It is clear that many Americans hated taxes and that it was one of the causes of the Revolutionary War. However, the effect of taxes shaping America after Independence up until the Gilded Age is not so clear to me. How do you think taxes shaped America and why?

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    I apologize that I can't answer this more thoroughly for now, but much historiography (e.g. Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood) plays down the importance of taxes. The Revolution was about who was taxing and why, not taxes per se. – two sheds Apr 17 '15 at 3:18
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    The American Revolution was about economic interests, taxes was just an (inconsistent) talking point. You're covering a lot of ground in one go by going up till the Gilded Age, though. – Semaphore Apr 17 '15 at 4:12
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    You've loaded some erroneous tea-party talking points into your question (Joe the plumber, not Samuel Adams). It can't be answered till you take them out. – Ne Mo Apr 17 '15 at 10:32
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    You've phrased your question as an explicit request for opinion "how do you think...." The title is really broad - covering nearly a century of history and at least three different governments. Finally nobody likes taxes - but the Revolutionary war took place in the context of the British constitutional principle that Taxes are the Free Gift of the populace, and issues of representation and types of taxes. Somewhat more complex than implied in the first sentence. – Mark C. Wallace Apr 17 '15 at 13:26
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    1. I don't think it's clear at all. 2. Before the revolutionary war those 'tax haters' were English subjects, not Americans. 3. After the revolutionary war there were still taxes, they were just "our" taxes. – CGCampbell Apr 17 '15 at 14:50

Today when we talk about "taxes" usually what is meant is Income Taxes. The US did not have much in the way of income taxes during your period; during the Civil War a 3% tax was introduced for incomes over $800 in the Revenue Act of 1861, and that went away after the war; 1894 saw a 2% tax, but only the richest 10% paid it, and that one got declared unconstitutional anyway. It wasn't until 1913 and the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment that income tax became something significant enough to be hated. And it was, of course. But that's post-Gilded Age.

Besides income taxes there were various other kinds of taxes, many of which raised ire among some group or other. The Whiskey Rebellion was an early one in your period, due to a federal tax on whiskey - not by buyers in the form of a sales tax, but on sellers as an excise tax. Back then, farmers routinely converted excess crops to spirits, which were also used as a medium of exchange, so the excise tax hit a lot of farmers directly in the pocketbook. Excise taxes were thickly hated.

A lot of the taxation during your period was in the form of import taxes and tariffs. Free market philosophies and globalization have largely eliminated tariffs for the most part, but these were a major revenue source for the US early on. Even though they were not directly levied on individuals, they did stimulate strong reactions, such as if a tariff was perceived as being too harsh on one industry over another, or if it'd affect certain states more than others. Historians argue whether or not the tariff directly or indirectly led to the American Civil War, but the Nullification Crisis, an 1828 fight over a controversial tariff that South Carolina wanted to declare null and void under the doctrine of states' rights, seems to be generally agreed on as the event that birthed the conflict. So throughout the 1800's these tariffs, and the public's acceptance or rejection of them, were huge factors in US politics and even affected foreign relations. They helped protect America's fledgling industries and provided the finances to grow the government and expand US borders, yet they aggravated issues like slavery, states rights, and western expansion into Indian territories, generating lots and lots of divisiveness in the process.

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    I think you are misinterpreting that Civil War link of yours. The first sentence of the main section you are referencing currently reads: "Historians generally agree that economic conflicts were not a major cause of the war." – T.E.D. Apr 22 '15 at 19:14
  • Admittedly I didn't review the entire article before linking the subsection, and you're right that the larger section seems to be an essay pushing the premise that economics including tariffs did not cause the civil war. But I think the fact they have to make that argument demonstrates my point that tariffs were indeed a primary issue of the time. – Bryce Apr 22 '15 at 21:38
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    an issue, yes. But a primary issue? I don't see your link providing any support for that. It seems to be specifically saying it wasn't. – T.E.D. Apr 22 '15 at 21:49
  • Give me a chance to write, sheesh. – Bryce Apr 22 '15 at 21:51
  • A common argument I see (and find convincing, esp. as argued in Potter's Impending Crisis) is that the disappearance of the tariff as an issue led to the Civil War. When the parties were oriented around economic issues, Whigs and Democrats had strong support in North and South. But during the 1850s, economic issues became less pressing than sectional issues, the Republicans dominated the North, the Democrats dominated the South. Soon thereafter, Civil War. – two sheds Apr 22 '15 at 22:15

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