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Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. ~ Benjamin Franklin
If you tax too high, the revenue will yield nothing. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. ~ George Bernard Shaw
I'm sure you understand why—taxes, a necessary evil, but perhaps more evil than necessary. ~ Ysabeau S. Wilce

To tax (from Latin taxare: to assess or appraise) is an imposition of a compulsory financial charge or levy upon an individual or legal entity by a state or the functional equivalent of a state in order to support that state.



A to C

  • Welfare should be built of more taxpayers. Not by higher taxes.
    • Anders Borg, Swedish Minister of Finance (2010), said in a speech during the election.
      (In Swedish: "Välfärden skall byggas av fler skattebetalare. Inte av högre skatter.")
  • To please universally was the object of his life; but to tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men.
    • Edmund Burke, speech on American taxation, House of Commons (April 19, 1774); The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. Paul Langford, vol. 2, p. 454 (1981).
  • We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
    • Winston Churchill, “Why I am a Free Trader,” Chapter I in T.W. Stead’s journal Coming Men on Coming Questions (April 13, 1905), bottom p. 9.
  • The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least amount of hissing.
  • And I'm the one who will not raise taxes. My opponent now says he'll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you know that's one resort he'll be checking into. My opponent, my opponent won't rule out raising taxes. But I will. And the Congress will push me to raise taxes and I'll say no. And they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and I'll say, to them, Read my lips: No new taxes!
  • Governments create nothing and have nothing to give but what they have first taken away — you may put money in the pockets of one set of Englishmen, but it will be money taken from the pockets of another set of Englishmen, and the greater part will be spilled on the way. Every vote given for Protection is a vote to give Governments the right of robbing Peter to pay Paul and charging the public a handsome commission on the job.
    • Winston Churchill, “Why I am a Free Trader,” Chapter I in T.W. Stead’s journal Coming Men on Coming Questions (April 13, 1905), bottom p. 9.
  • It has been said, “What does it mean—it is taxpayers’ money.” It is money taken from the pockets of the people of the country; it is taken from the necessities and comforts of the working classes. Agriculture, steel, iron, shipbuilding, are all suffering too, and in some cases and in many parts, the conditions both of hours and labour are worse in those industries than they are in the coal industry, or parts of it. How can you justify the whole country being forced to pay this particular levy almost indefinitely, when there is no prospect of any solution?
  • Note, besides, that it is no more immoral to directly rob citizens than to slip indirect taxes into the price of goods that they cannot do without.
  • World War II was . . . responsible for considerable changes in the U.S. federal income tax. Not only were rates increased, but the base was extended to cover most of the working population. Even as late as 1939, only 6 percent of U.S. citizens had to file an income tax return; by 1945 this had increased to over 70 percent . . . By 1945 the major features of the current federal tax system were in place.
    • Susan B. Hansen, The Politics of Taxation: Revenue Without Representation, New York: NY, Praeger (1983) p. 86.
  • The Inland Revenue is not slow, and quite rightly, to take every advantage which is open to it under the Taxing Statutes for the purposes of depleting the taxpayer’s pocket. And the taxpayer is in like manner entitled to be astute to prevent, so far as he honestly can, the depletion of his means by the Inland Revenue.

