The ‘Obnoxious’ Income Tax

November 4, 2005

Discontentment with the federal income tax is nothing new, and neither are efforts to repeal it.

The first federal income tax was levied during the Civil War and was quickly repealed in 1872. In an 1871 letter to the House of Representatives, the commissioner of Internal Revenue wrote:

I regard the tax as the one of all others most obnoxious to the genius of our people, being inquisitorial in its nature, and dragging into public view an exposition of the most private pecuniary affairs of the citizen.

Such an unwilling exposition can only be compulsorily effected through a maintenance of the most expensive machinery; and both the nature of the tax and the means necessarily employed for its enforcement appear to be regarded by the better class of citizens with more and more disfavor from year to year.

View the PDF of the full letter here.

Over a century later, the income tax is so widely accepted that many people may be surprised to hear an IRS commissioner so vehemently oppose it. Makes you wonder what he would think of the 79 pages of instructions accompanying Form 1040 and the 21 hours the average taxpayer spends filling out tax forms.

For more on the complexity and compliance costs of the federal income tax, see Tax Foundation Special Report No. 114, The Cost of Complying with the Federal Income Tax.


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