Our first income tax was created today in 1861

We can thank Abraham Lincoln for the income tax. 

President Lincoln levied the first national income tax on August 5, 1861, but it was only around for 10 years and was not expected to ever return — until 1913 with the passage of the 16th amendment.


Lincoln created the tax to raise money for the Civil War and was only able to tax the northern states. 

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Constitution Daily gives more details about the Revenue Act of 1861, but it ultimately “taxed imports, provided for a direct land tax, and imposed a tax of 3 percent on individual incomes over $800 (which, in current dollars, is about $18,000).”

The tax was a failure though, as there was no way to efficiently collect the money, and in 1894, it was ruled unconstitutional in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Company.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal