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most statutes against frauds being penal. But this difference is to be taken: Where the statute acts upon the offender and inflicts a penalty, as the pillory or a fine, it is then to be taken strictly; but when the statute acts upon the offense, by setting aside the fraudulent transaction, here it is to be construed liberally." Revenue laws are intended to raise money for the support of the government. If they contain provisions for penalties and forfeitures these are ancillary to that object; but they are not for that reason to be necessarily construed in point of strictness by the same rule. As penal laws, no reason is perceived why the same rule of strict construction should not be applied to them as to other such laws. Mr. Dwarris remarks that, "By the use of ambiguous clauses in laws of that sort the legislature would be laying a snare for the subject, and a construction which conveys such an imputation ought never to be adopted. Judges, therefore, where clauses are obscure, will lean against forfeitures, leaving it to the legislature to correct the evil, if there be any. With this view, the ship registry acts, so far as they apply to defeat titles and to create forfeitures, are to be construed strictly, as penal, and not liberally, as remedial, laws. In like manner, in the revenue laws, where clauses inflicting pains and penalties are ambiguously or obscurely worded, the interpretation is ever in favor of the subject; for the plain reason,' said Heath, J., in Hubbard v. Johnstone, that the legislature is ever at hand to explain its own meaning, and to express more clearly what has been obscurely expressed.'" 2
§362. Statutes which impose burdens-Taxes.- Acts for taxation of persons or property are prominent in this category.
11 Bl. Com. 38.
23 Taunt. 177; Dwarris on St. 641. Mr. Cooley thus comments on this point: "In the state revenue laws the penal provisions are few, and by no means severe. In the federal revenue laws some of them are of a severity very seldom to be met with in penal statutes, and only to be justified by the supposed impossibility of collecting the revenue without them. In illustration of what is here said, reference need only to be made to the case of
forfeiture of property for the mere indulgence of a fraudulent intent never carried into effect; a forfeiture, too, which may be visited upon a purchaser who has bought in good faith, and without any suspicion of the intended fraud. Henderson's Distilled Spirits, 14 Wall. 44. If such provisions are to be construed liberally, there is no reason why any other penal provisions whatever should not be." Cooley on Taxation, 208.
The power to tax is sovereign, and its exercise needful to supply the government with money necessary for its support. When limited to the accomplishment of this object it is beneficent, but since it is so unlimited in force and so searching in extent that courts recognize no restrictions except such as rest in the discretion of the authority which exercises it; since it reaches to every trade and occupation, to every object of industry, use or enjoyment, to every species of possession, and imposes a burden which in case of failure to discharge it may be followed by summary seizure and sale or confiscation of property; since no attribute of sovereignty is more pervading or affects more constantly and intimately all the relations of life, and involves the power to destroy, and may neutralize the power to foster and create, statutes enacted in the exercise of the taxing power are construed with some degree of strictness. It is a special authority, and in its exercise the citizen is deprived of his property. However meritorious the purpose for which such a power is granted, the courts will be sedulous in confining it within the boundaries the legislature have thought fit to prescribe. The supreme court of New Jersey say: "In laying the burden of taxation upon the citizens of the state, while it must be the object of every just system to equalize this charge by a fair apportionment and levy upon the property of all, it is equally the duty of the courts to see that no one, by mere technicalities which do not affect his substantial rights, shall escape his fair proportion of the public expense and thus impose it upon others. A liberal construction must therefore be given to all tax laws for public purposes, not only that the officers of the government may not be hindered, but also that the rights of all taxpayers may be equally preserved."
