Friday, April 15, 2011

Teaching through Taxes

Are you thinking about taxes this weekend? The real question is, are you thinking about taxes as a family of learners? What do I mean by that?

I mean taking a few minutes of time to turn this (often unpleasant) experience into a conversation for the whole family about history, civics and government, or even activism. Here are some interesting tidbits to start you off:

16th Amendment: 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.

In 1895, in the Supreme Court case of Pollock v Farmer's Loan and Trust (157 U.S. 429), the Court disallowed a federal tax on income from real property. The tax was designed to be an indirect tax, which would mean that states need not contribute portions of a whole relative to its census figures. The Court, however, ruled that the tax was a direct tax and subject to apportionment. This was the last in a series of conflicting court decisions dating back to the Civil War. Between 1895 and 1909, when the amendment was passed by Congress, the Court began to back down on its position, as it became clear not only to accountants but to everyone that the solvency of the nation was in jeopardy. In a series of cases, the definition of "direct tax" was modified, bent, twisted, and coaxed to allow more taxation efforts that approached an income tax.

Finally, with the ratification of the 16th Amendment, any doubt was removed. The text of the Amendment makes it clear that though the categories of direct and indirect taxation still exist, any determination that income tax is a direct tax will be irrelevant, because taxes on incomes, from salary or from real estate, are explicitly to be treated as indirect. The Congress passed the Amendment on July 12, 1909, and it was ratified on February 3, 1913 (1,302 days). (Read more at

Visit this page from Justia to learn more about Supreme Court cases dealing with questions of taxation:
By the terms of the Constitution, the power of Congress to levy taxes is subject to but one exception and two qualifications. Articles exported from any State may not be taxed at all. Direct taxes must be levied by the rule of apportionment and indirect taxes by the rule of uniformity. The Court has emphasized the sweeping character of this power by saying from time to time that it “reaches every subject,”519 that it is “exhaustive”520 or that it “embraces every conceivable power of taxation.”521 Despite these generalizations, the power has been at times substantially curtailed by judicial decision with respect to the subject matter of taxation, the manner in which taxes are imposed, and the objects for which they may be levied. (Read more...)
The Internal Revenue Service is the government agency that oversees taxation. Visit their website to learn more about the agency's history, policies, and practices.
The roots of IRS go back to the Civil War when President Lincoln and Congress, in 1862, created the position of commissioner of Internal Revenue and enacted an income tax to pay war expenses. The income tax was repealed 10 years later. Congress revived the income tax in 1894, but the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional the following year. (Read more...)
Learn more about the "Tax Day Tea Parties" that swept the country a few years ago - try a Google search of "taxes" and "tea party" or visit Then make sure you know your history - check out the Boston Tea Party Historical Society to learn about the original historical event from which this movement takes its name:
On Monday morning, the 29th of November, 1773, a handbill was posted all over Boston, containing the following words: "Friends! Brethren! Countrymen!--That worst of plagues, the detested tea, shipped for this port by the East India Company, is now arrived in the harbor. (Read more...)
Whatever your approach to talking taxes in your family this weekend, don't miss the opportunity to ask the hard questions, wrestle with the big issues, and make this a teachable moment for yourself as well as your children. You can do it!

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