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TPL · History of Quaker War Tax Resistance: The Great Forgetting

At the upcoming national gathering of NWTRCC at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, I’m going to be presenting a summary of the history of war tax resistance in the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Today I’m going to try to coalesce some of the notes I’ve assembled about how the “Great Forgetting” period in which the Quaker practice of war tax resistance seemed to all but disappear.


The Great Forgetting ()

In mentions of Quaker war tax resistance nearly vanish from the record.

When, during the Spanish-American & Philippine-American wars at , the U.S. government attached war taxes to rail tickets, to official documents like checks, and to inheritances, some Quakers were troubled by this and made some efforts to avoid the new taxes, but I only find occasional mention of these taxes, and nothing resembling official warnings from meetings or prominent publications that Quakers should not pay them. A report in the Friends Intelligencer about the (Hicksite) Philadelphia Yearly Meeting noted that “[t]he ninth query called forth regret that Friends had not maintained a stronger and more consistent testimony against war, but had paid the war taxes without protest.”

Things were slightly better, but heading in the same direction, in England. An newspaper article on how the Society of Friends was changing to conform more and more to the society around it, included the detail that “its dislike to war taxes is [now] so slight that one for the Egyptian war has not been refused by a dozen of its members!” In 1901, Charles H. Fox had his property seized and sold at auction for his refusal to pay income taxes that had been boosted to pay for war expenses in South Africa and China. This was considered unusal enough to prompt a number of newspaper articles. Some of his friends bought the auctioned property and returned it to him, so even in this case, adherence to traditional Quaker practices with regard to war tax resistance was slack.

The London Yearly Meeting during issued a number of formal statements amplifying and reasserting its peace testimony, but none of these mentioned war taxes, and it would take a lot of work to read any encouragement for tax resistance between the lines of any of the statements.

That meeting’s “query” concerning the peace testimony in asked Quakers if they were “faithful in our testimony against bearing arms, and being in any manner concerned in the militia, in privateers, or armed vessels, or dealing in prize goods?” A century later this language would have seemed archaic, and the advice no longer representative of how modern wars were fought and how citizens would be called on to support them. But when the meeting revisited and reworded this query, instead of moderninzing the language and adding more relevant specifics, they instead replaced the query with a vague generality:

Are Friends faithful in maintaining our Christian testimony against all war, as inconsistent with the precepts and spirit of the Gospel?

To which it was easy to answer “sure!” because it didn’t seem to ask anything specific.

In an “American Friends’ Peace Conference” was held in Philadelphia at which presentations were made over three days on the subject of peace, anti-war activism, international arbitration, and related topics. The papers presented at the gathering were later published. I looked through them to see how the subject of war tax resistance was treated at this gathering and found exactly one mention of war taxes in the entire book, from Haverford College’s president Isaac Sharpless, speaking on the question “To What Extent Are Peace Principles Practicable?”:

It is impossible to avoid giving aid and comfort to wars and warlike tendencies unless one goes to a desert isle and lives by himself. Even if we do not join the army we pay taxes for its support. I do not know that any peace man omitted to write checks after the opening of the Spanish War because stamps were necessary to make them legal, and these stamps were expressly a war tax.

That’s why I call this period the Great Forgetting. It isn’t that war tax resistance was formally rejected, or that it had become too onerous and had to be abandoned, it’s more as though it was lost in a sort of collective amnesia. (This is especially perplexing in Isaac Sharpless’s case, as he had written a history of the Quaker governance of the Pennsylvania colony, and certainly knew plenty about Quakers who had refused to pay war taxes without retreating to a desert isle to do so.)

By the beginning of the 20th Century, in a variety of debates in about resistance to “church rates” and the Education Act by nonconformist Christians in the U.K., I begin to see references to Quakers that take for granted that they do not resist war taxes. Arguments along the lines of: “Just because you are conscientiously opposed to funding the state religion doesn’t mean you can just stop paying a tax. I mean, look at the Quakers. Everybody knows how conscientiously opposed to war they are, and they never refuse to pay their war taxes.”

(The forgetting came even earlier to Australia. An anti-war writer there in advocated war tax resistance this way: “The English Quakers refuse to pay Church rates for conscience sake, and it is time for tax-payers who disapprove of such wars as the Affghan, the Kaffir, the Chinese, and the New Zealand war to make a stand for conscience, and refuse to pay income-tax.” In other words: Quakers were not an example of war tax resisters, but an example of tithe resisters that war tax resisters could be inspired by when developing their own variety of tax resistance.)

But although Quaker war tax resistance had mostly gone dormant in England and the United States (and evidently, Australia, if indeed it had ever gotten a foothold there), I see occasional signs that it had not entirely died out. Some Quakers in the far outposts of the Quaker world were keeping the flame lit and reminding Friends elsewhere that there was an alternative to sorrowful resignation in the face of war taxes.

A edition of The Friend noted that the harsh enforcement of military conscription on the European mainland had reduced the ranks of Quakers there, but also said that “One Friend in Norway has been imprisoned five times for refusing to pay the ‘blood-tax.’”

In Switzerland, in , pacifist Pierre Cérésole began to refuse to pay his military tax. He was not yet a Quaker, but would later convert, and would help to reintroduce war tax resistance to the Society of Friends through his influence on Dutch Quakers Beatrice Cadbury and Kees Boeke.

The Boekes began resisting taxes in . They made waves with their radical and uncompromising testimony against war and against violent coercion of any sort. In the United States, The Friend of Philadelphia quoted a report from its London namesake on the Boekes, but astonishingly headlined the article “Testimony-Bearing of the Seventeenth Century Type” — seemingly ignorant of all of the Quaker war tax resistance that had happened in the 18th and 19th centuries! More evidence that an uncanny Forgetting had taken hold.

