john wilkes booth
Imagine being a witness to a part of history. Of course, we all are. We witness our part of history, because history happens all around us. It’s just that some events are more. More what you might ask. More devastating, more tragic, more exciting, just more. One such event was the assassination of President Lincoln. I can’t begin to imagine what it would have been like to go out for a night at the theater only to have the evening shattered be gunfire…and then to look up and see that your President was slumped over, bleeding, and dying. Now imagine you were just a child at the time.
That was the situation Samuel Seymour found himself in on April 14, 1865. On April 14, 1865, Seymour was five years old, when his godmother, who was the wife of his father’s employer took him to see Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington DC. They were sitting in the balcony across the theater from the Presidential box. Everyone knew President Lincoln. I don’t know how star struck people got back then. Not nearly as much as today, but everyone knew him. A while later, says Seymour, “All of a sudden a shot rang out…and someone in the President’s box screamed. I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat.” Suddenly, John Wilkes Booth jumped from the box to the stage. What five year old boy wouldn’t remember those two events. Of course, Seymour didn’t understand what had happened to President Lincoln, but he was very concerned for Booth, who broke his leg in the jump. He was just a child.
As a child, Seymour was the youngest person in the theater. Most, if not all of the people there were adults. Two months before his death, Seymour appeared on the February 9, 1956, broadcast of the CBS TV panel show “I’ve Got a Secret.” Seymour was hurt in a fall prior to the show, and the show’s producers had urged Seymour to postpone his appearance on the show. Seymour’s doctor left the choice up to Seymour, Seymour chose to go on. During the panelists correctly guessed that Seymour witnessed the assassination of Lincoln. Seymour died on April 12, 1956, and with that, the last witness to Lincoln’s assassination was gone.
Imagine a world without income taxes. I’m sure a lot of us would love to do just that. I don’t know what the taxes are called in other nations, but suffice it to say that the name doesn’t mean a thing…it’s still a tax, and it still has to be paid. In the United States…for many years, there was no income tax, at least not until August 5, 1861, when President Lincoln imposes the first federal income tax to help pay for the Civil War costs. The tax started when President Lincoln and Congress agreed to impose a tax of 3% on annual incomes over $800.00. I’m sure that the people were as unhappy about that as we would be today about gun control. The whole thing seemed unfair and for many unconstitutional.
The constitutionality of a federal income tax, was something President Lincoln checked into thoroughly, and I’m sure that it was the last thing he wanted to do, because that kind of thing can be political suicide, and in this case…I have to wonder if it played a part in Lincoln’s assassination, although it was said that John Wilkes Booth killed him because he disagreed with his stance on slavery.
Sometime, around March of 1861, Lincoln began to look at the government’s ability to wage a war against the South, and found that it was lacking. He sent letters to cabinet members Edward Bates, Gideon Welles, and Salmon Chase. Lincoln wanted to get their opinions as to whether or not the president had the constitutional authority to “collect [such] duties.” According to the documents, and their interpretations, which are now housed in the Library of Congress…Lincoln was very concerned about maintaining federal authority over collecting revenue from ports along the southeastern seaboard…as they might fall under the control of the Confederacy.
The Revenue Act was broadly written to define income as gain “derived from any kind of property, or from any professional trade, employment, or vocation carried on in the United States or elsewhere or from any source whatever.” The comparable minimum tax as of 2003 would have put the minimum taxable income at about $16,000. The Income Tax went into effect, and the Civil War was funded. Then in 1871, Congress repealed Lincoln’s tax law, but in 1909, they passed the 16th Amendment, which made Income Tax a permanent tax, and the one we use today. The 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913. Sometimes, I wish they hadn’t done that, but I suppose it is necessary, though maybe not always fair.