poll tax

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poll tax,

a capital tax levied equally on every adult in the community. Although no longer a significant source of revenue for any major country, the poll tax did provide large sums for many governments until well into the 1800s. The tax has long been attacked as being an unfair burden upon those less able to pay. In the United States, the poll tax has been connected with voting rights. Poll taxes enacted in Southern states between 1889 and 1910 had the effect of disenfranchising many blacks as well as poor whites, because payment of the tax was a prerequisite for voting. By the 1940s some of these taxes had been abolished, and in 1964 the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution disallowed the poll tax as a prerequisite for voting in federal elections. In 1966 this prohibition was extended to all elections by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that such a tax violated the "equal protection" clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. In 1990, Prime Minister Margaret ThatcherThatcher, Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher, Baroness,
1925–2013, British political leader. Great Britain's first woman prime minister, nicknamed the "Iron Lady" for her uncompromising political stance, Thatcher served longer than any other British prime minister in the 20th
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 of Great Britain introduced a poll tax with exemptions for people with low incomes or disabilities. The measure was extremely unpopular and played a role in her replacement as prime minister later that year.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Poll Tax


(in Russian, podushnaia podat’), the major direct tax in 18th- and 19th-century Russia. It was introduced by Peter I in 1724 to replace the household tax (podvornoe oblozhenie) and was levied on the entire male population of the taxpaying strata, that is, all categories of peasants, guild merchants, and posadskie liudi (other merchants and artisans). Before the poll tax was introduced, a census of the population was made. The total amount of the poll tax was determined by the sum needed to maintain the army. Initially, the tax was assessed at 80 kopeks per person per year. As data on the number of taxpayers became more precise, the poll tax on peasants was first lowered to 74 and then to 70 kopeks. Until 1782, schismatics were forced to pay twice the usual rate. The state’s growing financial needs, coupled with inflation of the ruble, led to an increase in the poll tax from 70 kopeks to 1 ruble per male peasant in 1794.

In 1867 the assessment on peasants varied between 1 ruble 15 kopeks and 2 rubles 61 kopeks, depending on the region. The poll tax on merchants was replaced in 1775 by a proportional tax on declared capital. The poll tax on meshchane (members of the urban lower middle classes) and members of artisan associations was abolished in 1863, except in Bessarabia and Siberia. In the 18th century the poll tax accounted for approximately 50 percent of the total revenues in the state budget. This share decreased in the 19th century in connection with the development of indirect taxation. Large-scale arrears and cases of mass refusals to pay led to the abolition of the poll tax in European Russia in 1887 and in Siberia in 1899.


Rukovskii, I. P. “Istoriko-statisticheskie svedeniia o podushnykh podatiakh.” In the collection Tr. Komissii dlia peresmotra sistemy podatei i sborov, vol. 1. St. Petersburg, 1866.
Troitskii, S. M. Finansovaia politika russkogo absoliutizma v XVIII v. Moscow, 1966


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

poll tax

1. a tax levied per head of adult population
2. an informal name for (the former) community charge
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
From Thatcher's Poll Tax to today's Bedroom Tax, the Tories' out-of-touch policies continue to hit hard-working families the hardest.
The poll tax was introduced in 1989 in Scotland and a year later in Wales and England.
The state argued that the new law rendered the poll tax argument moot.
Stripped of its antilabor provisions, the poll tax continued more than 35 years, probably as a local option.
This is a poll tax because it is put on people who have to go to work at certain times and cannot change it.
The poll tax is credited, if that is the correct term, for bringing about the political demise of Margaret Thatcher, who as Prime Minister was determined to impose the charge on us (but not before the people of Scotland had tested it out first).
Consider that Thoreau was quite happy to avoid punishment during the years he refused to pay his poll tax. And when he was put in the Concord lockup, he was happy to walk free after a single night, when a friend paid his tax for him.
The obvious way to get rid of the Southern leaders was to empower the vast Southern population (mostly but not exclusively black) who could not vote because these leaders imposed a prohibitive poll tax. Toward the end of the New Deal, many of Sullivan's progressives launched a campaign to abolish the poll tax.
A few years later Thoreau was imprisoned for refusing to pay poll tax. He would not pay money to a government that conducted the Mexican War (1846-1848) and supported slavery.
In the backsliding Alabama, from the adoption of the revanchist 1905 state Constitution to the 1960s, one of the largest hurdles faced by Blacks and poor whites was the poll tax.
This gripping book recounts the British governments greatest domestic policy disasters of modem times, perhaps of the century: the devising, enactment, implementation, collapse, and replacement of the Community Charge, or poll tax (a standard-sum head tax in each local government district) as Britain's local government tax.
A staple of middle-class conversation in London these days is the astonishing discrepancy between the classes, and the ways in which this discrepancy has been intensified by the poll tax. "We've got a four bedroom house, so we'll pay E500 less.