For a Kinder, Gentler Society
The Civil War Income Tax and the Republican Party, 1861-1872
  • Christopher Shepard
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The Civil War Income Tax and the Republican Party, 1861-1872.
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Few people realize that the economic principle of income tax elimination among Republicans can be traced back at least to the Civil War and Reconstruction. The author brings to life the multifaceted debate and traces the anti-tax view back to Alexander Hamilton. This book shows that current attacks by members of the Republican Party on the income tax have their roots in the rhetoric and actions taken by the first Republicans in Congress. 

About the Author

Christopher Shepard received his M.A. in history from the University of Charleston/Citadel Joint Program in History. He teaches history at  Trident Technical College and James Island Christian School. He currently lives in Charleston, South Carolina, with his family.

About the Book

A flat tax? Tax cuts? Complete elimination of the income tax? These ideas have most certainly been advocated by members of the Republican Party during the past few decades. Party leaders such as George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich...

A flat tax? Tax cuts? Complete elimination of the income tax? These ideas have most certainly been advocated by members of the Republican Party during the past few decades. Party leaders such as George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich expressed disdain for the income tax and utilized their power to remove it as a revenue source.

At the time of the Civil War, many Republicans, mainly in the Northeast, were opposed to the new Federal Income Tax. Initially used to finance that war, the Federal income tax became a hotly-debated issue at a time when America was trying to put back together a fractured nation. The issue split the party, with Midwestern and Southern Republicans wanting to continue the income tax, and Northern and Western Republicans championing its demise. In the end, the anti-income tax wing took control of the Republican Party and shaped its economic principles for the future.

The book is an in-depth look into how the Republicans in Congress dealt with the creation of the United States’ first income tax and how it affected the party for the future. The author argues that the anti-income tax faction of the Republican Party won the debate and took over the party – and to this day, the Republican Party typically promotes either cutting taxes or eliminating them altogether.

The author gives a brief history of the formation of the Republican Party and how they developed their economic views in distinction from the declining Whig Party, who mostly sought to fund the federal budget through tariffs and not by taxing the people directly. The second half of the book looks at the different income tax legislations and how Republicans in Congress responded to them. Each chapter begins with a brief historical context at the time when an income tax bill was being discussed in Congress. 

The views of Republicans on the income tax were altered throughout the war and its aftermath. In the beginning, Republicans enthusiastically supported the income tax as a measure needed to sustain the fighting. As the war came to a close, however, many Republicans began to change their view. They originally backed progressive rates, then they wanted just one flat tax rate, and, by 1870, many wanted the tax to be ended. 

There was a divide in the Republican Party, though. Western Republicans wanted to keep the income tax intact while Northern Republicans called for its repeal. The last chapter of the book looks at the Republican Party and the income tax since 1872. Many of the arguments made by current and past Republicans (e.g., George W. Bush, Eisenhower, Elihu Root and even Earl Warren) against the income tax are shown to be the same ones made by many Republicans in the debate over the Civil War income tax. Apparently, the Northern anti-income tax wing won the debate and took over the party 140 years ago.


Introduction
I became interested in the subject of the Republican Party and the Civil War income tax when I was a graduate student at the College of Charleston/Citadel Joint Program in History. I had a long-standing deep interest in the two main political parties and the changes that have occurred in them throughout time. Having been told repeatedly that the...
I became interested in the subject of the Republican Party and the Civil War income tax when I was a graduate student at the College of Charleston/Citadel Joint Program in History. I had a long-standing deep interest in the two main political parties and the changes that have occurred in them throughout time. Having been told repeatedly that the Republican Party of today is completely different from its original nature, I certainly felt that it was true, due in large part to the “conservative” takeover by the Goldwater, Reagan and Gingrich forces. That was until I ran across a book by Edwin Robert Anderson Seligman called The Income Tax; I was shocked to discover that radical Republicans during the Civil War and Reconstruction — such honorable men as Thaddeus Stevens, Justin Morrill, Noah Davis, Charles Sumner and James Garfield — advocated the same principles that are promoted religiously today by Grand Old Party members. I came to realize that little research had been published on this topic, fascinating as it is. 

I ultimately concluded that, in many respects, there has not been much alteration in philosophy throughout the history of the Republican Party. Without question, numerous Republicans have championed an income tax, but, for the most part, an anti-income tax ideology has been permeating itself among the party faithful. I argue that the conservative economic wing of the party, which despises tax, has had control and shaped the principles of the G.O.P. for all of its history.



Pages 206
Year: 2010
LC Classification: HJ4651.S54 2010
Dewey code: 336.240973’09034—dc22
BISAC: HIS036050 HISTORY / United States / Civil War Period (1850-1877)
BISAC: POL030000 POLITICAL SCIENCE / Government / National
BISAC: POL015000 POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Process / Political Parties
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