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Some saw the tax as providing a benefit in addition to its raising of revenue: its reduction of massive concentrations of wealth in America. Yet, support for the tax had not always followed class lines. Some of the nation’s most wealthy families had long embraced the tax for social reasons. At the turn of the twentieth century, Andrew Carnegie proposed drastic limitations on the passage of wealth at one’s death. Even within the past few months, 120 wealthy Americans—including those with surnames of Gates, Soros, and Rockefeller—ran an advertisement in the New York Times that urged the avoidance of the tax’s demise. Nonetheless, Jeremy Bentham and Karl Marx’s endorsement of such a tax has always tainted its supporters with radical hues.


The authors adopt the genre of the obituary to discuss the development and present condition of the Federal Estate Tax. Using this form of descriptive narrative, the authors present a concise summary of the most important changes in the tax over the past eighty-five years.