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  • INGRID H. TAGUE (a1)


A tax on dogs was passed in 1796 because it seemed to address both the government's need for revenue and other serious social and economic problems. Arguments for and against a dog tax throughout the eighteenth century engaged with issues not raised in discussions of other kinds of taxes because of the unique place of dogs in human society; positions on the question of a dog tax depended largely on assumptions about the purpose that dogs served, or ought to serve. Proponents often argued that a dog tax would decrease the population of nuisance dogs, whilst also preventing poaching. Other tax advocates presented a dog tax as a luxury tax, but there was no agreement about which kinds of dogs were luxuries, and which were necessities that should be exempt from the tax. By the time a bill was debated in parliament in 1796, the terms of the debate had shifted because of new attitudes toward animals. The tax that was ultimately passed largely ignored the interests of the primary advocates of a tax throughout the century, instead treating the pets of the poor as necessities that merited exemption.


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Department of History, University of Denver, 2000 E. Asbury, Denver, CO 80208,


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1 The parliamentary history of England, from the earliest period to the year 1803, xxxii (London, 1818), 5 Apr. 1796, col. 995.

2 See Stephen Dowell, A history of taxation and taxes in England, from the earliest times to the present day, iii (first printed 1884; New York, NY, 1965), pp. 155–8, 260–71; John Ehrman, The younger Pitt, ii: The reluctant transition (Stanford, CA, 1983), pp. 521–2.

3 Gentleman's Magazine, 31 (1761), p. 601; Commons Journals, 27 (1755), p. 165; Commons Journals, 35 (1776), p. 677.

4 Parliamentary history, 5 Apr. 1796, col. 995.

5 John Bohstedt, Riots and community politics in England and Wales, 1790–1810 (Cambridge, MA, 1983); Roger Wells, Wretched faces: famine in wartime England, 1793–1801 (New York, NY, 1988); Ian Gilmour, Riots, risings and revolution: governance and violence in eighteenth-century England (London, 1993), pp. 409–14.

6 See Harriet Ritvo, The animal estate: the English and other creatures in the Victorian age (Cambridge, MA, 1987), p. 171, on eighteenth-century fears of rabies, and ch. 4, passim, on nineteenth-century anxieties. John D. Blaisdell, ‘An ounce of prevention causes a ton of concern: rabies and the English dog tax of 1796’, Veterinary History, 10 (2000–1), pp. 129–46, attributes the 1796 act entirely to rabies fears.

7 William King, Reasons and proposals for laying a tax upon dogs: humbly addressed to the honourable House of Commons (Reading, 1740), pp. 11–12.

8 George Clark, An address to both houses of parliament: containing reasons for a tax upon dogs, and the outlines of a plan for that purpose; and for effectually suppressing the oppressive practice of impressing seamen, and more expeditiously manning the royal navy (London, 1791), pp. 9–11.

9 C. Loraine Smith, letter to Gentleman's Magazine, 62 (1792), p. 1143.

10 Edward Barry, On the necessity of adopting some measures to reduce the present number of dogs; with a short account of hydrophobia, and the most approved remedies against it, a letter, to Francis Annesley, Esq., M. P. for the borough of Reading, and one of the trustees of the British Museum, &c. &c. (Reading, [1796]), pp. 12–15.

11 Commons Journals, 46 (1791), p. 145. See also Commons Journals, 47 (1792), pp. 446, 553, 682; Commons Journals, 51 (1796), p. 463.

12 See Ehrman, The younger Pitt, ii: The reluctant transition, ch. 12 and pp. 521–2.

13 For a summary of all laws relevant to hunting and poaching in the eighteenth century, see P. B. Munsche, Gentlemen and poachers: the English game laws, 1671–1831 (Cambridge, 1981), appendix. Although Munsche's book is about the game laws narrowly defined, the appendix summarizes all laws related to pursuing and killing animals, including those not technically defined as game. I follow Munsche here in using ‘hunting’ to mean all field sports, not simply the strict sense involving horses and hounds.

14 Emma Griffin, Blood sport: hunting in Britain since 1066 (New Haven, CT, and London, 2007), p. 62; Roger B. Manning, Hunters and poachers: a social and cultural history of unlawful hunting in England, 1485–1640 (Oxford, 1993), p. 71.

15 Griffin, Blood sport, p. 18.

16 Munsche, Gentlemen and poachers, p. 82.

17 Douglas Hay, ‘Poaching and the game laws on Cannock Chase’, in Douglas Hay et al., eds., Albion's fatal tree: crime and society in eighteenth-century England (New York, NY, 1975), pp. 189–253; Kirby, Chester, ‘The English game law system’, American Historical Review, 38 (1933), pp. 256–7; Munsche, Gentlemen and poachers, pp. 47–9; Frank McLynn, Crime and punishment in eighteenth-century England (London and New York, NY, 1989), p. 208; Bellot, Leland J., ‘“Wild hares and red herrings”: a case study of estate management in the eighteenth-century English countryside’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 56 (1993), pp. 1539.

