Happy Ratification Day!

It’s a big day today—100 years ago, on February 3, 1913, Delaware ratified the 16th Amendment, meaning it had been ratified by the necessary 36 states. And, with the ratification of the 16th Amendment, the U.S. could constitutionally impose an income tax.1

What does this have to do with Mormonism? Nothing, directly. Mormons don’t seem to have played any significant role in the history of the income tax. In fact, Utah is one of a very small handful of states (6) that never ratified the 16th Amendment.

But that’s not to say that we can’t draw an attenuated relationship between Mormonism and the adoption of the federal income tax. Specifically, the income tax made Prohibition possible. Prior to 1913, somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the government’s revenue came from excise taxes on alcohol. The income tax allowed the government to replace that revenue stream, removing a major impediment to banning alcohol.

And, of course, in the early 20th century, Prohibition was important to Mormon leaders and members.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Recently, a number of people have argued that the Supreme Court erred inĀ Pollock when it found that an income tax was a direct tax. Whether or not the Supreme Court was wrong, though, the 16th Amendment renderedĀ Pollock moot.

9 comments for “Happy Ratification Day!

  1. I was sad, too, that the 9ers lost. But you have to give it to the Ravens—they played a mean game.

  2. Sam, what was the initial tax rate on income tax? How was it applied? During the arguments for ratification, what were the promises made? (the rate will never be above ____! or It ever be used for _____! or was it promised to be voluntary, etc???)

  3. Sam, I don’t know if this is wildly off topic. I have heard a lot of people complain that taxes are unconstitutional and I am not clear on the basis for that argument. Can you explain a little bit about that? Even some really brief thoughts or links would be helpful. Thanks!

  4. Amanda,
    the ultimate basis for that argument is “I really, really, really don’t want to pay taxes.”

  5. I was “externing” for a federal judge (a man who’d been quite involved with the state’s Republican party before becoming judge) when a couple of wealthy tax evaders decided to not show up for their hearing. At a previous hearing they had been stuck-up and arrogant, all about their “Constitutional rights being violated” blah blah. They believed the federal income tax was unconstitutional.

    The Judge ordered warrants and they were arrested and spent the night in jail.

    The next morning they were a lot more cooperative in court. “Yes, your honor,” and all that jazz.

    On the other hand, I live in a small town and a lot of the small businesses here prefer to take cash payments so they can hide it from the IRS. They also get shady tax guys to write off all kinds of costs that, at least according to the Tax course I took in law school, aren’t valid business expenses. Both evasion methods are very, very common, even here in Mormon country. And I’m guessing most of them get away with it.

    I guess my point is–you’re more likely to get in trouble if you try to challenge taxes on Constitutional issues. If you own a small business, you can still illegally avoid taxes by other methods, and you may get away with it (most people here do). But since you’re lying about how much you owe, and you’re stealing money from your federal and state governments, you’ll still burn in hell (or go to the Telestial Kingdom, or whatever).

  6. One hundred years. Of course, over the years things have evolved.

    Every so often you have to sweep the floor or get out the vacuum and go to work. Relative to Federal income taxes, that’s often what’s needed, some house cleaning.

    Add it’s an undoing of the legislature’s, in addition to many other failings. They can’t seem to ever decide what kind of broom or vacuum to use or how to fix the ones in existence when it comes to taxes (or immigration or gun law or you name it).

    We elect ’em; we get what we deserve.

    The enforcement of tax laws, like every other law or regulation in the government’s arsenal(e.g. immigration and border protection, the securities and exchange commission, the BLM, etc., etc.), needs to be funded to be effective. Essentially, legislators determine, in large measure, the effectiveness of law and regulation enforcement. And no, I’m not saying you can just give them money; the agencies have to be run well too.

    Anyway, most people, if they apply themselves, don’t need to cheat to escape a multitude of Federal income tax. That isn’t to say folks don’t, plenty. The risks of being audited are very very low.

  7. The 16th amendment is one of my favorites precisely because it was an example where the constitution said you could not do something and instead of ignoring the constitution or having a judge reinterpret it because you did not like the policy outcome — they actually changed the constitution. I much prefer that to ignoring or mangling what the document says because it disagrees with your policy preferences.

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