[Ads-l] "Death tax" predecessor "Death duty" - antedated to 1863 Death Tax - 1887

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 10 00:02:54 UTC 2022

“death tax” was discussed here in 2009, as a “political dysphemism,” the presumption being that it was intentionally used as a replacement term for “estate tax” for rhetorical purposes.

Surprisingly, however, “death tax” is older than “estate tax.”  The Chancellor of the Exchequer, W. E. Gladstone (who would later serve as Prime Minister, and whose granddaughter sang “Three Bottles singing on a milestone” as I wrote about in a recent post) appears to have coined the expression “death duties” in 1863 as an umbrella term for several different duties or taxes assessed after one’s death.

[Begin excerpt] The next is that cluster of duties which, for convenience, may be called death duties - succession, probate, and legacy duties. [End excerpt]

The Times (London), May 5, 1863, page 8; The Standard (London), May 5, 1863, page 2; Daily News (London), May 5, 1863, page 2.

The “estate duty” was introduced in the United Kingdom in 1889, as one more tax assessed after death.  A revised “estate duty” was introduced in 1894, to replace some aspects of the other, various “death duties.”

“Death duties” was translated into “Death tax” in American English, in reports about the goings-on in England.

“Death Tax” appears in American newspapers as early as 1887.

[Begin excerpt] Mr. Hammel, of Milwaukee, a member of the assembly, is of the opinion that concentration of wealth by inheritance should be prevented by law. He goes about it in the most direct way - that is, by escheating to the state all bequests to persons above half a million dollars in value.

Mr. Hammel’s method is rather clumsy and not to be compared to the method of taxation which has been urged by some economists - merely to impose a death tax of ten percent upon all estates above a moderate value.[end excerpt]

The Journal Times (Racine, Wisconsin), February 12, 1887, page 2.

“Death tax” was used regularly in American politics throughout the 20th century, even by those promoting and advocating for them.  At some point, it was described as a rhetorical replacement for “estate tax,” but it is actually older.  Many people credit the pollster Frank Luntz with coining the expression and exploiting it for political purposes.

My post: https://esnpc.blogspot.com/2022/11/gladstone-and-taxes-death-tax-or-estate.html

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