On June 16, 1909, President William Howard Taft, in an address to Congress, proposed a two percent federal income tax on corporations by way of an excise tax and a constitutional amendment to allow the previously enacted income tax:
Upon the privilege of doing business as an artificial entity and of freedom from a general partnership liability enjoyed by those who own the stock.
An income tax amendment to the Constitution was then proposed by Senator Norris Brown of Nebraska.
He submitted two proposals, Senate Resolutions Nos. 25 and 39.
The amendment proposal finally accepted was Senate Joint Resolution No. 40, introduced by Senator Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island, the Senate majority leader and Finance Committee Chairman.
Then on July 12, 1909, the resolution proposing the Sixteenth Amendment was passed by the Sixty-first Congress and was submitted to the state legislatures.
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
Support for the income tax was strongest in the western and southern states and opposition was strongest in the northeastern states.
Supporters of the income tax believed that it would be a much better method of gathering revenue than tariffs, which were the primary source of revenue at the time.
From well before 1894, Democrats, Progressives, Populists and other left-oriented parties argued that tariffs disproportionately affected the poor, interfered with prices, were unpredictable, and were an intrinsically limited source of revenue.
The South and the West tended to support income taxes because their residents were generally less prosperous, more agricultural and more sensitive to fluctuations in commodity prices.
A sharp rise in the cost of living between 1897 and 1913 greatly increased support for the idea of income taxes, including in the urban Northeast.
A growing number of Republicans also began supporting the idea, notably Theodore Roosevelt and the “Insurgent” Republicans (who would go on to form the Progressive Party).
These Republicans were driven mainly by a fear of the increasingly large and sophisticated military forces of Japan, Britain and the European powers, their own imperial ambitions and the perceived need to defend American merchant ships.
Moreover, these progressive Republicans were, as the name suggests, convinced that central governments could play a positive role in national economies.
A bigger government and a bigger military, of course, required a correspondingly larger and steadier source of revenue to support it.
Opposition to the Sixteenth Amendment was led by establishment Republicans because of their close ties to wealthy industrialists, although not even they were uniformly opposed to the general idea of a permanent income tax.
Between 1909 and 1913, several conditions favored passage of the Sixteenth Amendment. Inflation was high and many blamed federal tariffs for the rising prices. The Republican Party was divided and weakened by the loss of Roosevelt and the Insurgents who joined the Progressive party, a problem that blunted opposition even in the Northeast.
United States presidential election of 1912
The United States presidential election of 1912 was the 32nd presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 5, 1912. The election was a rare four-way contest.
Incumbent President William Howard Taft was renominated by the Republican Party with the support of its conservative wing. After former President Theodore Roosevelt failed to receive the Republican nomination, he called his own convention and created the Progressive Party (nicknamed the “Bull Moose Party”). It nominated Roosevelt and ran candidates for other offices in major states.
Democrat Woodrow Wilson was finally nominated on the 46th ballot of a contentious convention, thanks to the support of William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate who still had a large and loyal following in 1912. Eugene V. Debs, running for a fourth time, was the nominee of the Socialist Party of America.
Three of the four candidates were advocates for a federal income tax.
Woodrow Wilson won the election, gaining a large majority in the Electoral College and winning 42% of the popular vote, while Roosevelt won 27%, Taft 23% and Debs 6%. Wilson became the only elected president from the Democratic Party between 1892 and 1932, and the second of only two Democrats to be elected president between 1860 and 1932. This was the last election in which a candidate who was not a Republican or Democrat came second in either the popular vote or the Electoral College, and the first election in which all 48 states of the contiguous United States participated.
After the presidential election, but before Woodrow Wilson was sworn in, West Virginia ratified the Sixteenth Amendment on January 31, 1913, followed by Delaware on February 3, 1913.
Immediately after Delaware ratified the Sixteenth Amendment, Secretary of State Philander Knox proclaimed that the amendment had been ratified by three-fourths of the states and so had become part of the Constitution.
The Revenue Act of 1913 was enacted shortly thereafter.
Now WE know em