What Our Founding Father's May Have Deducted Under Today's Tax Code

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We all know that the Fourth of July represents the birth of the United States of America. It marks the day we declared our independence from the sovereign nation of Great Britain. But did you ever wonder if the Founding Fathers thought about their taxes? Of course they did! Unfair taxation was one of the main motivations for forming our great nation! But what would the Founding Fathers tax situations look like under today’s tax code? Let’s check it out!

Thomas Jefferson: a representative of Virginia, a noted scientist, and a writer. He was also chosen to write the Declaration of Independence for the fledgling country.  Jefferson kept a diary of his travel from Monticello to Philadelphia and receipts for his hotel stay and food to maintain his personal records and ledgers. Since Jefferson was a member of the Continental Congress, the cost of his travel, food and lodging can be deducted as an employee business expense and any supplies he purchased that weren’t reimbursed, such as paper and ink, could also be claimed. But Jefferson was a business owner, author and an inventor as well.  Each of these endeavors is a business and allows deductions for travel, education, training, supplies and equipment. The income and expenses for each business, should he have been alive and well today, would be reported on the appropriate form for the business, such as a Schedule C for a sole proprietor.  

Paul Revere: a silversmith by trade who also worked as a courier for the Boston Committee of Public Safety, he regularly traveled to New York and Philadelphia to report on political unrest and provided engravings for political magazines and other popular periodicals and papers of the time.  As you can see, Paul would have at least three separate businesses, the courier business, the news articles and engravings, and the silversmith business. Each business would have deductions based on the expenses for that business. Paul could have mileage expenses for the courier and silversmith businesses and raw materials for his silversmith and engraving businesses.  In addition, Paul would have employees in his silversmith business so he would have employment taxes to pay and returns to file as well as benefits such as health insurance. But, perhaps his best tax break would come from his 14 children. Yes, 14, and for all those under 17, he would get a $1,000 tax credit – assuming his modified AGI is less than $110,000. 

Benjamin Franklin:  This famous elder statesman was also the consummate entrepreneur.  Franklin was an author, scientist, politician, postmaster, inventor, musician, satirist, and diplomat for the fledgling United States. Franklin needed to keep detailed records of his travel, lodging, meals, and supplies expenses so he could correctly claim the appropriate expenses against each source of income. Much of Franklin’s work was done out of a home office, allowing him to deduct a portion of his housing expenses. While he only had three children compared to Paul Revere’s 14, Ben Franklin can still claim the child tax credits for his children under age 17.

Benedict Arnold: Benedict Arnold was a businessman and military man throughout his life.  His businesses often failed as spectacularly as his military career both in the Continental Army and in Great Britain. General Arnold was very lax in his recordkeeping, especially when it came to his expenses. Prior to his defection from the Continental Army, Benedict Arnold was informed by the Continental Army that his reimbursement for the expenses of the Battle for Ontario would be £1,000 less than expected due to lack of receipts. However, Arnold would pay a hefty tax bill today since the British paid him £20,000 to defect and sell U.S. secrets. The income from his traitorous activity is taxable and he is not able to deduct any expenses as the tax code requires all income, including income from illegal activities, to be reported on the tax return. However, the expenses against income from illegal activities are not allowed as a deduction.