The Growth of the American Economy: An Introduction to the Economic History of the United States

By Robert G. Albion; Harold F. Williamson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 29
Amedcan Public Finance, 1789-1943

1789-1859

Federal finances

GOVERNMENT in the United States has been greatly influenced by the economic development of the country. In Colonial days the country was undeveloped economically, and, furthermore, the atmosphere of that era was not receptive to a large degree of government. Consequently Governmental expenditures in the Colonies were small. The support of the governor was the occasion for the largest expenditure. The expenses of the militia, which were sometimes met by the individual members, were not great, and no navy was maintained. There were no costly public improvements and no expenditures for welfare purposes, unless the expenditures for ministers of the Gospel and for churches in New England should be so regarded. Families looked after their own poor or insane relatives instead of sending them to a public institution. Nor was education generally considered a public function, although Some expenditures were made for schools in New England.

The Colonies paid for. their few expenditures in various ways. The New England Colonies levied a poll tax and a tax on the gross produce of land, a contribution that finally developed into a general property tax. A faculty tax, or a tax on individuals according to the assumed incomes from their occupations, was added later. In the South, where there were many large estates, the property tax was not so well received. In the beginning the poll tax had been the chief source of revenue there, but with the importation of slaves it lost favor, and indirect taxes became the main source of revenue. Indirect taxes or excises were also the mainstay of revenue in the Middle Colonies, where the traders were influenced by their Dutch background. Customs duties and excises were used by nearly all of the Colonies to some extent, but there was an early decline in the use of export duties, and only four Colonies retained them after 1750. A large amount of revenue was also derived from issues of paper money.

The situation that gave rise to the Revolutionary War necessitated a more centralized form of government. The Continental Congress, which represented the first step toward the development of a national

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