It’s a big day today—100 years ago, on February 3, 1913, Delaware ratified the 16th Amendment, meaning it had been ratified by the necessary 36 states. And, with the ratification of the 16th Amendment, the U.S. could constitutionally impose an income tax.1
What does this have to do with Mormonism? Nothing, directly. Mormons don’t seem to have played any significant role in the history of the income tax. In fact, Utah is one of a very small handful of states (6) that never ratified the 16th Amendment.
But that’s not to say that we can’t draw an attenuated relationship between Mormonism and the adoption of the federal income tax. Specifically, the income tax made Prohibition possible. Prior to 1913, somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the government’s revenue came from excise taxes on alcohol. The income tax allowed the government to replace that revenue stream, removing a major impediment to banning alcohol.
And, of course, in the early 20th century, Prohibition was important to Mormon leaders and members.
- Recently, a number of people have argued that the Supreme Court erred in Pollock when it found that an income tax was a direct tax. Whether or not the Supreme Court was wrong, though, the 16th Amendment rendered Pollock moot. ↩