A Taxing Subject for Americans—and for Austen and her Peers — 24 Comments

  1. The entire article was new information for me. The reference to Mr. Bennet’s work horse needed for the farm is viewed in a new perspective since it was not taxed. This also shows hows wealthy Darcy was.

    • Yes, Eva, carriages were the equivalent of a Mercedes or Ferrari, which is why JA luxuriated on a ride in London once her books began to sell.

    • The window tax was also why Mr. Collins was so impressed with the number of windows in Lady Catherine’s estate, Rosings Park…you had to be very rich to put that many windows in your house!!
      The first time I heard about the TV tax, Theresa M. was from our first au pair, who was from Manchester. Always thought that was a little weird, but then England has had many more centuries to develop oddball taxes than the US has!! 😀

      • Early on, countries tended to tax specific items. Eventually they taxed everything! The sales tax is the same as a tax on all these individual items, it’s just it applies to all items.

  2. Edmund Bertram is taking over a living that is 700 pounds a year. That would allow him to have one carriage,especially if he keeps the riding horses that he and Fanny use. When Mrs Dashwood sold her carriage, she was saving herself the taxes on it as much as the cost of upkeep and the servants needed to keep it usable. Mr Knightly seems to be putting a lot of his funds in farming and he might be saving himself the cost of a tax on a carriage. His horses are primarily for the farm and he hires a coach when he needs one. Marriage to Emma will meant he he will have to keep a carriage.

    • Janelle, agree w all your points. Didn’t James, JA’s brother, try to keep a carriage but had to give it up because of costs? Since Knightly will be living w Emma, one assumes they will use the family’s current carriage.

  3. This was very interesting. It truly seems like there was a tax on everything, especially when wig powder and hats were taxed! Thank you.

  4. Fascinating article, Collins. Interesting that the taxes appear to be on a lot of luxury items. Seems pretty fair that way. Unfortunately, it still had a trickle down effect. I read recently that in the poorer London neighborhood, landlords took to boarding up windows because of the window tax, so some houses were completely dark inside even in daylight, in which case the tax on candles would have been awful. Do you know if they taxed tallow candles or just wax candles?

    • Monica,

      Yes, I think I’ve also read that some bigger houses also boarded up windows. Don’t know the answer to the candle question. One hopes they taxed only the expensive candles not the smoky everyday candles used by the poor.

    • And the odd taxes often resulted in changes in society’s habits- from how many windows they put in their homes to whether they powdered their hair! I suppose if there was someone in power who disliked wearing socks he could have tried to push through a tax on socks and everyone would get blisters from wearing their shoes without socks! 🙂

      • Many years ago, I read that England or America had a room tax, and people created intricate sliding walls, much like those in hotel meeting rooms. For ordinary use, the walls would be in place. When the taxman showed up, the panels would be rolled back. Voila, 4 rooms become one for tax purposes. This sounded like an awful lot.of work to avoid a small tax, and I was not able to track down any details for this article. I’m certain this tax was from a different period.

  5. When I reread this article, what stands out is the tax on bricks. Remember the craze for “cottages” that Austen uses in her fiction? The popinjay, Robert Ferrars, who says he loves cottages so much, might sound foolish but could actually want a home of his own, not just live with his mother and sister or in lodgings, and under his foolishness be an understanding that with a tax on bricks, a cottage would be the more financially practical choice. The Musgroves in Persuasion may understand that having Mary Elliot Musgrove live with them would not be fun-their solution was to build Charles and Mary a cottage, which still, with the brick and window tax, may have cost the Musgrove estate a pretty penny. Maybe the cottage was in existence before that marriage and it only had to be upgraded to meet the standards of the “Elliot pride.” The first references to the Musgrove cottage certainly mention a window-maybe a large one to let in light and keep the tax down since large as it might be, one window might mean less tax.

  6. Interesting how the brick tax may have affected people’s construction decisions! Thanks for pointing this out.

  7. This is very interesting. It seems that, for the most part, items not needed for daily survival were taxed; kind of like a luxury tax. Thank you for sharing this new information.

  8. Deborah, you’re correct. Most taxes were aimed toward the wealthier classes. I hazard to say that this was not so much enlightenment as reality. The middle class was rather small, though growing, and the poor were abysmally poor. There were riots over prices for basic foodstuffs. With no systematic taxation as we have now, the government had to “fish where the fish are.”

  9. Not quite on topic but I’ve been reading up about the East India Company, and when they risked bankruptcy in the early 1770s, they got a bailout from the British Parliament that was to be financed by first a stamp tax, then (after that proved too unpopular) a tea tax on the 13 colonies of North America. Although taxes were high in Britain, apparently the colonies had not been taxed by Britain before that, and even a quite low tax on tea rankled with the Americans. Then we had the Boston Tea Party (and other similar tea parties up and down the coast) and eventually the full-blown American Revolution. This had negative consequences during the Regency as – for example – the British tried to win back their former colonies during the War of 1812. I find it interesting that the US, the nation that had its origin in opposition to taxation from another country, is one of the few countries that taxes non-residents – though they do permit non-resident citizens to vote in Federal elections because they remember the hue and cry of “No taxation without representation”.

    • Beatrice, thanks for the info. First I’ve heard of the East India connection to the taxes levied by England on America. Another reason was to pay for the British troops in America. Ostensibly, they were there to protect the colonies from the French and Indians, who might be expected to start another war at any time. The colonists, though, didn’t see it that way. They felt the army was there to impose the will of the parent country on the colonies, who had largely been self-governing for many years, and didn’t understand why they should pay to be occupied. The British couldn’t understand why we were ungrateful. Tying America and India together was the general British policy of charging for the privilege of running things for other countries, whether the locals wanted the Brits there or not. India suffered the further degradation of being taxed not just for the administration of the country but also to pay the cost of the war when the Indians rebelled, which they did several times. The US escaped that fate by winning the rebellion!

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