Don’t bother with a cake. Save your candles. It’s unlikely anyone wants to celebrate this birthday.
Yesterday, as the National Constitution Center reminded us this morning, the national income tax turned 100 years old. Feb. 3 is the anniversary of the ratification of the 16th Amendment — which established a national income tax (for the third time).
The Civil War brought on the first income tax, albeit a temporary one. War is expensive, and tariffs on imported goods weren’t doing the trick for the U.S. government.
A second income tax, aimed squarely at the rich, was enacted at the end of the 19th century, but it was swiftly overturned in the Supreme Court.
It wasn’t until a few decades later, with increased public outcry about overtaxing the poor and undertaxing the rich, that a permanent income tax was attempted, this time as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Delaware was the 36th state to ratify the amendment, giving its backers the 75% majority of states needed to make it official. (There were only 48 states back then.)
NPR’s Planet Money produced an informative history of the income tax last spring, including this charming bit of wartime propaganda from Donald Duck.