Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, December 29, 2017

100 Years and the Same News: War and Taxes

World War dominated the headlines a century ago.  In reviewing the news pages of January 1, 1918, comes the realization some things never change.  When the news coverage moves away from the death and destruction of world war, the economy and discussion of taxes takes up space in the newspapers. 
Column from the Star News reminding
 county residents to pay their taxes The
third headline seems most interesting:
Heavy Penalty For Failure 

In surveying the pages of the Sherburne County Star News for the first week in 1918, it comes as no surprise the war is a dominant topic of reporting.  Yet, the newspaper’s inside pages provide interesting commentary.  In addition to the war, the Star News reminded its readers to pay their income tax “before March 1, 1918.” 

In the five years since the passage of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, collecting income tax remained a new concept.  Yet, with the war continuing in Europe, paying income tax became a patriotic service.  “All good Americans who are making a fair living are now called upon to pay,” the paper opined.

Income tax in 1918 seemed much easier than 100 years later.  According to the paper, income is defined as “profit, gain, wages, salary, commissions, money or its equivalent from professions, vocations, commerce, trade, rents, sales, and dealings in property.”  The definition of income continues for several lines.  In other words, any money received is income and is taxable.  Congress set the tax rate a two percent over an income of $2000.  An inflation calculator estimated the amount in 2017 dollars as income over $50,000. 

As a final warning, the newspaper reported of significant fines and imprisonment for failing to file a tax return.  As the newspaper noted, “The government is not required to seek the taxpayer.  The taxpayer is required to seek the government.” 

Although the war dominated coverage in the early days of 1918, the economy and income tax claimed space in the newspaper pages.  Some things never seem to change, with taxes continuing to appear in the news.

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