Monday, April 03, 2006

Tax Protesters and the Thirteenth Amendment

There are many, many strange and tenuous arguments that some tax protesters advance to justify not paying their taxes. One of my favorite is the "Phantom 13th Amendment" argument.

There was proposed, in the 11th Congress (1809-11), a constitution to the amendment called the Titles of Nobility amendment. The text read as follows:

If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain, any title of nobility or honour, or shall, without the consent of Congress, accept and retain any present, pension, office or emolument of any kind whatever, from any emperor, king, prince or foreign power, such person shall cease to be a citizen of the United States, and shall be incapable of holding any office of trust or profit under them, or either of them.

The amendment passed the house and senate and has been ratified by 12 states. Technically, it is still pending.

In 1861, the legislature in Colorado printed a copy of this Amendment an entitled it the 13th amendment. Tax protesters take this to somehow mean that the Titles of Nobility amendment is a valid and functioning amendment to the constitution. As such, the argument goes, attorneys employed by the IRS and politicians admitted to the bar are not citizens of the United States because they stick the title "Esquire" at the end of their names. This is a title of nobility.

This argument was summarily dismissed by the judiciary. If you try to raise it in court, it will be considered a frivolous argument and you will be fined.

The argument did pique my curiosity however, and I searched for the history of the Phantom Amendment. What I found had nothing to do with titles of nobilities. Instead, I found that the phrase "Phantom Amendment" applies to a proposed amendment passed by the 36th Congress in 1861, the last year of Buchanan's presidency and the year before Lincoln was elected.

The amendment was proposed by Rep. Corwin following the secession of four (or seven, I don't know) southern states. The text was as follows:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.
12 Stat. 251

Not a pleasant constitutional amendment, but it passed the House and Senate by the slimmest margins. It was then signed by Buchanan, even though the Constitution does not provide that a President can sign (or veto for that matter) a proposed amendment. Thus his signature was meaningless. The amendment was then sent to the states for ratification. Technically, like the Titles of Nobility amendment, Corwin's amendment is still pending. So far, two states have ratified it.

An interesting side note, and another reason to dislike Honest Abe (aside from his suspension of habeas corpus during the civil war) is that during the amendment's consideration in the house and senate, Abe actively lobbied for it's passage. Great emancipator my ass.

Anyway, that's what I did this morning, and I was actually able to get a PDF of the Corwin amendment on LexisNexis.


Blogger Matt said...

I like the idea that there's an argument that, if you bring it, will get your ass fined.

"Yes, that's very clever. Unfortunately for you, that argument is called Pascal's Wager, and by law you now owe me a thousand dollars. Pay up."

4:13 PM  

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