Our Founding Fathers believed in limited government and low taxes. I personally believe that to be self-evident; especially the former (limited government). What was the Constitution in not a limiting document after all?
But I think the two concepts go hand in hand; limited government is impossible without low taxes and the founding fathers were well aware of that... one, in particular.
First of all, our Founding Fathers did not trust government. They knew that it was at best “a necessary evil and in its worst state an intolerable one” as stated by Thomas Paine in Common Sense (1776). If government was a necessary evil to be constantly checked by the alert governed; it was also to be as limited as possible and still provide the security for which it was chosen over the evil of anarchy. So, if government is the lesser of evils, and is to be limited, then for what purpose would we need high taxes? To the contrary, excess money in the treasury would encourage the exact opposite of limited, checked government.
It has been many years since I've read Paine's work, but I remember that it impressed on me his sentiments about government and taxes. These sentiments are as apt (if not more so) today than they were in the late 1700s.
In writing this post, I went back and dug up some of Mr. Paine's writing on the subject; to which I've added my observations. Most of my excerpts are from Mr. Paine’s, The Rights of Man; a book concerning the French Revolution and the English policies against that struggle. In this writing, Mr. Paine often refers to the evils done by unfettered government made possible by high taxes.
I’ve always assumed that those on the left knew (at least subconsciously) that their beliefs were in direct conflict with those of the Founding Fathers. Perhaps they can indulge me with references where the Founding Fathers expressed a desire for big government solutions through money confiscated from the people. Failing that I guess they can inform us that the ideals of the dead white men are obsolete, and that new obscure ideal of "fairness" is the direction of the enlightened... so long as you don't look for details.
Thomas Payne on Government and Taxes:
Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer! Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.
— Thomas Paine (Common Sense, 1776)
♦ This beautifully captures the nature and purpose of government, evil but necessary.
♦ Notice the Judaeo-Christian reference to the Garden of Eden and God.
♦ Notice the importance of private property, a man “finds it necessary to surrender up part of his property (taxes) to furnish means for the protection of the rest. No other purpose of government is even mentioned here.
♦ Finally notice, that the form of government that we must tolerate is whatever form appears most likely to ensure security, with the least expense and greatest benefit.
If, from the more wretched parts of the old world, we look at those which are in an advanced stage of improvement we still find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised to furnish new pretenses for revenue and taxation. It watches prosperity as its prey, and permits none to escape without a tribute.
— Thomas Paine (The Rights of Man, 1791)(Dedicated to George Washington)
♦ Back to the nature of government and its greed for power and revenue. Mr. Paine is not thinking about all the good the government can do with that money. He knows better.
I do not believe that the people of England have ever been fairly and candidly dealt by. They have been imposed upon by parties, and by men assuming the character of leaders. It is time that the nation should rise above those trifles. It is time to dismiss that inattention which has so long been the encouraging cause of stretching taxation to excess. It is time to dismiss all those songs and toasts which are calculated to enslave, and operate to suffocate reflection. On all such subjects men have but to think, and they will neither act wrong nor be misled. To say that any people are not fit for freedom, is to make poverty their choice, and to say they had rather be loaded with taxes than not. If such a case could be proved, it would equally prove that those who govern are not fit to govern them, for they are a part of the same national mass.
— Thomas Paine (The Rights of Man, 1791)
♦ Mr. Paine here states that part of the problem is the English citizenry’s inattention to the excesses of their government; a dire dilemma we now face today.
Excess and inequality of taxation, however disguised in the means, never fail to appear in their effects. As a great mass of the community are thrown thereby into poverty and discontent, they are constantly on the brink of commotion; and deprived, as they unfortunately are, of the means of information, are easily heated to outrage. Whatever the apparent cause of any riots may be, the real one is always want of happiness. It shows that something is wrong in the system of government that injures the felicity by which society is to be preserved.
But as a fact is superior to reasoning, the instance of America presents itself to confirm these observations. If there is a country in the world where concord, according to common calculation, would be least expected, it is America. Made up as it is of people from different nations, accustomed to different forms and habits of government, speaking different languages, and more different in their modes of worship, it would appear that the union of such a people was impracticable; but by the simple operation of constructing government on the principles of society and the rights of man, every difficulty retires, and all the parts are brought into cordial unison. There the poor are not oppressed, the rich are not privileged. Industry is not mortified by the splendid extravagance of a court rioting at its expense. Their taxes are few, because their government is just: and as there is nothing to render them wretched, there is nothing to engender riots and tumults.
— Thomas Paine (The Rights of Man, 1791)
♦ Comparing (1790s) England to the United States, Paine states that the U.S. is made up of people from different nations, speaking different languages, worshiping differently, etc. He says the union of such people seems impracticable; but good government based on the rights of man diffuses these differences. He then proceeds to discuss some of the characteristics of such a society; one of which is “Their taxes are few, because their government is just.” Now (2018) where does the U.S. fall in this description? Have we not moved away from the design of the founding fathers and suffered the very consequences Paine notes aflicts the English?
It is now very probable that the English Government (I do not mean the nation) is unfriendly to the French Revolution. Whatever serves to expose the intrigue and lessen the influence of courts, by lessening taxation, will be unwelcome to those who feed upon the spoil. Whilst the clamour of French intrigue, arbitrary power, popery, and wooden shoes could be kept up, the nation was easily allured and alarmed into taxes. Those days are now past: deception, it is to be hoped, has reaped its last harvest, and better times are in prospect for both countries, and for the world.
— Thomas Paine (The Rights of Man, 1791)
♦ Paine tells how the governments of Old Europe kept is citizenry easily allured and alarmed (through mistrust of other nations) into accepting high taxes. He hopes those days of deception are in the past; and he notes that those who feed upon the spoils of high taxes will not be happy. Unfortunately, this practice continues today proving Solomon right "There is nothing new under the sun". Mankind simply repeats the same mistakes over and over again throughout history.
If you have made it this far thank you. I hope it was worth it. I would leave you with the following conclusions.
1) Government is a necessary evil.
2) Government should be limited and constantly checked by the governed.
3) Government should extract the least expense necessary to perform its limited function.
4) Government that extracts more than necessary is closer to being un-limited, un-checked, and now has the means to impose its true nature.
These universal truths observed by Thomas Paine are as relevant today as they were over 200 years ago. Maybe more so. These truths are not malleable living documents that change over time. They are as unchanging as the laws of physics; AND they are just plain common sense.