1 Cooley on Const. Lim. 479; Litchfield v. Vernon, 41 N. Y. 123, 140, 143; Henry v. Chester, 15 Vt. 460.
2 McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat.
3 Powell v. Tuttle, 3 N. Y. 396, 401; Sherwood v. Reade, 7 Hill, 431; Striker v. Kelly, 2 Denio, 323.
4 State v. Taylor, 35 N. J. L. 184, 190. The language of a distinguished
"If it be a matter of
author is apposite, and expresses the law with felicity and accuracy: "In the construction of the revenue laws special consideration is of course to be had of the purpose for which they are enacted. That purpose is to supply the government with a revenue. But in the proceedings to obtain this it is also intended that no unnecessary injury shall be inflicted upon
real doubt," said Mr. Justice Story, "whether the intention of the act of 1841 was to levy a permanent duty on indigo, that doubt will absolve the importer from paying the duty."1
In Gurr v. Scudds, Pollock, C. B., says: "If there is any doubt as to the meaning of the stamp act, it ought to be construed in favor of the subject, because a tax cannot be imposed without clear and express words for that purpose." This seems to be the tenor of all the English decisions, that every charge on the subject must be imposed by clear and unambiguous words. In a late case before the house of lords it was said:
the individual taxed. While this is secondary to the main object the impelling occasion of the law-it is none the less a sacred duty. Care is taken in constitutions to insert provisions to secure the citizen against injustice in taxation, and all legislative action is entitled to the presumption that this has been intended. We are therefore at liberty to suppose that the two main objects had in view in framing the provisions of any tax law were, first, the providing a public revenue, and second, the securing of individuals against extortion and plunder under the cover of the proceedings to collect the revenues. The provisions for these purposes are the important provisions of the law. The question regarding the revenue laws has generally been whether or not they shall be construed strictly. The general rules of interpretation require this in the case of statutes which may divest one of his freehold by proceedings not in the ordinary sense judicial, and to which he is only an enforced party. It is thought to be only reasonable to intend that the legislature, in making provision for such proceedings, would take unusual care to make use of terms which would plainly express its meaning, in order that ministerial officers might not be left in doubt in the exercise of unusual powers, and
that the citizen might know exactly what were his duties and liabilities. A strict construction in such cases is reasonable, because presumptively the legislature has given in plain terms all the power it has intended should be exercised. It has been very generally supposed that the like strict construction was reasonable in the case of tax laws." Cooley on Taxation, 199, 200; Dwarris on Statutes, 742, 749.
1 United States v. Wigglesworth, 2 Story, 369, 374.
211 Ex. 190, 192.
3 Wroughton v. Turtle, 11 M. & W. 561, 567; Williams v. Sangar, 10 East, 66, 69; Warrington v. Furbor, 8 id. 242, 245; Denn v. Diamond, 4 B. & C. 243; Doe v. Snaith, 8 Bing. 146, 152; Tomkins v. Ashby, 6 B. & C. 541, 543; Marquis of Chandos v. Commissioners, 6 Ex. 464, 479; Oriental Bank v. Wright, L. R. 5 App. Cas. 842; Pryce v. Monmouthshire Canal & Ry. Co. L. R. 4 App. Cas. 197; Reg. v. Barclay, L. R. 8Q. B. Div. 306; Daines v. Heath, 3 C. B. at p. 941; Gosling v. Veley, 12 Q. B. at p. 407; Caswell v. Cook, 11 C. B. (N. S.) 637; Burder v. Veley, 12 Ad. & E. at p. 246; Att'y-Gen. v. Middleton, 3 H. & N. at p. 138; Iles v. West Ham Union, L. R. 8 Q. B. Div. 69; In re Micklethwait, 11 Ex. 452. 4 Partington v. Att'y-Gen. L. R. 4 H. L. Cas. 122.
"The principle of all fiscal legislation is this: If the person sought to be taxed comes within the letter of the law, he must be taxed, however great the hardship may appear to the judicial mind to be. On the other hand, if the crown, seeking to recover the tax, cannot bring the subject within the letter of the law, the subject is free, however apparently within the spirit of the law the case may otherwise appear to be. Inother words, if there is admissible in any statute what is called an equitable construction, certainly such a construction is not admissible in a taxing statute, where you can simply adhere to the words of the statute."
