Understanding the 16th Amendment

Understanding the 16th Amendment

(RepublicanView.org) – As the old saying goes, life has no guarantees except death and taxes. However, taxation at the federal level hasn’t always been a thing. Yet, creating a federal income tax actually required a lot of fancy legislation because the Founding Fathers included a clause in the Constitution to make it difficult. In the end, Congress managed to pass the 16th Amendment, which created the system we have today.

The Amendment

The 16th Amendment allows Congress to tax the people without basing it on the state’s population. It allowed for the first national income tax, which now accounts for the largest portion of revenue for the federal government.

Getting to the 1913 ratification of this Amendment wasn’t easy because of Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution, which required setting taxation according to the states’ populations.

The Founding Fathers didn’t want a state with few people to carry the same burden as one with many people to fund federal needs. They felt it was unfair for states with larger populations not to pay more because they take more resources than ones with smaller populations.

The Supreme Court struck down the first income tax in 1894 because of this rule in “Pollock v Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co” (1895). In direct response to the ruling, Congress passed the 16th Amendment, changing Article I as a result.

Making It Through Congress

Senator Norris Brown brought the 16th Amendment to the table on June 17, 1909, but there were passionate debates over it as Congress members recognized how the new system would change the country.

In opposition, the prevailing argument was that taxation should only occur in times of war. There were also worries it would be unfair to poorer states, and federal taxation would burden people without allowing them a voice.

Supporters argued it was the only way to support the government and provide for the people. They also said it was the only chance to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling about taxation and open the door to revenue from this source. Still, they knew this move was risky. If the legislation failed, the federal government probably wouldn’t have another chance to impose such a tax.

After it passed, the Amendment took years to ratify, and Wyoming became the final state needed to overcome the hurdle on February 3, 1913. Of course, there were objections, and the Supreme Court finally ruled the Amendment was constitutional on January 24, 1916, solidifying it into American history.

Lingering Controversy

Many people still felt the Amendment was unconstitutional. However, the Supreme Court had always maintained the Constitution only forbids direct taxation with apportionment. Congress included language within the bill that made it not a direct tax by imposing the tariff on income “from whatever source derived.”

In the end, the ratification of the 16th Amendment changed the United States. For the people, it resulted in federal income taxes citizens pay to this very day. It also helped make the government bigger and gave it more power. Some feel it fundamentally changed the country by altering the Founding Fathers’ ideas of a modest central government.

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