Book Review: Civil War Taxes: A Documentary History, 1860-1900


by John Martin Davis, Jr

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2019. Pp. vi, 168. Illus., tables, notes, biblio., index. $49.95 paper. ISBN: 1476677948

Financing the Civil War

Well qualified for his task, Davis, a retired tax attorney and CPA, sheds light on one of the murkier corners of the Civil War, how both the Union and the Confederacy financed the proceedings, with a particular concentration on taxation.

Davis opens by noting that historically Americans have not been fond of taxes, save somewhat in war time, and even then often grumble post-war over having to pay off the bill. He then proceeds to give us an overview of United States revenue policy in the ante bellum era. During this period, the federal government financed its operations through a mixture of import tariffs, some excise taxes, notably on alcohol, plus special licensing fees and sales of public land. While adequate for peacetime government operations, these sources were wholly inadequate to fund a major war, so each side needed to raise money quickly.

While its existing revenue structure provided the Union with a firm base on which to develop a more elaborate revenue system, the Confederacy had to improvise. Davis covers developments by each side on the revenue front on a year by year basis. Perhaps not surprisingly, both sides generally adopted similar measures, the Union mostly be increasing levies, while the Confederacy had to create imposts.

So excise taxes and tariffs were raised (in the North) or imposed (in the South),while both sides imposed income taxes, made loans, and adopted other measures, albeit varying the their reliance on each source of revenue. And both sides tended to print money. But the Union imposed taxes that soaked up such of the paper money, thus experiencing less inflation than did the Confederacy, which spent far more than it taxed, and was plagued by tax evasion. In the end, the Confederacy lost the revenue war, lacking a strong banking system, and with what was essentially a one-crop economy.

While not a complete economic and fiscal history of the war, omitting, for example, the complex subject of bond issues by each side, with Civil War Taxes Davis has given us some invaluable insights into how the war was financed.


Note: Civil War Taxes is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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