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Exit! Income taxes, drawing by George Yost Coffin, 1895

An 1895 editorial cartoon commented on the Supreme Court decision striking down the income-tax law Congress had passed the previous year. Tax proponent Representative Benton McMillin of Tennessee watched in despair as a dog representing the law fled, a can labeled “Supreme Court” tied to its tail, trying to escape the abuse hurled at it.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Exit! Income taxes, drawing by George Yost Coffin, 1895

The Sixteenth Amendment: Income Tax

In 1872 Congress repealed a national income tax that helped finance the Civil War, but the question of whether to tax income reemerged after an 1893 financial panic heightened the need for federal revenue. Representative Benton McMillin of Tennessee introduced an income-tax amendment to a tariff bill in 1894. It passed Congress, but the new income-tax law was short-lived. In 1895 the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. Congress finally secured its power to tax income in 1913 after it approved, and the states ratified the Sixteenth Amendment.

Is it not time that great estates which are protected by our Army, which are defended by our Navy, which are benefited by the various operations of Government, should contribute in some greater degree to carry on that Government?

Representative Benton McMillin of Tennessee, Speech to the U.S. House of Representatives, January 29, 1894