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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. By February 3, 1913, three-quarters of the states—the number required by the Constitution for ratification—had approved it. Certified by Secretary of State Philander C. Knox on February 25, 1913, it then became the 16th Amendment to the Constitution.

In 1913, due to exemptions and deductions, less than 1 percent of the population paid income taxes. Tax rates began at 1 percent and rose to 6 percent on income over $500,000.

The first Internal Revenue Bureau Form 1040, as provided by Public Law 63-16, was approved October 3, 1913.

Page 1 of the first Internal Revenue Bureau Form 1040, National Archives, General Records of the Department of the Treasury

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