Abstract

Abstract:

This article employs previously underutilized tax records to quantify the level of economic distress in Virginia in the 1780s. Historians have offered sharply contrasting interpretations. While some scholars emphasize postwar prosperity, others suggest an economic crisis that may have rivaled the Great Depression. Tax records offer an opportunity to evaluate and reconcile these conflicting narratives. By counting the number of individuals who could not pay their taxes and dividing by the taxable population found in the assessment lists, the insolvency rate produces an indicator comparable to a modern bankruptcy rate. Regional insolvency patterns reveal that historians have tended to generalize from localized phenomena that are unrepresentative of the larger economy. Tax records demonstrate that the critical period was not imagined. Local commodity prices were most important in shaping economic outcomes. Insolvency trends support and contextualize existing interpretations of tax resistance and voting patterns during the ratification debates.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0620
Print ISSN
0275-1275
Pages
pp. 231-265
Launched on MUSE
2020-05-28
Open Access
No
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