A TAX BASE WITHOUT SLAVES
IN February 1866, a member of the Georgia General Assembly observed of his colleagues' search for public revenue: "Somebody has got to pay something soon for there is not a dollar in the Treasury. I wish you could see the members walking about the streets with their heads down -- I inquired of Judge Thomas what their heads were down for and he said he supposed they were looking for money."
When legislators at that first postwar session returned to work, their pensive walks in the streets of Milledgeville finished, they enacted laws to help a state government "looking for money." They authorized bond issues greater than the state's entire prewar debt. And they passed a tax law that, compared with those of the 1850s, introduced changes far more dramatic than any produced in subsequent sessions.
War and emancipation transformed public revenue in Georgia. They created new conditions that Democrats and Republicans alike had to contend with in shaping public policy. Tax policy showed fundamental changes between the prewar and postwar periods, but only comparatively minor changes from Presidential Restoration to Congressional Reconstruction or after Bourbon Redemption.
For decades Georgia had sought, occasionally with success, to avoid relying on taxes to finance state spending. In the late 1850s, state tax rates in Georgia were low and declining, even as expenditures rose. And in 1860, the state government derived more income from the Western and Atlantic Railroad than from all taxes combined. With its treasury amply supplied each year, the state had no need for temporary loans. It contracted bonded indebtedness only to invest in the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad, which, lawmakers confidently expected, would soon begin to emulate the Western and Atlantic in reducing the necessity for state taxes.
The Civil War changed all that. The prewar expectation of continuing declines in Georgia's state property tax rate assumed three conditions: that state