Tax in Kind
Nathaniel W. Stephenson

The tax in kind was denounced in the same vein. The licensing provisions of this law and its income tax did not satisfy the popular imagination. These provisions concerned the classes that could borrow. The classes that could not borrow, that had no resources but their crops, felt that they were being driven to the wall. The bitter saying went around that it was "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight." As land and slaves were not directly taxed, the popular discontent appeared to have ground for its anger. Furthermore, it must never be forgotten that this was the first general tax that the poor people of the South were ever conscious of paying. To people who knew the tax-gatherer as little more than a mythical being, he suddenly appeared like a malevolent creature who swept off ruthlessly the tenth of their produce. It is not strange that an intemperate reaction against the planters and their leadership followed. The illusion spread that they were not doing their share of the fighting; and as rich men were permitted to hire substitutes to represent them in the army, this really baseless report was easily propped up in the public mind with what appeared to be reason.

In North Carolina, where the peasant farmer was a larger political factor than in any other State, this feeling against the Confederate Government because of the tax in kind was most dangerous. In the course of the summer, while the military fortunes of the Confederacy were toppling at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the North Carolina farmers in a panic of self-preservation held numerous meetings of protest and denunciation. They expressed their thoughtless terror in resolutions asserting that the action of Congress "in secret session, without consulting with their constituents at home, taking from the hard laborers of the Confederacy one-tenth of the people's living, instead of taking back their own currency in tax, is unjust and tyrannical." Other resolutions called the tax "unconstitutional, anti-republican, and oppressive"; and still others pledged the farmers "to resist to the bitter end any such monarchical tax."

A leader of the discontented in North Carolina was found in W. W. Holden, the editor of the Raleigh Progress, who before the war had attempted to be spokesman for the men of small property by advocating taxes on slaves and similar measures. He proposed as the conclusion of the whole matter the opening of negotiations of peace. We shall see later how deep-seated was this singular delusion that peace could be had for the asking. In 1863, however, many men in North Carolina took up the suggestion with delight. Jonathan Worth wrote in his diary, on hearing that the influential North Carolina Standard had come out for peace: "I still abhor, as I always did, this accursed war and the wicked men, North and South, who inaugurated it. The whole country at the North and the South is a great military despotism." With such discontent in the air, the elections in North Carolina drew near. The feeling was intense and riots occurred. Newspaper offices were demolished - among them Holden's, to destroy which a detachment of passing soldiers converted itself into a mob. In the western counties deserters from the army, combined in bands, were joined by other deserters from Tennessee, and terrorized the countryside. Governor Vance, alarmed at the progress which this disorder was making, issued a proclamation imploring his rebellious countrymen to conduct in a peaceable manner their campaign for the repeal of obnoxious laws.

The measure of political unrest in North Carolina was indicated in the autumn when a new delegation to Congress was chosen. Of the ten who composed it, eight were new men. Though they did not stand for a clearly defined program, they represented on the whole anti-Davis tendencies. The Confederate Administration had failed to carry the day in the North Carolina elections; and in Georgia there were even more sweeping evidences of unrest. Of the ten represetatives chosen for the Second Congress nine had not sat in the First, and Georgia now was in the main frankly anti-Davis.


The Day of the Confederacy by Nathaniel W. Stephenson, pages 91-94
Yale University Press, New Haven, 1920