Whiskey, Women, and Taxes

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Presented by:
Tracey M. Roberts
Associate Professor
Cumberland School of Law at Samford University

Wednesday, November 18, 2020
8:30 to 9:45 AM Pacific Time


Whiskey, Women, and Tax: The Unexpected and Interlocking History of the 16th, 18th, and 19th Amendments   

Before they became the most famous pair of advocates in the U.S. women’s suffrage movement, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were temperance activists. Advocating for the prohibition of alcohol in a world in which women lacked both political and property rights, they sought to curb other social ills: family poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, and violent crime. Through the early 20th Century, however, the U.S. relied heavily on excise taxes, including those on liquor, to fund government operations. The passage and ratification of the 16th Amendment, authorizing a federal income tax, was needed before the 18th Amendment, prohibiting alcohol, could be passed. In turn, the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, was ratified, in part, on the strength of the time-honored argument that women should not face taxation without representation. Old enemies die hard, however. The ratification of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in access to the ballot required that suffrage activists counter the (then illegal) liquid advocacy of well-known whiskey distillers. This article recounts the complex and interlocking history of women’s suffrage, prohibition, and the federal income tax.

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