More than 40 years elapsed (1870-1913) between the ratifications of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Amendments. Much changed in America. The Industrial Revolution took hold, the cities grew, and the Democrat and Republican parties were established as the main forces on the American political landscape. Behind the scenes, however, were two much more powerful developments, developments that would shape a very different federal government for the 20th and early 21st centuries. It is against the backdrop of these two developments that we discuss the four Amendments in today’s post.
The United States of America became United States Corporation
The United States Congress changed the way the country was run in 1871. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution for the United States had authorized the creation of a federal district to be the capitol. On July 16, 1790, in accord with the provisions of those clauses, the Territory was formed in the District of Columbia Act, wherein the “ten mile square” territory was permanently created and made the permanent location of the country’s government: the “territory” included both the land and its actual government. Under that Act, Congress also made the President the civic leader of the local government in all matters in said District. Then, on February 27, 1801, under the second District of Columbia Act, two counties were formed and their respective officers and district judges were appointed. Further, the established town governments of Alexandria, Georgetown and Washington were recognized as constituted and incorporated under the laws of the District, its judges, etc. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly called that Act (of February 27, 1801) the “District of Columbia Organic Act” or the “Charter Act of the District of Columbia” and recognized it as the incorporation of the “municipality” known as the “District of Columbia”. Then, on March 3, 1801, a Supplementary Act added the authority that the Marshals appointed by the respective District Court Judges collectively form a County Commission with the authority to appoint all officers as may be needed in similarity to the respective State officials in the states from which the counties Washington and Alexandria came (i.e., Maryland and Virginia, respectively). So, the District of Columbia has been recognized as a municipal corporation since 1801.
The relationship between the original Constitutional government and the municipal corporation government changed in 1871 when an innocent sounding law called the Act of 1871 created a private corporation owned by the actual government of the District of Columbia and named the District of Columbia Municipal Corporation. According to Team Law : “…[The] government created in that Act was the same form of private government any private corporation has within the operation of its own corporate construct. U.S. Corp is not merely an incorporated municipality (District of Columbia); rather, it is a private corporation (District of Columbia Municipal Corporation) that was lawfully created by our original jurisdiction government.”
Team Law notes elsewhere: “…when you consider the historical facts, the only meaning left for the terms given in the opening paragraph of the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871 (and that which follows) is, the municipal corporation that was created is a private corporation owned by the actual government. Accordingly, the only government created in that Act was the government formed by the mere governing authority any private corporation has within the confines of managing its own corporate construct. Thus, we call it: “Corp. U.S.” We also note Congress reserved the right, granted them in the Constitution, to complete dictatorial authority over their Corp. U.S. construct, without regard for its internal operations or officers. Thus, as a matter of law, Congress can use Corp. U.S. within the ten-mile square of the District of Columbia as they see fit.”
Outside of that specifically defined venue, the only way that Congress could exercise their respective authority was by agreement with other agreeable parties. In order to implement direct income taxation beyond the District of Columbia, for example, they formed the Social Security System. More on that under the Sixteenth Amendment section below.
For additional information on the U.S. government and its exercise of governing authority from 1871 on, click here.
A national system of private banks was created (the Federal Reserve System)
In last week’s blog post, we discussed the unsuccessful attempts to create a national bank during the 19th century. The charter of the Second National Bank was not renewed in 1836. This led to banking “panics” about once every 15-20 years , a situation blamed at least in part on the difficulty of speedy financial transactions across a wide variety of currencies (no central “clearing house” to exchange paper notes and an imbalance between deposits of and demands for funds). Most individual citizens were not directly aware of these panics, but pressure from the bankers for a national banking system continued to grow.
If you aren’t sure how banks make money, control our monetary system, and perpetuate growing debt, I invite you to watch this 2013 entertaining and (fairly) historical video that was also included in last week’s post.
You might also be interested in the banking and family ties between the Rothschilds, the Warburgs, and Jacob Schiff (grandfather of Cong. Adam Schiff), among others.
In an article published in the New York Times in 1907, Paul Warburg – a successful, German-born financier who was a partner at the investment bank Kuhn, Loeb, and Co. and widely regarded as an expert on the banking systems in the United States and Europe – wrote that the United States’ financial system was “at about the same point that had been reached by Europe at the time of the Medicis, and by Asia, in all likelihood, at the time of Hammurabi” (Warburg, 1907).
Just months after Warburg wrote those words, the country was struck by the Panic of 1907. The panic galvanized the US Congress, particularly Republican Senator Nelson Aldrich, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee. In 1908, Aldrich sponsored a bill with Republican Representative Edward Vreeland that, among other things, created the National Monetary Commission to study reforms to the financial system. Aldrich quickly hired several advisers to the commission including: Henry Davison, a partner at J.P. Morgan; and A. Piatt Andrew, an economics professor at Harvard University. Over the next two years, they studied banking and financial systems extensively and visited Europe to meet with bankers and central bankers.
