The income tax started as a conservative political stunt

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America's Income Tax Drag

Republicans have used taxes as a talking point for decades, and Tuesday night's debate was no different.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson elaborated on his idea of a flat tax rate based on the Biblical concept of "tithing."

Despite GOP candidates' obvious revulsion toward taxes in general, the federal income tax actually started as part of a conservative ploy.

Conservative-leaning members of Congress introduced the 16th Amendment, hoping it would stop liberals from pushing for an income tax and part of a tariff, according to the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Supreme Court had ruled in 1895 that the income tax violated Article I of the Constitution, so the amendment was necessary to empower the federal government to impose the income tax.

But the story goes back much further than 1913, when the US officially enacted the income tax.

Income taxes were initially a temporary provision. Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1861, which included a tax on personal income to help pay for the hefty expenses of the Civil War. Without proper enforcement, however, it raised little money. In turn, the Internal Revenue Act of 1862 created the Internal Revenue Service to solve that problem.

The new law levied a 3% tax on individual incomes between $600 and $10,000 (between about $14,000 and $230,000 today) and 5% on greater than that. The act reportedly produced about $55 million in government revenue.

Ten years later, however, long after the war had ended, the Grant administration repealed most of the "emergency" taxes, including the income tax.

Then, in 1894, the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act revived the income tax, imposing a 2% tax on incomes over $4,000. President Grover Cleveland, in cahoots with Congressman William Wilson (D-West Virginia), originally intended the law to lower tariffs, according to The New York Times. After its introduction, however, the Senate drastically altered it, turning the bill into a high-tariff one.

While Cleveland refused to sign the act, he didn't veto it, either. And he still considered the law better than its predecessor, the McKinley Tariff.

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The income tax started as a conservative political stunt
DORAL, FL - DECEMBER 10: Glenn Rehn (C) and Sandy Lleo (R) along with other protesters rally together outside the office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on December 10, 2012 in Doral, Florida. The protesters are hoping that Senators like Rubio will not cut medicare/social security benefits and will agree to raise taxes on the top 2% of earners in the country. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., accompanied by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., speaks about estate tax reform, Thursday, June 25, 2015, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, details his tax reform plan in a speech at Morris & Associates in Garner, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Seth Hahn shouts in a megaphone as he leads a large group of fellow union members as they march to the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J., Thursday, June 12, 2014. Hundreds of union members marched to protest Gov. Chris Christie's proposed cuts to mandated state pension contributions. Some said to pay the pension contributions, the state should cut business incentive programs that Gov. Chris Christie's administration has been using heavily. Since December, the state has pledged just over $1 billion in tax credits to companies to move or remain in New Jersey. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
DORAL, FL - DECEMBER 10: Manuel Lloyd along with other protesters rally together outside the office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on December 10, 2012 in Doral, Florida. The protesters are hoping that Senators like Rubio will not cut medicare/social security benefits and will agree to raise taxes on the top 2% of earners in the country. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
In this photo taken Sept. 2, 2015, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks in Oklahoma City. Jeb Bush went to Detroit and talked about leveling the playing field. Marco Rubio wrote a book about helping the working class. Rand Paul wants to expand the Republican Party beyond its traditional base. Yet all three presidential candidates have released tax proposals that would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest. Democrats say it's proof that the GOP's eventual nominee will mainly try to help the rich. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2015 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in Ankeny, Iowa. The last major piece of President Barack Obama’s health care law could raise costs for thrifty consumers as well as large corporations and union members. Some Republicans in Congress are calling for repealing the tax. Clinton says she’s concerned it will shift more costs to workers. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 10, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaks in Bowling Green, Ky. Jeb Bush went to Detroit and talked about leveling the playing field. Marco Rubio wrote a book about helping the working class. Rand Paul wants to expand the Republican Party beyond its traditional base. Yet all three presidential candidates have released tax proposals that would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest. Democrats say it's proof that the GOP's eventual nominee will mainly try to help the rich. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 06: Protestors call for an increase of taxes on the wealthy and voice opposition to cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid during a demonstration in the Federal Building Plaza on December 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. About 300 protestors participated in the demonstration which resulted in three arrests. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A few hundred teachers and education advocates protest at the Kansas Statehouse against Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, Saturday, May 17, 2014, in Topeka, Kan. They don't believe the state's schools are adequately funded and object to new laws that will end guaranteed tenure for public school teachers and give tax credits to corporations that bankroll private-school scholarships. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
TRENTON, NJ - FEBRUARY 24: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his budget address for fiscal year 2016 to the Legislature, February 24, 2015 at the Statehouse in Trenton, New Jersey. Christie proposed a budget of $33.8 billion, that did not include new taxes or an increse in school spending. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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The next year, however, the Supreme Court ruled the income tax provision of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff was a direct tax, and as such, violated Article I of the Constitution, which stated taxes had to be levied in proportion to a state's population. That didn't stop progressives from trying to once again attach an income tax to a tariff bill though.

For their part, conservatives wanted to put the kibosh on progressives' efforts to pass an income tax. Conservatives thought an amendment to allow an income tax would never pass, since three-fourths of states have to ratify an amendment for it to become part of the Constitution. So conservatives introduced the amendment, hoping to kill progressives' efforts to pass an income tax as part of a tariff.

Much to conservatives' dismay, state after state hopped on board.

The 16th Amendment, which established an official, federal income tax, was ratified on February 3 and went into effect on February 25, 1913.

h/t Constitution Daily

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