A Brief History of Tax Day—and the U.S. Income Tax

Usually, the IRS demands we file our federal income taxes on April 15, but this year, Tax Day is Monday, April 18. Why? Because the IRS’ District of Columbia offices will be closed on Friday, April 15, to observe Washington D.C.'s Emancipation Day holiday, which commemorates the 1862 act that abolished slavery in the city. This year, it technically falls on Saturday, April 16, but the government observes it on the closest weekday when it falls on a weekend. 

tax day

April 15, the Day of Doom

How did April 15 end up being one of the most feared days of the year? Originally Congress placed the filing deadline in March, but when it revised the Internal Revenue Code in 1954, the deadline was moved to April 15.
Don’t tell the IRS, but Tax Day has missed its April 15 deadline (by being moved) 26 times in the last 67 years, usually because the 15th fell on a weekend. Since D.C. Emancipation Day became law in 2005, Tax Day has only fallen on April 15 seven times. In 2023, Emancipation Day will push the IRS deadline forward once again.

How Did We End Up With Income Taxes? Blame Colonel House and the 16th Amendment for Tax Day!

During the Civil War, the first federal income tax was established in 1861 to finance the war effort. In 1862, Congress’ Internal Revenue Act created the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the godfather of the present-day IRS. The Bureau of Internal Revenue imposed excise taxes on a wide variety of goods, ranging from tobacco to jewelry. But after the Civil War’s end, the income tax lost public support, and in 1872, it was repealed.

In 1894, Congress’ Wilson-Gorman tariff taxed annual income over $4,000 at 2%, but in 1895, the Supreme Court overturned it. However, Colonel Edward House, President Woodrow Wilson’s chief advisor, pushed for a graduated federal income tax as America was consolidating its industry might and assuming a role on the world stage, and in February of 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution gave Congress the power to tax personal income. In 1914, the Bureau of Internal Revenue issued the first income tax form, called Form 1040. Sound familiar? Believe it or not, the first year was a test run; citizens only sent in their forms to have the Bureau check them for accuracy, without any taxes due. By the way, can we bring this back?

Ask Albert Einstein

Are you bewildered by Form 1040? Do you find filing for taxes intimidating, despite all the best efforts of H.R. Block? You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in exemplary company. Albert Einstein is widely considered to be the greatest mind of the 20th century, and even he said: “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the Income Tax.” 

Need Help?

Engineered Tax Services the nations largest specialty tax services provider has a wide array of tax services and a vast network of CPAs, accounting firms, tax attorneys, and good people to help you navigate the complexity of taxes. To learn more how you can reduce your tax bill, contact us today! 


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