E to H

  • If you tax too high, the revenue will yield nothing.
  • When a government taxes you, it takes something you own without your consent. That’s exactly what a thief does. The main difference is that the thief is breaking the law, whereas the government is (usually) taking your money legally.
    • David R. Henderson, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey, Financial Times/Prentice Hall (2002) p. 217.
  • Of all debts men are least willing to pay the taxes. What a satire is this on government! Everywhere they think they get their money’s worth, except for these.
    • Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Politics,” Essays: Second Series, in The Complete Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 1, p. 302 (1929).
  • I’m tired of being told that I have to pay more taxes to “keep people in their homes.” Sure, if they lost their jobs or got sick, I’m willing to help. But if they bought McMansions at three times the price of our paid-off, $250,000 condo, on one-third of my salary, then let the leftwing Congresscritters who passed Fannie and Freddie and the Community Reinvestment Act that created the bubble help them—with their own money.
  • The thugs and bullies of the Internal Revenue Service, as properly befits their disposition, consider the tax rebels, the tax resister, the worst of all criminals . . . The marauders of the Internal Revenue Service, with strict quotas for how much they have to squeeze from taxpayers, descend on ordinary working people like locusts and plague them even unto death.”
    • Karl Hess Dear America, William Morrow (1975) p. 6
  • I don't like the income tax. Every time we talk about these taxes we get around to the idea of 'from each according to his capacity and to each according to his needs'. That's socialism. It's written into the Communist Manifesto. Maybe we ought to see that every person who gets a tax return receives a copy of the Communist Manifesto with it so he can see what's happening to him.
    • T. Coleman Andrews, Commissioner of Internal Revenue, U.S. News & World Report (May 25, 1956)
  • Mr. Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, had interrupted him in a description of his work on electricity to put the impatient inquiry: 'But, after all, what use is it?' Like a flash of lightning came the response: 'Why, sir, there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it!'
    • Michael Faraday, in James Kendall, Michael Faraday, Man of Simplicity, Introduction (1955), p. 14.
  • Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
    • Benjamin Franklin, Letter to M. Leroy (Nov. 13, 1789). Complete Works, vol. 10, ed. John Bigelow (1887-1888).
  • The more the people are discontented with the oppression of taxes; the greater need the prince has of money to distribute among his partisans and pay the troops that are to suppress all resistance, and enable him to plunder at pleasure. There is scarce a king in a hundred who would not, if he could, follow the example of Pharaoh, get first all the peoples money, then all their lands, and then make them and their children servants for ever. . .

I to N

  • Taxes were part of the decurions’ mandate, and often they collected them, but originally taxpayers perceived them as their representatives, as American scholar Benjamin W. Wells noted in the 1920s. If they collected more taxes than expected, they redistributed the surplus among the taxpayers, something which should remain to this day a principle of [taxational] justice but one that not all countries practice.
  • No country ever takes notice of the revenue laws of another.
    • Lord Mansfield, Hohnan v. Johnson (1775), 1 Cowp. 343.
    • Also: "* One nation does not take notice of the revenue laws of another". Lord Mansfield, Planche and another v. Fletcher (1779), 1 Doug. 253. See also per Abbott, C.J., James v. Catherwood (1823), 3 D. & R. 191; per Rolfe, B., Bristow v. Sequeville (1850), 5 Ex. 279.
  • Indoors or out, no one relaxes
    In March, that month of wind and taxes,
    The wind will presently disappear,
    The taxes last us all the year.
  • I am not paying taxes because the overwhelming percentage of the budget goes for war purposes. I do not wish to participate in any phase of the collection of such taxes. I do not even want to act as if I think that anyone, including the government, has a right to punish me for an act which I consider honorable.

