A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 28, 2009
“Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the fellow behind that tree”

"Don’t tax me; tax the other fellow” has been cited in print since at least 1910. “Congress, congress, don’t tax me; tax that fellow behind the tree” became a popular verse in 1932.

Louisiana Senator Russell B. Long (1918-2003) made the old doggerel popular again in 1973:

Don’t tax you,
Don’t tax me,
Tax that fellow behind the tree.


The “behind that tree” line is borrowed from an old lyric. One 1893 version is, “Shoot that nigger, but don’t shoot me, Shoot that nigger behind that tree.” Another version is a children’s song, where a child implores Mister Bear to “don’t catch me...catch that fellow behind that tree.”

“Tax the people and tax with care, tax to help the tax commission-aire” is the start of another verse about taxes.

[This entry was prepared with research assistance from the Quote Investigator.]


23 December 1893, The Evening Star (Washington, DC), “Primitive Lyrics,” pg. 12, col. 6:
“Shoot that nigger, but don’t shoot me,
Shoot that nigger behind that tree.
Hi, ding, diddle,” &c.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
13 December 1910, Binghamton (NY) Press, “No Delegate From Broome,” pg. 13, col. 3:
Mr. Noyes remarked that the creed of most tax reformers is, “Don’t tax me; tax the other fellow.”

1 February 1932, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Business Men Told Needs of Country By John W. Philp,” sec. 1, pg. 8, col. 6:
“Tax the other fellow, but don’t tax me,” is the cry ringing in the ears of Congress, he declared.

5 April 1932, Morning World-Herald (Omaha, NE), “Tax That Other Fellow” (editorial), pg. 14, col. 1:
It may be true, as Speaker Garner said, that to get the national treasury out of the red “the worst tax is better than no tax at all.” But, human nature being what it is, it is also true that pretty much everybody is inclined to join in the chorus: “Congress, congress, don’t tax me; tax that fellow behind the tree.”

20 May 1932, Richmond (VA) TImes-Dispatch, “Timber and Mineral Lobbyists Swarm Senate Tax Hearings” by Harold Brayman, pg. 5, col. 3:
Diligent search has revealed no tax among all those discussed at different times, against which there was no lobbyist opposition—vociferous or quiet. It went so far that some one wrote a jingle expressing the plea of the lobbyist and ending:

Congress, Congress, don’t tax me,
Tax that fellow behind the tree.

2 June 1932, Marietta (GA) Journal, pg. 4, col. 1:
“Congress, Congress, don’t tax me; tax that man behind the tree” is an old saying, but COngress has cleared up the situation by not only taxing the man, but also the tree.

26 January 1933, Greensboro (NC) Daily News, “Paragraphics,” pg. 6, col. 1:
Oh, Mr. Legislator, don’t tax me,
Tax that fellow behind the tree.

25 January 1948, Trenton (NJ) Sunday Times-Advertiser, “Phones Jingle At City Hall As Everyone Wants To Know About New Business Licenses,” pt. 2, pg. 1, col. 1:
“It reminds me of a little ditty that was popular years ago. It went something like this:

‘Tax man, tax man, don’t tax me; tax the man behind that tree.’”

Google Books
Music for Young Americans, Volume 3
By Richard C. Berg
New York, NY: American Book Co
1959-61
Pg. 65:
Mister Bear, please don’t catch me, sir.
Hey! Hey! Step and go lightly!
Catch that fellow behind that tree, sir.
Hey! Hey! Step and go lightly!

July 1973, Money magazine, “Congress Tackles the Income Tax” by William B. Mead, pg. 55:
“Most people have the same philosophy about taxes,” says Senator Russell B. Long, who has heard all the variations during seven years as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which handles tax legislation. Long puts that universal theme to verse:

Don’t tax you,
Don’t tax me,
Tax that fellow behind the tree.

Google News Archive
21 November 1975, Bryan (OH) Times, “Senate oks higher ceiling,” pg. 1, cols. 7-8:
WASHINGTON (UPI)—The Senate has voted for a ceiling of $375.6 billion on federal spending during the current fiscal year, ending June 30, 1976. THat’s $8.6 billion more than Congress agreed to last March.
(...)
Debate centered chiefly on an effort by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., to commit the Senate to approve $1.5 billion in tax reforms. The House has voted in principle to commit itself to $1 billion worth of additional taxes through reform.

Sen. Russell B. Long, D-La., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, argued that “tax reform” is a misnomer because it means different things to different people and always winds up cutting, rather than increasing, government revenues.

Long made his point with doggerel:

“Don’t tax you,
“Don’t tax me,
“Tax the fellow
“Behind that tree.”

Kennedy’s amendment was defeated 76-21.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Monday, December 28, 2009 • Permalink