Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What They're Reading: Mark Graber on Einhorn, American Taxation, American Slavery

Turns out, this feature was coming even sooner than I thought, thanks to Mark Graber!
Mark has been reading Robin Einhorn, American Taxation, American Slavery (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2006). If you pick up a copy at Amazon, you can add to your cart Mark's newest book Dred Scott and the Problem of Constitutional Evil.

Mark's comments follow:

Robin Einhorn's American Taxation, American Slavery makes a surprisingly good holiday gift and an even better assignment in classes on American political development and American history. Hard as this might be to believe, Professor Einhorn has written an exceptional page turner on colonial and antebellum tax practices (I should confess, however, that as the son of an accountant, my notion of a page turner may be idiosyncratic).

More important, the book more than delivers on two major themes. First, Professor Einhorn demonstrates that we cannot understand American tax policy without looking at American slavery. What taxes government had and could collect depended heavily on whether there were slaveholders to accommodate. As such, this is a more than welcomed addition to the literature highlighting the ways in which slavery permeated the antebellum polity. As interesting, Professor Einhorn details the influence of slaveholding on local government and the influence of local government on taxation. In places with relatively few slaves, her work notes, local government was robust and capable of sophisticated tax policies. Where slavery existed, local government was weak and incapable of raising revenue through complex tax policies.

I should have a review shortly on H-Net elaborating on these strengths and highlighting a few points of discussion, but this is a must read for students of American legal and political development.