An English Quaker wrote in that he believed “no Friend, so far as is known, has declined to pay his war taxes, so called. Even the Friends who during the South African war [probably the Second Boer War, ] permitted the authorities to distrain upon their goods rather than pay the (then) war tax, and the still larger number who refused for years to pay education rates [a conflict about tax money going to sectarian education that peaked around ], have seen their ways to pay the much larger war taxes of today without demur.”

This is the case even though draft boards in the U.K., in order to test the sincerity of people applying for conscientious objector status, would sometimes ask them if they were using any luxury products like tea, coffee, cocoa, matches, tobacco, or movies, all of which had a war tax applied to them. Quakers who attended these hearings in the support of their own applications for conscientious objector status were thereby getting a long-overdue sermon on the connection between conscientious objection and war taxes, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

When the United States entered World War Ⅰ, it adopted a new war funding method: rather than relying entirely on taxes, it encouraged citizens to invest their money in “Liberty Bonds” — that is, to loan the government the war money at interest. Pressure to invest in these bonds was enormous — how many bonds you were willing to purchase was seen as a quantitative proxy for the quality of your patriotism — and refusal to purchase bonds was seen as being tantamount to treason. Although the bond purchases were ostensibly voluntary, vigilante mobs were not above using violent coercion to force sales, or even, at times, to steal property directly from recalcitrant citizens.

I have found dozens of examples of reprisals of various sorts being taken against people who refused to buy Liberty Bonds. Most of them involve Mennonites, whose Quaker-like pacifism would not permit them to buy war bonds. (Many American Mennonites were also of German ancestry and had Germanic names, which probably didn’t help them avoid trouble.) Others involve socialists and other political radicals who saw World War Ⅰ as being an example of workers fighting workers for the sake of capitalists.

Notably absent are Quakers, with one important exception: Mary Stone McDowell. McDowell was fired from her teaching job in part for her refusal to promote war bonds to her students. (The New York Times used the occasion to editorialize that Quaker teachers should all resign their positions since their pacifist views clashed with the proper patriotism that ought to be taught in school). McDowell would resurface as a war tax resister in the years after World War Ⅱ as part of the new “Peacemakers” movement and so would help begin the thaw in the Great Forgetting that would eventually lead to a renaissance of war tax resistance in the Society of Friends.

Here I should note that there’s a discontinuity in the material I’ve been drawing on for my research. The ease of search and the ready availability of on-line books and magazines and newspapers and other archival materials through Google Books, Internet Archive, and many other such platforms, has made research like this much easier than in times not long past. But much material published is not as available due to copyright issues. For many such documents, it is difficult to even determine who the copyright holder is, and so the creators of the on-line archives have not made this material as available. So it’s possible that the seeming absence of evidence of Quaker war tax resistance in the period should not be interpreted as evidence of absence.

TPL · Rebeccaite Prisoners Enter Guilty Pleas

The special commission trying the Rebeccaite cases continued on , starting by considering the cases against David Jones and John Hugh, who were captured during a Rebeccaite attack on a toll booth. They chose to plead guilty, probably as the evidence against them was pretty near identical to what the same jury had been convinced by a couple of days earlier in the trial of John Hughes, who had been captured alongside them.

A report of the pleas and sentencing appears in the Monmouthshire Merlin.

The court sentenced Jones and Hugh to be exiled to a penal colony in Australia for seven years. Hughes, however, got sterner treatment:

He appeared to be one in a station of society far above the rest — one not likely to be misled by others, and upon evidence proved to be a leader, if not the leader of this lawless multitude.

He got 20 years of penal colony exile. The court then moved on to other cases. The charges against David Lewis were dropped. Lewis Davies was charged with destroying a turnpike-gate, and pled guilty, but was not yet sentenced.

Morgan and Esther Morgan pled guilty to assisting in the assault on the man sent to take Henry Morgan prisoner, but the prosecutor, “[c]onsidering their advanced age and other circumstances connected with the case,” declined to pursue the felony charge. Margaret, Rees, and John Morgan also pled guilty, Margaret to the assault itself, and the others similarly with abetting. The prosecutor again declined to pursue the felony charges, “and observed that, having ascertained the circumstances under which this aggravated assault had taken place, he did believe they were under a mistake with respect to the right to resist. Under these circumstances he was not disposed to press for a severe punishment in this case…” Margaret was sentenced to six months in prison, and Rees & John to twelve months each.

The Rebeccaites were “bad cops” that allowed peace-loving, law-abiding, innocent Welsh farmers to play “good cop” and use the implicit threat of Rebecca to get more attention for their grievances. Here is an example (from the Monmouthshire Merlin):

High Rate of Turnpike Tolls at Nash, &c.

To the Editor of the Monmouthshire Merlin

Sir, — I am sorry no abler pens than mine have undertaken to draw the attention of our neighbourhood to the monstrous high rate of tolls, as well as the unequal system of collecting them. For instance, from Nash or Goldcliff we only travel one mile on the turnpike road, and have to pay 9d a horse, while in many districts it is only 3d or 4d, and where, too, materials are much more expensive.

Again, the toll to Caerleon from Newport, I understand, is 17d or 18d for one horse. Surely, the tolls might be arranged so that a person might pay in proportion to the distance he has to travel, for under the present system he might go thirty or fourty miles for the same money he is obliged to pay for one — As we small farmers find great difficulty in scraping our rents together for our landlords, I hope and trust the proper authorities will look after these local burdens, as they were advised to do by Lord Granville Somerset at the last Quarter Sessions, in order to prevent tumults and outrages like those which are disgracing South Wales, for we ar really very desirous that Rebecca and her children should never come among us to create an anti-toll rebellion — we would rather have our grievances redressed after a lawful fashion.

Should you think these few remarks deserve a corner in your intelligent paper, till some abler advocate may come forward you will greatly oblige,

Several Poor Little Farmers.

PS. Would not our monthly agricultural meeting do a good service to us, by taking the matter into consideration, with a view to assist.

