Presidential History

FDR: Tax Increases Don't Apply to Me


he looks so happy!

FDR's presidency was marked by more than a little chutzpah—22nd Amendment, anyone?—but there was perhaps no move more purely, willfully brass-balled than his personal tax scheme, described by Sarah Lawsky at TaxProfBlog:

Throughout his first term, President Franklin Roosevelt paid taxes at the rates in effect when he took office, even as statutory tax rates increased. His position was that paying tax at a rate higher than that in effect at his inauguration reduced his salary, which violated the Constitutional provision that states that the president's compensation "shall be neither increased nor diminished during the period for which he shall have been elected."

From Roosevelt's 1937 return [PDF], this note:

"I am wholly unable to figure out the amount of tax for the following reason," he writes. "The first twenty days of January, 1937, were part of my first term of office and to these twenty days the income tax rates as of March 4, 1933 apply. To the other 345 days of the year 1937, the income tax rates as they existed on January 30, 1937. As this is a problem in higher mathematics, may I ask that the Bureau let me know the amount of the balance due?"

Among execs, Roosevelt seems to have been alone in trying out this line of reasoning. Judges, who enjoy the protection of similar constitutional language about their compensation, have tried the Roosevelt gambit too. In the 1920s, the Supreme Court ruled that judges' salaries, including their own, should be tax exempt. But by 1939 and again in 2001, the Court decided their paychecks were taxable after all, suggesting that they wouldn't go for this reasoning if Obama tried it on them these days.

See a page of FDR's return here.

NEXT: Eat the Rich: Oregon's Solution to Its Fiscal Crisis

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  1. I didn’t know that FDR was a tax protester. They left that out of the history books.

    1. Oh yea. He was a huge Wesley Snipes fan before it was cool to be a Wesley Snipes fan!

      1. His favorite was White Men Can’t Jump.

        1. He used to invite Lyndon Larouche to the White House movie theater for private screenings.

        2. No, no, no. It was Jungle Fever.

  2. . . . suggesting that they wouldn’t go for this reasoning if Obama tried it on them these days.

    Sounds more like a hypnotherapy-type suggestion. Let’s see if his tax return is on the up-and-up as at least two of the last three occupants of the Oval Office.

  3. FDR couldn’t do algebra?

    1. Dude! He had polio and started the March of Dimes instead of the March of Dollars. Connect the dots.

    2. I was thinking along that that line when I read the “higher mathematics” quote. Sure he was simply concocting a lie to cover his unethical and hypocritical actions, but he set himself up to be judged by some future historian as ‘FDR – the president who had incredible difficulty with even simple math.’

    3. Looking at the man’s legislative legacy, is it really any surprise he was functionally innumerate?

    4. That logic has no leg to stand on.

  4. Wow! Democrats were exempting themselves from laws a lot longer ago than I thought…

  5. Dude, thats incredible. Seems to make pretty good sense dude and I like it.


    1. On fire today i see.

      OHHMMMM…i mean r=v/i

  6. Only the little people pay taxes.

  7. Another Leftist Found To Be Tax Cheat
    Film at 11.

    1. Another Leftist Politician Found To Be Tax Cheat
      Film at 11.


      1. They do trend Leftist.

        1. True, but not everything evil comes to us from the left. The right has some pretty evil habits as well…

          1. Yeah, like clipping their toenails in the living room even though I’ve asked that they do in their own bathroom. Fucking assholes.

          2. The left has no monopoly on evil, I can’t see how Sugar Free or Buzz Saw implied they did. What the New Left does do is use a bunch of populist rhetoric to give the impression to the not so bright that they are funded by $1 donations from impovershed common working Americans like George Soros or the Hollywood elite. Of course that’s all much different, it’s “cool” cash, like the kind one would expect to find in a bundle just pulled from a freezer, so it should be expected that kind of rhetoric will bring increased scrutiny upon those selling it when they expose themselves to be dishonest hypocrites who exempt themselves from the rules they make for everyone else.

            1. You have my apology, You were agreeing with Buzz Saw, somehow that slipped my mind as I wrote my comment.

    2. What happened to the list of over 500 Americans who were cheating the tax man by “hiding” all those billions in the Swiss bank accounts. Obama’s man was all over the radio telling us how the complete list of names was going to be made public so we’d know who was cheating “us” out of taxes. A day or two later the list was only three hundred and something long that’s the last I heard of it.

      On the day the first report was on the radio I told my crew riding the truck with me to keep an eye on the story as it unfolds, because the list will shrink as leftists are removed from it and given their free passes. Well, there wasn’t much story to follow. After a little cross referencing with the Obama donor list the “tax cheat” list wasn’t long enough to be worth “embarrassing” those on it any longer. Just a hunch, but something tells me the only real “embarrassment” would’ve been to the administration if the names cleared from the list ever became public.

  8. FDR was s0 pissy about his taxes because he had no money of his own. His father’s will left his entire estate to FDR’s mother, Sarah Delano Roosevelt, who didn’t die until 1943. She gave him an allowance to live on. (Eleanor hated her. I wonder why.)

    When Hitler invaded France, Sarah told FDR to send a battleship to Paris to pick up her sister, who was living there. “I can’t do that, Mother,” FDR replied. “Then what’s the point of being President?”

    1. No wonder FDR was a prick… his mom didn’t give him “his” money.

      And thus, the modern Democrat was born.

    2. Sounds like healthy mother/son relationship to me.

      1. Agreed.

        1. Also agreed.

      2. Sounds like a text book Ostupidus Complex.

    3. It sounds like Sarah had a shaky grasp of geography and nautical affairs. Send a battleship to Paris? Really? Sail it up the Seine?

  9. The simplest way to crush someone who promotes more taxation is just to ask them “if there were a lottery each year in the US, and the winner didn’t have to pay any taxes that year, and you won, would you pay?”

    Only the most slimily mendacious asshole will have the balls to say “yes”. Anyone else with a shred of honesty will admit that they would not pay. And thus you expose the core truth about taxation: deep down, everyone knows it’s theft, but they don’t care when it’s other people’s money.

    1. True, but as you say, they don’t care. They’re vampires.

      1. Dude, vampires never pay their taxes. Never.

        1. You can’t “pay” 25% on the amount of blood you sucked from people, man. Be reasonable.

          1. In the olden days, did they pay the “pole” tax? Or was it only applicable as an e stake tax?

  10. Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.

    1. …provided, of course, that by “we” we mean people who aren’t the President.

      And “protection money” are dues that convenience stores pay for the privileges of membership in an organized and non-flammable neighborhood.

  11. You neglect to mention that FDR enclosed a check for $16,000 along with his return, noting that the amount “doubtless represents a good deal more than half what the eventual tax will prove to be.” You might also have noted that this payment was a substantial sum of money in 1937 and represented a hefty percentage of his Presidential salary. It would be interesting to compare the percentage of income FDR paid in taxes to that of his immediate predecessors – my guess is that he would compare favorably, especially when charitable giving is included in the calculation. But why go to all that trouble when you can simply cherry pick a few lines from historical documents in order to reinforce your own – and your audience’s – ideological preconceptions.

    1. Yeah, be reasonable guys! The IRS would totally be chill if we all just sent in half of our taxes and told them to work out the rest for themselves!

  12. It would be interesting to compare the percentage of income FDR paid in taxes to that of his immediate predecessors – my guess is that he would compare favorably.

    I’m pretty sure FDR would compare highly unfavorably, in that he undoubtedly paid much more in taxes than his predecessors because his party raised taxes so much. That’s worse.

    What charitable giving has to do with paying the state the minimum necessary to stay out of jail, I have no idea.

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