Today in History: Imposition of the first income tax in the United States (1861)

Enmired in a civil war, the federal government of the United States was wanting for funds. The answer the government arrived at was to impose an income tax. Before this happened though, President Lincoln actually met with his cabinet to determine whether or not such a tax was constitutional. Lincoln’s hesitation should speak volumes.taxes scrabb

The first income tax was 3% and was only imposed on those who had incomes over $800, or around $20,000 in today’s money. This actually worked out to the income tax only applying to about 3% of the population in the north.

Things were not to last. The first income tax was repealed and  replaced with another one. All in all, the United States had an income tax for a period of ten years. From our modern-day perspective, we know that this is not the last of the income tax. There was a 2% income tax issued during peacetime in 1894, but it was struck down as being an unapportioned direct tax the following year by the Supreme Court in Pollock v. Farmer’s Loan & Trust Co. However, In 1913, the 16th Amendment was ratified and income tax has been a fixture of America’s tax system ever since.

155 years since the 3% income tax, Americans in 2016 pay an income tax which, depending on the bracket, can range from 10% to just shy of 40%. America did not invent the concept of the income tax, but it’s certainly one of the most notable taxes in human history, especially in its current iteration.

Since Lincoln’s uncertainty about the constitutionality of the matter, the income tax has been met by many with hostility. Consider Barry Goldwater’s words: “The income tax created more criminals than any other single act of government.” As government uses its monopoly on force to impose regulations and taxes, more and more people will be made into criminals by not conforming into what government has deemed ‘correct.’

Yes, the 16th Amendment is part of the Constitution. This is not America’s first income tax, and we see by looking at history that income taxes can come and go. The income tax is not entirely free of controversy, and this viewpoint may one day reform–or abolish–the income tax in America.


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