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seen that a farmer's homestead in Missouri consists of one hundred and sixty acres of land and the improvements thereon, not exceeding in value $1,500; the homestead of the residents of the smaller towns is of the same value; while that allowed to the inhabitants of St. Louis, St. Joseph and Kansas City, where land is more valuable, and the cost of living greater, is fixed at $3,000.
The homestead is in the nature of a lien or charge, in favor of the wife and children, upon certain property of the husband, defined in extent, and limited in value. A declaration of what this property is may be recorded in the office of the recorder of deeds, and notice is thus imparted to all persons having dealings with the owner, that this particular property is not subject to execution, and that they ought not to give credit on the faith of it. The state, under this head, provides that: “Any married woman may file her claim to the tract or lot of land occupied or claimed by her and her husband, or by her, if abandoned by her husband, as a homestead. Said claim shall set forth the tract or lot claimed, that she is the wife of the person in whose name the said tract or lot appears of record, and said claim shall be acknowledged by her before some officer authorized to take proof or acknowledgment of instruments of writing affecting real estate, and be filed in the recorder's office, and it shall be the duty of the recorder to receive and record the same. After the filing of such claims, duly acknowledged, the husband shall be debarred from, and incapable of selling, mortgaging and alienating the homestead in any manner whatever, and such sale, mortgage or alienation is hereby declared null and void; and the filing of any such claims as aforesaid with the recorder shall impart notice to all persons of the contents thereof, and all subsequent purchasers and mortagors shall be deemed, in law and equity, to purchase with notice; provided, however, that nothing herein contained shall be so construed as to prevent the husBand and wife from jointly conveying, mortgaging, alienating, and, in any other manner, disposing of such homestead, or any part thereof."
Such a law, while securing the benefits of a homestead to the debtor, works no injustice to the creditor. He sees that the debtor has certain property recorded as his homestead. He never gives credit on the faith that this property will be subject to his execution; but he looks simply to the other property of the debtor, or to the state of his business and his character for honesty.
It may be added that the supreme court of this state has construed the homestead laws liberally, with the view of carrying out the benevolent purposes of the legislature. If the debtor is ignorant or timid, when the sheriff comes with an execution to levy, and fails to claim his right of homestead, his family are not, therefore, to be turned out of doors. The sheriff must summon appraisers and set the homestead apart, whether the debtor claims it or not; and if he does not do this, his sale will pass no title to the purchaser so far as the debtor's homestead is concerned. If the debtor makes a conveyance of property embracing his family homestead, for the purpose of hindering or defrauding his creditors, this does not work a forfeiture of his homestead right; his wrongful act is not thus to be appealed to in prejudice of his wife and children. If the cruelty of the husband drives the wife from the homestead, this does not put an end to her interest in the homestead. She may return and claim it after his death, and his administrator must set it apart for her.
EXEMPTIONS OF PERSONAL PROPERTY.
Pursuing the same wise and benevolent policy, the statutes provide that the following personal property shall be exempt from attachment and execution when owned by the head of a family: “1. Ten head of choice hogs, ten head of choice sheep, and the product thereof in wool, yarn or cloth; two cows and calves, two plows, one axe, one hoe, and one set of plow gears, and all the necessary farm implements for the use of one man. 2. Two work animals of the value of one hundred and fifty dollars. 3. The spinning-wheel and cards, one loom and apparatus, necessary for manufacturing cloth in a private family. 4. All the spun yarn, thread and cloth manufactured for family use. 5. Any quantity of hemp, flax and wool, not exceeding twenty-five pounds each. 6. All wearing apparel of the family, four beds, with usual bedding, and such other household and kitchen furniture, not exceeding the value of one hundred dollars, as may be necessary for the family, agreeably to an inventory thereof, to be returned, on oath, with the execution, by the officer whose duty it may be to levy the same. 7. The necessary tools and implements of trade of any mechanic while carrying on his trade. 8. Any and all arms and military equipments required by law to be kept. 9. All such provisions as may be on hand for family use, not exceeding one hundred dollars in value. 10. The bibles and other books used in a family, lettered gravestones, and one pew in a house of worship. 11. All lawyers, physicians, ministers of the gospel and teachers, in the actual prosecution of their calling, shall have the privilege of selecting such books as shall be necessary to their profession, in the place of other property herein allowed, at their option; and doctors of medicine, in lieu of other property exempt from execution, may be allowed to select their medicines.” In lieu of this property, each head of a family may, at his election, select and hold exempt from execution any other property, real, personal, or mixed, or debts or wages not exceeding in value the amount of three hundred dollars.
The legislature of the state has wisely considered that the debtor ought not to be permitted to plead poverty as against the claims of creditors equally necessitous. It is accordingly provided
provided that the foregoing exemption cannot be claimed when the debt is for wages due to a house servant or common laborer to the extent of $90, and when the action to recover the same is brought wiwin six months after the last services were rendered. Nor can the purchaser of goods make this law an instrument of fraud by claiming goods which he has purchased on credit against an execution for the purchase money.
