This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
While the distinction between state and local services was thus becoming definitely fixed, both by legal enactment and by custom, the revenue systems of the different governmental units underwent no such crystallizing process. The provincial government of Pennsylvania, like that of the other middle colonies, depended largely upon indirect taxes for its revenues. *23 Imposts were levied upon wine, rum, beer, and cider imported into the province, *24 at an early date, and were continued at varying rates until 1789. An excise tax was established, in 1684, but, owing to its unpopularity, it remained in operation only a short time. At intervals, during the subsequent provincial history when the condition of the treasury made imperious demands the tax was again imposed, but always in the face of strong opposition from the Assembly. *25 A licence tax was levied soon after the founding of the colony, and the scope of its application broadened as years went by; *26 but it never became a highly productive source of income.
23 For a brief statement of the provincial tax systems of the different colonies see Bullock, "Direct Taxes and the Federal Constitution," Yale Review, X, pp. 15-18.
24 II Statutes at Large, p. 105.
Although the provincial government relied chiefly upon indirect taxes, direct taxes upon real and personal estate and upon polls were imposed at intervals from 1693 to 1791. The earlier taxes, especially those of 169327 and 169628 seem to have been collected with great difficulty, and the latter required three supplementary acts in as many years to bring about its collection. *29 In spite of the popular aversion to direct taxation, and in spite of the dispute that later developed between the proprietors and the Assembly concerning the liability of the estates of the former to pay the tax,30 direct levies were imposed many times before 1776.
A description of the taxing system in 1766 shows that the province was, at that time, levying a direct tax upon estates, real and personal, a poll tax, a tax upon offices, trades, professions and businesses according to their profits, an excise upon wine, rum, and spirits, and an import duty upon negroes. *31 During the war against England the commonwealth resorted to both direct and indirect taxes, and continued both until the last decade of the century.
The people, however, never came to look with favor upon the direct taxes, and their collection was always difficult and unsatisfactorily performed. The correspondence of the Executive Council, from 1783 to 1789, contains many letters from the commissioners of the various counties explaining the difficulties of obtaining the taxes levied within their jurisdictions and excusing their failure to remit to the treasury the amounts properly charged against them. The excuses are largely of such a character as one would expect, considering the conditions that naturally resulted from the war and the commercial depression that prevailed over a part of this decade. There was a general scarcity of money in which to pay the taxes; the owners of property, even landholders, were frequently so much embarrassed financially that no taxes could be collected from them; sales of property for taxes were often impossible either because no bidders were actually to be found or because the sympathy of the community for the "oppressed taxpayer" prevented bidding. These difficulties can readily be understood if we take into consideration the economic condition of the state for the period following the war. But there were other sources of failure that cannot be explained in this manner. Not infrequently collectors were careless, or even dishonest, and, since the co-operation of local authorities was necessary in order to invoke the law against them, prosecutions were out of the question. Furthermore, it frequently happened that varying amounts were lost because of robbery or theft or embezzlement. *32
26 Egle, W. H. Pennsylvania, p. 219. 26II Statutes at Large, p. 357.
27 Charters and Laws, 1682-1700, p. 221.
28 Idem, p. 253.
29 Idem, pp. 263, 274, 279.
30 Concerning the details of the dispute, see Shepher, History of Proprietary Government in Pennsylvania, Ch. X.
31 Bigelow's Works of Benjamin Franklin, III, p. 409.
In 1796 the failure of the state to collect direct taxes was observed and commented upon by Wolcott, who states that at that time a part of the direct tax due in 1790 remained unpaid. *33 In 1790 Governor Mifflin, in addressing the lower house of the Assembly, ascribed the financial embarrassment of the state during the Confederation to the difficulties encountered in collecting revenues. *34 Whatever opinion may be formed as to the reason for the state's failure to deal successfully with the war debt, during the years of the Confederation, the evidence indicates very great opposition to the direct tax. Not only was the tax difficult to administer, but there were serious popular objections to its use.
The opportunity for the abolition of this unpopular tax came, when, in 1790, the federal government agreed to assume the debts the several states had incurred for the purpose of carrying on the war for independence. Almost as soon as it was certain that the state would thus be relieved of a great part of the accumulated debt, the direct tax was discontinued, tentatively at first, and then permanently. *35 Later in the same year the excise taxes upon wine, rum, and brandy were abolished; *36 in 1794 the tax upon the writs of the court of common pleas was dropped, *37 and in the following year the tax on pleasure carriages, which had been imposed by the law of 1783, was also repealed. *38
32 Pennsylvania Archives, 1st. Ser., X, pp. 75, 77, 79, 80,92,98, 587; vol. XI, p. 603.
33 American State Papers, Finance, I, pp. 427-428. 34Jour. House of Reps., 1790-1791, p. 43.
35 Acts of 6 April, 1791 and 9 April, 1791, XIV Statutes at Large, pp. 49, 78.
36 Act 21 September, 1791, idem., p. 127.
37 Act 13 Jan., 1794, XV Statutes at Large, pp. 7-8.
38 Act 13 April, 1795, idem, p. 287.