The interesting link between Prohibition and the Federal Income Tax

No Closing Time for Income Taxe


The nation’s dependence on the alcohol tax created a vexing problem for the leaders of the Prohibition movement. As early as 1883, the editors of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union’s official newspaper coyly asked their readers, “How, then, will [we] support the government” if the sale of liquor is prohibited?

The editors had a ready answer: an income tax, they wrote, was “the most just and equable arrangement ever made for the equalization of governmental burdens.” In 1895, the Prohibition Party recognized that an excise tax “is a pledge on the part of the state to defend and foster the thing taxed,” and it soon nailed an income tax plank to its platform. And leaders of the most powerful Dry organization, the Anti-Saloon League, grumpily aware of what one called the “alleged ‘loss of revenue’ argument,” chose to focus most of its attention on state-by-state, rather than federal, prohibitory laws.

But the league also encouraged the populist campaign to authorize an income tax. When this support finally bore fruit in 1913, the organization announced that “the adoption of the Income Tax Amendment to the federal Constitution furnishes an answer to the revenue problem.” As a result, it said, the time had come for all foes of alcohol to put aside the state-by-state strategy and focus on a new goal. “National prohibition,” its executive committee declared, “can be secured through the adoption of a constitutional amendment.” By 1920, it was law.

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