It seems a good number of the folks who were being pushed had paid their taxes and had receipts to prove it, but the IRS books were so shoddily kept the new agent, L. C. Allison, had no way of telling that.
The Opelousas Journal reported he was creating “quite a sensation” throughout the parish with his demands, and that “almost daily he is issuing notices to be served on persons to come forward and pay their taxes … for 1867 and 1868.”
Hypolite Meche was one of the taxpayers crying foul. When he was served with a notice he dug out his receipts and showed them to the revenue agent and to the newspaper.
“He informs us that more than a half dozen of his neighbors, who have their receipts, were notified on the same day,” according to the Journal report.
Charles Francois of Bois Mallet wasn’t so lucky. According to the newspaper, “He paid all his taxes … as they fell due; but his receipts were destroyed with his house, which burned one night last Spring.”
Charles offered to swear that his taxes were paid, but was told that “his only remedy was to pay the amount – over sixty dollars – and to present his claims to the proper officer of the Department who would refund the same. This he refused to do and filed a solemn protest, under oath, against paying his taxes a second time.”
Tax collector Allison defended himself with the argument his predecessor apparently had not credited everyone when they paid their taxes and that “they stand as due and unpaid on the list submitted to him by the District Collector.” He said he was “compelled to proceed” under the law.
In another case, a store keeper “of but little education” thought he’d paid the federal taxes when he had in fact paid only state taxes. The collector marched to his store “with a file of soldiers,” shut the store, and arrested the storekeeper’s son who was running the place at the time.
The storekeeper had no alternative but to fork over $375, which he later found out was $100 too much. It took an attorney to get the $100 back, or at least the part that didn’t go to the lawyer’s fees.
“We have always been under the impression that tax collectors were required to keep their books in such a manner that their successors … could tell … who had and who had not paid taxes,” the newspaper article concluded, “ and that whenever a man paid a tax … he was credited for it. But such, it seems, has not been done in the Internal Revenue Department as far as our parish is concerned.
“It is rather hard on the impoverished people to be compelled to pay taxes and licenses two or three times over. After what we have seen of internal revenue officials in this parish, we do not wonder at the public debt increasing rather than decreasing.”
Isn’t it refreshing to know how much better things have gotten since then?
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.