THE PROBLEM OF CONCURRENT TAXATION
A few years ago President Harry Truman was reported to have stated: "There was an old man here in Virginia who was a great orator, Patrick Henry, who did his best to defeat the Constitution, and when they wanted me to dedicate a monument to him I wouldn't do it."
It was most natural for Patrick Henry, who had defied one imperial government, to dread the possible creation of another. And it was to be expected that the fiery orator who opposed the Stamp Act in 1765, and was instrumental in the passage of the resolve which declared that Virginia had "the only and sole exclusive right and power to lay taxes . . . upon the inhabitants of this Colony," would equally oppose the taxing provisions of the Constitution.
The speech by Henry before the Virginia ratifying convention, June 5, 1788, is from Elliot, III, pp. 56-58.
I never will give up the power of direct taxation but for a scourge. I am willing to give it conditionally; that is, after non-compliance with requisitions. I will do more, sir, and what I hope will convince the most skeptical man that I am a lover of the American Union--that, in case Virginia shall not make punctual payment, the control of our custom-houses, and the whole regulation of trade, shall be given to Congress, and that Virginia shall depend on Congress even for passports, till Virginia shall have paid the last farthing, and furnished the last soldier. Nay, sir, there is another alternative to which I would consent;--even that they should strike us out of the Union, and take away from us all federal privileges, till we comply with federal requisitions: but let it depend upon our own pleasure to pay our money in the most easy manner for our people. Were all the states, more terrible than the mother country, to join against us, I hope Virginia could defend herself; but, sir, the dissolution of the Union is most abhorrent to my mind. The first thing I have at heart is American liberty; the second thing is American union; and I hope the people of Virginia will endeavor to preserve that union. The increasing population of the Southern States is far greater than that of New England; consequently, in a short time, they will be far more numerous than the people of that country. Consider this, and you will find this state more particularly interested to support American liberty, and not bind our posterity by an improvident relinquishment of our rights. I would give the best security for a punctual compliance with requisitions; but I beseech gentlemen, at all hazards, not to give up this unlimited power of taxation. . . .
In this scheme of energetic government, the people will find two sets of tax- gatherers--the state and the federal sheriffs. This, it seems to me, will produce such dreadful oppression as the people cannot possibly bear. The federal sheriff may commit what oppression, make what distresses, he pleases, and ruin you with impunity; for how are you to tie his hands? Have you any sufficiently decided means of preventing him from sucking your blood by speculations, commissions, and fees? Thus thousands of your people will be