Income tax time is fast approaching and there’s a good story behind it. It’s a story of two wars, a dying Supreme Court justice and Donald Duck!
During the Civil War, Congress decided to try an income tax and they made it public. Prior to that, money was collected from tariffs. Each neighbor could see what the other was paying. Abraham Lincoln paid $1296 in 1864.
By the late 1800’s, income tax was almost only paid by the rich and they had some talented lawyers. In 1895, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. One justice was on his death bed, and the remaining eight split evenly. The dying justice came back and by a vote of 5-4, the court found income tax unconstitutional.
In 1913, Congress and the State brought it back by amending the Constitution. Again, the tax was only being paid by the rich people.
When World War II came along, the government needed more money and middle class were being asked to pay, too. Legislators thought ordinary Americans just wouldn’t do it. They wanted someone credible and easy to understand. So the government got Donald Duck. He marched around the house listening to the radio and filling out his tax form. Occupation: actor. Dependents: Huey, Dewey and Louie.
It worked. Donald Duck got ordinary Americans to pay their income tax. And here we are now.
Here’s the 1943 cartoon produced by Disney Studios showing Donald doing his fair share of taxpaying: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99zmpod_zbE
Here’s the full story from Planet Money: