Everybody knows April 15 is the deadline every year for individual tax returns to be filed, either electronically or postmarked in the mail.

And if everybody thinks that, everybody is wrong. This year, April 18 will be the final day, without extensions being filed, that one’s 2021 returns must be filed to avoid late penalties.

Why is that?

This year, April 15 falls on a Friday. So? April 16 is a Saturday. So? April 16 happens to be a federal holiday in the District of Columbia. Huh?

April 16 is Emancipation Day, which is an observed holiday in the District of Columbia. It marks the date in 1862 during the Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln signed a Congressional act freeing all people held as slaves in the District of Columbia. Under that act, the owners of those slaves then had 3 months to file a claim for reimbursement by the U.S. government for the “value” of their forcibly freed slaves.

Reimbursement had to be made because slaves were recognized as property under many states’ laws — and those of the District of Columbia. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents the government from taking property away from private parties without compensation. So, the government had to reimburse slave owners for the value of their emancipated slaves.

The D.C. Compensated Emancipation Act, as it was called, is the only time the federal government compensated slave owners of their emancipated slaves. Over 3,000 slaves were freed. This was done prior to the summer of 1862 when Lincoln drafted his Emancipation Proclamation, which was to become effective on Jan. 1 of the following year.

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The Emancipation Proclamation ordered the freeing of all slaves then located in rebel-held territory. No compensation was to be paid to those slave owners because this was an act of the commander-in-chief during wartime to suppress a rebellion. Freeing slaves whose labor benefited the rebellion could thus lawfully occur without compensation, so the legal analysis went, because it was no different than seizing cannons, horses or gunpowder that was also “property” owned and used by enemy insurgents. You don’t have to reimburse your enemies for taking their weapons of war.

Washington, D.C., was not in rebel territory. The slaves there were not then being used to aid the rebellion. Thus, those slave owners needed compensation for the emancipation to be constitutionally lawful.

In 2005, federal legislation was enacted in D.C. making April 16 an observed public holiday. By law, when April 16 falls during a weekend, that holiday will be observed on the nearest workday. The holiday thus affects the IRS and other federal offices, as they will be closed on either April 16 — if it is on a workday — or the workday closest to the 16th if it falls on a weekend.

If the tax-filing deadline is on a weekend, it becomes the next non-holiday anyway.

So, April 16 this year is on a Saturday, which means the holiday is on Friday the 15th, and the IRS is closed. That means tax day is Monday, April 18.

Beware the ides of April. And celebrate Emancipation Day when you emancipate yourself by finally filing those 2021 returns.

Brett Kepley is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Inc. Send questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820.

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