Nash,

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TPL · History of Quaker War Tax Resistance: The U.S. Civil War Period

At the upcoming national gathering of NWTRCC at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, I’m going to be presenting a summary of the history of war tax resistance in the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Today I’m going to try to coalesce some of the notes I’ve assembled about how the Quaker practice of war tax resistance evolved, particularly in America, during the period of time surrounding and including the United States Civil War.


The U.S. Civil War period ()

Once the United States was an established fact, it took a little while for the individual state governments to solidify their constitutions, and for the federal system to evolve into something stable. In the early years of there were some interesting debates in state legislatures when they were discussing laws (or sometimes new state constitutions) and trying to delineate the boundaries of legal conscientious objection to military service. Frequently such bodies were aware that Quakers would not serve in the military or provide substitutes, and that it was a waste of time to try to force them to, but many felt that if the citizenry in general was going to be burdened with involuntary military service that it would be unfair to let Quakers off the hook entirely, so they tended to impose a tax or fine on conscientious objection (which Quakers generally would not voluntarily pay, but which the state could recoup through distraint).

Quakers occasionally appealed to their legislatures to exempt them from such fines, without much success, but these appeals bring out another interesting facet in the debate. The peacefulness, charity, and self-reliance of Quakers was brought forward in their defense as to why they should not also be burdened with military defense. Here is Maine legislator Samuel Reddington making this point in :

They pay their taxes for other purposes, but they cannot discharge a military assessment. They do not wish their property or lives to be defended at the cannon’s mouth. They never give offence to others, and history can furnish no example of their wars. In reality however they pay more than an equivalent for military services. They support their own poor, and this alone is more than an equivalent. No poor Quaker was ever known to apply to the town for relief. In addition to this, they pay their proportion for the support of the poor of the towns in which they live. They also support their own schools, and they never asked or received any public lands of the Legislature.

North Carolina’s version of the law expressly allocated the militia exemption fines to the “literary fund” — hoping that such an obviously innocuous destiny for the money would make the Quakers give in. No such luck. The North Carolina Yearly Meeting declared: “[I]t is inconsistent with our principles for our members to pay any tax or fine on account of their refusal to muster or serve in the militia, although such tax or fine may be applied to the most laudable and humane purposes.”

Much of the documentation I have collected from concerns this debate over how far states could or would go to humor Quaker conscientious objection. At the same time, the militias were becoming more slack and more ridiculous in their peacetime practice, and the tax collectors were becoming more corrupt and brazen in their plunder. Quaker war tax resistance was also growing lax in some areas, with Quakers resorting to various subterfuges to have their militia exemption fines paid on their behalf without risking being denounced by their meeting by paying it directly.

A writer going by the name Pacificus complained about this in a letter to The Friend (Orthodox) in 1835:

The secret payment of this fine in lieu of military service or training, or the connivance at its payment by others, is a direct encouragement of the onerous militia system. If Friends were faithful to maintain their testimony against war in all respects, even keeping in subjection a warlike spirit in relation to this very oppression, and no one through mistaken kindness being induced to pay the fine for them, in a very little time the system would be exploded. Were nothing to be gained but the incarceration of peaceable citizens in prison for conscience sake — no reward but the accusations of a troubled spirit — no honor but the plaudits of militia officers and the averted looks of the considerate of all classes, it would require stout hands and unfeeling hearts long to support the system. Yes! let it be impressed upon the weak and complying among us that they are supporting this oppressive system — that it is to them, mainly, that the militia system, as far as regards Friends, is prolonged — that they are binding their fellow professors with this chain, and that if entire faithfulness was maintained on the part of all our members in refusing to pay these fines or allowing others to do it, the spoiling of our goods and the imprisonment of our members for this precious cause — the cause of peace on earth — would soon be a narrative of times that are past.

In , Pennsylvania changed its law so that a small (50¢) militia exemption fine would be quietly added to the ordinary state tax of anyone who was not enrolled in the militia. This caught some Quakers off guard, and the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting was quick to send out warnings to Friends to carefully inspect their tax bills and see if there was an extra charge on it, and if so, not to pay it. This again brought up the difficult topic of “mixed taxes” and whether this militia tax had somehow become uncontroversial because of the new way it was being applied. The smallness of the fine, and the muddled way in which it was assessed, made it easy for Quakers to casually overlook it and neglect their testimony.

When the Civil War came, the sympathies of most U.S. Quakers were very much with the North and with the abolitionist cause, and many Quakers bent over backwards to make excuses for paying the new and newly-elevated taxes the U.S. government was using to raise funds to fight the Confederacy.

Joshua Maule has left us a series of poignant and pleading essays from this period. When the government levied an 8½% war surtax atop its regular general tax, though the tax was explicitly for war, it was not a new tax but a new increase of an old tax. Many, perhaps most Quakers who had paid the former mixed tax also paid the new surtax, reasoning that it was really just another part of the mix and was therefore unexceptional. Maule and some others felt that because it had been explicitly added as a war tax, they could not pay it, and they withheld this 8½%. Maule found that the people in leadership roles in his meeting were paying the tax and discouraging those who felt they could not, and he wrote:

I have no doubt the sin was less with many who, without proper consideration and ignorant of the precepts and commands of Truth, went into the field of battle, than with those whose eyes had been enlightened to see the peaceable nature of the Redeemer’s kingdom and were professing to uphold it, and who yet voluntarily paid the wages of the warrior in a war that imbrued the nation in blood.

Nathan Hall, on the other hand, set forth a good set of arguments for why paying the new surtax should not be objectionable if paying the rest of the tax was not:

[W]hether we pay less or more of that tax, a certain proportion of it goes for military or war purposes. And it avails nothing to say: “We did not pay it for that purpose, and if wicked and bad men so apply it, it is their lookout, not ours.” We can say that of all the tax as well as a part.…

To illustrate it more fully I will suppose a case which I believe is strictly parallel, thus: We both have a testimony against the use of ardent spirits, but are, being very thirsty, placed in a situation where we can get no water except some that has a small portion of whiskey in it. Being under the necessity of taking something, you may, by inquiry and calculation, find what proportion of the objectionable article is contained in it, and leave just that much in your bowl — while my understanding will be that in partaking I partake of both good and bad, and in refusing refuse both.

