The Supreme Court and the Income Tax.
"Governor, what do you think of the income tax decision?" For more than a century the Supreme Court in numerous decisions held such a law to be constitutional and valid. But this time all concentrated wealth opposed the law and the court has declared it void.
465It is all a question of constitutional construction, and, as this depends on opinion or prejudice, one is reminded of the distinguished Englishman who, in speaking of the Court of Chancery, said that the proceedings were all a matter of conscience and, as the consciences of the different chancellors varied as much as did the size of their feet, so did their decisions on any question. Now, the Constitution of the United States has been construed in more different ways than all of the judges together had feet, but always in harmony with what was the controlling influence or power of the times. Before the war the slave power and the South dominated the court. Since the war concentrated wealth and the East have dominated the court, and the time will come when justice and the great Mississippi Valley will dominate the court.
This particular decision recognizes the divinity of wealth by exempting it from taxation, and it breathes a curse against enterprise by making it bear all the burdens of government. But it is in perfect accord with the Republican and mugwump theory of government now being applied in this country. It also shows that at least two of the co-ordinate branches of our government receive their inspiration at the same altar. You remember that the President opposed the income tax and would not sign the tariff bill, and Mr. Wilson, who represented him in Congress, opposed the income tax. Congress, however, knowing that almost every civilized country had an income tax, that our Supreme Court had sustained it for a century, and believing it to be the most just form of taxation passed the measure, both Republicans and Democrats supporting it. For a time there was bitterness in the camp of Mammon, but the Supreme Court has come to the rescue and now the Standard Oil kings, the Wall Street people, as well as the rich mugwumps, are again happy. To be sure, the great business and producing classes are not relieved; their burden is made a little heavier and the whip has made a new welt on their backs, but what of it? In fact, what are they for, if not to bear burdens and to be lashed?
This decision is radically defective in a number of particulars.
First, it should contain a panegyric on the majesty of the law and the exalted character of eternal justice.
Second, it should have contained a stinging rebuke to the growing discontent of the times.
But it would be unreasonable to expect the court to think of everything. Besides, it will have other opportunities from time to time to solidify our institutions and to teach patriotism by coming down with terrific force on some wretch whose vulgarity and unpatriotic character will be proven by the fact that he is poor.
This decision, however, suggests a most important question to the