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This Month in Business History

Income Tax Day

Abraham Lincoln papers: Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916: Salmon P. Chase to Abraham Lincoln, Thursday, July 03, 1862 (Recommendation). January 3, 1862. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

If, in the midst of sorting receipts and studying the latest changes in the US income tax laws, you suddenly wonder "What is the origin of this annual ritual in the weeks leading up to April 15th?" here are some places you can go for answers.

The origin of the income tax on individuals is generally cited as the passage of the 16th Amendment, passed by Congress on July 2, 1909, and ratified February 3, 1913. However, its history actually goes back even further. During the Civil War Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1861 which included a tax on personal incomes to help pay war expenses but the tax was repealed ten years later. However, in 1894 Congress enacted a flat rate Federal income tax, which was ruled unconstitutional the following year by the U.S. Supreme Court because it was a direct tax not apportioned according to the population of each state. The 16th amendment, ratified in 1913, removed this objection by allowing the Federal government to tax the income of individuals without regard to the population of each state. For additional information on taxation in the United States, see the section on taxes on the web site of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Further reorganization came in the 1950s, replacing the patronage system with career employees. The IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 prompted the most comprehensive reorganization and modernization of IRS in nearly half a century and established a Taxpayer Advocate Service as an independent voice inside the agency on behalf of the taxpayer.

April 15th has not always been the filing deadline. March 1st was the date specified by Congress in 1913, after the passage of the 16th amendment. In 1918 Congress set the date to March 15th, where it remained until the tax overhaul of 1954, when the date was again moved to April 15th.

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