Maule had a hard time convincing Friends that other taxes that funded the general fund and that had been increased because of war expenses were okay for Quakers to pay, but the surtax, only because it was explicitly called a war tax by the powers that be, was not.

In some places, many Friends slipped even further, and paid militia exemption taxes, although this was still, in most Meetings, an offense against the Discipline.

This backsliding was by no means universal, and there were Friends who suffered on both sides for their unwillingness to either fight or to pay a fine. In a few cases in the Confederacy, Quakers were drafted into the military, and, being unwilling to either serve or to pay a tiny exemption tax, were cruelly tortured.

In the North seemed that it would surpass the South in cruelty when a draft law was enacted that would enable draftees to get out of service by providing a substitute or by paying a $300 commutation fine (which was explicitly declared to be for procuring a substitute, and which Quakers could not pay in any case) but that did not allow for distraining and selling property in order to pay unpaid fines. Draftees who failed to enlist, to provide a substitute, or to pay were to be treated as deserters and were subject to be shot.

This was too much “suffering” for the stomach of some friends. Nathaniel Richardson wrote an op-ed for the Hicksite Friends Intelligencer in which he advanced the idea that since currency is a creation of government, the government should be able to ask for it back at any time without Christians having any reason to complain, under the “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” principle. This led to spirited dissent in the pages of that magazine from defenders of the ancient Quaker testimony against paying militia exemption taxes or for substitutes to serve in their places, but showed that war tax resistance was losing its footing and had become a debatable part of Quaker doctrine.

In , a modified version of the dreaded Union law was passed, which designated the $300 militia exemption tax to go toward the care of sick & wounded soldiers rather than to the procuring of a substitute, and which would enable conscientious objectors to be drafted into non-combatant roles like hospital service. The (Orthodox) New York Yearly Meeting decided that it would be okay by them if Quakers in their Meeting took advantage of these options, and a Friends Review (Orthodox) editorial agreed (editorials in the Friends Intelligencer and in The Friend disagreed).

While Friends were splitting hairs about some of these particular explicit war taxes over which they had once had fairly universal agreement, resistance against mixed taxes and war-funding seignorage had ground to a halt. A Friends Review editorial remarked casually that “the universal practice of Friends tacitly acknowledges” that Quakers may and ought to pay “national taxes levied in large degree for the support of war, and… the purchase and use of the national currency — popularly known as ‘greenbacks’ — which was issued mainly ‘for the payment of the army and navy.’”

After the war, there was a “bounty tax” which was meant to fund the bonuses that had been paid to recruits by the Union army. This was a clear war tax of the sort that Quakers normally could not pay, but, for instance in Ohio, this tax was collected at the same time as other state and local taxes. A taxpayer was told the total amount of taxes owed, but the taxpayer would have to do some research to determine how much of that amount represented the “bounty tax.” Many Quakers apparently did not do this research, and taking cover under the theory that the total tax amount represented an unobjectionable “mixed” tax, paid the whole thing. This led to a division in the orthodox Ohio meeting.

When I read the material from this and from the previous periods, the impression I get is that while in the period between the French & Indian war and the Civil War much of the American Quaker writing about war tax resistance is about efforts to broaden and radicalize war tax resistance, most of the writing from the Civil War period is about defending traditional Quaker war tax resistance practices from weakening or from being disregarded or ignored.

The practice was clearly in decline. By the time of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in , only a single monthly meeting reported any “sufferings” for refusal to pay a military tax.

But interestingly, around the end of the U.S. civil war, a non-sectarian (though still largely Christian) peace movement began to flourish in the United States, and it began to take seriously the questions Quakers had long grappled with concerning their peace testimony, including war tax resistance. Some of the groups in this movement took up the cause of Zerah C. Whipple, a “Rogerene” Quaker (not exactly part of the Society of Friends, but a closely-related off-shoot, similar enough that Whipple was often described as a Quaker) and secretary of the Connecticut Peace Society, who had been imprisoned for failure to pay a militia tax. His case became a cause célèbre amongst the various peace societies in the American peace movement.

This cross-pollenation between the Quaker and non-Quaker peace movements would become important in reseeding war tax resistance in the Society of Friends after the Great Forgetting period when Quaker war tax resistance almost vanishes from the record.

TPL · Grand Jury Convicts Rebeccaite Prisoners

The grand jury deciding on the case against several accused Rebeccaites met again on to decide on the cases of John Hughes, John Hugh, and David Jones. The Cambrian was there to report on the proceedings.

The toll collector, William Lewis, and John Morgan, a surveyor, started by testifying about the extent of damage to the Pontardulais toll house. Then:

The papers on which there were writings in the Welsh language, was also put in evidence. A translation had been committed to writing by Mr. Powell, the Court interpreter.

Mr. Wm. Cox, Governor of the Swansea House of Correction, was also examined, and produced a small quantity of powder, some percussion caps, 5s. wrapped in a piece of paper, addressed “Mrs. Becca,” and stating that it was 5s. from Thos. Thomas, of some place, in addition to 5s. given by him before.

