the executors appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.

(The first portion of the opinion is devoted to a historical discussion of inheritance and legacy taxes, or "death duties," as they are also known, in England, France and Germany, and the early forms of such taxes in this country. It explains that it is to the passage of property by will or by descent in cases of intestacy, that taxes of this character relate, as distinguished from taxes on property because of its ownership and possession. Such taxes are collected in France and Germany as stamp duties and are regarded as indirect taxes. In England death duties or succession taxes were known since 1694, and were collected on real estate and interests in personal property passing at time of death. In the United States, Congress imposed a legacy tax as early as 1797, and again in 1862 a similar act was passed. In 1864 Congress enacted a law which largely increased both the probate duty or tax on the whole estate and the legacy tax on each particular legacy or distributive share. The same act also added a tax on real estate passing to all except certain descendants. Finally the Act of Congress of August 27, 1894, was in part a legacy tax, though denominated an income tax law. This Act was never enforced, however, its provisions

« AnteriorContinuar »