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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: December 2012



As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible…but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it.…The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

George Washington's Farewell Address, 1796

Tax policy provides illuminating perspectives on politics, particularly in the United States. Perhaps the most resonant protest leading to the American War for Independence was the colonists’ denunciation of taxation without representation, and taxation has continued to spark political conflict ever since. From the early battles between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians to the contemporary partisan clashes over taxes and “big government,” tax policy has helped define American parties and shape American political development.

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