The Paradox of Emancipation Day

For decades, April 16th has been a sort of emancipation for me—from tax returns, as I was a CPA prior to my writing and illustrating career. Since 1955, “Tax Day” has been April 15th, unless it falls on a holiday or weekend, in which case you have until the 11:59 p.m. of the following normal business day to file your 1040. This year, April 15th is a Friday, so why, you ask, has the deadline been deferred to April 18th? Few Americans are aware of Emancipation Day, an official holiday since 2005, but only in Washington DC, when parades line the streets and fireworks spark the night. First, a little background, on April 16th, 1862, President Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act which provided for immediate emancipation for over 3,000 slaves, compensation for former slave owners and cash incentives for former slaves to relocate outside of the United States (not to be confused with The Emancipation Proclamation issued January 1, 1863, which freed over three million slaves across many states). The Emancipation Act covered the District of Columbia because the federal government only had control of DC and Lincoln could not convince the other states of its merits. For many years afterward, African Americans celebrated Emancipation Day on April 16th as a symbol of victory over slavery. If the 16th falls on a weekend, Emancipation day is celebrated on the nearest weekday, either Friday or Monday. This year, the official holiday on the 15th grants a three-day extension to file. Paradoxically, federal government offices are open on April 15th, 2016, but the Internal Revenue Service treats DC legal holidays the same as federal legal holidays when it comes to filing taxes, but disregards legal holidays in other states. For instance, Maine and Massachusetts celebrate Patriots’ Day on April 18th, marking the battles of Lexington and Concord, so you will have until April 19th to file, but only if you live in those states.

I am still confused as to why Emancipation Day is only recognized in Washington, DC but considered a legal national holiday for tax filing purposes? To me, the end of slavery symbolizes our progress as a nation, so why isn’t it a national holiday?






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