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Southeast Missouri had a key role in the road to Missouri statehood in 1817-1821. The events leading to statehood, and some of the events, people, and lifeways in the area may be unfamiliar to many modern-day Missourians. Currently, Missouri is celebrating its Bicentennial, and this program aims to summarize the events leading to statehood, some of the factors affecting Missouri’s entry into the Union, and how people lived and worked during that time 200 years ago.Every Friday morning at 6:42 and 8:42 a.m. and Saturday morning at 8:18 a.m., Bill Eddleman highlights the people, places, ways of life, and local events in Southeast Missouri in 1821.The theme music for the show ("The Missouri Waltz") is provided by Old-Time Missouri Fiddler Charlie Walden, host of the podcast "Possum’s Big Fiddle Show."

Missouri Bicentennial Minutes: The Bachelor Tax

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Original record in the collection of the Missouri Historical Society.
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Composite of part of the 1821 Cape Girardeau County tax assessment list, showing the bachelor tax assessed to Edward Archer.

Perhaps no portion of the 1821 revenue law stimulated more interest than the tax on unmarried men. This “bachelor tax,” mandated all unmarried males age 21 years and older pay $1 annually. To place this in perspective, $1 in 1821 is equivalent to a bit over $23 today. While this seems relatively small, cash was a rare commodity at the time, and most total tax bills otherwise were less than $2 annually.

The debate regarding a tax on bachelors had occurred in several states. Some argued the tax would be a way of encouraging marriage and family establishment. Missouri had a surplus of men, particularly young men, as was common in frontier areas. Additionally, the higher rate of taxation would be one way of raising revenue from those who otherwise had less property on average.

Needless to say, the implementation of the bachelor tax set off a flurry of opposition, often presented as tongue-in-cheek commentary. One correspondent, signing “A Bachelor of Franklin,” commented in the Missouri Intelligencer on June 4, 1821: “The law passed by our last legislature, taxing a portion of the inhabitants for no other reason than they are not married, and exempting from it those that are, is, in my opinion, unconstitutional, impolitick, partial, oppressive, and the perfection of legislative absurdity.”

Bachelors only paid the tax in 1821. Despite erroneous suggestions that it remains state law today, the General Assembly repealed the bachelor tax on January 12, 1822. They replaced it with a poll tax of 50 cents on all men age 21 to 65. So, this early attempt at social engineering became just an interesting footnote in Missouri history.

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