This summed up the prosecution’s case. The defense attorney, a Mr. Hill, then offered his rebuttal. Excerpts:

The Attorney General had told them that this was an unusual course of proceeding. He referred to the Special Commission — a similar one he (Mr. Hill) had not heard to have ever taken place in the history of the county of Glamorgan. They also heard it said that the cases were extremely few. Was that any reason for conferring upon the country the unenviable distinction of a Special Commission. He could not devise what cause existed for one, but that did not prove that a cause did not exist. Why was it not sent to a neighbouring county, where there were apparently greater reasons for sending it? For this they had had no explanation. It was no part of the Attorney General’s duty to give the explanation; but if the object was that a great public example should be made in the vindication of the power and majesty of the law, he could say, that the effect produced would not be that which was intended. Be that as it may, he admitted that it was no part of their duty to enquire into it. He thought that all good men, in every district, deprecated the outrages which had been committed; but he did not remember any instance in which the penal law, even when justly incurred, had succeeded in staying disturbances consequent upon notions of the existence of public grievances, whether real or supposed. He did not know whether any grievances existed; but if they did, it was beyond the power of the law to restore tranquillity merely by the infliction of punishment. In making these observations, he did not rest upon his own authority alone, but he spoke the opinion of Edmund Burke, one of the brightest stars of political opinions. In that immortal speech or his, in favour of the consolidation with America — a measure which it would have been good for this country to have adopted, he illustrated his argument by a reference to the Principality [Wales].

He said that in former times, when the grievances of the people used to be answered by the application of force, either of the penal law or military power, crime multiplied to such an extent, that an Englishman passing through Wales could not go five yards from the highway without incurring the risk of being murdered. Special Commissions, with the Attorney and Solicitor General, a number of Queen’s Counsel, and a host of lawyers, were things never suggested by the wisdom of their ancestors, very justly so called. But when just legistative measures were adopted, they were successful beyond even the anticipation of those who, like himself, had almost an unlimited confidence in the power of moral force. So great was the effect produced by such means in the reign of Henry the Eighth, which was not very auspicious for mercy and justice, that it had been likened to the “sudden stilling of the storm.”

Hill went on to criticize the way the proscutor had made his case, and along the way characterized the guns seized at the bridge and presented as evidence in this way: “He was glad the guns were produced, for he believed that, if the choice were offered him of firing them, or having them fired at him, he would choose the latter alternative, but he might be wrong.” He suggested that, contrary to the testimony the prosecution had offered, perhaps the police had fired unprovoked on the Rebeccaite crowd, and not in response to having been fired upon.

The instances were not new, but were in the memory of all, in which soldiers and police, in similar transactions to the present, both exceeded their duty.

It was no new thing to find that their conduct was not always such as resulted from united bravery with forbearance, and which indeed participated of the sublime, for there was nothing more sublime than the conduct of men armed with great power, with command to exercise it, and yet submitting to insults and injury rather than exercise it towards their erring fellow-creatures. The Learned Counsel then proceeded to make some general remarks upon the conduct of the assembly — they had advertised their projects on the night in question by firing arms, while the police had hid themselves in their retreat, having pistols loaded with balls, while the mob foolishly and innocently fired without any such implements, as if merely to cheer and arouse their comrades, for there was no evidence that they had injured a single individual. There had not a single hair from the heads of either of the police been singed, and yet it would seem, though strange, that it should be represented that ferocity had been exhibited on the part of the mob, and that justice demanded that they should be placed for trial at the bar of their country. What did the evidence prove? Nothing more than that there was an idle firing of guns — not loaded with bullet or ball. Certainly there had been a few shots produced, and the Attorney-General had asked if they were large? What number were they? Why, it was only necessary for them to be looked at to enable any person to see that they were small bird shot — and that they were fired as a mere feu de joie — for to suppose that with those they intended resisting the police, who were armed to the teeth with pistols loaded with balls, in addition to other weapons, would be the height of absurdity. Capt. Napier had said that there were marks of shots on the windows, and near the lamp on the toll-house door, which evidently proved the use of the small shot — to break the glass. He did not, for a moment, mean to contend that they were justified in doing so, but the question was whether they were guilty of the particular act charged in the indictment. The question was not whether they were guilty of some breach of the law, but whether they were so upon that indictment. He was glad that shot had been produced, for it afforded further proof that there existed no intention to injure. For with shot, though the injury done would be less than with balls, yet it would be more general — the chances of inflicting wounds with shot being at least fifty to one. How could the jury suppose that any shots had been fired, while not one had even penetrated the garments of any of the police or magistrates. — On the other hand, if the conduct of that body were glanced at, it would be found that information of the intended attack upon the gate had been given, as early as , and that after a delay, respecting which no explanation had been given, the police had proceeded armed, not with sparrow-shots but with pistols, each carrying balls, each of which would be fatal to man’s life. They were found coming to the field, and though knowing by the blue lights, firng of guns, &c., that a crime was contemplated, instead of making any attempts to prevent the riot, they were found hiding in the field until the gate had been broken. He confessed it was to him a novel part off the duty of the police of this country to watch until mischief had been accomplished before attempting to prevent it. Here the Magistrates and police had an opportunity of preventing a great outrage of the law, but instead of doing so, they had waited to see it committed. Mr. Hill, after making several additional observations upon the conduct of the police, remarked that in conducting the case against the prisoner, the first maxim of law had been overlooked, which was not to punish the guiity, but to protect the innocent. He hoped that he did not exceed his duly expressing a hope that the spirit which seemed to actuate some of the Glamorganshire authorities would not become general throughout the land. He had never before heard of a prosecution for a flight on one side, while the attack was upon the other. It was something new to him to see persons coming to that Court under the auspices of the Attorney and Solicitor General, to vindicate their conduct in shooting at British subjects with pistols loaded with balls. Such proceedings, in his opinion, exceeded those of the French revolution. Instead of appearing as prosecutors and witnesses, the wounded and injured men appeared at the criminal bar. He could give no expression to any feeling but that of astonishment.

He then called eleven character witnesses for John Hughes. The Solicitor-General then gave a rebuttal and the prosecutor summarized his case. The Monmouthshire Merlin goes into a little more detail here, and reveals the prosecution’s idea of the importance of the five shillings wrapped in the note:

There was also another paper found on prisoner, which was important. On it was writing, directed to Mrs. Rebecca, to the effect that 5s had been paid at some time before by a person named Thomas, and that he now paid another 5s, and two half-crowns were found wrapped up in this paper. It will be recollected that on the person of the prisoner, when apprehended, there was a large number of half crowns, besides other monies, and hence it would appear that he had been collecting subscriptions for some purpose.