In attendance were: Nelson Aldrich, A. Piatt Andrew (newly appointed as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Department), Henry Davison, Arthur Shelton (Secretary, National Monetary Commission), Frank Vanderlip (President, National City Bank – the New York successor bank to the Second National Bank – and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Department), and Paul Warburg (he had immigrated to the U.S. in 1902 and became a naturalized citizen in 1911; member of the first Board of the Federal Reserve in 1914). There is disagreement about whether Benjamin Strong, Jr. attended the conference. He was certainly well known by the others for his banking acumen and later served as the first President of the Federal Reserve (1914-1928).
Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1912. After considerable discussion regarding the makeup of the Federal Reserve System, the amount of centralization, and how much control would be reserved to the bankers, Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act in 1913 and President Wilson signed it into law on December 23, 1913.
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution for the United States of America says that Congress has the authority “To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures”. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing of the Treasury Department actually prints money and the U.S. Mint (also part of the Treasury Department) produces coin, but it is the Federal Reserve Board of Governors who decide how much money is to be printed and distributed to the banking system, thus controlling the value of the paper money. Although the President appoints the Governors (consent given by the Senate) and the Congress sets the goals for monetary policy, decisions of the Board—and the Fed’s monetary policy-setting body, the Federal Open Market Committee—about how to reach those goals do not require approval by the President or anyone else in the executive or legislative branches of government. Does this seem legal to you?
Woodrow Wilson served two terms as President (1913-1921), so he was in office during passage and ratification of all four of the following Amendments.
TEXT AND COMMENTARY
Note: Article I, section 9, of the Constitution was modified by amendment 16.
The Sixteenth Amendment established the income tax. In the early 20th Century populists of both major parties supported the idea of a tax to “soak the rich”. Multiple attempts to pass laws providing a tax on high incomes were made and failed. Democrats portrayed Republicans as the “party of the rich” and the tactic forced President William Howard Taft to publicly support the principle of income taxes though he strongly opposed such a tax. Momentum for an income tax increased and in 1909, a bill in Congress was close to passing.
Taft and the Republicans devised a political strategy to combat the “party of the rich” label and yet defeat an income tax. On June 16, 1909 Taft sent a message to Congress recommending a constitutional amendment to legalize a federal income tax. The idea was to short-circuit congressional action with a proposal those opposed to the tax believed would never be ratified by the 36 states necessary. However, no politician was positioned to oppose soaking the rich. The proposed Sixteenth Amendment passed the Senate 77-0, and the House (318-14, 1 “present”, and 55 Republicans NOT VOTING) and sent it to the states on July 12, 1909, less than a month after Taft’s message.
Much to the chagrin of those who had proposed the amendment but were opposed to the tax, Secretary of State Philander Knox had received responses from 42 states when he declared the 16th amendment ratified in February of 1913, just a few days before leaving office to make way for the administration of Woodrow Wilson. Knox acknowledged that four of those states (Utah, Conn, R.I. and N.H.) had rejected it, and he counted 38 states as having approved it. However, more than a century after the ratification was declared, many believe that this Amendment is “the law that never was” and should not be enforceable.
There are several arguments for the case that the Sixteenth Amendment is unconstitutional, never properly ratified, or otherwise not applicable. Among the most important are: that the language provided to the states was not the same as that passed by Congress; that the word “repeal” or “repealed” was never used in the final document; that wages are not “income”; that Ohio was not a State at the time the Amendment was ratified by Ohio; and that the Congress did not have the authority to impose a direct tax beyond the limits of the District of Columbia. More information is available in the Sources section below.
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
Note: Article I, section 3 of the Constitution was modified by the 17th amendment.
The Seventeenth Amendment moved the power to elect Senators from the State legislatures to the citizens. It was passed by Congress on May 13, 1912and ratified on April 8, 1913 (less than a year for ratification!). It has, however, been a matter of controversy since its passage during the Progressive era of the early 20th century. As originally conceived, Article I Section 3 of the Constitution was meant to provide a balance of power between each State and its citizens. Since the States ratify treaties and consent to Presidential nominations for federal appointments, it was felt that the States should be represented as co-equal bodies in the Senate with Senators chosen by the State legislators. The people would vote for and be directly represented by delegates to the U.S. House. This distinction between States’ rights and rights of individuals citizens was a fundamental concept to the founders. The main argument against the constitutionality of this Amendment remains that it was not ratified by 100% of the States and, therefore, that it violated Article I, Section 9: “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate”.
This Amendment also altered the procedure for filling vacancies in the Senate, allowing for state legislatures to permit their governors to make temporary appointments until a special election could be held.
