[IMGCAP(1)]Sitting at my desk, just over a mile’s walk from Independence Hall, the site where John Hancock famously put his signature on the Declaration of Independence, I can’t help but reflect on why we celebrate the Fourth of July.
When we think of the Fourth, our minds typically jump to fireworks, parades, barbeques, baseball and family reunions, amongst many other time-honored traditions. One thing you may never think about during this celebration of our country’s independence is taxes. However, taxes are intrinsically linked to the revolution that led to our nation’s freedom.
We mustn’t forget why we commemorate this day each year. One of the freedoms our forefathers fought for was the right to create our own tax system, one in which we were taxed only by our own elected officials. The American Revolution was in part spurred by the phrase “taxation without representation is tyranny.” It was neither a complaint nor an objection to the idea of taxes, but rather to the lack of representation among those who decided what the taxes would be. Simply put, it was a concern about “consent.”
When Britain imposed a series of direct taxes on the American colonies, later known as the Stamp Act, followed by the Intolerable Acts, many colonists considered the laws to be illegitimate and a violation of their rights as Englishmen. The colonists were not objecting on the grounds that the taxes were high (they were, in fact, low), but rather that they had no representation in Parliament. Parliament insisted it had the right to levy any tax without colonial approval to demonstrate that it had authority over the colonies.
Today, thanks to the tireless efforts of our founding fathers, we have in place a system that allows us to elect officials of our choosing, who in turn are charged with the task of creating the tax laws that will benefit us most as a society, not necessarily as individuals. This year being an election year provides a fitting backdrop for reflecting on these freedoms. Tax policies are always a hotly debated topic each election season, and we are afforded the opportunity to hear each candidate’s stance before we decide which individual to vote for and who will ultimately represent us at the table for tax law formation. Unlike our colonial predecessors, we are able to choose our own representation to sit amongst the group of policymakers.
Although no individual or company can be said to enjoy paying taxes, and while our Tax Code is complicated and far from perfect (you could count the number of pages in the Tax Code in 1776 on one hand; today it stands at a staggering length of more than 16,000 pages), we in America have the freedom to debate our tax laws without fear of retaliation. We can have open and honest discussions about how our tax revenues are spent. One might, in fact, say that we are privileged to be able to pay taxes; it’s part of our patriotic duty as Americans in a free democracy.
So when you’re sitting with your family and friends watching the fireworks show this Fourth of July, don’t forget to appreciate what those men and women fought for more than 230 years ago. I am not asking you to dedicate your Independence Day celebration to taxes, nor would I expect you to. But rather, I hope you will stop for just one moment to acknowledge and be grateful for the freedoms and privileges we have because of those brave men and women.
Bob Ciaruffoli is CEO of ParenteBeard, a top 25 accounting and tax services firm with offices throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
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