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“The Taxing Power, My Dear”

The legal committee soon broke into a row because the legal problems were so terrible. The constitutional problem was the greatest one. How could you get around this business of the State-Federal relationships? It seemed that couldn’t be done.

We continued to wrangle about it for days. But one day I went out to tea, although not because I wanted to. In Washington you don’t go to parties just because you want to go, you know; you go because you have to go. I had to call upon Mrs. Harlan F. Stone, the wife of the Supreme Court Justice. She was at home on Wednesday afternoons and so about 5:45, which is nearly the end of the day, I went to her house and presented myself. There were a lot of other people there. We went up to the dining room to get a cup of tea, and there I met Mr. Justice Stone who had just come home from the Court and was getting his cup of tea. We greeted each other and sat down and had a little chat.

He said, “How are you getting on?” I said, “All right.” And then I said, “Well, you know, we are having big troubles, Mr. Justice, because we don’t know in this draft of the Economic Security Act, which we are working on—we are not quite sure, you know, what will be a wise method of establishing this law. It is a very difficult constitutional problem, you know. We are guided by this, that, and the other case.” He looked around to see if anyone was listening. Then he put his hand up like this, confidentially, and he said, “The taxing power, my dear, the taxing power. You can do anything under the taxing power.”

I didn’t question him any further. I went back to my committee and I never told them how I got my great information. As far as they knew, I went out into the wilderness and had a vision.

But, at any rate, I came back and said I was firmly for the taxing power. We weren’t going to rig up any curious constitutional relationships. “The taxing power of the United States—you can do anything under it,” said I. And so it proved, did it not?

—FRANCES PERKINS, Secretary of Labor, 1933–1945
“The Roots of Social Security” (1962)

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