Why are income taxes not equivalent to involuntary servitude. I'm not voluntarily paying taxes, but by working the government is compelling me against my will to pay them.

13th: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

16th: 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.

If I work for others in exchange for payment so that I can afford things, like life liberty and property... How is it that I can be forced to give away a percentage or even a dime of earnings without it being considered involuntary servitude?

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    Even if those clauses were violations of a right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, the declaration of independence is not a legal document and does not detail Americans' rights.
    – Publius
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 13:20
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    The political/theoretical answer is going to depend on political/philosophical school of thought. The practical answer is "because Alexander Fraser Tytler"
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 14:49
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    "for the time it takes to cover the taxes, I'm working for the government against my will." Well, that's not involuntary servitude, because the government is not compelling you to work if you don't want to work at all. It's merely saying that IF you want to do some work, you need to give part of your wages to to government. Involuntary servitude means a situation where someone is compelling you to do work that you do not want to do. Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 17:32
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    @User - heroic edit :)
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 19:41
  • @DVK, I try my best. I will leave it to you to provide the expert answer that the founders never intended an Income Tax. My answer is just the zero% tax bracket! where the government happens not to tax those individuals. The bigger question is why anyone should have to pay income tax.
    – user1873
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 20:53

2 Answers 2


Your premise is flawed, not everyone pays federal income taxes.

As noted in my answer here, 76 million households (46%) pay no federal income taxes. If you include people who pay no payroll taxes either, the number drops significantly, only about 15%.

If you are paying federal incomes taxes, it is because the government thinks you are making enough money to afford it. (approximately $20,000)

As to Involuntary Servitude, some people believe that it is since you are forced to compensate the government against your will. While I would prefer a consumption tax, or at a minimum a flat tax, it is possible to avoid federal taxes (or in some peoples cases, get the government to pay you).

Involuntary servitude is a United States legal and constitutional term for a person laboring against that person's will to benefit another, under some form of coercion other than the worker's financial needs. [...] The Libertarian Party of the United States and other libertarians consider military conscription to be involuntary servitude in the sense of the Thirteenth Amendment. Some libertarians consider compulsory schooling and income taxation forms of involuntary servitude.

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    "If you are paying federal income taxes, it is because the government thinks you are making too much money." This presumes motivation. Given that the existence of an income tax can also just be construed as a measure to generate revenue, an assumption that it's punitive isn't justified.
    – Publius
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 18:40

Although this is not in response to the amendments themselves, I would like to point out that the very concept of a government is derived from the notion that a population decides directly or indirectly to band together and have a selected few govern us. Based on that notion the taxation of all (or the majority) of us to support some of us who spend the money to support all of us as a whole is of course quite sensible, and if there are those who disagree with these notions there is nothing/little stopping them from becoming part of another population.

Now, within the line of thought that the system is reasonable the amendments on the constitution were written with the intention of abolishing slavery as everybody understood it quite well at the time. It is only a modern problem that some people seem to be having trouble comprehending this. The 16th amendment in itself is proof that the 13th amendment wasn't intended to speak of involuntary servitude to the nation, but rather of involuntary servitude within the nation. It is always fun in law to take sentences and term overly literally, but the important thing to be aware of is what the meaning and intention of the law and terms were when they were written down.

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    "if there are those who disagree with these notions there is nothing/little stopping them from becoming part of another population" - that's a very poor argument. You can apply EXACTLY the same argument to Nazi anti-jewish laws; or anti-sodomy laws. Just because the law was passed, it's justness is NOT measured in "if you don't like it, go live somewhere else".
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 3:50
  • Also forcing me to donate my labour to someone else at the point of a gun has very little conceptual difference to indentured servitude. The fact that it's popular doesn't make it any less involuntary.
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 3:52
  • @First comment: Actually even with those governments we shouldn't forget that those were chosen by a democratically chosen representation and exactly there you see that people who disagreed with the notion left the county. If anything it's an argument supporting my notion. Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 12:37
  • @Second comment: What I am arguing about is the intent of the authors of the amendments, they never argued that indentured servitude like you are suddenly defining it is something wrong with, because they did clearly not consider it indentured servitude in the first place. So if you're asking this in the context of the constitution that's the most correct answer. Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 12:39
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    @DVK: That's what my entire answer is about ;-) It can be logically derived by the examination of the context and the very existence of the 16th amendment being added after the 13th amendment. I mean, you would agree too that forced military service is stronger than income taxation, right? And in the case of military service the supreme court has rules in Butler v. Perry 1916 explicitly that the Thirteenth Amendment does not prohibit "enforcement of those duties which individuals owe to the state". Of course that's 'just' the interpretation of the Supreme court, but it does add further support Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 13:01

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