State Taxes, Wealth, and Public Finances after the American Revolution, 1783-1815

Garmon Jr., Frank, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Thomas, Mark, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation uses state property tax records to examine the economic consequences of the American Revolution. State governments reformed their fiscal infrastructure to respond to the crises encountered under the Articles of Confederation. Legislators worked to make local officials accountable and introduced strong incentives to ensure reliable and accurate tax collection. Tax lists are ideal sources for measuring economic change in the early republic. Local officials recorded detailed information that can be used to study wealth, inequality, insolvency, and social mobility. The dissertation samples the taxable property of more than 70,000 taxpayers from the ten most populous states between 1785 and 1815. The data reveal that Americans experienced significant economic mobility despite falling wealth averages and high levels of inequality. Instability was greatest for taxpayers in the top deciles of the wealth distribution. Local economic conditions and living standards varied tremendously, however, suggesting that national averages present a false aggregate of the American economy. Variation between individual counties and towns helps to explain why histories of the period often provide such starkly divergent accounts of the American economy. Rather than focusing on national figures, economic historians should consider states and counties as distinct units for economic analysis.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Taxation, Wealth, Inequality, Social Mobility, Early Republic, Economic History, American Revolution
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