The Private Foundation's Topsy Turvy Road in the American Political Process

98 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2013 Last revised: 26 Jun 2014

See all articles by William Byrnes

William Byrnes

Texas A&M University School of Law


This article studies the American political debate on the charitable tax exemption from 1864 to 1969, in particular, the debate regarding philanthropic, private foundations. The article’s premise is that the debate’s core has evolved little since the period from the 1850s to the 1870s. To create perspective, a short summary of the modern economic significance of the foundation sector follows. Thereafter, the article reviews the pre- and post-colonial attitudes toward charitable institutions leading up to the debates in the 1800s, illustrating the incongruity of American policy regarding whether and to what extent to grant tax exemptions to charities. The 1800s state debates are referenced and correlated to parts of the 1900s federal debate to show the similarity if not sameness of the arguments against and justifications for exemption. The 20th-century legislative examination primarily focuses upon the regulatory evolution of foundations. Finally, the article concludes with a brief discussion of the 1969 tax reform’s changes to the foundation rules and the significant 20th-century legislation regulating both public and private foundations.

Keywords: charity, charitable tax deduction, charitable tax exemption, history of charity

JEL Classification: K19, K23

Suggested Citation

Byrnes, IV, William H., The Private Foundation's Topsy Turvy Road in the American Political Process. Houston Business & Tax Law Journal, Vol. 4, p. 496, 2004, Thomas Jefferson School of Law Research Paper No. 2304044, Available at SSRN: or

William H. Byrnes, IV (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX Texas 76102
United States
(817) 212-3969 (Phone)


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