O to S

  • The power to tax is not the power to destroy while this Court sits.
  • We don't have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven't taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.
    • Ronald Reagan, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, 1982
  • Members of the privileged groups inside Africa always defend themselves by saying that they pay the taxes which keep the government going. At face value this statement sounds reasonable, but on close examination it is really the most absurd argument and shows total ignorance of how the economy functions. Taxes do not produce national wealth and development. Wealth has to be produced out of nature—from tilling the land or mining metals or felling trees or turning raw materials into finished products for human consumption. These things are done by the vast majority of the population who are peasants and workers. There would be no incomes to tax if the laboring population did not work. The incomes given to civil servants, professionals, merchants, come from the store of wealth produced by the community.
  • One of the main purposes of the colonial taxation system was to provide requisite funds for administering the colony as a field of exploitation. European colonizers insured that Africans paid for the upkeep of the governors and police who oppressed them and served as watchdogs for private capitalists. Indeed, taxes and customs duties were levied in the nineteenth century with the aim of allowing the colonial powers to recover the costs of the armed forces which they dispatched to conquer Africa. In effect, therefore, the colonial governments never put a penny into the colonies. All expenses were met by exploiting the labor and natural resources of the continent; and for all practical purposes the expense of maintaining the colonial government machinery was a form of alienation of the products of African labor.
  • Taxes are the chief business of a conqueror of the world.
  • A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
  • If ... the tax scheme allows enormous intergenerational wealth transfers within families, some families will maintain considerable socioeconomic advantages over others, which allows them to provide better educations and better environments (both residential and familial) for their children, and their children's children. ... Even in a constitutional democracy in which each citizen has a publicly recognized claim to all the basic political and civil liberties, these socioeconomic inequalities would create an informal social hierarchy by birth: some would be born into great wealth and other social and political advantages while others would be born into poverty and its associated disadvantages. ... If, because a social scheme had the characteristics described above, the life prospects of some children were vastly inferior to those of others, it would be reasonable to regard these disadvantaged children as members of the lowest stratum in a descent-based social hierarchy. When such a hierarchy is, and has long been, marked by racial distinctions, equal citizenship, in any meaningful sense, does not obtain. In a society with an established democratic tradition, such a quasi-feudal order does not warrant the allegiance of its most disadvantaged members, especially when these persons are racially stigmatized. Indeed, the existence of such an order creates the suspicion that, despite the society's ostensible commitment to equal civil rights, white supremacy has simply taken a new form.
  • Men who prefer any load of infamy, however great, to any pressure of taxation, however light.
  • It is true that the theory of our Constitution is, that all taxes are paid voluntarily; that our government is a mutual insurance company, voluntarily entered into by the people with each other; that each man makes a free and purely voluntary contract with all others who are parties to the Constitution, to pay so much money for so much protection, the same as he does with any other insurance company; and that he is just as free not to be protected, and not to pay any tax, as he is to pay a tax, and be protected.

    But this theory of our government is wholly different from the practical fact.  The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life.  And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.

    The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets.  But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.

    The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act.  He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit.  He does not pretend to be anything but a robber.  He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a "protector," and that he takes men's money against their will, merely to enable him to "protect" those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection.  He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these.  Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do.  He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful "sovereign," on account of the "protection" he affords you.  He does not keep "protecting" you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands.  He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these.  In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.

    The proceedings of those robbers and murderers, who call themselves "the government," are directly the opposite of these of the single highwayman.

    In the first place, they do not, like him, make themselves individually known; or, consequently, take upon themselves personally the responsibility of their acts.  On the contrary, they secretly (by secret ballot) designate some one of their number to commit the robbery in their behalf, while they keep themselves practically concealed.

  • The law before us, my lords, seems to be the effect of that practice of which it is intended likewise to be the cause, and to be dictated by the liquor of which it so effectually promotes the use; for surely it never before was conceived by any man entrusted with the administration of public affairs, to raise taxes by the destruction of the people.
    • Philip Dormer Stanhope, from a speech in the House of Lords (Feb. 22, 1743), on the Gin Licensing Act, recorded in The Parliamentary History of England to the Year 1803, vol. XII.

