Property taxes were the primary source of revenue in 19th Century America. Land value and other property were thought to be the generating forces in the coming Kansas economy, so the tax structure set up by the Bogus Legislature was primarily based on property. [Madden, Financing, 162]
In Chapters 137 and 138 of the Territorial statutes many sections of the Missouri Statutes of 1845 were copied word for word, only substituting "Territory of Kansas" for "State of Missouri" and "county tribunals" for "county courts." The Missouri statutes did not follow the more modern practice of making all classes of property taxable unless specifically exempted (as did the Wisconsin statute the free-state legislature adopted in 1858, for example.) Instead, all items of taxable property were listed and anything not listed was not taxable:
- All free male persons over twenty-one and under fifty-five years of age.
- Lands and lots of ground, including the houses and improvements thereon.
- Leasehold interest in land for a term of ten years or more, as lands.
- All slaves.
- Household furniture, to include silver and gold plate, kept for use or ornament, and by any one family, above the value of two hundred dollars.
- Pleasure carriages kept for the use of the owner or his family.
- Horses, mares, geldings, neat (ordinary, domesticated) cattle, mules and asses, above one year.
- Watches, and their chains, seals and other appendages, and clocks, kept to be worn or used by the owner or his family.
- Shares of stock in banks and other incorporated companies, except hospitals, literary institutions and library associations.
- Bills of exchange, bonds, notes and other securities, and all money on hand taken, negotiated and kept by brokers and exchange dealers, in their business as such, other than such as may be the property of citizens of the territory, except themselves.
- All money loaned at interest to citizens of this territory, whether the same be secured by a bill of exchange, bond, note or otherwise; all money in hand, and all territorial warrants.
- The property of all corporations, over and above their capital stock, and all money held by such companies in trust for persons or corporations, other than citizens or corporations of this territory, and used in trade for the benefit of such persons or corporations.
- Shares of stock or interest in any steamboat.
- All licenses taxable by law.
Glenn Fisher pointed out that although the list is extensive, there was no tax on machinery, vehicles other than carriages, or many kinds of livestock. The provision exempting $200 of household goods was high enough to exclude all but the wealthiest taxpayers. Governmental, educational, religious and charitable properties were totally exempted as was the property of widows and orphans not worth more than $1,000. [Fisher, Property Taxation, 187ff]
The rate on free males was 50 cents as a capitation tax. All real and personal property subject to taxation was taxed at a rate of one-sixth of one percent (1 2/3 mills) of assessed value. Thus a farm worth $1000 would be taxed $1.67, considerably lower than the rate in Missouri. Intangibles were taxed, but to avoid double taxation, the value of capital could be deducted from corporate obligations. The presidents of corporations were to pay tax for shareholders and then deduct the amount paid from dividends or otherwise recover the money. [Fisher, Property Taxation, loc. cit.]
Counties could levy an additional amount not to exceed the territorial tax by more than one hundred percent (or 3 1/3 mills) Unlike the territory tax, the county rate was not fixed but was to be set to defray expenses annually. Chapter 155 provided for incorporation of cities and gave city trustees the power to appoint assessors and collectors. The city tax was not administered by the territorial government, but the power to sue in territorial courts for enforcement was granted. [Fisher, Property Taxation, loc. cit.]
A very controversial measure taxed merchants on all goods, drugs, wares, or merchandise owned during the preceding twelve months, not only those in the merchant's possession on assessment day, February 1st, as all other taxpayers. [House Journal, 312] This provision was grossly unfair to merchants but a suspicious Legislature thought there might be fraud if a specific date for assessment were set, giving merchants an opportunity to switch or deplete stock.
The Reverend. Samuel Adair (1811-1898)
With his wife Florella, purchased a Miami County cabin in March 1855 for $200. The abolitionist John Brown was Mrs. Adair's half-brother.
A complete system of assessment and collection was set out. The county assessor was to be appointed by the county tribunal, not elected as in Missouri. On or before the first of January, the assessor was to post in four public places a notice giving time he would appear. It was the duty of each taxpayer to deliver at that time a list of all property held as of February 1st, except merchandise for sale. The assessor was to administer an oath of affirmation. If any person failed to appear, the assessor was to go to his residence, assess his property and add a $1 fine. A penalty of triple the tax plus a $500 fine would be levied for a false report. Procedures for maintenance of tax rolls and appeals were set forth. The county sheriff acted as collector of revenue with the right of seizure of property for non-payment. The assessor was paid $3 per day while working and the sheriff got a percentage of collections varying from 2 to 7 percent. [Fisher, Property Taxation, loc. cit.]
As thorough as the statutory scheme was, little actual revenue was collected. Free-state citizens ignored the pro-slavery taxing authorities. An example was Samuel Adair of Osawatomie:
"...Adair reported that the 'bogus assessor' paid his settlement a visit, but that only two persons gave him a list of their property--"one a pro-slavery man and the other, a rum- seller." Adair apparently told the assessor that he had nothing for him but contempt, as he did for all other officers of "that mob elected legislature." The assessor met with the same reception at almost every house, the clergyman claimed." Adair to Jocelyn May 16, 1856 [SenGupta, For God and Mammon, 98]
Real property could not be placed on the tax rolls until the landowner had legal title, and in many locations, the Federal Government did not grant title for years. [Gates, Fifty Million Acres, 59 ff.] So, the largest source of revenue was not always available.
The general turmoil in "Bleeding Kansas" kept tax collection low. State Auditor John Donaldson reported 1856 revenues to the governor totalling only $1,608.40. If there were more order in the territory, Donaldson thought the territory could be self-sufficient, but:
"...I need not call your Excellency's attention to the fact, which is apparent, that hitherto the assessors have found it impossible to ascertain the amount of taxable property in many of the counties, and the sheriffs of the same dare not attempt the collection of revenue...." [Minutes of Geary Administration, KHC 4:693]
John Madden wrote that by almost any standard, Kansas during territorial days was bankrupt. Warrants drawn on the treasury between 1855 and 1860 exceeded revenue by nearly $70,000. Madden found that the Poll Tax imposed by the Bogus Legislature (a separate provision, not included above,) though despised by free-state groups, was maintained in the revenue acts of 1858 and 1860 because it was the only sure source of income. Territorial Kansas had many elections. Expenditures in the territory were primarily for four items, in order of importance: (1) Investigation of election frauds, (2) Holding constitutional conventions, (3) Territorial roads and (4) Legislative expenses. [Madden, Financing, 163]