“In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.”
We’ve all heard the quote, (or, misquote?) and it’s cemented a place in our history and popular culture. The quote basically means that death and taxes are loathed but unavoidable; no matter who you are.
While most people attribute the origin of the quote to Ben Franklin (or even wrongly so to Mark Twain) a similar quote was written decades earlier. Here’s the interesting history of the famous, “death and taxes” quote.
Origin of the First “Death and Taxes” quote (Idiom):
Years before Ben Franklin or Mark Twain, another man uttered a very similar quote to the famous “death and taxes” idiom.
Christopher Bullock, an English actor and dramatist, uttered the following quote during The Cobler of Preston in 1716:
“Tis impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes.”
The Yale Book of Quotations records this as the first variant of the death and taxes quote. They also add that playwright Edward Ward later paraphrased Bullock’s “death and taxes” quote in his 1724 work The Dancing Devils.
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Ben Franklin’s More Famous, “Death & Taxes” Quote:
The most famous variant of the death and taxes quote comes from Benjamin Franklin, who touted the phrase after the signing of the Constitution of the United States. In this case, it is commonly written as “Nothing is certain but death and taxes,” but the full quote from Ben reads like this:
“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”– Ben Franklin
The source is a letter that was written from Franklin to French scientist Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789. The original quote as actually written in French, and was spoken by Ben at age 83.
This was a time when Ben was old but still mentally sharp, and probably doing a lot of thinking about his own mortality. Ironically, Franklin died the following year.
Even though Ben Franklin wasn’t the first to be quoted in regards to death and taxes, he’s the one who gets credit for the most famous version of the quotation.
The Death & Taxes Quote Is Often Wrongly Attributed to Mark Twain
Christopher Bullock and his original version of the quote were lost to history, and he rarely gets credit. Oddly enough, the death and taxes quote is often mistakenly attributed to Mark Twain!
Well, Mark Twain did have a plethora of great quotes, but there’s no evidence that he ever said anything of interest about death and taxes.
Sorry Christopher; it looks like even Mark Twain gets more credit for your quote than you do!
“Death & Taxes” Quote Meaning:
While some quotes lend themselves to interpretation, the meaning of the death and taxes idiom is pretty straight-forward.:
Certain things in life that are unavoidable, including dying and having to pay taxes!
The idiom means that you can be the richest man on Earth, but you still can’t escape paying taxes until you die. Or, can you?
Billionaires Try to Avoid Death and Taxes:
Did you know that in 2018 billionaire Jeff Bezos’ company, Amazon, paid $0 in taxes on $11.2 billion in profits? (source)
It’s true, and it seems that Donald Trump avoided paying taxes for years, and are demanding that he release his tax records.
So, can billionaires also avoid death?
Ironically, Billionaire like Larry Ellison have spent millions of dollars funding research to extend human life in an attempt to cheat their own death. In fact, Larry has been quoted as saying, “death makes me angry.”
Maybe so Larry, but I advise you accept your mortality, even if you don’t pay your share of taxes. Even Bill and Ted can’t escape death!
“You might be a king or a little street sweeper, but sooner or later you dance with the reaper,” – The Grim Reaper (rapping), Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey 1991
Other Quotes about Death and Taxes
“The difference between death and taxes is death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.” — Will Rogers
“Apart from death and taxes, the one thing that’s certain in this life is that I’ll never be a fashion icon.” – Bruce Dickinson
“They say death and taxes are the only things that are inevitable. The truth is, you can not pay your taxes. I’ve done it, and there’s consequences, but it can be done. Death you’re not going to get out of, and you kind of got to deal with it.” – Steve Earle
“No matter what heights you achieve, even if you’re Brad Pitt, the slide is coming, sure as death and taxes.” – James Caan
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True. Well, even though death and taxation are certain, maybe we can put a silver lining on the matter. Mark Twain once said:
“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
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