Monday, October 10, 2011

Civil Disobedience - Calvin Wright and the IRS

The roots of the Internal Revenue Service go back to the Civil War. In July 1862, President Abraham Lincoln and Congress created the office of Commissioner of Internal Revenue and enacted an income tax to offset the rising war expenditures. Named the Revenue Act of 1862, it was passed as an emergency and temporary war-time tax.

Income subject to tax included wages and salaries, interest and dividends, and no exemptions were provided for children. Taxes were withheld on salaries of government employees and dividends paid by corporations, the first withholding system. Additional taxes were levied on public utilities, distilled spirits, tobacco, banks and insurance companies.

In 1862, the rate was 3% on income between $600 and $10,000, and 5% on income over $10,000. In 1864, the rate was 5% on income between $600 and $5,000, 7.5% on income $5,000–$10,000 and 10% on income $10,000 and above. By the end of the war, 10% of Union households had paid some form of income tax, and the Union raised 21% of its war revenue through income taxes.

Below is an alphabetical IRS Tax Assessment List of persons in Lawrence County (Division 7, Collection District No. 6) of the State of Kentucky, taken in July 1865, by William M. Patton, Assistant Assessor and Samuel L. Sanders, Assessor. (click on images to enlarge)

Since the Revenue Act was designed to finance the Federal Government’s war efforts against the South, it is not surprising that southern sympathizers refused to pay the tax levied against them. Such appears to be the case with Calvin Wright who lived in Lawrence County, on Little Fork of Dry Fork of Little Sandy - present-day KY Rt. 1 - near Webbville, Kentucky. Although a known Rebel sympathizer, Calvin Wright never enlisted in the Confederate army. On occasion he could be seen in company of rebel soldiers going to their camp, perhaps to visit his brother Bill Wright or seizing an opportunity to do some business. Calvin made a living distilling whiskey and brandy. At the end of November 1861, a federal patrol under Captain Oliver D. Botner appeared at his house, confiscated his stock of brandy and took Wright to headquarters in Louisa. He expected payment for his brandy but was disappointed in his hopes. Shortly after the war, Calvin Wright brought suit against Botner in the Lawrence County courts for compensation but Botner claimed that he “was acting under the orders of superior officer in whos [sic] command he was…”

Calvin Wright property near Webbville, KY

Meanwhile, a 5% Internal Revenue Tax was levied against Calvin Wright which he refused to pay. Considering his Southern leanings, and the fact that his brother William "Bill" Wright, a former Confederate soldier, was lynched in Louisa just a year earlier, Calvin Wright’s unwillingness to lend financial support to the federal government is certainly understandable. It is also conceivable that he felt that the government was indebted to him for the brandy that was taken from him and thus refused payment of the revenue tax.

Whatever Calvin Wright’s motives were, in September 1867, "after failing and refusing to pay his debt to the US government", his property was seized, to be sold at public auction. After advertising the sale at the post office nearest to Calvin Wright’s residence, plus two other public places in Lawrence County, the property was finally sold on October 1, 1867, at the house of George W. Webb, in Lawrence County, Kentucky. Nobody bid on the property so the US Government bought it for $392.58, the amount of taxes owed, plus penalties, interest and costs incurred.

The right of redemption, upon application, was granted once twelve months or more had elapsed after the seizure and sale of the property and payment could be made to have it returned by the US government. In all likelihood Calvin Wright availed himself to this option. He continued to live on his property until the time of his death at the age of 46, on August 11, 1872.

This specific article was researched and written by Marlitta H. Perkins, October 2011, and is under full copyright, including photographs taken by the author. Copyright © 2011, All Rights Reserved.

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