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income tax

An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age

income tax 

was introduced by William *Pitt in 1798–9 to boost annual revenue to a level capable of meeting the exigencies of wartime expenditure. The tax was proposed to meet the expectations of the public credit within an overall policy of debt redemption, while the country borrowed millions to fund the *war [2]. It was also designed to offset the effects of fraud practised on the assessed tax system.

Pitt sought to levy a tax of two shillings in the pound on all annual incomes of £200 or more. People earning between £60 and £200 were to be taxed on a graduated scale. The system was based on self-assessment sworn on oath. Crown commissioners were empowered to investigate anyone unprepared to make an assessment voluntarily.

Some MPs were implacable in their opposition to this tax. Pointed comparisons were made with French taxation practices under the Directory. In the end, however, the measures were passed because the government made appeals to *patriotism.

By 1815, the income tax provided £14,000,000 of revenue. In peacetime, the clamour for an easing of the tax burden could not be met with patriotic appeals. The Commons rejected the *Liverpool government's proposal for its continuation. The change marked a move away from debt redemption to tax remission, putting revenue pressure back squarely on taxes on consumption. These became the target of a postwar radical movement keen to enlarge its constituency by appealing to those who felt aggrieved at having to pay tax on basic items of consumption such as tea and coffee.

Jonathan Fulcher