Taxation and representation: Pennsylvania bachelors and the American Revolution

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History and Philosophy


The evolution of tax laws applied to single men in Pennsylvania during 1682-1776 illuminates the social, political, and economic status of bachelors in the colonial era and the ways the American Revolution transformed their position. Considering bachelorhood morally dubious and socially undesirable, Pennsylvania's colonial tax laws encouraged marriage by laying extra burdens on unmarried men. Moreover, most young bachelors, who were primarily employed in the uncertain market for seasonal farm labor, owned little property, which excluded them from the right to vote. The marginal political and economic status of young bachelors, which suspended them between youth and adulthood, changed with the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, which rejected property requirements for voting. The extension of full citizenship to propertyless bachelors expanded the scope of citizenship, superseding the traditional republican insistence on economic independence as the key to political virtue and, instead, recognizing tax-paying, military service, and civic participation as signs of citizenship.

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