Boredom and Taxes

I’ve been known to occasionally get bored at work, notwithstanding my job being the best job in the world and taxes being one of the most interesting topics in the world. For better or worse, when I’m bored, I can always turn to the internet for entertainment. Of course, as we know, that wasn’t always the case.

I’ve been looking at nineteenth-century tax assessment lists for a project I’m working on. The lists are fairly sterile, mostly a series of names, with the amount of income and various types of property that each individual had. Copying the various assessments to the formal assessment book must have been relatively mind-numbing work, especially for assistant assessors who were grossly underpaid.[fn1] Also, they were overworked:

Perhaps the most burdensome administrative tasks fell on the assessors, the workhorses of the collection staff. Their offices were kept open at all hours. They were required to issue a summons after notice to make returns had been issued, to hear appeals, examine taxable property, accept income tax returns, and audit returns for correctness.[fn2]

How did they deal with the work, the monotony, and the stress? At least one doodled. Or rather, at least one doodled at least once. I found this skimming through a page of the 1867 assessment book for the Territory of Utah:

I don’t know who the picture is supposed to represent (Brigham Young, maybe? though beards without mustaches were not uncommon in the 19th century).

In other words, even 19th-century tax assessors (a) got bored, and (b) could do something about it.


[fn1] For details on the duties and plights of assistant assessors, I haven’t found a better source than Joseph J. Thorndike, An Army of Officials: The Civil War Bureau of Internal Revenue, 93 Tax Notes 1739, 1740 (2001).

[fn2] John C. Chommie, The Internal Revenue Service 10 (1970).

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