The Ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment
February 03, 1913Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this objectA long-serving Member, Sereno Payne of New York chaired the Committee on Ways and Means and the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries.On this date, the states of Delaware, Wyoming, and New Mexico approved the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratifying it into law. The amendment empowered Congress to impose an income tax on individuals and corporations. During the House debates of S.J. Res. 40, Members had debated the merits of collecting income taxes. Representatives Sereno Payne of New York and Samuel McCall of Massachusetts argued that income taxes should only be levied to raise revenue during times of war. Congressman Ebenezer Hill of Connecticut also worried that the tax could be unfairly levied on constituents in poorer states: “We are ready to vote for an income tax to meet any emergencies which may arise…and to stand by the Government in time of war; but do not ask us…without consultation with our people at home, to put this burden on them in addition to one already severe because of local expenditures… ” Representative William Sulzer of New York, a supporter of the tax, said, “I have been the constant advocate of an income tax along constitutional lines… I reiterate that through it only…will it ever be possible for the Government to be able to make idle wealth pay its just share of the ever-increasing burdens of taxation.” After a brisk debate on July 12, 1909, lasting for five hours, the bill passed 318–14, with 1 voting “present,” and 55 not voting. The Sixteenth Amendment was the first change to the Constitution since the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed African-American male suffrage, 43 years earlier, in 1870.