February 4, 2013

You may not have noticed but yesterday (February 3) marked the 100th Anniversary of the Sixteenth Amendment. What? CNN, MSNBC, CBS, your local news outlet, nor your local newspaper celebrated it?

As a refresher, I merely remind you that the Sixteenth Amendment gave the American people the affliction of confiscatory income taxes. This Amendment was never supposed to pass out of Congress. So, what happened?

It was introduced by the Republicans as part of a political scheme to trick the Democrats, but it backfired.

The Amendment would come to be a part of four Amendments (16 through 19 -- look them up) which were promoted, pushed, driven and forced down the throats of Americans by the newly minted "Progressive Movement." Remember, that is the same movement which nearly 100 years after gave us Barack Obama and the Democrats of today?

The Founding Fathers had rejected income taxes (or any other direct taxes) unless they were apportioned to each state according to population. Nevertheless, an income tax was levied during the Civil War and upheld by the Supreme Court on somewhat tenuous reasoning. When another income tax was enacted in 1893, the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional. In connection with the two Pollock cases reviewed in 1895, the Court declared that the act violated Article I, section 9 of the Constitution.

During the following decade, however, the complexion of the Court changed somewhat, and so did public sentiment. There was great social unrest and the idea of a tax to “soak the rich” began to take root among liberals in both major parties.

Several times the Democrats introduced bills to provide a tax on higher incomes but each time the conservative branch of the Republican party killed it in the Senate. The Democrats used this as evidence that the Republicans were the “party of the rich” and should be thrown out of power, forcing President William Howard Taft to acknowledge in political speeches that income taxes might be all right “in principle”, but it was well known among close associates that he was strongly opposed to such a tax.

In April 1909, Senator Joseph W. Bailey, a conservative Democrat from Texas who was also opposed to income taxes, decided to further embarrass the Republicans by forcing them to openly oppose an income tax bill similar to those which had been introduced in the past. He introduced his bill expecting it to get the usual opposition.

However, to his amazement, Teddy Roosevelt and a growing element of liberals in the Republican party came out in favor of the bill and it looked as though it was going to pass.

Not only was Bailey surprised, but Senator Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island, the Republican floor leader and one of the gang of six who gave us the Federal Reserve Board, frantically met with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts and President Taft to work out a strategy to demolish the Bailey tax bill. Their own party was split too widely to permit a direct confrontation, so the strategy was to pull a political end run.

They announced that they favored an income tax but only if it were an amendment to the Constitution. Within their own circle, they discussed how it might get approval of the House and the Senate, but they were quite certain that it could be defeated in the more conservative states-three-fourths of which were required in order to ratify the amendment.

Thus, the Democrats were off guard when President Taft unexpectedly sent a message to Congress on June 16th, 1909, recommending the passage of a constitutional amendment to legalize federal income tax legislation.

The strategy threw the liberals into an uproar. At the very moment when their Bailey bill was about to pass, the Republicans were coming out for an amendment to the Constitution which would probably be defeated by the states.

The slogan of “soak the rich” automatically aroused Pavlovian salivation among politicians both in Washington and the states. The Senate approved the Sixteenth Amendment with an astonishing unanimity of 77-0! The House approved it by a vote of 318-14.

The end run of the Republican leadership did indeed backfire. State after state ratified this “soak the rich” amendment until the necessary 36th state ratified it on February 3, 1913. The U.S. Secretary of State, Philander Chase Knox, declared it approved and the Amendment went into full force and effect on February 12, 1913.

You may ask: "What was the tax code like 100 years ago and were the rich really soaked more back then than today? Well, take a look at the chart below and draw your own conclusions. Ask yourself this question: "Did the Sixteenth Amendment right any wrongs and give any necessary financial support to a government set to grow beyond control? Or, did it create an uncontrollable monster with the possibility of crashing our entire economy?




Top Tax Bracket



Tax Bracket Range

1% - 7%

10% - 39.6%

Top Tax Bracket Threshold (today's dollars)

$11.6 million


Total Tax Revenues (today's dollars)

$16.6 billion

$2.7 trillion

Family Standard Deduction (today's dollars)



Total Number of 1040s filed


140 million

Total Pages in Tax Code



Is it just me, or does this show something is a little off? Oh yeah, remember that part where liberals think the rich need to pay their fair share! Look at our top tax bracket. Who on earth would have thought one hundred years ago we would be asking almost half of Americans to pay even more in taxes?

Well, happy tax season! And the happiest of birthdays to one of the biggest mistakes of Congress's history. 

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.