The perceived power: government and taxation during the American Civil War
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This dissertation examines how the internal revenue legislation enacted during the American Civil War fostered a new role for government in society. The delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention constructed a system of fiscal federalism for the United States. The national government relied on indirect taxes, particularly customs duties, as its primary source of revenue. Concurrently, the states developed an array of unique financing strategies, including taxing citizens directly. The dire need for war funds compelled this "unperceived" government to expand beyond the constraints imposed by this antebellum fiscal structure. Through my research, I found that the taxes imposed during the war represent an attempt to cope with a financial crisis, rather than impart a particular preconceived agenda. Because Congress had depended on customs receipts as its primary source of revenue for four decades, lawmakers had few ready options for meeting the overwhelming war costs. In developing the war revenue measures, lawmakers borrowed policies and statutes from the past, rather than relying upon the "free labor ideology" that united the party. The need to meet the escalating costs of war forced lawmakers to react with more speed than deliberation. They often sacrificed their principles to provide the means to prosecute the war and reunite the nation. Once peace returned, the question of whether to "sink" the debt or shrink revenues, vexed lawmakers, and kept the government from returning to its limited role in the economy. As a result, the United States government emerged from the Civil War as a perceived power, one that touched citizens "individually" through the new internal revenue system. I concluded that the fiscal powers of the national government expanded beyond the restraints imposed throughout the antebellum era. The internal revenue measures enacted during the war played a significant role in this transformation.
Flaherty, Jane (2005). The perceived power: government and taxation during the American Civil War. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from