San Francisco rebels against taxation

The merchants of San Francisco were not inclined to pay taxes they considered unfair, and those imposed by the Revenue Act of 1853 were just that. A great number of these merchants resisted because they felt the taxes on consigned goods and auctioneers were unconstitutional and lawsuits were filed. But either their case was badly presented or the Supreme Court of California, who sided with the politicians in general, was unwilling to do justice for the city. Early in 1854 the court ruled that the taxes were constitutional and had to be paid.

Merchant’s Exchange, San Francisco

But both the merchants and citizens of San Francisco were not convinced by the reasoning of Hugh C. Murray, the Chief Justice, and on January 3, 1854 they held a large meeting at the Merchants Exchange in San Francisco where they denounced parts of the revenue act as “flagrantly oppressive and unjust” and declared they would never submit “until all lawful and proper methods of redress should be exhausted.” They urged the legislature to repeal or modify the portions of the act they objected to and if the legislature did not act then they planned an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

WA Coulter, Arrived All Well

And so the next legislature passed a new revenue act on May 15, 1854 that reduced the licenses and taxes on auctioneers, bankers, and dealers in stocks, bullion and gold dust by about half. But the taxes on consigned goods brought into the city were hardly reduced at all and the merchants of San Francisco refused to pay it. And as a rule, with the overwhelming support of the community, they managed to evade payment until at last the law fell into disuse.


  1. Harold Grice says

    this has been, is a most interesting series of glimpses into the past. This sketch is an example that greed of government is not recent, it is an example of how it has always been.

    • The story of corruption in early San Francisco only starts here. It gets worse. Political operatives connected to Tammany Hall in NY would come to California when they got kicked out of the Big Apple. It all wound up with the 1856 Vigilantes rising up against the politicians and the gamblers.

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