Then the jury considered the evidence and came back with its verdict:

The jury then retired, and in the course of fifteen or twenty minutes [“about three quarters of an hour” reported the Merlin] re-entered the Court, and returned a verdict of guilty, with a strong recommendation to mercy on account of previous good character. Sentence deferred.

The Court was then immediately adjourned.

True bills have been returned against the Morgan’s family, of Cwmcillan; against David Lewis, for assaulting the Tycoch toll-collector; against Lewis Davies for a misdemeanor, in aiding in breaking the Pontardulais gate. No true bill against the boy, Wm. Hughes, upon the same charge.

Which confuses me, as I thought this was a grand jury designed only to decide whether charges could be brought, but this seems to indicate that at least in the John Hughes case, it was acting as an ordinary criminal jury.

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TPL · Grand Jury Hears Testimony in Rebeccaite Case

The grand jury deciding whether to bring an indictment against several accused Rebeccaites met again on to decide on the cases of John Hughes, John Hugh, and David Jones. The Cambrian was there:

They first considered the charges against John Hughes (who appeared in court with his arm in a sling from injuries suffered during his arrest). Hughes’s lawyer tried to challenge the method by which the jury was composed, without much success.

The prosecutor addressed the jury, saying in part:

He would forbear from making any observations upon the state of the adjoining counties, were it not for the purpose of accounting for their being assembled together on that extraordinary occasion, for the trial of this, and other cases which would come before the Court. The disturbed condition in which many of the counties of South Wales were at the present time, rendered it, in the judgment of those whose duty it was to advise the Crown, imperatively necessary that the resolute and immediate administration of the law should take effect, and justice be promptly administered, in consequence of the great increase in the number and magnitude of offences committed under circumstances of considerable violence.

He went on to describe the Pontardulais Gate attack as follows:

He would relate what took place on , by a mob, consisting from one to two hundred persons, many of whom were on horseback. They appeared to have come from some of the roads leading from the county of Carmarthen over a bridge, known by the name of Pontardulais bridge, which crossed a river, called the Loughor river. At a short distance from the bridge, on the Glamorganshire side of the river, there was a toll-house and gate, and he believed they had existed beyond the memory of most persons acquainted with that part of the country. He would next call the attention of the jury to the general appearance of the mob, and the manner in which they had provided themselves with arms and other implements of destruction. The majority were disguised in some garments resembling female attire, and having their faces blackened. Several of them had arms. Shots were fired, and in some instances it would be proved, that the guns were loaded with shot, one having been taken, and when examined was found to be loaded. What were the contents of the guns which had been discharged could only be proved by the effect taken by them, and it would be stated in evidence, that the marks of shot were visible on different portions of the toll-house, and he was not confident whether such was not the case in some of the neighbouring houses. They advanced towards the bridge, which they crossed, and went to the toll-house and gate. They appeared to have with them implements of a destructive kind, and when it was considered that there were taken posession of, on the following morning, some guns, cliff, pickaxes, sledge-hammers, and some other instruments, the jury could have no doubt what was the object of the party whom he had just described. The work of destruction soon afterwards commenced — all the windows of the toll house were broken, and part of the frame work destroyed, together with the door, and the house entered. The partitions of the room were destroyed, and from one part of the house there were several stones removed, making a breach or aparture in one place, in height about two feet, and eighteen inches in length, and posts which some of the witnesses would tell them were the props of the house. In their work of destruction, it would be found they were interrupted. That would be proved by the witnesses. When examined, it was found that the gate post was cut one-third through with a cross saw, and the jury would learn the slate in which the toll-house and gate had been left, from the evidence of the magistrates, chief-constable, and officers, who went there with the intention of apprehending some of the rioters. It appeared to him to be idle to suggest any doubts as to the general character of the assemblage — that it was riotous, tumultous, and in every way illegal. When the large weapons made use of were taken into consideration — when the disguised appearance and the violent conduct of the mob were considered — there could not be the least doubt but that it was, in the eye of the Act of Parliament [the law forming the basis for the criminal charge], a riotous and tumultuous assemblage of persons for the disturbance of the public peace. It appeared to him, that was beyond dispute. What had actually been done, would be borne testimony to, by a variety of witnesses, upon whose evidence no doubt could be thrown. There remained for the juey but one additional enquiry, and that was — what participation the prisoner at the bar had in the proceedings. He believed it would be laid down from the Bench, that when any riotous assembly tumultuously met together, every person who, by his presence, contributed to swell their number, which gave them that formidable appearance and character, calculated to inspire terror and alarm, would, in the first instance, be deemed guilty of participation in the riot. It would devolve upon the accused to show that he was present, with an innocent purpose. But the case against the prisoner did not rest upon his mere presence among the mob. When apprehended, it was found that he was armed, disguised by having his face blackened, and under circumstances from which they would draw the conclusion as to the part taken by him in the affair. It appeared that Capt. Napier, accompanied by a superintendent and some policemen, with a few others, to the number of eleven or twelve persons, in consequence of having received information of an intended attack upon the gate, proceeded there from the Glamorganshire side of the Pontardulais bridge, with the view of apprehending some of the parties concerned in the tumult. They were on a spot not a very great distance from the gate, and from where they were enabled to see, hear, and judge of what was going on among the crowd. They would be called before the jury. and would describe the number assembled, the frequency of the gunshots fired by them, the noises they made, and the signals given by means of blue lights. The work of demolition having been manifested by crashing noises, Captain Napier and his party advanced towards them, and desired them to desist. The conduct of the persons assembled he would leave the witnesses to state. Capt. Napier remarked the dress of the prisoner, and when apprehended, recognised him as the person who wore that dress. It was Captain Napier’s object to wound the horses, so as to apprehend the riders. He accordingly fired, and the prisoner descended; the police and the prisoner came into personal conflict, and in the conflict the prisoner was wounded, as the jury would observe, from his arm being in a sling. Upon a shot being fired by one of ihe mob, an attempt was made to ride down the party headed by Captain Napier. The prisoner’s identity would be distinctly proved. He was recognised by his dress — he was also recognised by his wounds, and was taken to the toll-house. There was also found on his person a quantity of gunpowder, with a shot belt in addition to copper caps, and papers, which were evidently intended for threatening notices, found upon him, and which he would call their attention to. The Hon. and Learned Gentleman then read a Welsh notice, to this effect:— “Come with your armour or covering to     on Wednesday next, to assist me, or you shall have no further notice — (signed.) — Becca.” There were other papers found upon his person, but parts of which were torn, which might render their meaning doubtful, so that he would prefer the jury to read them for themselves. Those notices would prove the prisoner to be closely connected with the operations of the night in question, He (the Attorney-General) did not consider it necessary to name every individual act of the persons present on the occasion, neither had he a desire to raise any legal discussion, but be thought it clear that all the acts of that assembly showed what were the objects for the accomplishment of which they had assembled together.

