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Archive for '- Constitution'

The 16th Amendment and 100 years of Federal income taxes

The 16th Amendment and the first Internal Revenue Bureau Form 1040 will be on display from April 1 to April 30 at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Today’s guest post comes to us from education and exhibit specialist Michael Hussey.

“Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever sources derived, without apportionment among the several states and without regard to any census or enumeration.” 16th Amendment to the Constitution

Joint congressional resolution proposing the 16th Amendment to the states, July 12, 1909, National Archives, General Records of the United States Government

Each April, millions of Americans stay up late, snap pencils, and double-check their math as they complete their Federal income tax returns.  This year marks the centennial of the constitutional amendment that made this a yearly ritual.

The Civil War prompted the first American income tax, a flat 3 percent on all annual incomes over $800, in 1861. Congress enacted a 2-percent tax on annual income over $4,000 in 1894, but it was quickly struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

By the early 20th century, members of both the Democratic and Republican parties advocated a constitutional amendment allowing a Federal income tax. On July 12, 1909, Congress passed a joint congressional resolution proposing such an amendment. The resolution was then sent to the states for consideration. … [ Read all ]

George Washington Writes in the Margins

Today’s blog post comes from Susan K. Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives. This post originally appeared on the White House blog.

Last month, President Obama began his second Inaugural Address by saying, “Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution.” President Obama’s words resonate as the anniversary of George Washington’s birthday approaches on February 22, popularly known as Presidents Day.

Over two centuries ago, on April 30, 1789, George Washington delivered his first Inaugural Address knowing that he had little to guide him in the job that lay ahead but the principles stated in the Constitution.  The Articles of the Constitution had been debated, discussed, and agreed upon just two summers earlier by the delegates of the Constitution Convention, and were still untested.  Nevertheless, Washington was a strong supporter of the Constitution and would look to it for guidance in his unprecedented role as President.

During Washington’s first year in office, Congress ordered 600 copies of the Acts of Congress to be printed and distributed to Federal and state government officials. The book compiled the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other legislation passed by the first session of Congress.

George Washington’s personal copy of the Acts of Congress contains his own handwritten notes in the margins. The … [ Read all ]

Emancipation Proclamation: Flight to Freedom

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

Page 1 of Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Case of U.S. ex. rel. John Wheeler v. Passmore Williamson, 07/19/1855; Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 – 2004, Record Group 21; National Archives at Philadelphia. (National Archives Identifier: 2641488)

Before the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, many men and women in bondage ran away from their owners to freedom. These escape attempts were dangerous, and not all of them were successful. Abolitionists sometimes helped slaves in their flight to freedom, like these two men in the case of the escaping slave Jane Johnson and her children.

Jane Johnson and her two young sons were enslaved by John Hill Wheeler, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua. While on his way to South America, Wheeler brought Jane and her sons to New York and Philadelphia. Once the three slaves were in Philadelphia, abolitionists William Still and Passmore Williamson helped Johnson and her two sons escape to Boston.

Wheeler petitioned the court to have Williamson return his slaves. In the Writ of Habeas Corpus commanding Williamson to return Jane and her sons, Williamson stated that he was unable to do so:

Passmore Williamson the defendant in the within writ mentioned for return thereto respectfully submits that the within named Jane, Daniel and Isaiah .

[ Read all ]

Jefferson in Paris: The Constitution, Part I

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is the Senior Registrar in the Exhibits Division.

“It is impossible to increase taxes, disastrous to keep on borrowing, and inadequate to merely to cut expense.”

This is not a quote from the 2012 American  elections or the current fiscal cliff debate.  These are the words of Charles-Alexandre de Calonne, finance minister of France, describing the financial conditions of his country in 1786 to his king, Louis XVI.

The French monarchy was deep in debt due to continuous war expenditures, most recently from the American Revolution, when France supplied monies, ships, soldiers, and arms to the the struggling United States, not to mention its own naval engagements with the British Navy. The French people were poor and hungry, and there was great inequality among the classes. Attempts at reform failed, setting the stage for the bloody civil rupture known as the French Revolution, beginning with democratic ideas and ending in Napoleonic despotism.

With his experience in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Continental Congress, and as Governor of Virginia behind him, Thomas Jefferson continued his practical education in world affairs in pre-revolutionary France. Across the Atlantic, the fledgling American government had its own problems, which though different, were … [ Read all ]

No, it’s not in the Constitution

You can see the Constitution on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

These days, pundits, candidates, and party activists like to cite the Constitution of the United States as the moral and legal backing for whatever they’re proposing.

But the Constitution is silent on a lot of things you probably thought it said. Here are eight examples.

The President can veto a proposed amendment to the Constitution.

No. He has nothing to do with the amendments. Congress can propose an amendment with a two-thirds vote of both houses, or a Constitutional Convention can be called by a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures. However, once the amendment is proposed either by Congress or a convention, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Only one amendment, the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition (the 18th Amendment), was ratified by conventions in the states.

The “Founding Fathers” who wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are the same men who wrote the Constitution in 1787.

Only five individuals signed both of these two founding documents. They were George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, and Roger Sherman. Some of the famous signers of the Declaration were elsewhere when the Constitution was being written. Thomas Jefferson was in France as our American minister, and John Adams was American minister to Great Britain.… [ Read all ]