Taxation in American States and Cities

By Richard T. Ely | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III.
THE TRANSITION PERIOD.

GENERAL REMARKS.

WE may, for lack of a better designation, call the period from 1796 to the beginning of our Civil War, a transition period. It witnessed the complete establishment of the American system of state and local taxation. The distinguishing feature of the system may be described in a single sentence. It is the taxation of all property, movable and immovable, visible and invisible, or real and personal, as we say in America, at one uniform rate. This is the only direct tax known in most of our commonwealths, and it is only recently that certain special forms of taxation have assumed greater importance in some of our state budgets than this.

The fundamental idea of our tax systems is a democratic one. It is, that all should contribute to the support of government in proportion to their capacity or "respective abilities," as Adam Smith expresses it. It is, however, assumed that one's ability to contribute to the support of government is measured by the actual selling value of all one's property, real and personal; then it is further assumed that it is possible in each case to discover the actual selling value of all the property of citizens and other residents.

The last chapter shows that in 1796 specific kinds of property were taxed, and in some cases the collective mass of

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