The History of Tax Resistance in America

Taxpayers have generally never quite enjoyed paying taxes. Tax resistance is very much alive today though probably not as much as it was during some time in history. Tax resistance is the taxpayers’ refusal to pay taxes because they are opposed to the government that imposes the taxes or are opposed to its overall tax policies. Governments however have a rather neat term for such activities -‘civil disobedience’. You will be pleased to know that the general dislike of tax regimes started a long time ago especially in America. We take a look at four famous tax resistances that happened in history.

Fries Rebellion (1799)

This one wasn’t named after the product but after the leader of the rebellion, John Fries. It was an uprising protesting against a property tax that had been imposed by the federal government. While anticipating a war with France, the federal government decided to source revenue by taxing all property that people owned. This included buildings, land, and even slaves. Fries and other angry farmers marched to Bethlehem and forced the release of other resisters who had been captured.

Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794)

It is also known as the whiskey insurrection. It was a tax resistance protest that took place during George Washington’s tenure as president. The tax in question was the whiskey tax that had been imposed by the federal government. It was aimed at raising funds to pay the debts that had risen during the war. The tax was to be applied to all types of distilled spirits. The problem however arose due to the fact that the American whiskey was the country’s most popular whiskey and was therefore seen as being targeted by the tax. The farmers whose produce was distilled into the whiskey started the resistance which came to be known as the whiskey rebellion.

The Boston Tea Party (1773)

You have probably heard of this one but perhaps never gave it much thought. Prior to the event, the British Parliament passed a bill known as the tea act, cleverly designed to prevent the fall of the East India Company. The bill lowered the company’s tea tax thus giving it an unfair advantage and giving it monopoly powers. Viewing this as tyranny, Samuel Adams and members of the sons of liberty raided three East India ships and tossed more than 340 cheats of tea into the ocean.

Shay’s rebellion (1786-1787)

This was more of a series of protests against local tax collections. The protests were mainly carried out by American farmers. The Shay rebellion was most felt in Massachusetts where farmers faced the largest risk of farm losses through poor harvests, economic depression, and to top it off, the imposition of very high taxes. The protestors tried to capture a weapons arsenal unsuccessfully ending in the rebellion’s leaders fleeing to Vermont. The rebellion, while it never caused any serious instability to the country raise much-required awareness among the political circles and contributed to the revision that was later done to the articles of confederation. read more

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