T to Z

  • Countries, therefore, when lawmaking falls exclusively to the lot of the poor cannot hope for much economy in public expenditure; expenses will always be considerable, either because taxes cannot touch those who vote for them or because they are assessed in a way to prevent that.
  • In other words, a democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.
  • There should be left only so much to the Hindus that neither, on the one hand, they should become arrogant on account of their wealth, nor, on the other, desert their lands in despair.
    • Ordinance by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, quoted in Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • What is the difference between a taxidermist & a tax-collector? The taxidermist only takes your skin.
    • Mark Twain, Mark Twain’s Notebook, editor, Albert Bigelow Paine, (1st ed.) New York: NY, Harper & Brothers, 1935, p. 379
  • Theft consists of taking a man’s property against his will, regardless of the beneficiary. If the individual has an inalienable right to his own life, liberty and property, then morally his life and property are his to do with as he pleases.
    • David K. Walter, as quoted in Facets of Liberty: A Libertarian Primer, edited L.K. Samuels, Freeland Press (2009), from chapter 9, “Taxation is Theft”, p. 92.
  • An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy.
    • Daniel Webster, McCulloch v. Maryland 17 U.S. 327 (1819). Usually reported as "The power to tax is the power to destroy". Webster, in arguing the case, said: "An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy", 17 U.S. 327 (1819). Chief Justice John Marshall reflected this in his decision, saying: "That the power of taxing it [the bank] by the States may be exercised so as to destroy it, is too obvious to be denied" (p. 427), and "That the power to tax involves the power to destroy … [is] not to be denied" (p. 431).
  • Please understand my position. It is, and has always been, the policy of this House to operate on a cash basis; I'm sure you understand why—taxes, a necessary evil, but perhaps more evil than necessary.
    • Ysabeau S. Wilce, The Lineaments of Gratified Desire (2006), reprinted in Rich Horton (ed.) Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2007, p. 179

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989)

  • In the usual progress of things, the necessities of a nation in every stage of its existence will be found at least equal to its resources.
  • Every good citizen … should be willing to devote a brief time during some one day in the year, when necessary, to the making up of a listing of his income for taxes … to contribute to his Government, not the scriptural tithe, but a small percentage of his net profits.
    • Cordell Hull, remarks in the House, April 26, 1913, Congressional Record, vol. 50, p. 505.
  • If the Government cannot reduce the "terrific" tax burden on the country, I will predict that you will have a depression that will curl your hair, because we are just taking too much money out of this economy that we need to make the jobs that you have to have as time goes on.
    • George M. Humphrey, secretary of the treasury, at a news conference on January 15, 1957, as reported by The New York Times, January 17, 1957, p. 20. On January 16, President Eisenhower sent to Congress a record peacetime budget of $71.8 billion.


  • The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing.
    • Variously attributed to Jean Baptiste Colbert, minister of finance to Louis XIV of France; and Cardinal Mazarin, under whom Colbert served. Reported in Burton Stevenson, ed., The Home Book of Quotations (1967), 10th ed., p. 2300f, no. 5.
  • We shall tax and tax, and spend and spend, and elect and elect.
    • Attributed to Harry L. Hopkins, administrator of the Works Progress Administration. Although Frank R. Kent mentioned the subject of "spending, taxes, and election" in reference to Hopkins in his column, "The Great Game of Politics" (Baltimore, Maryland, Sun, September 25, 1938, p. 1, 16) he first attributed "we are going to spend and spend and spend, and tax and tax and tax, and elect and elect and elect" to Hopkins in the Sun (October 14, 1938), p. 15. Joseph Alsop and Robert Kintner in their column, "The Capital Parade" (Washington, D.C., Evening Star, November 9, 1938, p. A–11), elaborated Hopkins's "probably apocryphal" words to: "Now, get this through your head. We're going to spend and spend and spend, and tax and tax and tax, and re-elect and re-elect and re-elect, until you're dead or forgotten." Arthur Krock, in his column, "In the Nation" (The New York Times, November 10, 1938, p. 26), reported the wording as "we will spend and spend, and tax and tax, and elect and elect". He repeated this wording in The New York Times (November 13, 1938), sec. 4, p. E–3. A letter by Hopkins denying this attributed quotation and a response by Krock were published in The New York Times, November 24, 1938, p. 26. Over the years the quotation attributed to Hopkins has evolved into the wording above.

See also

  • Encyclopedic article on Taxation on Wikipedia
  • The dictionary definition of taxation on Wiktionary