The Monmouthshire Merlin quotes the note somewhat differently in their coverage:

Daniel Jones, Brynhyr, — Come with your armour (or covering) to Llan Ty Issa, to assist us, on Wednesday night next, or else you shall not have another (or further) notice. — Becca.

The chief constable who led the raid, Charles Frederick Napier, testified first:

On I received information, which induced me to go to the Pontardulais gate. I first went to Penllergare. I was accompanied by Mr. J.D. Llewelyn, and L.Ll. Dillwyn, two county magistrates, Mr. Moggridge, Mr Sergeant Peake, and six police constables. We went across the country, starting from Penllergare, about . During the time of our proceeding, I heard a great noise of horns blowing [“as if for signals,” the Monmouthshire Merlin adds] in different parts of the country, and firing. I heard those noises repeatedly in the course of our proceeding. When arriving at the gate, we halted in the field about 600 yards from the gate. While in the field, I heard first of all great noise of voices, then shots were fired, and I heard a number of horses trampling from the opposite side of the river. I heard the voices on the Carmarthen side. The noise increased considerably, and came from the direction of the Red Lion Inn. I heard a volley fired, and also cheering, in the neighbourhood of the Red Lion Inn. I heard a voice say. “Come, come,” three times. They then proceeded towards the Pontardulais gate. Some of the mob cried out, “Gate, gate.” It was now . When I heard these voices I heard sounds of gate-breaking, and smashing of glass. I then ordered my men to follow me, and proceeded across the lane, and then to the main road. I saw three men mounted, disguised, with their horses facing the toll-house. There were other persons dismounted, and in the act of destroying the gate. There were about 150 [“about 100” says the Merlin] there. One had a white loose dress, with a loose handkerchief, and their faces blackened. The men on horseback appeared to be directing the other parties. I ordered the men to fall in, and advanced towards the party, and cried out “Stop, stop, stop,” as loud as I could. One of the men on horseback appeared to hear, fired at me. I then said, “Mark that man.” I advanced with my pistol, and fired at the horse. The muzzle was close to him. The horses turned, and the party appeared as if they rode over us. The man on the horse I shot fell, by what means I know not. The man that fell I believe to be the same as the man I fired at. I then advanced to him, and we struggled. He was then wounded in the arm, but by whom I know not. There were several others who fired. I did not take that person into custody then, as I was struck with a stick on the back of the bead. The person I was struggling with had a straw hat and a loose white dress, similar to a Druid’s dress [the Merlin says just that “he was disguised, and his face blackened”]. Others were disguised, but not in the same way. Some had their coat sleeves turned. I afterwards saw the same man in the custody of one of the police. To the best of my belief, he was the same man. The mob then retreated over the bridge to the county of Carmarthen. I know the prisoner at the bar to be one of the persons who was taken that night, and, to the best of my belief, who I was scufiling with. There were two other persons taken one had the straw hat, and his coat sleeves turned inside out. They had their faces blackened. The other had a woman’s straw bonnet, with a piece of fern stuck in it, as a feather. After the mob had retreated, I observed what was done to the house. The door was broken in, the window broken, and part of the walls demolished. Part of the sills were remaining. The boards on the floors broken up. About two feet ot the pine end of the toll-house were taken out. That is, a part of the walls of the building. I observed one person, with the but of his gun, drawing up the windows. There were several instruments found on the following day — crowbars, blacksmiths’ sledges, hammers, &c. There is a blacksmith’s shop adjoining the turnpike. It was damaged. I had seen a light when about five miles from Pontartlulais — it was a blue light, thrown up into the air. I observed it twice.

On cross-examination he added that he’d gotten the tip that caused him to go to the Pontardulais gate at . Next to testify was county magistrate John Dillwyn Llewelyn. He told more-or-less the same story, adding the detail “It was a moonlight night.” His brother, and fellow-magistrate, Lewis Ll. Dillwyn, testified next, to much the same effect, though he described “noises, similar to the mewing of cats” coming from the mob. H.J. Peake then briefly gave his similar description and produced some physical evidence:

I produce two flasks of powder given me by Thos. Jones, who also delivered me some papers. On the same morning he delivered me some articles of dress. [Pouch containing shot produced]. They are large shot. (Handed in). I produce a shirt covered with blood delivered me by Sergeant Jenkins. I produce straw hats and one covered with cloth [like a veil]. I produce two sledges, a cliff, some iron bars, a gun, a coat with sleeves turned.

He was followed by police sergeants Jenkins and Jones, and constables Jones, Price, Williams, and Wright. Price claimed he heard a shout of “fight till death” during the melee (the Merlin says that Jones heard this as well, and attributed the shout to “one of the mob,” while the Cambrian was more ambiguous about who did the shouting). Some of the witnesses reported on which of the prisoners they’d tangled with, what damage was done to the toll house, and what evidence they’d found at the scene, but nothing particularly worth repeating here.