RIGHTS OF MARRIED WOMEN. State legislation is extremely careful of the rights of married women. If a wife is unjustly abandoned by her husband, the circuit court will sequester his property for the purpose of maintaining her and the children of the marriage. If he abandons her, or from worthlessness or drunkenness fails to support her, the court will not only allow her to sell her own real estate without his joining in the deed, but will require any person holding money or property to which he may be entitled in her right, to pay the money over to her. 1. Under such circumstances she is entitled to the proceeds of her own earnings and those of her minor children. 2. If her real estate is damaged for railroads, or other public works, the damages accrue exclusively to her. 3. If her husband gets into the penitentiary, she becomes to all intents and purposes a femme sole. 4. And if he, by ill usage, compels her to live separate and apart from him, she
may claim the sole and exclusive enjoyment of her property as if she were unmarried. Rents, issues and profits of her real estate cannot be taken in execution for his debts, except when contracted for family necessaries. Moreover, by a very broad statute lately enacted, a wife may hold all her personal property free from her husband's control and exempt from liability for his debts. If he becomes incompetent to lead in the marital partRership, she may take the reins in her hands, engage in trade, accumulate property, and no act of his will create a charge upon it. Finally, at his death, the family homestead descends to her and the children, if any there be, to be held by her for life; if there be any children, in common with them; if not, by herself alone. She also takes dower in one-third of all the real estate of which her husband may have been seized at any time during marriage, in which she has not conveyed her right of dower, diminished, however, by the homestead which is set apart to her. She takes also a child's share of his personal estate; and, in addition to all this, she is allowed to retain as her absolute property a large amount of personalty.
The constitution places it beyond the power of reckless or dishonest public agents to burden the people with excessive taxation. Taxes for state purposes, exclusive of the taxes necessary to pay the bonded debt of the state, cannot exceed twenty cents on the hundred dollars valuation; and whenever the taxable property of the state shall amount to $900,000,000 the rate shall not exceed fifteen cents. The rate of taxation for county, city, town and school purposes, is likewise strictly limited. Counties, cities, towns, townships and school districts cannot become indebted beyond the revenue provided for each year without a two-thirds vote of all voters therein, nor, in any event, to an amount exceeding five per cent on the value of the taxable property.
The statutes of limitation in Missouri provide that an open account cannot be collected after it has run five years; a note is uncollectible if held for ten years after due; and a judgment expires by limitation in ten years.
The standard legal rate of interest in this state is six per cent; but a higher rate not exceeding ten per cent may be contracted for.
PUBLIC DEBT LIMITATION. The state debt, according to the State Auditor's last report, (1878], is $16,758,000. This mostly grew out of the various issues of bonds given in aid of railroads, and bears interest at the rate of six per cent per annum. To liquidate this debt the constitution provides for the annual levy of taxes, now fixed by law at twenty cents on the $100 of the valuation. With the sum thus raised the interest of the debt is first to be paid, and of the remainder not less than $250,000 is to be set apart as a sinking fund for the purchase and retirement of the bonds themselves. Hence, in a few years, with the vast increase in the taxable wealth, which is sure to come, the whole of the debt will be extinguished. There is an additional state tax of twenty cents on the $100 for current expenditures, a large share of which is devoted to the support of the common schools. This tax is ample for the purposes for which it is intended, and there is a constitutional provision that it shall be reduced to fifteen cents on the $100 as soon as the taxable property of the state shall aggregate a total valuation of $900,000,000.
The state, and all its municipal subdivisions, whether counties, cities or towns, are forbidden by the constitution to loan their credit to any corporation, so that there is no method by which the public indebtedness can be increased in the usual way. Owing to the great zeal of the people to forward public improvements of all kinds, a municipal indebtedness, aggregating, according to the auditor's last report, $35,727,566.49, has been contracted. Of this amount the debt of the city of St. Louis is shown to constitute $22,712,000, leaving for the agricultural portion of the state and the other cities, towns, townships and school districts only a little over $13,000,000.
The present organic law prevents any municipality from contracting liabilities, in any one fiscal year, beyond the amount of the levy made for that year, and in no county can the rate of taxation for local purposes, aside from the school tax, exceed fifty cents on the $100 valuation, unless two-thirds of the voters shall assent to the levy of a larger sum. Neither can the school tax in country districts exceed forty cents on the $100 without the consent of the tax-payers, to be obtained by a vote of the majority of the residents.
COMPARATIVE TAX RATE.
It will be interesting to note how the tax rate of our own state compares with that of adjoining states.
The average tax levy for all purposes in Missouri is about $1.30 on the $100; adding to this 70 cents on the $100 for the payment of bonded indebtedness where it exists, there is an average of $2 on the $100 as the rate, and a certainty of its steady decrease. This is given as an average, and while in a few counties the tax rate is higher, in the majority it is much lower.
By the report of the state auditor of Kansas, for the year ending June 30, 1878, the tax levy for state purposes is shown to be 55 cents on the $100, and the average levy for local debts and expenses $3.82 on the $100, making a total average tax of $4.37 on the $100. The taxable property of Kansas in 1878 aggregated the sum of $138,698,810.98, and the local indebtedness was reported by the state auditor at $13,473,197.51. In Nebraska the tax levy for state purposes alone is 624 cents on the $100, exclusive of taxes to pay local debts and expenses.
In Iowa, the average rate of taxation for the year 1878 was $2.67 on the $100. In Illinois the tax levy for 1877, the last given in the auditor's report, was $3.24 on the $100, and the local indebtedness of that state was then the sum of $51,811,691.
Thus, it is clear that Missouri has a lower rate of taxation than any of the neighboring states above mentioned; and, in addition to this, under her wise constitutional provision, the rate of taxation must continually decrease every year, until only a sufficient amount of taxes to liquidate current expenses will be collected.
There are twenty counties that have no indebtedness whatever, and forty more the debt of which is merely nominal; so that their burden of taxation will be lighter than in any other portion of the United States.