Friday, August 9, 2019

Booknotes: Civil War Taxes

New Arrival:
Civil War Taxes: A Documentary History, 1861-1900 by John Martin Davis, Jr.
  (McFarland, 2019).

As we all know, fighting the Civil War was an enormously expensive drain on the public coffers. In his book Civil War Taxes: A Documentary History, 1861-1900 retired tax attorney John Martin Davis provides a comprehensive overview of the tax initiatives each side devised to fund their war efforts.

From the description: "To raise revenue for the war effort, every possible person, business, activity and property was assessed, but projections and collections were seldom up to expectations, and waste, fraud and ineffectiveness in the administration of the tax systems plagued both sides. This economic history uses forensic examination of actual documents to discover the various taxes that developed from the Civil War, including the direct and poll taxes, which were dropped; the income tax, which stands today; and the war tax, which was effective for only a short time."

Roughly speaking, the book is equally divided between narrative text and document images. After a short bit of background history of antebellum federal tax systems, the book dives into the tax history of each year of the war, with alternating US and CS chapters.

The second half of the book consists of 124 photographic images of tax documents, to include receipts, certificates, bonds, licenses, permits, and more. The book's oversize page dimensions (8 1/2" by 11") allow the document images to be reproduced at a size and clarity sufficient to allow readers to make out all the details. With the resized illustrations in so many history books rendering them indecipherable even to those with hawk-like vision, this treatment is a nice touch.

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