income tax sassy jane genealogy

The first 1040 in 1913. Courtesy NARA

Today’s topic is income tax and genealogy. The National Archives has an exhibition that includes the first 1040 form (above). If you are wondering what your ancestors paid in taxes, here is some background from NARA:

The Civil War prompted the first American income tax, a flat 3-percent on all annual incomes over $800, in 1861. Congress enacted a 2-percent tax on annual income over $4,000 in 1894, but it was quickly struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

By the early 20th century, members of both the Democratic and Republican parties advocated a constitutional amendment allowing a Federal income tax. On July 12, 1909, Congress passed a joint congressional resolution proposing such an amendment. The resolution was then sent to the states for consideration. By February 3, 1913, three-quarters of the states— the number required by the Constitution for ratification—had approved it. Certified by Secretary of State Philander C. Knox on February 25, 1913, it then became the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. 

In 1913, due to exemptions and deductions, less than 1 percent of the population paid income taxes. Tax rates began at 1 percent and rose to 6 percent on income over $500,000.

As you pay your taxes today, perhaps it helps to remember that a portion goes to the National Archives and other archives and libraries that support our family research.