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The Smithsonian Associates - ENTERTAINING and EDUCATION Washington Audiences
Civil War Studies eNewsletter, April 2009, Vol. 10, No.1


Smithsonian CW Seminars
Smithsonian CW Journeys
Local Civil War Events
Feature Article: Taxes and Tea Parties
Civil War Trivia
Happenings in the Civil War


Abraham Lincoln, EsquireAbraham Lincoln, Esquire
Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 9:30 a.m.

Scholar Arthur T. Downey explores Abraham Lincoln's law practice and some of the fundamental issues he had to resolve as President. Also considered are the many constitutional questions created by the crisis of the Civil War.

The Civil War Duel of the Ironclads Monitor and VirginiaThe Civil War Duel of the Ironclads Monitor and Virginia
Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 7 p.m.

Renowned Civil War naval historian and winner of the prestigious 2009 Lincoln Award, Craig Symonds discusses one of the most revolutionary naval battles in U.S. history, the duel between the ironclads Monitor and Virginia, and the personalities involved in the battle.

Gettysburg Battlefield 101Gettysburg Battlefield 101
Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 8:15 a.m.

Explore the history of Gettysburg with historian Ted Alexander and battlefield guide Elwood Christ. The day includes close examination of key sites and lunch at the historic 1776 Dobbin House Tavern.

Stuart’s Chambersburg RaidStuart's Chambersburg Raid
Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 7:30 a.m.

Jeb Stuart rides again in this day-long tour of his Chambersburg Raid. Trace the route of his ride through Pennsylvania, embarrassing Union Gen. George McClellan and visiting the home of Stephen Dandridge.

Jeb Stuart’s Ride to GettysburgJeb Stuart's Ride to Gettysburg
Saturday, June 20, 2009 at 7:30 a.m.

Commander of the Army of the Northern Virginia cavalry, Jeb Stuart led his troops on controversial operations during the three days of Gettysburg. Historian Ed Bearss leads this tour studying his route, with stops along the way.

Civil War in Spotsylvania and Stafford CountiesCivil War in Spotsylvania and Stafford Counties
Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 8 a.m.

Go off the beaten path with Civil War expert Ed Bearss. Study the battles of Fredericksburg and Salem Church at some of the few remaining battlefields and sites.


Lincoln in Washington
In celebration of the Lincoln Bicentennial
Apr 29 - May 3, 2009

Join famed historian Edwin C. Bearss as he celebrates Lincoln's 200th birthday by retracing the President's days in the Nation's Capital.


Civil War Roundtable of DC
June 27 & 28, Bus tour

"Gettysburg Vignettes with Ed Bearss" leaves from Ft. McNair in Washington, D.C. Saturday includes interpretation of the often overlooked struggles for Culp's and East Cemetery hills, the new Gettysburg Visitor Center and Cyclorama. Sunday will follow Lee's post-Gettysburg retreat to Falling Waters. Trip includes bus, hotel, dinner and one lunch, $290. CWRT-DC Civil War Weekend, 202-306-4988 or cwrt_dc@comcast.net for more information.

The Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Ft. McNair Officers' Club

Featured speaker Michael Burlingame will discuss his seminal work, Abraham Lincoln: A Life. Dr. Burlingame is a renowned author, lecturer, and Lincoln scholar whose two volume, all-inclusive book has won world-wide praise. For more information, visit the website at www.lincolngroup.org.


Taxes and Tea Parties

Every known society had some type of tax system—property tax, income tax, excise tax, use tax, estate tax, gift tax. In Russia, there was even a tax on urine and moustaches. Nobody likes taxes, and not many like the people who collect them. 

The start of the American Revolution was an immediate reaction to England's Stamp Act, which imposed a tax on legal documents and newspapers. The motto was"taxation without representation," and the result was the Boston Tea Party.

The Colonists did not oppose the idea of taxation; they just did not want to send their money to support England. They recognized that taxes were necessary for things like the common defense, and maintaining the safety of their cities and towns. Once England was out of the picture, the Colonists had to install their own tax system in the form of poll taxes and taxes on property and certain farm products.

The United States Constitution later gave the power to tax to the Federal government"to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States." In the early years, the Federal government used customs duties and sales of public land for this purpose so that additional assessments were not necessary. A few local taxes were in place, such as taxes on carriages, liquor, salt, sugar, snuff, and later homes, land, and slaves.

The first income tax in this country was passed the second year of the Civil War. During the first year the Union raised money through use taxes on photographs, playing cards, feathers, telegrams, iron, leather, pianos, patent medicines and many other things. The manufacturer of the product was required to buy a stamp from the Treasury. When an item was sold, the customer paid the tax, a stamp was put on the product, then cancelled with a pen to show the tax was paid.

By 1862, the Civil War was costing the Union $2 million dollars per day and the government was desperate for money. Since it seemed most citizens were burdened with the many taxes already in place, a progressive income tax law was passed to more fairly spread the burden among rich and poor. The tax was 3% for incomes between $600 and $10,000, and 5% over $10,000. The taxes were withheld at the source by employers, just as they are now.

