Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
A 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 16th 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 16th Amendment was the first change to the Constitution since the passage of the 15th Amendment
, which guaranteed African-American male suffrage, 43 years earlier, in 1870.