Taxation in Colonial America brings life to complex era, funding levies, and revolution

Thursday, April 3, 2008
Taxation in Colonial America
Taxation in Colonial America

Taxation in Colonial America (Princeton University Press, 2008) examines life in the thirteen original American colonies through the revealing lens of the taxes levied on and by the colonists.

Spanning the turbulent years from the founding of the Jamestown settlement to the outbreak of the American Revolution, author Alvin Rabushka provides the definitive history of taxation in the colonial era and sets it against the backdrop of enormous economic, political, and social upheaval in the colonies and Europe.

Rabushka shows how the colonists strove to minimize, avoid, and evade British and local taxation and how they used tax incentives to foster settlement. He describes the systems of public finance they created to reduce taxation and reveals how they gained control over taxes through elected representatives in colonial legislatures.

Rabushka takes a comprehensive look at the external taxes imposed on the colonists by Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden, as well as internal direct taxes such as poll and income taxes. He examines indirect taxes like duties and tonnage fees, as well as county and town taxes, church and education taxes, bounties, and other charges. He links the types and amounts of taxes with the means of payment—be they gold coins, agricultural commodities, wampum, or furs—and he compares tax systems and burdens among the colonies and with Britain.

This book brings the colonial period to life in all its rich complexity and shows how colonial attitudes toward taxation offer a unique window into the causes of the Revolution.

Alvin Rabushka is the David and Joan Traitel Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His books include The Flat Tax.

The book has gained attention and endorsement including

“A significant contribution. There is no other book like this one. It is a grand synthesis of mountains of previous work and colonial records. It pulls together a vast amount of scholarship of the past century or two, and in a convenient and accessible way. For anyone doing serious work on colonial taxation, it is the one book to have.” —Richard Sylla, New York University

“Encyclopedic and definitive. I was deeply impressed by the wealth of detail quite unknown to me. This is the fruit of intensive and extensive scholarship.” —Niall Ferguson, Harvard University

Taxation in Colonial America
by Alvin Rabushka
Princeton University Press
ISBN: 978-0-691-133345-4 $60.00 cloth
968 pages $60.00 March 2008