Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William Pinkney Whyte (1824-1908)
MSA SC 3520-1466

William Pinkney Whyte as comptroller, based on an essay by Gloria Chamberlin, public history student at UMBC, spring 2001:

DRAFT:  This essay needs to be refined and information and sources checked.

William Pinkney Whyte was elected comptroller of Maryland in 1852.  As only the third comptroller in the state's history, he needed to continue working through the challenges faced by his predecessors to find the most efficient ways to collect taxes and to enforce the statutes already on the books.  He did this in several ways.  First, Whyte continued to collect the direct tax, which supplied 22.5% of total revenue. The direct tax was a progressive tax on various kinds of property,  including iron mines, merchants’ inventories, slaves, real estate and improvements.  Special provisions were made for the poor to deduct the cost of the tax from their annual rent.  Debtors were also granted some relief by a provision that allowed them to reduce their interest payments by the amount of their tax bill.  Second, Whyte assumed greater oversight and management of traders’ licenses that supplied about 17.7% of total state income.  He recognized that there were many new trades and businesses that were not covered by existing license laws, and recommended to the legislature that the laws be updated in order to make the system more fair.  He was able to collect more revenue by making it mandatory for traders to itemize expenses and by extending the issuing of licenses to local traders who had previously bought licenses from local rather than state offices.   He also made the license fees more uniform throughout the state.  It was Whyte who recommended to the legislature that the law be changed to allow the comptroller to use a stamp instead of a signature on licenses in order to save the comptroller hours of manual labor.  Third, profits from internal investments such as railroads and canals began to materialize during Whyte's administration, and the 21% tax rate on them proved beneficial to state coffers.  Finally, pinball and slot machines, destined to become illegal by 1857,  provided a unique source of revenue during Whyte's administration.

During Whyte's administration, several of the clerks of the courts and register of wills complained that it was difficult for them to collect the fees due the state.   The register of wills from Cecil, Caroline, and Howard counties were in default in 1854 and 1855.  Whyte asked the legislature to pass a law requiring the clerks of the courts and the register of wills for each county to report the uncollected fees to the county sheriffs, who would then be authorized to impose penalties if the fees were not paid within a certain time limit.   Whyte also requested that the General Assembly have the state’s attorney of each county prosecute the registers of wills and the clerks of the circuit courts for the lost revenues.  After the state's attorneys from the counties in question refused to pursue the cases (probably because they were being paid by the very offices they were being asked to prosecute), Whyte was given the right to appoint state’s attorneys from other counties to do the job.

William Pinkney Whyte went on to serve as governor and senator.  The state of Maryland would fend its way through a tortuous civil war, political conflict, immigration, industrialization, depression and two world wars in which Baltimore built most of the American Navy.  Its role for the comptroller would  grow proportionally with its extraordinary development as a key state of the Union, and it would find itself in the twenty-first century holding the highest credit rating of all states.

Return to William Pinkney Whyte's Introductory Page

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