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American Taxation, American Slavery

For all the recent attention to the slaveholding of the founding fathers, we still know remarkably little about the influence of slavery on American politics. American Taxation, American Slavery tackles this problem in a new way. Rather than parsing the ideological pronouncements of charismatic slaveholders, it examines the concrete policy decisions that slaveholders and non-slaveholders made in the critical realm of taxation. The result is surprising—that the enduring power of antigovernment rhetoric in the United States stems from the nation’s history of slavery rather than its history of liberty.

            We are all familiar with the states’ rights arguments of proslavery politicians who wanted to keep the federal government weak and decentralized. But here Robin Einhorn shows the deep, broad, and continuous influence of slavery on this idea in American politics. From the earliest colonial times right up to the Civil War, slaveholding elites feared strong democratic government as a threat to the institution of slavery. American Taxation, American Slavery shows how their heated battles over taxation, the power to tax, and the distribution of tax burdens were rooted not in debates over personal liberty but rather in the rights of slaveholders to hold human beings as property. Along the way, Einhorn exposes the antidemocratic origins of the popular Jeffersonian rhetoric about weak government by showing that governments were actually more democratic—and stronger—where most people were free.

            A strikingly original look at the role of slavery in the making of the United States, American Taxation, American Slavery will prove essential to anyone interested in the history of American government and politics.

Read a special essay, Tax Aversion and the Legacy of Slavery.

399 pages | 6 line drawings, 2 maps, 10 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2006

Economics and Business: Economics--Government Finance

History: American History

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Economics


"[Einhorn] tells what might have been a complicated story in an engaging and accessible manner. It is her contention that slavery and the reaction to it to a great extent shaped the kind of nation we are today, because it shaped the kind of tax policies we constructed to fund the kind of government we got. . . . Required reading for anyone who ponders the impact of slavery on our lives today."

James Srodes | Washington Times

“For those seeking to understand complex and ever-changing systems of taxation, their relationship to local and national politics, and how the state and local systems were shaped by the ‘peculiar institution,’ this seminal and innovative investigation will provide many answers.”

Loren Schweninger | American Historical Review

"Einhorn has undertaken important research in archives and in secondary sources on a major set of historical problems. This book will influence the analysis of colonial and antebellum tax systems, and it raises anew some of the central issues of colonial and antebellum history. The arguments are clearly and strongly made. . . . This book deservedly will be widely read and discussed."

Stanley L. Engerman | Journal of American History

"For those seeking to understand complex and everchanging systems of taxation, their relationship to local and national politics, and how the state and local systems were shaped by the ’peculiar institution,’ this seminal and innovative investigation will provide many answers."

Loren Schweninger | American Historical Review

"A valuable entry in the growing and much-needed literature examining the exact impact that slavery had on the American state in the early republic. . . . The book aims at nothing less than revising the central story that most Americans have accepted about the growth of the national state."

Matthew Mason | Journal of the Early Republic

"[Einhorn] scrupulously details the direct and indirect ways in which human bondage structured American taxation policies during the eighteenth century and the continued legacy of slavery for modern taxation. The result is a pathbreaking contribution to scholarship on antebellum constitutional politics. . . . This detailed study of federal and local tax policy is a remarkable easy read. American Taxation may be the most surprising page-turner of the early twenty-first century."

Mark A. Graber | H-Net Book Review

"With prodigious research . . . Einhorn’s masterful narrative challenges the conventional Jeffersonian story about the Southern yeoman origins of American liberty and anti-statism. . . . A book that needs to be read by those who continue to subscribe to the resilient Jeffersonian myth that liberty and democracy require weak government."

Ajay K. Mehrotra | Law and Politics Review

"[Einhorn’s] book is a treasure chest of informaiton about taxation in the colonies and early republic. She has written her work forcefully and lucidly; it is well worth the time of anyone interested in American Studies, as well as in the culture of slavery."

James L. Huston | American Studies

Table of Contents

List of Tables, Figures, and Maps

Prologue: Taxation without Representation
Part I - Colonial Tax System
1. Virginia
2. Massachusetts
3. Variations

Part II - National Tax Debates
4. The Origin of the Tariff
5. Direct Taxes
Part III - The Synthesis in the States
6. Property Taxes
Epilogue: James Madison on Slave Taxes
Appendix: How to Talk about Taxes

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