Abe Lincoln, The Union, and the Income Tax
February 12th is the birthday of America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. While the Taxpayer Association of Oregon, with the help of the Oregon Republican Party, plans to use the occasion to bring their anti-tax and anti-government message to the Capitol in Salem, the Oregon Center for Public Policy reminds them and all Oregonians that the GOP’s first president also signed America’s first income tax.
In 1861 the United States was going to war against itself. To preserve the Union the government in Washington, D.C. had to raise an army and the funds to sustain that army. The war created a financial crisis, and the solution was the imposition of the country’s first progressive income tax.
Download a copy of this news release:
His Truth Is Marching On (PDF), February 11, 2003.
The Internal Revenue Act of 1862, signed by President “Honest Abe” Lincoln on July 1, 1862, set income tax rates at three percent on incomes above $600 and five percent on income above $10,000. Incomes below $600 were not taxed. At the time the tax was highly progressive because those who could least afford to pay did not; the tax burden fell on those with the greatest ability to pay.
“At a time of financial crisis, Abe Lincoln and Americans stepped forward to support their government,” said Charles Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. “Oregon is in a fiscal crisis now, but some would exacerbate and prolong that crisis until services to seniors, health care and other help for the poorest in our communities, and public education for our children, all but disappear.”
“Just as the country could not afford to be split into two nations, Oregon cannot afford to be split by those who can afford health care, education and care for the elderly,” said Sheketoff. “Just as Lincoln used the income tax to unite the nation, Oregonians need to come together to support income taxes that ensure all Oregonians the benefits of a civilized society.”
“Before they use Abe Lincoln to bash government, the Oregon GOP and the Taxpayer Association of Oregon should reflect on what Lincoln was trying to preserve — the United States of America — and on the important role that Lincoln’s progressive income tax played in preserving the United States.”
The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a Silverton, Oregon-based non-profit research institute that uses research and analysis to advance policies and practices that improve the economic and social prospects of low- and moderate-income Oregonians, the majority of Oregonians.