Capitation Taxes, or poll taxes, are levied on each person without reference to income or property. The US Constitution, in Article I, Section 9, forbids the federal government from levying a capitation or other direct tax “unless in Proportion to the Census of Enumeration” provided for in Section 2.
Section 9, however, in accord with colonial practices of placing taxes on the importation of convicts and slaves, permits a tax or duty to be imposed on persons entering the United States, ‘not exceeding ten dollars for each person.’ The poll-tax restriction does not apply to the states. (Encyclopedia-com)
Virginia, the earliest settlement (1607) levied the first known colonial tax – a poll (head) tax in 1619. The universal poll tax, New York being the only exception, applied to free men regardless of occupation or the amount of property holdings. (Howe and Reeb)
Capitation, major direct tax in France before the Revolution of 1789, was first established in 1695 as a wartime measure. Originally, the capitation was to be paid by every subject, the amount varying according to class.
For the purpose of the tax, French society was divided into 22 classes, ranging from members of the royal family who owed 2,000 livres (basic monetary unit of pre-Revolutionary France) to dayworkers who owed only one livre. (Britannica)
Begun in the 1890s as a legal way to keep African Americans from voting in southern states, poll taxes were essentially a voting fee. Eligible voters were required to pay their poll tax before they could cast a ballot.
A “grandfather clause” excused some poor whites from payment if they had an ancestor who voted before the Civil War, but there were no exemptions for African Americans. (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)
In the Islands, tax laws through the early 1840s illustrate a gradual transition to Western-style tax law, while initially allowing some familiar Hawaiian commodity payments in lieu of currency.
The first written Hawaiian tax law, dated December 27, 1826, allowed payment in specific goods or Spanish currency. The law required each able man in the Kingdom to pay their konohiki half a picul of good sandalwood, or four Spanish dollars, or another commodity worth that amount.
Each woman was directed to provide authorities with a mat six by twelve, or tapa of equal value, or one Spanish dollar. (Woods)
In the Kingdom laws of 1842, “The prerogatives of the King are as follows: He is the sovereign of all the people and all the chiefs. The kingdom is his. He shall have the direction of the army and all the implements of war of the kingdom. “
“He also shall have the direction of the government property – the poll tax – the land tax – the three days monthly labor, though in conformity to the laws. He also shall retain his own private lands, and lands forfeited for the nonpayment of taxes shall revert to him. …”
“There shall be two forms of taxation in the Hawaiian Kingdom. The one a poll tax, to be paid in money, the other a land tax, to be paid in Swine; or these shall be the standard of taxation, though in failure of these articles other property will be received. The amount of poll tax shall be as follows.
- For a man, one dollar.
- For a woman, half a dollar.
- For a Boy, one fourth of a dollar.
- For a girl, one eighth of a dollar.”
“This is the ratio of taxation for adults and children above 14 years of age. But feeble old men and women shall not be taxed at all. In the back part of the islands where money is difficult to be obtained.”
“Arrow Root will be a suitable substitute. Thirty-three pounds of good arrow root will be taken for a dollar. Cotton also is another suitable article; sixteen pounds will be accounted equal to a dollar. Sugar is another suitable article; also nets.”
“If any individual do not obtain the money at the time when every man, is to pay his taxes, and if he do not obtain arrow root, nor sugar, nor nets, until the specified months for payment are passed, viz October, November and December …”
“… and if the last days of December have passed, then every man shall be fined the value of two dollars, (if his tax is not paid) and the same rates of increase shall be observed in relation to those whose taxes are less than that of a man.”
“The fine shall be paid in some property that can be sold for the value of two dollars, but not in property subject to immediate decay or death.” (Constitution and Laws of the Hawaiian Islands, 1842)
Later, the poll tax swallowed up the formerly separate road and school taxes; it accounted for one-eighth of Hawaii’s revenues in 1902. It had fallen to be a mere nuisance tax, bringing in only 2 per cent, when it was abolished in 1943. (Although called a poll tax, in the Islands it was never a qualification to participate in the election process. (Tax Foundation of Hawai‘i))
In 1964 the Twenty-Fourth amendment prohibited the use of poll taxes for federal elections. Five states enforced payment of poll taxes for state elections until 1966, when the US Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional. (Smithsonian National Museum of American History))
There is no Poll Tax – Vote.
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