A Poem Commemorating Thoreau’s Tax Resistance Stand

While scanning through some recently-internetted archives of the San Francisco Chronicle I came across a charming poem by Walt Mason, a Kansas newspaper witticist whose métier was paragraph-formatted rhyming doggerel. He was extremely successful, with his poems syndicated in hundreds of newspapers and then collected in volumes.

“Thoreau” this one’s called:

The books that Henry Thoreau wrote are little read, these later days; men care not how a hermit poet disported in the woodland ways. The struggle after stock and bond is so intense we little heed the nature lover by his pond, with hair and whiskers gone to seed. Yet never should his fame grow stale, while big assessments stick like wax; he is the man who went to jail before he’d pay a county tax. I think of Thoreau in his cell, that hero sheriffs could not swerve, and feel the heart within me swell with admiration for his nerve. They tax us more each passing year, and waste the coin on useless trash, and we are all such slaves of fear, we meekly pay our hard-earned cash. In public prints we make a wail, for sympathy we make a bid; but no one dares to go to jail, as Henry David Thoreau did. We may forget that great man’s books, forget his toil with ax and rake, we may forget the sylvan nooks in which he roamed by Walden lake; but never let us be so lax as to forget this splendid tale: Before he’d pay a robber tax, the hero-martyr went to jail.

Many Americans, stymied at the complexity of the tax code and not wanting to make mistakes, go to professional tax preparers to have their annual returns written up.

TIGTA sent some auditors, disguised as ordinary mild-mannered taxpayers, to “12 commercial chains and 16 small, independently owned tax return preparation offices” to have their taxes done. The results?

Preparers made substantial errors when completing tax returns and correctly prepared only 11 (39 percent) of the 28 tax returns (i.e., the tax returns showed the correct amount of taxes owed or refunds due). Of the remaining 17 tax returns that were prepared incorrectly:

  • 11 (65 percent) contained mistakes and omissions that auditors considered to have been caused by human error and/or misinterpretation of the tax laws.
  • 6 (35 percent) contained misstatements and omissions that auditors considered to have been willful or reckless.

If these incorrect returns had been filed, the net effect to the Federal Government would have been $12,828 in understated taxes (the amount is the net effect because there were instances in which tax liabilities and tax refunds were both overstated and understated).