18 Ro. Hermitt, letter to Gentleman's Magazine, 20 (1750), p. 538.

19 King, Reasons and proposals, p. 11.

20 ‘A.B.’, letter to Gentleman's Magazine, 32 (1762), pp. 80–1.

21 Hermitt, letter to Gentleman's Magazine, p. 538; Clark, Address to both houses of parliament, p. 14. On the perception of poaching as a gateway crime to other offenses, see Hay, ‘Poaching and the game laws’, pp. 204–5; Munsche, Gentlemen and poachers, pp. 53–4.

22 King, Reasons and proposals, pp. 9–10.

23 Barry, On the necessity, p. 6.

24 Ibid., p. 9.

25 On eighteenth-century resentment of gamekeepers and accusations that they abused their authority, see Munsche, P. B., ‘The gamekeeper and rural English society, 1660–1830’, Journal of British Studies, 20 (1981), pp. 82105; Bellot, ‘“Wild hares and red herrings”’.

26 ‘Frank Farmers’, letter to Gentleman's Magazine, 5 (1735), p. 195. Like many writers, this author does not distinguish between game laws in the strict sense and other laws regulating hunting. As Munsche notes, the penalties for poaching deer and rabbits were much harsher than those for poaching game, although the significance of a £5 fine or three-month prison sentence should not be underestimated.

27 Anonymous letter to Gentleman's Magazine, 55 (1785), p. 605.

28 See Munsche, Gentlemen and poachers, p. 47.

29 ‘A person without eyes from his birth’, Crude thoughts on the dog-act: recommended to the consideration of all such as are to be disqualified by it, the farmers, freeholders, and every honest man in the kingdom of England (London, 1763); quotations pp. 2–3, 6, 8–9.

30 Munsche, ‘Gamekeeper and rural English society’.

31 Kirby, ‘English game law system’, p. 255; Munsche, Gentlemen and poachers, pp. 23–7, 109–10.

32 Munsche, Gentlemen and poachers, pp. 127–8.

33 The parliamentary register; or history of the proceedings and debates of the House of Commons, xliv (London, 1796), pp. 510–11.

34 ‘Publicola’, letter to Gentleman's Magazine, 32 (1762), p. 21. Clark, Address to both houses of parliament, pp. 18–19, noted that various associations had formed to promote the idea of a dog tax that would be used to reduce the poor rates. Almost all the petitions to parliament included the same idea. See, e.g., Commons Journals, 40 (1784), p. 443; Commons Journals, 46 (1791), pp. 145, 307, 346, 377, 438, 448, 463, 621, 661, 665, 691; Commons Journals, 47 (1792), pp. 466, 614, 682.

35 ‘Farmers’, letter to Gentleman's Magazine, p. 196.

36 ‘Colonus’, letter to Gentleman's Magazine, 27 (1757), p. 159.

37 Barry, On the necessity, p. 8. See also Some considerations on the game laws, suggested by the late motion of Mr. Curwen for the repeal of the present system (London, 1796), pp. 67–8.

38 T[homas] Gilbert, Heads of a bill for the better relief and employment of the poor, and for the improvement of the police of this country: submitted to the consideration of the members of both houses of parliament (Manchester, 1786), esp. p. 17.

39 [Daniel Hilman], ‘November’, Tusser redivivus: being part of Mr. Thomas Tusser's five hundred points of husbandry; namely, for the months of November and December. With notes. No XI. XII. (London, 1710), p. 4. Partially quoted in Robert W. Malcolmson, Popular recreations in English society, 1700–1850 (Cambridge, 1973), p. 93, who also supplies the author's name.

40 In the National Galleries of Scotland. The painting is a pendant to The comforts of industry, in which the only animal presence is a large haunch of meat.

41 King, Reasons and proposals, pp. 7–8.

42 Clark, Address to both houses of parliament, pp. 13–14.

43 ‘C.’, letter to Times no. 3561, 16 Apr. 1796, p. 3, col. C.

44 Charles Varlo, Schemes offered for the perusal and consideration of the legislature, freeholders, and public in general: shewing the many evils that might be prevented, and the good that would accrue to the public, were they improved, and enacted into laws (London, 1775), pp. 129–30.

45 Ibid., pp. 134–6.

46 ‘Colonus’, letter to Gentleman's Magazine, p. 159.

