From the Boston Tea Party to its modern-day namesake, tax protests are wired into the DNA of American history. Everyone, it seems, likes to complain about taxes, even if most pay them. There have been famous examples of those who refused to pay, like Al Capone.
The permanent creation of the income tax in 1913 is a particular source of anger for many. Some have turned to violence, others to politics. Either way, the protests have caught the public’s attention and spurred heated debates over the last 250 years. No matter any short-term-gains, in the long run taxes have continued to spur anger and dread.
Here is AdvisorOne’s look at 7 Key Tax Protests That Shook America:
1. Stamp Act, 1763
The first tax protest in Colonial America was aimed at the 1765 Stamp Act, which was approved by the British Parliament to pay for troops stationed in North America. It mandated the use of official “stamped” paper for legal documents, newspapers, bills of lading and other written instruments. The Colonists were incensed, arguing that a direct, internal tax was beyond reasonable.
Protests by colonial governments like Virginia, along with the writings of future revolutionaries John Adams and Patrick Henry fell on deaf ears. In Boston and New York, the stamp master was hanged in effigy. The Boston protests escalated, with a mob destroying a government official’s home. After months of debate leaving colonists caught between disobeying the crown and violating their own principles, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act.
2. Boston Tea Party, 1773
The next step toward revolution was the passage of the Tea Act in 1773. The law was intended to help the East India Co. by allowing the tea leaves to be sold at prices below smugglers’ rates. It added a tax, which British authorities thought wouldn’t be onerous since the price of the tea would be so low. That was a miscalculation.
On three occasions, colonists dressed as Indians dumped tea into Boston harbor while it waited to be unloaded. The authorities in London were furious: How dare the colonists destroy property! In response, the so-called Intolerable Acts promised a crackdown on protests in the Colonies. One of them closed the port of Boston until the East India Co. was reimbursed. The acts were the last step to revolution.
3. Whiskey Rebellion, 1791-1794
All governments need revenue to conduct business. The new American Congress was no different. They turned to taxes, of course. No matter that unpopular levies had spurred the Revolution. The Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, proposed an excise tax on liquor in 1791.
The farmers of Western Pennsylvania had found that turning their grain into whiskey made it easier to transport and enabled it to be used in lieu of hard money. Protests grew after a bill to enforce the legislation was approved by Congress. Harking back to not-so-distant Colonial times, 500 protesters marched on and burned the home of a regional tax inspector. The president In 1794, George Washington, working under the aegis of Congress, sent 13,000 troops to the area. Without further violence, the Whiskey Rebellion was over. Two people were tried and convicted, but Washington pardoned them. The federal government’s tax collection authority was established.
4. California Taxes: Proposition 13, 1978
California’s constitution allows for direct votes on nearly any proposed law. For decades, taxes were kept low through the use of propositions. The granddaddy of them all was Proposition 13, which was passed by voters in 1978. Proposition 13 capped property tax hikes at 1% annually and used the purchase price of a property as the taxable amount rather than the assessed value used in most states. Opponents lost court battles aimed at the measure’s constitutionality. You might think that the man who led the campaign for Prop 13’s passage would be a hero.