Later in the 20th century, conservative voices began to call for the repeal of this Amendment as concerns continued to grow regarding the diminution of States’ rights and the relentless nationalization of political decision-making. As recently as September 2020, Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb) called again for the repeal.
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.
Note: The Eighteenth Amendment would be repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment in 1933.
The Eighteenth Amendment established Prohibition. emerged from the organized efforts of the temperance movement and Anti-Saloon League, which attributed to alcohol virtually all of society’s ills and led campaigns at the local, state, and national levels to combat its manufacture, sale, distribution, and consumption. Most of the organized efforts supporting prohibition involved religious coalitions that linked alcohol to immorality, criminality, and, with the advent of World War I, unpatriotic citizenship. The amendment passed both chambers of the U.S. Congress in December 1917 and was ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states in January 1919. Its language called for Congress to pass enforcement legislation, and this was championed by Andrew Volstead, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who engineered passage of the National Prohibition Act (commonly referred to as the Volstead Act). The act was conceived by Anti-Saloon League leader Wayne Wheeler and passed over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson.
After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
The Nineteenth Amendment guaranteed American women the right to vote. Achieving this milestone required a lengthy and difficult struggle; victory took decades of agitation. Beginning in the mid-19th century, woman suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered radical change.
The Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878 but was not ratified until 1920, due to Democrat opposition. During that time, the Republicans re-introduced the Amendment EVERY SINGLE YEAR for 40 years. Meanwhile, champions of voting rights for women worked tirelessly through a variety of strategies. Some tried to pass suffrage acts in each State; in fact, nine western states had adopted woman suffrage legislation by 1912. Others challenged male-only voting laws in the courts. More public tactics included parades, silent vigils, and hunger strikes. Supporters were heckled, jailed, and sometimes physically abused.
By 1916, most of the major suffrage organizations united behind the goal of a constitutional amendment. Democrat opposition continued unabated, but two critical factors changed. First, New York State adopted woman suffrage in 1917. Second, Republicans won a huge majority in Congress after President Wilson broke his promise to keep the Unites States out of World War I. President Wilson changed his position to support an Amendment in 1918, and the political balance shifted.
In May of 1919, Republican James R. Mann reintroduced the 19th Amendment in the House and it finally passed. The Republicans voted in favor of the amendment 200-14. These 200 GOP votes constituted a majority, so some Democrats reluctantly faced reality. Nonetheless, 40 percent of the much-diminished Democratic caucus still voted, “Nay.” Shortly thereafter a now Republican-controlled Senate also passed it, clearing the way for ratification by the States. But the Democratic resistance was by no means dead. They did their level best to prevent the Amendment from being ratified but failed: When the Amendment was submitted to the states, 26 of the 36 states that ratified it had Republican legislatures. Of the nine states that voted against ratification, eight were Democrat. (link in Sources below)
On May 21, 1919, the House of Representatives passed the amendment, and the Senate followed two weeks later. When Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, the amendment was adopted. While decades of struggle to include African Americans and other minority women in the promise of voting rights remained, the face of the American electorate had changed forever.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
It is breathtaking to realize that four Amendments to the Constitution became law within 7 years under a single President. During most of this time, the Democrat party was in control and passed the income tax, the diminution of States’ rights through direct election of Senators, and the limitation of citizen rights to enjoy alcohol (under Prohibition, passed in December of 1917). When the power shifted to Republican majorities in Congress in 1918, women finally got the right to vote. We don’t always think to investigate how the parties voted historically on legislation, but party bloc voting in the case of each of these Amendments showed starkly the mindset of each: the Democrats pushed to strengthen and enlarge the powers of the Federal government over both States and individual citizens, and the Republicans continued their fight to get the right to vote for all adults (strengthening the power and voice of individual citizens). There were certainly individual legislators who broke from bloc voting (this did and still does usually happen among Republicans), but the two major parties had definitely established their “personalities” by 1920.
As we approach the 2020 Presidential election, we have an opportunity to decide whether we want to continue to change the relationship between the Federal government and the States and citizens away from the balances outlined by the framers of the Constitution for the United States of America or whether we want to support a return to the founding principles.
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Act of 1871
“The Law That Never Was: The Fraud of the 16th Amendment and Personal Income Tax”, William J. Benson and Martin J. “Red” Beckman, 1985 (hardcover, weighs 5.5 pounds!)
Federal Reserve and IRS
http://theperilousfight.us/cool_timeline/1913-the-federal-reserve-act/ (Federal Reserve)
http://www.mindcontagion.org/banking/hb1910.html (Federal Reserve)
https://modernhistoryproject.org/mhp?Article=FinalWarning&C=2.2 (Federal Reserve)
http://www.mindcontagion.org/banking/hb1913.html (Federal Reserve and IRS)
corbettreport.com/federalreserve (central banking in America from 18th through 21st century – excellent overview of the topic)
Banking Panics 1873-1933