April 15 is the joyous day in which citizens of the United States of America are required to file their income tax with the Internal Revenue Service. For most citizens, this is a relatively painless task; most fill out a quick 1040 EZ (the greatly simplified form of the IRS's evil 1040) form, attach their W-2's, and ship the form off in the mail. However, for the rest of the United States, including those who are self-employed or those who manage businesses, this day is marked in crimson in their minds.
But why April 15? What mad logic possessed the minds of the bureaucrats in Washington to make them select the heart of April? Let's take a brief trip into history, back to 1913, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Woodrow Wilson was in the White House.
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We can blame Wyoming for this. On February 3, 1913, Wyoming became the 37th state to ratify the 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This enabled Congress to levy a tax against the United States populace. Meanwhile, Webster published something important to us all.
Congress, being the bloodthirsty vampires that they are, quickly passed the Revenue Act of 1913, which set down the basic rules for taxation; all people meeting basic standards were now required to pay income tax. The act set up the Internal Revenue Service and provided all citizens with the first version of the 1040 form all US citizens have come to know and love. As you can see, that first form was quite easy to fill out, which was intentional. Congress wanted cash, and it wanted cash now. The filing date was set to March 1 by the act for two reasons: one, Congress believed the form to be so simple any citizen should be able to fill it out in minutes, and two, it wanted money in hand as soon after January 1 as reasonably possible.
Now, anyone who has ever filed income tax in the United States knows very well that half the time you don't even have the necessary data to file by March 1. For once, Congress was halfway attentive to this need of the electorate and in 1918 they postponed the filing date by fifteen days to March 15. They figured it was a good compromise, I guess; more people get their taxes filed correctly and the feds still have their cash before the Easter Bunny shows up.
So, here's our story: Congress wants money. Congress wants money NOW! Congress passes a law to get money from people as quickly as possible. Thus, United States citizens are legally required to file their income tax by March 15.
And now, a brief musical interlude:
They say our form of government
Is centered 'round the dollar
Businesses large and small parading by
But somewhere out in Idaho
There's an average smiling Joe
That helps pay the federal bills for you and I...
He's a tax filing man
Has a big 401(k)
And an HMO plan
He files corporate taxes
With his accounting team
And there's never been a loophole Jason hasn't seen
No, there's never been a writeoff Jason hasn't seen
Interlude sung to the tune of Interplanet Janet, a Schoolhouse Rock classic; parody is protected under the First Amendment, right? Right? Even bad parody?
So, as we've seen, filing taxes is pretty easy, right? Citizens fill out a simple form and drop it in the mail by March 15 and everyone's happy. Well, Congress isn't happy. It turns out that clever accountants have discovered tons and tons of gaping, massive loopholes in this simple form and thus many of the richest people in the United States didn't have to pay a dime in taxes during the Great Depression. Instead, the middle class footed the bill for the New Deal while Daddy Warbucks sat at home choking down another martini and using hundred dollar bills to light his cigars. Well, Congress wanted those hundred dollar bills!
In 1954, Congress did something about it. So, let's take our little time machine forward to 1954, when Big Bad Communists Ruled The United States.
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So, Congress was aware of all sorts of loopholes in the tax code that enabled all sorts of atrocities to go on. Unsurprisingly, Congress wanted to limit some of these fiscal atrocities and allow some others. Their solution? An impossibly complicated act of Congress that introduced an impossibly complicated income tax form, today's modern 1040.
This brutal act of legislation was the Internal Revenue Code of 1954. In it, Congress managed to produce some of the most complicated, confusing, and sometimes contradictory pieces of legislative trivia ever to hit the books in the United States and managed to create a major industry of tax lawyers and tax preparers.
One of the facets of the law was a change of the filing date from March 15 to April 15. The bill itself provides no explanation, just a terse statement of this fact.
Now, for the benefit of all you curious noders out there, last April 15 I became curious about why this was, and I started to read. The raw excitement of following the legislative history of tax laws that have been on the books for more than fifty years cannot be described in mere words, but I managed to find this brief statement from Charles Bennett, a Florida representative who served on the House Ways and Means Committee at the time. He was also one of the sponsors of the bill, and during a 1953 hearing, he stated the following:
The proposal to change the final return date from March 15 to April 15 was first called to my attention by the Florida Hotel Association. They advised that many taxpayers must cut their winter vacations short to return to their homes and to prepare their tax returns for filing before March 15. They pointed out that changing the deadline to April 15 would help their tourist trade as well as that of other winter tourist areas in the United States such as California, Arizona, Maine, and Vermont.
Naturally, given that they are indeed a Congressional subcommittee, the committee heard from representatives of several labor and trade groups throughout the summer of 1953, including the American Federation of Labor, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and many other such groups. Almost unanimously, the groups argued for extra taxpayer time to fill out forms. Thus, when the bill passed in 1954, the date was moved back a month.
To summarize, United States citizens file their taxes on April 15 due to a series of compromises between the greed of Congress and well-established lobbying groups. Such things make you proud to be a citizen, don't they?
s o u r c e s
Where in the hell did I find this administratrivia, anyway? From the wonderful Library of Congress, that's where! Here are a few specific documents I used in preparing this writeup:
Minutes, House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, June-August 1953
Revenue Act of 1913, complete text
Internal Revenue Code of 1954, complete text
The American way in Taxation : Internal Revenue, 1862-1963 edited by Lillian Doris. Buffalo:Hein, 1994.
This was a nodeshell rescue.