The proposed tax deal between President Obama and Congressional Republican leaders includes a revision of the federal estate (inheritance) tax. At stake are issues as old as the nation: individual property rights versus the democratic ethos, and the need for savings versus the need for resources for the common good. For many of today's issues — such as Internet neutrality or nuclear disarmament — appealing to the founders seems clearly inappropriate. But in the case of the estate tax, the founders struggled with the same issues that we struggle with today. And many of them — though not all — believed that taxing and reducing large estates was a good idea, for it benefited society as a whole.
Andrew M. Schocket is author of “Founding Corporate Power in Early National Philadelphia” and director of American Culture Studies at Bowling Green State University.