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  • Originally published 04/05/2013

    Heather Cox Richardson: How Republicans Once Championed the Federal Income Tax

    Heather Cox Richardson is a professor of history at Boston College and the president of the Historical Society. The opinions expressed are her ownThe government has the right to “demand” 99 percent of a man’s property when the nation needs it.That was the argument made by a Republican congressman in 1862 to introduce a novel idea: the federal income tax.The Civil War was then costing the Treasury $2 million a day. To pay for uniforms, guns, food, mules, wagons, bounties and burials, Congress had issued hundreds of millions of dollars of bonds and paper money. But Republicans had a horror of debt and the runaway inflation that paper currency usually caused.Taxes were the obvious answer. A conservative Republican newspaper declared: “There is not the slightest objection raised in any loyal quarter to as much taxation as may be necessary.”...

  • Originally published 03/07/2013

    Q&A: How FDR Built Today’s Tax System

    A new book, Their Fair Share: Taxing the Rich in the Age of FDR, explores how the modern progressive income tax emerged from the Great Depression and World War II. Washington Wire posed a few questions to its author, historian Joseph Thorndike, who is director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts, a visiting scholar at the University of Virginia, and a fellow of the George W. Bush Institute.What gave you the idea for this book? It’s hard to work in Washington without developing a more-or-less permanent sense of déjà vu. That’s especially true when it comes to tax policy, where so many of today’s arguments are just retreads of yesterday’s. I wanted to search out some of these earlier debates, since I think they have a lot to tell us.But why the Roosevelt years? The tax system we have today is basically the same one FDR built during the 1930s and 1940s. He had a lot of help, of course, especially from Congress. But FDR’s decisions – and his ideas about fairness – are very much with us today....

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