47 Public Advertiser, no. 17,617, 23 Dec. 1790.

48 Anonymous letter to Gentleman's Magazine, 55 (1785), p. 605.

49 Gilbert, Heads of a bill, p. 16.

50 Parliamentary history, 5 Apr. 1796, col. 996.

51 Ibid., col. 997.

52 Clark, Address to both houses of parliament, pp. 6–7. See also anonymous letter to Gentleman's Magazine, 55 (1785), p. 605.

53 Clark, Address to both houses of parliament, pp. 5–6.

54 King, Reasons and proposals, pp. 13–16.

55 ‘Publicola’, letter to Gentleman's Magazine, p. 21.

56 Clark, Address to both houses of parliament, p. 4.

57 Ibid., p. 15.

58 On this movement and the class overtones of such ideas, see David Perkins, Romanticism and animal rights (Cambridge, 2003); Keith Tester, Animals and society: the humanity of animal rights (London, 1991); Keith Thomas, Man and the natural world: changing attitudes in England, 1500–1800 (Oxford, 1983), ch. 4, especially pp. 181–91; Malcolmson, Popular recreations, ch. 7, pp. 119–56. For a selection of eighteenth-century writings on animal rights, with a useful introduction on their intellectual contexts, see Aaron Garrett, ed., Animal rights and souls in the eighteenth century (6 vols., Bristol, 2000). For the larger context of eighteenth-century ideas about cruelty, see James Steintrager, Cruel delight: Enlightenment culture and the inhuman (Bloomington, IN, 2004), especially part ii.

59 Perkins, Romanticism and animal rights, p. 94, points out that since it was poor people who worked most closely with animals, there was a ‘basis in social fact for [this] widely accepted belief’.

60 Malcolmson, Popular recreations, ch. 7; Gilmour, Riot, risings and revolution, pp. 201–2.

61 Emma Griffin, England's revelry: a history of popular sports and pastimes, 1660–1830 (Oxford, 2005), chs. 5, 9, especially pp. 115–22.

62 Barry, On the necessity, pp. 5–8.

63 Ibid., p. 12.

64 See Malcolmson, Popular recreations, pp. 137–8; Perkins, Romanticism and animal rights, pp. 20–2; Steintrager, Cruel delight, ch. 3. For other contemporary connections between abuse of animals and bad behaviour, see Edward Nairne, The dog-tax, a poem (Canterbury, 1797), p. 26; Thomas Young, An essay on humanity to animals (London, 1798), pp. 3–5.

65 Parliamentary history, 25 Apr. 1796, col. 1006.

66 Ibid., col. 1003.

67 Ibid., cols. 1000–3. Windham's opposition to bills against animal cruelty is well known, and rehearsed similar ideas in arguing that the poor would be punished whilst the pursuits of the wealthy, such as hunting, were allowed to continue. See Christine Kenyon-Jones, Kindred brutes: animals in Romantic-period writing (Burlington, VT, 2001), pp. 81–94; Malcolmson, Popular recreations, pp. 152–4.

68 Parliamentary history, 25 Apr. 1796, col. 1000.

69 Ibid., col. 1006.

70 Erica Fudge, Perceiving animals: humans and beasts in early modern English culture (New York, NY, 2000), p. 125.

71 Oliver Goldsmith, An history of the earth, and animated nature (8 vols., London, 1774), iii, p. 286. On Linnaeus, see Thomas, Man and the natural world, p. 56.

72 Thomas Holland and John Holland, Exercises for the memory and understanding: consisting of select pieces in prose & verse; together with a series of examinations relative to arts, science, and history (Manchester, 1798), pp. 110–11. The story is Arnaud Berquin's, and appears in another translation in Berquin, The children's friend: translated from the French of M. Berquin; complete in four volumes. Ornamented with frontispieces (London, 1788), iv, pp. 237–41.

73 Malcolmson, Popular recreations, p. 166; Kenyon-Jones, Kindred brutes, pp. 81–5.

74 Robert Southey, ‘Characteristic English anecdotes, and fragments for Espriella’, in John Wood Warter, ed., Southey's common-place book. Fourth series. Original memoranda, etc. (London, 1851), p. 417.

75 Parliamentary history, 5 Apr. 1796, col. 997. See also Parliamentary history, 25 Apr. 1796, col. 1006.

76 Statutes at Large, xl, An act for granting to his Majesty certain duties on dogs, 36 Geo. III c. 124, 19 May 1796, pp. 841–5. On the sinking fund, see John Ehrman, The younger Pitt, i: The years of acclaim (London, 1969), pp. 157–8, 267, 270–3.

77 Varlo, Schemes offered, p. 137; Barry, On the necessity, p. 11. Robert Southey claimed that the tax did indeed cause a massive slaughter of dogs, with the resulting piles of carcasses forcing local authorities to collect and bury huge numbers of abandoned corpses: Southey, ‘Characteristic English anecdotes’, p. 417.


  • INGRID H. TAGUE (a1)


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