The first year only 3% of the population had to pay income taxes. This was at a time when the average incomes were: Union army private = $160/year, if paid at all; College professor = $800/year; School teacher = $360/year; Government clerk = up to $2000/ year if male; $1000 if female; Female army nurse = 40 cents per day or $146/year, but they rarely lasted that long on the job. None of these would have been subject to income tax, especially after the $600 standard deduction.

Congress found that passing an income tax law was easy. The hard part was deciding how to collect them. The law created the Bureau of Internal Revenue and former congressman George Boutwell of Pennsylvania was named the first Commissioner. He created the national system of collection districts. District assessors were appointed by the President. In less than a year, the Bureau of Internal Revenue had 60 employees in Washington and almost 4000 assessors and collectors in the field.

Except for the local postmasters, this was the first time that the Federal government had employees located in all the states. By establishing this district system, the collectors and their assistants would be local people who knew the areas and would not be so feared by their neighbors. Knowing that 11 states already seceded, the Federal government thought it best to retain control of the system rather than having the states control a powerful and lucrative bureaucracy. But that was a distinction without a difference to most people. As one senator put it,"there is little difference whether the rope is put round his neck by the local sheriff or by the U.S. marshal."

After the Civil War, the income tax was repealed and eventually it was declared unconstitutional. The Supreme Court confirmed that the Constitution allowed the Federal government to assess taxes proportionately based on the population of each state, not directly on individuals.

However, as the United States transformed into a powerful and wealthy nation with a modern economy, the high tariffs and nuisance taxes that replaced the income tax hurt trade and productivity. And, because what replaced the income tax were regressive taxes, they hurt the poor by reducing the national standard of living. It took wars, the Spanish American War and World War I, for the income tax to reappear and be made permanent.

But wasn't the income tax declared unconstitutional? Yes, but it just took an amendment to rectify that. It was done with the 16th Amendment. It's the shortest amendment, just 30 words:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

The form used to file, of course, is the Form 1040, named because it was the next government form issued after form 1039. The first returns were due March 1, 1914 when 350,000 were filed, with a 100% audit rate.

But not everyone paid taxes, even those who should have. Al Capone never filed an income tax return, and never owned anything in his own name. Al Capone was known to be involved in illegal gambling, prostitution rings, and murder. Because he usually killed the witnesses to these crimes, the government couldn't hold him on any charges until the 1927 Sullivan rule that said illegal profits are taxable income.

Eliot Ness was a famous investigator for Treasury's Bureau of Prohibition and had been trying to catch Al Capone for a long time. Although modern TV shows and movies make us think he eventually did, he didn't. It was an accountant named Frank Wilson.

Frank Wilson worked for the Bureau of Internal Revenue's Special Intelligence Unit. During another investigation, Wilson came across a ledger from a gambling house with a handwritten notation,"17% for Al." That and a few other facts were enough to convict Al Capone, not of murder, racketeering, or illegal gambling, but of five counts of tax evasion and failing to file tax returns.

In 1952, the Bureau of Internal Revenue got a new name, Internal Revenue Service. And, almost every year since then, Congress has changed tax laws in an effort to make the income tax law more fair. And the more fair they make them, the more complicated they become.

Oliver Wendell Holmes was a famous jurist and Supreme Court Justice whose life spanned the transformation of our country from rural to urban, from insular to international. He was wounded in the Civil War, and his grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War. He understood both tea and taxes. Holmes famously stated,"taxes are what we pay for a civilized society." He would have approved of protests and tea parties, as long as they remained civilized.


QUESTION LAST ISSUE: What state was described as,"too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum"?


The 150th anniversary of the signing of the Ordinance of Secession reminded us of former congressman James Petigru's sentiment. In spite of his opinion, South Carolina voted unanimously to secede from the Union, becoming the first state to do so.

CONGRATULATIONS to Dennis Riley of Richland, Oregon. Dennis found the answer on the Internet, but deserves to win, if for no other reason than he is 89 years old—and knew how to find the answer on the Internet. For being the first to submit the correct answer, Dennis wins a copy of Craig Symonds' award winning book, Lincoln and His Admirals.

QUESTION THIS ISSUE: Who was the first black war correspondent?

Be the first to submit the correct answer and amaze your friends, win fame, fortune and/or a Smithsonian gift item. E-mail your answer to us at: dennisu@si.edu.


April 5, 1839
Robert Smalls, the only black naval captain during the Civil War, is born in Beaufort, South Carolina.

April 7, 1865
Lincoln wires Grant: “General Sheridan says, ‘If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.' Let the thing be pressed."

April 9, 1865
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War.

April 13, 1861
After 34 hours of bombardment, Fort Sumter is forced to surrender to the Confederates, opening the Civil War.

April 14, 1865
President Lincoln is shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre, Washington D.C.

April 17, 1861 and 1865
1861: Virginia adopts ordinance of secession.

1865: Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrenders to General William T. Sherman near Durham Station, North Carolina.

April 21, 1865
Train bearing President Lincoln's body leaves Washington en route to Springfield, Illinois.

Compiled from the Library of Congress Civil War Calendar, Pomegranate Press.


E-mail: dennisu@si.edu
US Mail: Civil war Studies at the Smithsonian Associates
1100 Jefferson Drive SW Washington DC 20560-0701


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