The 20-word news item was sandwiched in between announcements that President Lincoln had signed legislation authorizing construction of a railroad from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean and a bill to "prevent and punish the practice of polygamy in the Territories of the United States ..."

The historic legislation the Civil War president had just affixed his "A. Lincoln" to was: "The bill to provide internal revenue to defray the expenses of the Government and pay interest on the public debt." In other words, an income tax.

Thus, contrary to what we learned in school, the income tax did not originate in 1913 with the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution; rather, it began in the summer of 1862 as a means of financing the Civil War.

A search through dusty archives of the Internal Revenue Service reveals an astonishing assortment of facts, history and trivia. Some highlights of this research are presented here to help ease the stress on all you do-it-yourself tax preparers as the April 15 deadline looms:

Preoccupied with the Civil War, most citizens paid scant attention to the innocuous-appearing notice announcing the creation of the income tax. But the news did not escape the attention of Wall Street. The stock market "took a strong downward surge."

Public interest quickened, however, when instructions accompanying Form 24 (the great-great-grand-daddy of today's 1040) set the terms of the new tax, which exacted a levy of 3 percent on annual incomes from $600 up to $10,000, and 5 percent on incomes over $10,000.

To today's taxpayers those rates may seem insignificant, but they brought the immediate results the Feds had hoped for. In 1864, the first year in which the income tax was collected, the U.S. Treasury was enriched by an additional $20.3 million -- one quarter of all federal taxes collected that year.

By contrast, another major source of revenue, distilled spirits, brought in $30.3 million. Considering that the tax on liquor alone netted the Treasury more than one-third of total collections, it can be safely assumed that in those days Gen. Ulysses S. Grant wasn't the only one bending the elbow with some frequency.

In kinship with taxpayers everywhere, 19th-century Americans hated the new tax, and had enough disdain left over for the IRS bureaucrats who were as unpopular as tax collectors always had been, dating back to their early Egyptian counterparts, who leaned on fellow citizens for taxes to finance the pyramids.

As public outcry intensified, the wartime revenue system, in IRS language, "began to be dismantled." By 1872 it was "abandoned," proving once again that no tax is ever dead, really. To no one's surprise, another effort was made to resurrect the income tax in the mid-1890s, but the Supreme Court ruled the legislation unconstitutional.

The dawn of the new century brought renewed debate on the merits of a tax on income. As pressures mounted, a way had to be found around the major roadblock: the Supreme Court's decision that the income-tax law had been declared unconstitutional. Supporters of the tax persisted and, in July 1909, a compromise was reached that resulted in heavy debate until the adoption of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913. The modern income-tax era was launched. With eyeshades and sleeve-bands firmly in place, tax writers mounted a massive effort, quickly producing a maze of new instructions and forms, most notably form 1040. The rest, as we know too well, is history.

And history is awash with examples of the anguish and mental fatigue the income tax has visited on taxpayers each year as they strain to understand the rules and instructions. Seeking help in manuals prepared by tax counselors and after consulting the rash of How-to articles appearing each year, eyes blur and the brain boggles. No less an achiever than Nobel laureate Albert Einstein found the job impossible. The genius who astounded the world with his mathematical skill once remarked, quite simply: "The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax. ... This {tax return} is too difficult for a mathematician ... "

Einstein went on to say that it takes a philosopher to figure out income tax. One wonders how the philosophers responded to that compliment.

As you return to the daunting task of completing your taxes, take heart in this closing historical footnote describing the perils faced by an early tax collector in the Montana Territory. It may bring you solace and comfort. In a 10-page letter to his boss in Washington in 1866, N.P. Langford cited his numerous -- and frightening -- experiences with reluctant taxpayers, some of whom threatened him with bodily harm, even death. One was quoted as saying that if he "comes to this Valley I'll wager he'll never get out a live man."

But Langford was not to be trifled with. His letter describes one confrontation when facing several delinquent taxpayers in his office: "After hearing all I could from them, I ... told them not to speak another word ... or I'd thrash them as they had never been thrashed before. This quieted them, and they soon left."

There is no surviving evidence, however, whether these scoundrels ever paid their taxes before -- or after -- they left.