March 2008

Taxing the Brain

A look at our ancestors and the tax man.

Taxing the Brain

Submitted by: Bobbi Spiker-Conley

This month’s edition of the Spiker Gazette is being published a little later than usual. For one, I was struggling with our feature article. Our regular reporters have been under the weather and I have been at a loss thinking of something to contribute on my own. (Cue to the rest of the family…I’m in need of something for the April edition too.)

On top of that, like everyone else, my schedule is a busy one. There are all these tasks that are fighting for my immediate attention. One of the most dreaded is the preparation of our income tax forms. That chore started a new conversation in my head…“I wonder how our grandparents dealt with the tax man.”

I still don’t know the answer to that question but I did find some interesting information about the history of the Federal Income Tax and thought I’d share it with you.

Copied From: The Tax History Museum, “1901-1932: The Income Tax Arrives

While fiscal reformers fought for the ratification of a new constitutional amendment to authorize federal income taxes, Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, Richard E. Byrd, made a plea to reject it.

(He wrote) “A hand from Washington will be stretched out and placed upon every man’s business; the eye of the Federal inspector will be in every man’s counting house . . . The law will of necessity have inquisitorial features, it will provide penalties, it will create complicated machinery. Under it men will be hailed into courts distant from their homes. Heavy fines imposed by distant and unfamiliar tribunals will constantly menace the tax payer. An army of Federal inspectors, spies and detectives will descend upon the state . . . Who of us who have had knowledge of the doings of the Federal officials in the Internal Revenue service can be blind to what will follow? I do not hesitate to say that the adoption of this amendment will be such a surrender to imperialism that has not been since the Northern states in their blindness forced the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments upon the entire sisterhood of the Commonwealth.”

Opposition from Byrd and like-minded conservatives couldn’t stop the amendment. To the surprise of many, the states ratified the amendment and in February 1913, it became the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The new income tax provided for collection “at source”, meaning that some kinds of income would be taxed before it reached the taxpayer (as with our current system of tax withholding). The Bureau of Internal Revenue established a Personal Income Tax Division to collect the new tax. It included a Correspondence Unit of 30 employees dedicated solely to answering questions about the new levy.

In 1914, the BIR unveiled its form for the new income tax. Four pages long, it was dubbed Form 1040 as part of the agency’s normal sequential numbering process. No money was collected during the first year. Instead, taxpayers returned just a completed form, which was then checked by field agents for accuracy.

In 1915, several congressmen complained that income tax forms are too complicated. The House Sergeant at Arms offered lawmakers assistance in preparing their own returns. As one congressman explained the complexity: “I write a law. You drill a hole in it. I plug the whole. You drill a hole in my plug.”

Click here to view a copy of the 1040 Tax Form of 1913. Notice that it is four pages long – INCLUDING instructions. The 2007 instruction booklet, without forms, is 293 pages long!!!

For additional reading, check out these tax history links:


  • Willa Dean Spiker is improving at home and no longer requires 24-hour care. She hates being confined and “feeling like an invalid”, noting that she has always maintained the role of number one family caregiver. We tell her it’s now her turn to to be waited on.

    Part of her frustration stems from the fact that others in her family have been experiencing medical problems as well. Mother wishes she could take care of them. However, in her weakened state, it’s simply too risky for her. From her children to her grandchildren to her great-grandchildren, it seems like EVERYONE has been ill at some time or other over the past couple months.

    Currently, Dean’s great-grandson (Cathy’s grandson, Shelly’s son) is still in the hospital after two weeks of fighting pneumonia and staff infection in his lungs. Mother says, “He’s a very sick little boy”. We are all hoping that he will be discharged from the hospital sometime next week after which he will spend several more weeks recovering at home.

  • Haley Conley is moving again – moving out and moving up! The current housing crisis has actually worked in her favor. She will be saving hundreds of dollars a month, moving next week from her overpriced apartment to a very nice house in an area considered “the fourth best place to live in Florida”. And just a few weeks after that, Haley will be moving up in the world as she graduates from Florida Gulf Coast University on April 27. Gary, his parents and I will be attending the ceremony and taking advantage of Haley’s hosting skills at her new home.