Since April is the month for filing income taxes, the History Seeker looks back to an earlier and historically significant filing deadline.
The first federal income tax had been passed by Congress during the Civil War, then repealed in 1872. Congress passed another one in 1894 only to have it struck down as unconstitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court.
The sixteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed by Congress in 1909 and ratified by the requisite number of state legislatures by early 1913, established the federal power to tax incomes. An income tax was included in tariff legislation passed by Congress in October 1913 and signed by President Woodrow Wilson the same month, with a tax filing deadline set for March 1, 1914.
In the months between the law’s passage and the filing deadline, the San Diego Union ran a daily “Income Tax” column publishing readers’ questions and providing answers on how to comply with the new law. Several columns provide a picture of how San Diegans dealt with tax preparation at that point.
The column of February 22 reported on “a puzzled real estate dealer…who applied to the financial department of the Union yesterday” to determine how much of his gross income was taxable.
In going over the details, the Union discovered that “the gentleman, although of sufficiently keen insight into business and handling real estate to secure an income during 1913 which made him subject to the income tax, kept no books, but carried the bookkeeping end of his business ‘in his hat.’”
The amazed columnist asked readers, “How long think you would a bank, which sells money, a store selling groceries, a doctor selling his professional services, or an attorney doing likewise, conduct their several businesses at a profit if they kept no books?”
The rest of that column elaborates on the need to keep careful records. It also reminded taxpayers that their forms “should be posted prior to March 1 in order to insure receipt of same at the collector’s office by 4 o’clock on the afternoon of March 1.”
The column for March 1 began: “March 1 falling on a Sunday, belated returns may be made Monday. Persons whose returns have not been made will be within the law if same are filed by 4 o’clock Monday afternoon.”
The Union went on to note that the deputy internal revenue collector at the San Diego office had remained at his desk on Saturday, February 28 “until after 4 o’clock,” even though “the closing hour on Saturday is noon.”
The deputy had received more returns on that last Saturday “than on any one day since filing returns began,” stated the Union. Those returns were from San Diego residents.
“Fully 75 per cent of the returns filed at first were by eastern people spending the winter in San Diego,” the column reported. Those returns had all been taken care of, and the collection office was being “cleaned up by delayed filings of returns from San Diegans.”
From the number of returns posted to that point, it appeared “practically a certain thing” that many San Diegans would be paying penalties for late filing.
File all that under The More Things Change, Etc.
History Happenings-Upcoming Events in the Local History Community
Rancho Bernardo Historical Society’s Speakers Series will present a free program featuring Jack Larimer, Director of the Vista Historical Society and Museum, on Wednesday, April 16, at 10 a.m. For details visit http://www.rbhistoricalsociety.org/ .
Escondido History Center and Escondido Citizens Ecology Committee co-sponsor Tuesday evening walking tours of historic city sites twice a month from April through August. For details visit: http://www.escondidohistory.org/2014_walking_tour_brochure.pdf .