CHARLOTTE: Taxes through history all have something in common. It’s always about the government taxing its citizens to pay for its spending – on your behalf.
Time is running out but you still have a few hours left to pay your taxes. Normally, April 15th is the filing deadline, but since the 15th this year fell on a Sunday. As luck would have it, Monday, April 16 is “Emancipation Day.” A holiday in Washington (what day isn’t?) taxpayers have another 24-hour extension. So tomorrow, April 17th is Tax Day.
Proving you can’t rely on death and taxes. Because tax day is fluid.
1773 Boston Tea (taxed enough already) Party
Every school child learns about the 1773 Boston Tea Party when angry patriots threw more than 300 crates of tea into Boston Harbor in protest of British taxes that were being levied on the drink. Little wonder Starbucks became so popular.
What most of us do not know, however, is that the income tax began in the U.S. in July of 1861 to help pay for the Civil War. That tax was repealed the following year and replaced with a tiered income tax system.
Historically, the first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, SC. Fort Sumter was, in fact, a Customs House, where tariffs and taxes are imposed on import goods to the U.S.
After the Civil War, the income tax was again repealed and did not officially become law until 1913 prior to the onset of World War I. As a frame of reference, the federal tax code in 1913 comprised a total of 400 pages. As recently as 2010, that number has expanded to more than 70,000.
World War II and the Bureau of Internal Revenue
With the onset of World War II came the Bureau of Internal Revenue. It later became known as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) which is today the world’s largest accounting and tax-collection organization.
At first, Americans would set up savings accounts to have a monetary reserve set aside for paying their taxes in a lump sum each year. With the governments need for a better stream of income to fund the war effort, automatic tax withholding from paychecks began. A process that continues today.The well-known novel “Atlas Shrugged” contained 645,000 words while the Bible has approximately 700,000 depending on which version you choose.
In contrast, the Federal Tax Code contains approximately 3,700,000 words.
In case you are wondering which form to use for which tax you need to pay, just go to the IRS website. There are over 480 different forms on the site to choose from.
Latin: Taxo – I Estimate
We can thank the Romans for the word “tax” which comes from the Latin taxo. Taxo translates to mean “I estimate.”
Speaking of Romans and taxation, there have been many seemingly unusual taxes historically which make sense in the context of their time, but sound ridiculous in the modern world.
Emperor Vespasian, for example, ordered a tax on urine in the 1st century A.D. Not because he was pissed off, but it just so happened that urine was a source of ammonia in those days. It had a use in the tanning of hides.
Obviously lesser known, but more disgusting by today’s standards, is that urine was also popular for laundering garments. Chances are that it was not 99/100% percent pure.
The “panes”, breadth and beards of European taxes
By 1691, England had placed a levy on the number of windows in a house. As such, residents took great “panes” to build their houses with limited windows. As British citizens began to suffer health problems due to the lack of fresh air from open windows, they smartly repealed the tax in 1851.
In Holland, because of lack of space along the canals, the base of home taxes was the width of homes. Consequently, homes in Amsterdam are unusually long. Even today furniture for upstairs rooms must be hoisted by hooks and cranes and brought inside through the windows.
In 1705, Russian Emperor Peter the Great put a tax on beards. The hope was it would encourage the more clean-shaven appearance that was popular throughout Western Europe at the time.
France got into the act prior to its revolution with the gabelle salt tax. As with tulips in Holland, salt was a valuable commodity throughout Europe, which made it ideal for tax purposes, even though the salt tax was one of the most hated levies in the country.
Deep in the heart of Taxes
The state of Texas has a “pole tax” on adult entertainment businesses. The revenue goes to victims of sexual assault and health insurance for the poor.
Perhaps better known is Lady Godiva who, according to a 13th-century legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventry in protest of the taxes her husband had imposed upon his tenants.
As the legendary author Mark Twain once wrote,
“The difference between a tax collector and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist takes only your skin.” – Mark Twain
In conclusion, on a positive note, if someone reports their company for tax evasion and succeeds, they receive 30% of the amount collected.
Now that’s an incentive, but for me at least, my vote goes to Lady Godiva.
Lede Image: By NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) (originally posted to Flickr as Gutenberg Bible) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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