Today in History: The Birth of the Federal Income Tax

In 1861, President Lincoln signed a new law to help pay for the Civil War
President Lincoln visiting soldiers encamped at the Civil War battlefield of Antietam in Maryland in 1862.
President Lincoln visiting soldiers encamped at the Civil War battlefield of Antietam in Maryland in 1862.Rischgitz/Getty Images

April 15, 1861: Following the Confederate shelling of Ft. Sumter, S.C., President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to join the Union Army. 92,000 did, and the Civil War — the most devastating war in American history — was on. Lincoln quickly adapted to the role of commander-in-chief, assuming vast powers, many of which weren’t granted to him by the Constitution. Supreme Court rulings declared Lincoln’s wartime conduct unconstitutional. He ignored them, saying his priority was to preserve the Union.

April 15, 1861: Needing cash during the Civil War, President Lincoln signed the Revenue Act, imposing the first federal income tax. Lincoln asked for the first federal income tax — a 3 percent surcharge on income — because he recognized that Americans needed to pay for their wars.

April 15, 1865: President Abraham Lincoln died of an assassin’s bullet. He was the 16th president, serving between 1861 and 1865. Lincoln — the first of four presidents to be assassinated — had been shot the night before while attending a play at Washington’s Ford’s Theatre. He was succeeded by Vice President Andrew Johnson.

April 15, 1986: President Ronald Reagan ordered Operation El Dorado Canyon, which limited air strikes against Libya and the government of Moammar Gadhafi.

Quote of the day

“We cannot escape history…the fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.” — Abraham Lincoln

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