By James Mack Adams
The time is nigh. Beware the Ides of April. It has been decreed throughout the land that, at that time each year, all income-earning citizens must render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.
In more modern language, April is income tax time. This time each year, the Internal Revenue Service instructs us to fill out a bunch of forms and pay up what we might still owe the Feds (Caesar). We are required by law to do so by the middle (Ides) of April. As a point of information, the Ides of April actually falls on the 13th. That is close enough to the IRS deadline of April 15. However, this year’s deadline is Tuesday, April 17. Caesar gave us a couple extra days in which to comply.
Many of us have been rendering unto Caesar on a monthly basis for the past year. With any luck, some of the money we have rendered might be rendered unto us in the form of a refund.
We Americans have been taxed in one form or another throughout most of our history, even before we became Americans. England levied various taxes on its American colonies almost from their beginnings. The mother country looked upon her colonies as a cash cow to help support the vast British empire. The taxes were often oppressive and taxation without representation was one of several complaints that eventually led to the Revolutionary War and American independence.
The Navigation Acts (1651-1696) mandated that certain commodities bound for the colonies had to pass through British ports to be inspected and taxed. You don’t need a course in Economics 101 to assume this would raise prices of the goods to the colonists. It did.
The Stamp Act (1765) required official government stamps to be purchased and placed on all printed materials such as legal documents, newspapers, books, etc. to help cover the cost of protecting the colonies. It was basically protection money.
The Townshend Act (1767) taxed imported glass, lead, paper, and tea. The outrage from colonists caused this legislation to soon be repealed.
The Tea Act (1773) gave the East India Trading Company a complete monopoly on the export/import of tea with the colonies. This act effectively put colonial tea merchants out of business. The famous Boston Tea Party was a result.
The Whiskey Tax (1791) … oh horror of horrors! First, they tax my tea, now they are coming after my liquor! That tax led to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. The revolt turned violent and was primarily on the western frontier where farmers routinely turned their excess crops into distilled liquor. President George Washington suppressed the revolt, but it was almost impossible for the authorities to locate and tax distillers operating in the remote areas. Reminds us a little of the moonshining trade in these parts. Does it not?
The first income tax levied on Americans was supposed to be temporary. The first known instance of taxing income in this country was in 1862. The purpose of the tax was to help pay for the American Civil War, which was in full swing at that time.
The same year, the office of Commissioner of Internal Revenue was established. That office was charged with overseeing the assessing and collecting of income taxes. The commissioner was also given the authority to seize the assets of persons for nonpayment of assessed taxes. It can be argued that this was the beginning of today’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
In 1913, the 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution made the income tax permanent. In the years since that time, there have been several changes to the tax code. One such bill was recently passed by Congress. We can be sure there will be other changes in the future. Another thing is fairly certain. What was originally meant as a temporary tax on our income is here to stay. Caesar will continue to take his cut right off the top.
To paraphrase a quote from Founding Father, Ben Franklin, nothing in this world is certain except death and taxes.