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Shedding light on rights of renters
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In a letter “Why unincorporated,” Dec. 26, the correspondent states “the property I live on probably is not taxed. Well, I only rent here so it is not my fault I do not pay property taxes, …” Nothing could be further from the truth. When the owners of rental property set the rent they include the property tax in their calculation of how much to charge. Thus, in a very real sense the renter is the only one who really pays the tax on rental property, and the owner of the rental property is no more than a tax collector.

Many of our founding fathers subscribed to the mythic idea that people who don’t pay taxes shouldn’t be given the vote, and since renters don’t pay taxes they shouldn’t be given the right to vote. The introduction to the article “For Wider Suffrage” (The Annals of America, Volume 4, page 640) describes the situation better than I ever could.

“The first state constitutions limited the suffrage to property holders. By the first decade of the 19th century, when those early constitutions came under review, there existed a new class of Americans, who did not own land, but who nevertheless felt a vital interest in government and were ready to press for the right to vote. Men like John Adams, Joseph Story, Daniel Webster, James Madison and James Monroe defended the status quo: They foresaw a society divided along economic lines, rent by conflict between rich and poor, and they feared that extension of suffrage would provide the masses with a political weapon with which to attack the rights of property. Liberals denied that the masses had any desire for class conflicts …”

The attitudes and liberals and conservatives haven’t changed very much since then. The fears and phobias of our founding fathers led to some strange ideas on who should vote. Consider the letter “On the Importance of Property for the Suffrage” by John Adams, which is an answer to a letter from James Sullivan.

The Annals of America, Volume 2, pages 422-423, includes the statement: “Is it not equally true that men in general, in every society, who are wholly destitute of property are too little acquainted with public affairs to form a right judgment and too dependent upon other men to have a will of their own.”

And, this from the same letter, even more absurdly:

“ … why exclude women? You will say because their delicacy renders them unfit for practice and experience in the great businesses of life and the hardy enterprises of war, as well as the arduous cares of state.”

One can only wonder what the authors of stuff like that would have thought of Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi and Margaret Thatcher.

I admit that I do not admire our founding fathers as much as others do, e.g., Justice Scalia. In this matter I stand with Benjamin Franklin who in a speech to the constitutional convention wrote “I cannot help expressing a wish that every member doubt a little of his own infallibility.” From the Annals of America, Volume 3, page 163.

I also stand with George Washington who wrote, “ … I do not think we are more inspired, have more wisdom or possess more virtue than those who will come after us.” From the Annals of America, Volume 3, page 238.

Palmer O. Hanson Jr.
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