Creating the Modern Taxing State

The United States has experimented with a variety of tax systems.  For most of the 19th century, American finance depended on tariff revenues.  The exception came in the 1860s, when the cost of the Civil War forced the Union to adopt a progressive income tax.  The tariff regime crumbled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in face of criticisms that the tax on imports helped only the wealthy few.  In 1913, Congress and the states amended the Constitution to allow the federal government to levy a tax on incomes.  The income tax, however, did not become a major revenue source until the Second World War. The digital exhibit explores the politics of the federal income tax between 1860 and 1945 with particular attention to how wars and other crises affected both tax policy and tax politics.


Molly C. Michelmore