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History of Tax Day

Michael Krumboltz

Uncle Sam wants you to pay your taxes. And you only have a few more days to do it. This year the saddest of all unofficial holidays is April 17, 2012.

[Related: Yahoo! Finance tax center]

Tax day (normally the 15th) can vary depending on how the days of the week fall in a particular year. Folks get a bit longer to pay their taxes this year because April 15th falls on a Sunday. Monday the 16th is Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in Washington D.C. that celebrates the freeing of American slaves. (According to the U.S. tax code, tax day can not fall on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday.) But one thing that never changes: You have to file by mid-April. That wasn't always the case.

As the Library of Congress puts it, the income tax is linked to the passage of the 16th Amendment on July 2, 1909. The 16th Amendment reads as follows: "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration."

Basically, the government is entitled to a taste of the bacon you bring home. The 16th Amendment was ratified a few years later, on February 3, 1913.

[Related: Where's my tax refund?]

Nobody is certain why lawmakers chose March 1 as tax day, but some speculate that it was because March 1, 1914, fell roughly one year after the 16th Amendment was enacted. But tax day didn't stay on March 1 for long. A few years later, the Revenue Act of 1918 moved the day forward to March 15.

And there it stayed until around 1955, when Congress moved tax day a month later to April 15. There it continues to live (more or less) as a day of dread. Why April 15? Historians believe there are two reasons. One, it gave the IRS a month longer to go through the tax returns (imagine the piles of paper before e-filing), and two, it let Uncle Sam hang onto the money a little longer before issuing refunds. Of course, the later date also meant the government had to wait longer to get a check should it be owed money.

[Related: How to avoid an IRS audit]

There are those who believe income taxes levied by the federal government are unconstitutional because they argue the 16th Amendment wasn't properly ratified. Many of these “tax resister” cases have gone to court. As this blog from Oregon Live points out, none of these arguments against the government has prevailed. 

No matter what day taxes are due, be sure to drive carefully on the way to the post office. A recently released study shows that, perhaps due to increased stress, there are on average 6% more auto accidents on tax day.

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