Schumer, Washington, and ‘Exit’ Taxation

by Jack Fowler

Our old friend Richard Samuelson, former NR intern and now a history professor at California State University, San Bernadino, gives a revolutionary perspective to Senator Charles Schumer’s blast at Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s plan to renounce his U.S. citizenship:

Schumer’s attack is fundamentally misguided, and reveals a disturbing attitude toward private property. Should it impose such a tax, the American government would be saying that property is no longer truly private. It would be saying that the American government has a presumptive claim on any and all property “owned” by an American citizen.

That is a far cry from the ideas that made America great. Consider the American revolution. In January, 1777, when times were grim, and the fate of the Union rested on his shoulders, General Washington issued his “Proclamation Concerning Loyalists.” Washington lamented that there might be some who “prefer the interest and protection of Great-Britain to the freedom and happiness of their country.” Leading a revolution built upon the presumptive right of men to choose not to belong to the King, he realized that the same principle applied to those who continued to choose British subjecthood over American citizenship. Hence he declared that such people had “full liberty . . . to withdraw themselves and families within the enemy’s lines.”

General Washington did not demand that such enemies of their native country, as he thought them, should pay an exit tax. The Americans were fighting to protect their property from arbitrary taxation. Loyalists were free to choose loyalty, and they were free to take their personal property with them. If there was, on principle, no exit tax demanded in the darkest days of the American revolution, it is hard to see how one could be justified now.

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