Unbelievably, we are a quarter of the way through this year, and tomorrow we enter April.
While British author Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote, “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” there is one other subject that people on both sides of the Atlantic think about this time of year — taxes.
As every American knows, the deadline for filing tax returns for the previous year is April 15. However, this year you may be pleased to hear that we get three extra days because Emancipation Day, a federal holiday in the District of Columbia, falls on April 15. This pushes this year’s filing deadline to April 18.
The history of the USA is deeply entwined with the subject of taxation. In the 1760s, the British government decided it was not happy with just a “stamp tax” on legal documents, newspapers, playing cards and most things on paper, and passed a number of other tax laws to raise money to fund the cost of protecting (some said “occupying”) the American Colony. The British government started aggressively taxing goods imported into America, including paper, lead, whiskey, glass, sugar and tea. The Boston Tea Party was a protest group that rebelled by dumping loads of incoming tea into Boston Harbor before it could be unloaded. Soon, this and other protests escalated into the Revolutionary War. Cries against “taxation without representation!” were heard across the land.
The U.S. government started to tax its citizens’ income at different times in the 19th century, but the legality of the attempts were constantly questioned until 1913, when Congress passed the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. This is when our modern style of taxation came into being, since the law provided that citizens complete the first 1040 forms, and allowed for tax to be collected at the source, generally from an employer before the employee received it. There is a huge amount of further information on the history of U.S. taxation at www.taxhistory.org.
Why is April a big tax month back in the land of my birth? For a completely different reason: Unlike most of the rest of the world, where the calendar year and the tax year are the same, in the U.K., the tax year ends not on Dec. 31, but on the much quirkier April 5.
As with so many strange British traditions, the explanation lies in history. The ancient Julian calendar decreed that the new year began on March 25, which fell on the Catholic feast of Annunciation. However, in 1752, the British Empire followed most of the rest of Europe and finally introduced the Gregorian calendar, which was more accurate and meant that the new year would begin on Jan. 1. By the time of adopting the new calendar, the old British calendar was 11 days behind the rest of Europe. Britain and her colonies switched and made a one-time date adjustment, but rather than lose those 11 days of taxes, they also moved the tax year by 11 days. A similar correction was required surrounding leap year in 1800, so the tax year moved by another day. Hence, the strange and administratively weird tax year end and start on April 6.
Income tax in Britain was introduced in 1799 by the then-Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger as a temporary measure to cover the cost of the Napoleonic Wars. Today, it remains a temporary tax that expires each year and has to be renewed annually — and it always is.
No matter what tax year you operate on, I leave you with a little quote from Margaret Mitchell’s novel, “Gone with the Wind,” “Death, taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them.”
God bless America!
Contact Francis at email@example.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.