Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

I just finished reading this book over the Memorial Day weekend (how fitting) and I found one passage particularly fascinating. There was a section on the legislation that was passed during the 37th Congress that had been held up through bi-partisan action (read, Southern opposition).

“As was customary on the last day of the session, the president traveled to the Capitol, stationing himself in the vice president’s office, where he signed a spate of bills rushed through in the final days of the term. It had been an extraordinary productive session. Relieved of Southern opposition, the Republican majority was able to pass three historic bills that had been stalled for years: the Homestead Act, which promised 160 acres of free public land largely in the West to settlers who agree to reside on the property for five years or more; the Morrill Act, providing public lands to states for the establishment of land-grant colleges; and the Pacific Railroad Act, which made the construction of a transcontinental railroad possible. The 37th Congress also laid the economic foundation for the Union war effort with the Legal Tender bill, which created a paper money known as “greenbacks.” A comprehensive tax bill was also enacted, establishing the Internal Revenue Bureau in the Department of the Treasury and levying a federal income tax for the first time in American history.” p.461

Wow – what an incredible difference these pieces of legislation brought to America (not all of them good.) I loved researching Lincoln in school. I loved reading biographies about him. I had no idea that the IRS and income tax came out of his administration. But that is how they financed the civil war: Income taxes and war bonds, along with a Treasury that just printed new money , called “greenbacks.”

Note – I had a wonderful opportunity to hear the author speak in October 2009 in Boston at the ACC Annual Meeting. She was a fabulously entertaining speaker.


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