§ 363. The American cases generally announce the same rule of construction. Duties, says Mr. Justice Nelson, "are never imposed upon the citizen upon vague or doubtful interpretations." Statutes which impose restrictions upon trade or common occupations, or which levy an excise or tax upon them, must be strictly construed. A statute conferring authority to impose taxes must be construed strictly. A tax law cannot be extended by construction to things not named or described as the subjects of taxation. A statute required taxes for school purposes to be levied on all the ratable estate of persons who are residents of the district; it authorized an executor to put the property of the estate in the list in the name of the estate. It was held that the ratable estate of the deceased pending administration might be assessed in the district where the deceased lived and died. The court say: "The greatest and perhaps the only objection that can be urged against this rule is, that we cannot say in strictness that the deceased or his estate is a resident of the district. This objection assumes that the statute is to be strictly construed. But we do not think that the doctrine of strict construction should apply to it. Statutes relating to taxes are not penal statutes,
Powers v. Barney, 5 Blatchf. 202, 203; United States v. Wigglesworth, 2 Story, 369, 373; United States v. Watts, 1 Bond, 580, 583; Vicksburg, etc. R. R. Co. v. State, 62 Miss. 105; Mayor v. Hartridge, 8 Ga. 23; Crosby v. Brown, 60 Barb. 548; Dean v. Charlton, 27 Wis. 522; Shawnee Co. v.
Carter, 2 Kan. 115; Bensley v. Mountain Lake Water Co. 13 Cal. 306, 316. 2 Sewall v. Jones, 9 Pick. 412, 414.
3 Moseley v. Tift, 4 Fla. 402; Williams v. State, 6 Blackf. 36; Barnes v. Doe, 4 Ind. 132, 133; Smith v. Waters, 25 Ind. 397; Fox's Appeal, 112 Pa. St. 337.
4 Boyd v. Hood, 57 Pa. St. 98, 101.
nor are they in derogation of natural rights.” 1 seems to have been properly determined, and did not require a denial that tax laws are to be strictly construed. The law expressly allowed the listing of the decedent estate in the name of the deceased person's estate, and therefore the levy of a tax on such a resident as such an "intangible being" could be. The court was in accord with the general current of authority in concluding that in construing statutes relating to taxes they "ought, where the language will permit, so to construe them as to give effect to the obvious intention and meaning of the legislature, rather than defeat that intention by too strict an adherence to the letter."2 A statute to re-assess a void tax will be construed strictly. Such a statute is in derogation of the rights of the citizen who may be affected by it; it compels him to bear a burden which he would not have to bear but for it. A due regard for individual rights and the plainest principles of justice requires that taxing statutes shall have only the effect which the legislature clearly intended; in construing them all reasonable doubts as to such intent should be resolved in favor of the citizen. Every statute in derogation of the rights of property or that takes away the estate of the citizen ought to be construed strictly. It should never have an equitable construction. Statutes providing for redemption of lands sold for taxes should be construed liberally."
§ 364. Exemption from taxation or other general burden. Not only is all legislation for taxation, but also for exemption from taxation, or any other common burden or liability, to be strictly construed. The principle is well settled that the power of exemption, as well as the power of taxation, is an essential element of sovereignty, and can only be surrendered or diminished in plain and explicit terms.6
1 Cornwall, Ex'r, v. Todd, 38 Conn. Bloomington, 106 Ill. 209; S. C. 5 Am. 443.
2 See 3 Parsons on Cont. 287. 3 Dean v. Charlton, 27 Wis. 522. 4 Sharp v. Speir, 4 Hill, 76, 83; Vanhorne's Lessee v Dorrance, 2 Dall. 304; Sibley v. Smith, 2 Mich. 486, 490. 5 Alter v. Shepherd, 27 La. Ann. 207. 6 Probasco Co. v. Moundsville, 11 W. Va. 501; McLean County v.
& Eng. Corp. Cas. 535; Lima v. Cemetery Asso. 42 Ohio St. 128; S. C. 5 Am. & Eng. Corp. Cas. 547; Mayor, etc. v. Central R. R. etc. Co. 50 Ga. 620; Gale v. Laurie, 5 B. & C. 156; Buffalo City Cemetery Co. v. Buffalo, 46 N. Y. 506; State v. Bank of Smyrna, 2 Houst. 99; Willis v. R. R. Co. 32 Barb. 398; Orr v. Baker, 4 Ind. 86;