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Income Tax Myths

"The federal government can’t tax 'free sovereign citizens.' "

This argument is somewhat incomprehensible. But here are responses to two different possible articulations of this vague argument.

1. It is frequently said that in America, "the people . . . are the sovereign." E.g., United States v. Lee, 106 U.S. 196, 208 (1882). From this true statement, the "sovereign citizens" movement seems to have concluded that any individual American can delcare himself to be a "sovereign" and therefore beyond control by anyone else.

This is an error. Yes, under the American political system, the people are sovereign, but they are sovereign collectively, not individually. The point of saying that "the people are sovereign" is to distinguish America from a monarchy like Britain, where sovereignty is said to reside in the King (or in the King-in-Parliament). In America, because the people are sovereign, it follows, as the Declaration of Independence says, that "whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive . . ., it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government." In a monarchy, the people would not have such a right.

But this is a collective right, not an individual right. "[O]ur own Constitution . . . is a form of government ordained and established by the people collectively or as sovereign, for the people individually or as subjects." O'Keefe v. United States, 5 Ct. Cl. 674 (1869), aff'd, 78 U.S. 178 (1870).

2. Sometimes people seem to imagine that people who are born and live in the United States are somehow not citizens of it, but have some sort of free-floating “sovereignty” that protects them from any government action they don’t like.

The short answer is found in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which provides that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” This constitutional provision shows that most Americans have two citizenships: each American is a citizen of the state wherein he or she resides and also a citizen of the United States. The fact that you may be a citizen of Texas or Montana, for example, does not prevent you from also being a citizen of the United States.