POLL-TAX, a tax levied on the individual, and not on property or on articles of merchandise, so-called from the old English poll, a head. Raised thus per capita, it is sometimes called a capitation tax. The most famous poll-tax in English history is the one levied in 1380, which led to the revolt of the peasants under Wat Tyler in 1381, but the first instance of the kind was in 1377, when a tax of a groat a head was voted by both clergy and laity. In 1379 the tax was again levied, but on a graduated scale. John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, paid ten marks, and the scale descended from him to the peasants, who paid one groat each, every person over sixteen years of age being liable. In 1380 the tax was also graduated, but less steeply. For some years after the rising of 1381 money was only raised in this way from aliens, but in 1513 a general poll tax was imposed. This, however, only produced about 50,000, instead of 160,000 as was expected, but a poll-tax levied in 1641 resulted in a revenue of about 400,600. During the reign of Charles II. money was obtained in this way on several occasions, although in 1676-1677 especially there was a good deal of resentment against the tax. For some years after 1688 polltaxes were a favourite means of raising money for the prosecution of the war with France. Sometimes a single payment was asked for the year; at other times quarterly payments were required. The poll-tax of 1697 included a weekly tax of one pennyfrom all persons not receiving ahns. In 1698 a quarterly poll-tax produced 321,397. Nothing was required from the poor, and those who were liable may be divided roughly into three classes. Persons worth less than 300 paid one shilling; those worth 300, including the gentry and the professional classes, paid twenty shillings; while tradesmen and shopkeepers paid ten shillings. Non-jurors were charged double these rates. Like previous poll-taxes, the tax of 1698 did not produce as much as was anticipated, and it was the last of its kind in England.
Many of the states of the United States of America raise money by levying poll-taxes, or, as they are usually called, capitation taxes, the payment of this tax being a necessary preliminary to the exercise of the suffrage.
See S. Dowell, History of Taxation and Taxes in England (1888), vol. iii. ; and W. Stubbs, Constitutional History (1896), vol. ii.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)