Magazine article The CPA Journal

Website of the Month: Tax History Project

Magazine article The CPA Journal

Website of the Month: Tax History Project

Article excerpt

The Tax History Project (THP) website,, is a public service of the subscription service Tax Analysts (reviewed in the January 2003 CPA Journal). While the main users of the THP website are probably accounting educators and students, tax professionals will find much of the information to be entertaining and useful. Tax professionals who think they know a lot about taxation may be surprised by how old our current methods of taxation really are, as well as by the historical reasons the tax law is the way it is.

The THP Homepage is organized with a banner header that is also displayed on the main pages. The center of the homepage is used to display larger links to the website's regular features and to highlight readings. The main navigation tool is a left-side index appearing on the home and main pages with links to 'Tax History Museum," "The Price of Civilization," "Presidential Tax Returns," 'Taxing Federalism," "Image Gallery," "Readings," "Free Newsletter," "About the Project," "Contact THP," "THP Home," and 'Tax Analysts Home." On subsidiary pages that do not open in separate windows, the browser's back button is the key navigation feature. The website is not consistent in the use of separate windows for linked pages or resources; however, this does not make the search process difficult

'Tax History Museum'

The "Tax History Museum" is the THP's "virtual museum," with online displays covering nine periods in the history of taxation in the United States. The museum's main page is an architectural floor plan of the different virtual galleries, each representing a period in U.S. tax history. Users can access a time period by selecting an era. The museum begins in 1660 with the British colonial period, focusing on the interplay between colonial market activities and taxation.

The nine periods have their own subsidiary pages, containing left-side indexes with links to the others, the Tax Museum homepage, and the THP homepage. Most eras offer fairly detailed HTML documents addressing the tax, commercial, and legislative history for that period. The readings are well written and entertaining, and interspersed with downloadable artwork and photographs as well as links to moredetailed resources from the Avalon Project of Yale Law School.

An example of eye-opening history that has affected our "modern" tax system can be found as far back as the 1777-1815 period. Article 1, sections 2 and 9, of the Constitution use the term "direct taxes," which had not been widely used or defined before 1787. The term did not derive from taxation concepts, as most tax experts would assume, but rather in relation to slavery!

The U.S. Constitution, Article 1, section 2, provides that "direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States" and Article 1, section 9, states that direct taxes must be proportional to the population. According to the Tax History Project, the direct tax clauses were not included to protect the states from the taxing power of the federal government, but rather as a means to account for slaves when determining the number of congressional representatives allotted to southern states. Similarly, section 8's "uniformity" requirement was included both to shield the South from export taxes on slave-produced products and to tax the import of slaves to make it prohibitively expensive. Modern-day tax protestors who claim that the income tax is unconstitutional come up short on a full understanding of the issues with which the Founders were really concerned. …

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