When I started collecting stamps, I discovered a category of stamps called "revenue stamps," also known as "documentary stamps." Essentially, the U.S. government decided it needed more money to cover its expeditures, so it started taxing everything. We modern Americans think we have a rough time with taxes. In 1862, the Federal Government faced increased expenses related to fighting the Civil War against the rebellious Confederacy, so it taxed everything in order to cover the costs of fielding an army and equipping it. Civil-War era Americans had to pay a tax on the newspapers they read, their tobacco, playing cards, and official documents. If they sold real estate, bought stocks and bonds, incorporated a business, wrote checks on their bank accounts, or shipped cargo, they had to pay a tax. To make paying the taxes less distasteful, the revenue stamps bore the portrait of George Washington. Americans may have hated paying the taxes, but the loved George Washington, so they went along it. Look at the variety of revenue sources:

Insurance policies and other docs

Mortgage contracts

Chartering a boat for commerce

A Periodicals tax 

A tax on wine

Playing cards


One revenue stamp took me completely by surprise: a tax on Marijuana sales. In 1937, the Federal Government enacted the Marihuana Act, to allow the IRS to collect tax on sales of marijuana. If the nation legalizes marijuana again, it should plan to tax it, again, and use the revenue to fight another war, this one against cocaine and meth.

Basically the British Government enacted the hated Stamp Act of 1765 to help pare down the expenses of fighting the Seven Years War, also known as the French and Indian War; but the use of revenue stamps by the British government led to the revolutionary slogan, "No taxation without representation!" The Founders convinced the nation to go to war with Britain over the hated Stamp Act. 

Then, during the American Civil War of 1861-65, the Federal Government enacted a Stamp Act of its own, again to pare down the expenses. Americans may have hated the idea of paying the same tax again, but at least they elected the officials who levied the taxes. They also had a federal government to collect them and not disputatious states hemming and hawing, as happened in the Revolutionary War.  

History teachers must have had a hell of a time trying to explain why the Federal Government used such a discredited concept as taxing newspapers, playing cards, and contracts, even if the proceeds went to finance the Civil War. The government must have lost some credibility when it continued to use revenue stamps after the surrender of the Confederacy in 1865. The taxation of documents and commerce continued with hardly a blip. Everyone must have realized that the IRS took some risks by doing this. Thank God the Gilbert Stuart painting of Washington looks so handsome!


September 30, 2022

Rolexes and Wealth

I remember the day my eighth-grade teacher arrived at school wearing his new wrist-watch. We saw this guy for the 180 days of the school-year and knew him pretty well--as well as anyone did. We noticed that, among his other mannerisms, he tended to look often at the watch during class. We thought he was keen to know the time on a regular basis. Now, I believe he was just admiring his new watch.

September 28, 2022

Family-life is not a Democracy

I ran into a problem yesterday when I returned to Germany. On my first evening, I wanted to slake my thirst for German beer, big-time! So I ordered a liter-serving right off the bat; but I knew I also wanted some wine and ordered a carafe of it, as well. Shamefully, I have to admit to not finishing either. I slaked my thirst, but had to leave some of it undrunk. I hate wasting anything, but I had work to do and wanted to operate on all my cylinders.

September 24, 2022

Violence in the Real

This article appeared last July in the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, by the newspaper's expert on hip-hop music, Florentin Schuhmacher. He regards gangsta-rap, and its sub-genre Drill, as a legitimate art-form. He can understand the reservations that law enforcement, parents, and teachers have toward music that glorifies gang-life, describes the rush of killing one's enemies, the pleasure of drugs—as a source of wealth—and demeaning women; but Schumacher also says the police cannot simply censor it. They must distinguish between art and criminal acts, shooings, and robberies.

Lloyd Bowers


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