1822 - Antebellum slave tax has lingering effect in Alabama
In the late spring or early summer of 1822, a man named Bolling Hall made a list of all his property before taking it to the Autauga County assessor and paying his taxes.
On the left side of a piece of parchment, Hall listed hundreds of acres of land he’d acquired since leaving Georgia four years before. He would pay between $2 and $8 an acre on it. He listed a gold watch, as well as a coach, which he valued at $250. The state would collect about $2.50 on it.
And in the top right-hand corner, Hall listed “15 negroes under 10 years” and “30 negroes over 10 years.” By law, Hall would have paid 25 cents for every slave younger than 10, and a dollar for those older than 10 - $33.75 for the human beings whose unrequited toil allowed him to buy coaches and gold watches.
Alabama tax assessments that year - and for more than four decades after - would include nameless columns of slaves whose existence was critical to the operations of state government. Alabama’s compact with the institution was, for whites, very profitable, and nowhere more than in the state’s slave tax.
“It holds the land tax to very low levels because most of the revenue comes from the slave tax,” said J. Mills Thornton, a retired University of Michigan professor and historian of the South. “The result is that small farmers pay virtually no direct taxes.”