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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....

  • Originally published 07/18/2014

    The Constitutional Havoc of the Income Tax Amendment

    Some days back I offered an interpretation of the motives and political economy behind the adoption of the 16th Amendment, noting at the time that it also caused extreme constitutional havoc by altering the relationship between the tariff system and the generation of federal tax revenue. While it is certainly possible to read this as a statement of political aversion to the modern income tax system, my characterization was actually an intended reference to certain very specific constitutional consequences of the income tax amendment that actually have little to do with any personal preferences regarding the validity of progressive income taxation.

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