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Why is April 15th Tax Day?

Why is April 15th Tax Day?

Contributing Author: Jim Young

Great question. Your students might be wondering as well.

The Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution was passed by Congress on July 12, 1909. On February 3, 1913, Delaware ratified the amendment, and the Constitution’s requirement that at least three quarters of the states ratify any proposed Constitutional amendment was met. United States Secretary of State Philander Knox certified its adoption on February 25, 1913.

The first income tax – the Revenue Act of 1913 – was passed by Congress on October 3, 1913.

The first individual income tax return – for the period from March 1 to December 31, 1913 – had a tax return had a due date of March 1, 1914. Although Congress provided no explanation for that date, it seems likely that it was selected to give taxpayers adequate time to collect the information needed to complete their tax returns.

So how did we get from March 1st to April 15th? Last week, Joseph Thorndike of Tax Analysts posted an excellent article documenting that journey. The Tax Foundation published a similar piece a few years ago. The Thorndike article and this note from the Tax Foundation explain why the filing deadline is April 18th this year.

Tax Analysts also has established the Tax History Project to provide information on the development of our tax law through time. Your students might enjoy exploring this site.

Classroom Discussion

  1. Have your students read the Tax Analysts and Tax Foundation articles and come to class prepared to discuss how the income tax filing dates have changed (and why).
  2. Have your students download and review the 1913 Form 1040.
    1. How does the tax base (taxable income) computation differ from today?
    2. How was the income tax assessed in 1913? Describe the 1913 “tax rate schedule.” Were there “filing statuses” in 1913?
    3. The 1913 Form 1040 provides a $3,000 exemption for single taxpayers and a $4,000 exemption for married taxpayers. What would these exemption amounts equate to in 2017? You can use the cost of living calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine a rough estimate. And, you can also “inflation adjust” the surtax brackets at the bottom of page 1.
    4. At what point is a family of four (a married couple with two dependent children) subject to the income tax in 2016? You can have a discussion of how the income tax became a “mass tax” in the late 1940s (to, among other things, pay for the costs of World War II).

SWFT Chapters

SWFT Volume 1 Chapter 1
SWFT Volume 3 Chapter 1
SWFT Volume 4 Chapter 1




James C. Young is the Crowe Horwath Professor of Accountancy at Northern Illinois University. A graduate of Ferris State University (B.S.) and Michigan State University (M.B.A. and Ph.D.), Jim’s research focuses on taxpayer responses to the income tax using archival data. His dissertation received the PricewaterhouseCoopers/American TaxationmAssociation Dissertation Award and his subsequent research has received funding from a number of organizations, including the Ernst & Young Foundation Tax Research Grant Program. His work has been published in a variety of academic and professional journals, including the National Tax Journal, The Journal of the American Taxation Association, and Tax Notes. Jim is a Northern Illinois University Distinguished Professor, received the Illinois CPA Society Outstanding Accounting Educator Award in 2012, and has received university teaching awards from Northern Illinois University, George Mason University, and Michigan State University.