George Evans, proprietor of a blacksmith shop near the Pontardulais gate, testified that his shop had been broken into on the night of the attack and identified some of the tools recovered at the gate as having been among the items taken from him.

The papers, &c., found on the prisoner’s person were then put in evidence — one contained 5s. in silver, and was addressed “Mrs. Rebecca,” and contained writing, but in consequence of its being torn it was not very intelligible. There was also a threatening letter saying, “That the worthy mother would call on some one, and visit him for his wicked deeds, and giving him notice to prepare for the day of judgment,[”] and signed “A Hater of Tyranny, and one of Rebecca’s daughters.”

The Monmouthshire Merlin also covered the hearing. It added the detail that “The court was densely crowded in every part.”

TPL · Grand Jury Hears Indictment of Rebeccaite Prisoners

The grand jury deciding whether to indict several Rebeccaites, including those accused in the Pontardulais gate attack and in the attacks on the constables trying to arrest members of the Morgan family, met on this date in 1843.

Continue reading at The Picket Line …

TPL · History of Quaker War Tax Resistance: The American Revolution

Quaker war tax resisters were severely persecuted during the American Revolution, and Quaker meetings in America were wracked with debate over the proper exent of the war tax resistance witness.

Continue reading at The Picket Line …

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TPL · History of Quaker War Tax Resistance: The Pennsylvania Experiment

At the upcoming national gathering of NWTRCC at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, I’m going to be presenting a summary of the history of war tax resistance in the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Today I’m going to try to coalesce some of the notes I’ve assembled about the second, and possibly most important, period of Quaker war tax resistance — between the establishment of the Quaker colony in Pennsylvania and the relinquishment of political control there by Quakers during the French and Indian War.


The Pennsylvania experiment ()

The advance of war tax resistance among English Quakers had ground to a halt. Quakers in England still would not pay certain explicit war taxes like “trophy money,” nor pay for substitutes to serve in their places in the military, nor buy goods stolen at sea from enemy nations by government-sanctioned pirates, but attempts failed to extend this testimony to other taxes that were clearly designed to pay for war.

For example, Elizabeth Redford tried to convince Quakers to refuse a new tax in on the grounds that it was obviously meant to fund the Seven Years War (the act that enacted the tax was entitled “For granting to his majesty certain rates and duties upon marriages, births, and burials, and upon bachelors and widowers, for the term of five years, for carrying on the war against France with vigour”). Her meeting brought her up on charges of violating the discipline and declared that whatever the purpose of the tax, it was being raised by the crown for expenses of its choosing and Quakers should not inquire further into what those expenses were but should pay the tax without question.

Several years later, during the War of the Spanish Succession, this got thrown back in Quaker faces. William Ray, in a letter to Quaker Samuel Bownas, argued that Quakers should stop resisting tithes because they had stopped resisting war taxes: “though the title of the act of parliament did plainly show that the tax was for carrying on a war against France with vigour” he wrote, “since the war against France began your Friends have given the same active obedience to the laws for payment of taxes as their fellow subjects have done.” Bownas did not deny this, but instead he tried to argue that tithes were different.

Meanwhile, Quaker William Penn was granted a royal charter for a large North American colony, to which many Quakers emigrated and established a colonial government that would be run, to some extent, on Quaker pacifist principles. I say “to some extent” because it was still a royal colony, under the military protection of the crown, and with an explicit colonial mandate to engage in military battles against enemies of the home country. The Quaker Assembly of the colony was also subservient in many ways to the crown-appointed governors and to the British government itself.

Occasionally during wartime, that government would appeal to the Pennsylvania Assembly to raise some funds to help out the war effort — to help defend Pennsylvania against pirates, Frenchmen, hostile Indians, and the like. The Assembly would sometimes respond to such requests with noble-sounding statements of Quaker principle, like this one by Assembly Speaker David Lloyd in : “the raising money to hire men to fight or kill one another is matter of conscience to us and against our religious principles.”

But most commentators on the period, even those who are sympathetic to the Quaker pacifist position, tend to read these statements cynically. The Assembly used these requests for money as opportunities to try to wrest more control from the governor and from London. These statements of conscience seemed often not to be principles so much as gambits in the negotiation process. The Assembly would usually, in the end, grant the requested money, or some amount anyway, but would thinly veil its nature by eliminating any wording about the money being intended for the military and instead would simply decree that it was intended as a gift to the crown from its grateful subjects, “for the Queen’s [or King’s] use.”

This was such a transparent dodge that it became hard for anyone to take seriously the part of the Quaker peace testimony represented in Lloyd’s quote. On one occasion, according to colonial legislator Benjamin Franklin, the Assembly refused to vote war money, but instead granted funds “for the purchasing of bread, flour, wheat, or other grain” knowing that the governor would interpret “other grain” to include gunpowder.

The Assembly were able to get away with this, in a colony full of ostensibly conscientious Quakers, because the orthodox point of view about war tax resistance in the Society held that only explicit war taxes were to be resisted, while generic taxes that only happened to be for war were to be paid willingly. So long as the government kept the name of the tax neutral and didn’t detail how it would be spent, a Quaker could pay it without having to worry about it.

But some Quakers were unable to remain blind to the Assembly’s sleight-of-hand. In , the Rhode Island Quarterly Meeting sent emissaries to some of its rebellious Monthly Meetings who were beginning to refuse to pay state taxes on these grounds. In , William Rakestraw published a pamphlet in which he agreed that “we ought not to ask Cæsar what he does with his dues or tribute, but pay it freely,” but added: “if he tells me it is for no other use but war and destruction, I’ll beg his pardon and say ‘my Master forbids it.’” He argued that the latest “for the Queen’s use” grant, in spite of its generic name, should fool nobody: it was meant to fund war, and no Quaker should pay a tax for it. Thomas Story, who visited the colony from England, defended the orthodox position, and had traveled Pennsylvania encouraging Quakers to pay their war taxes.

During the French & Indian War, Pennsylvania was invaded from the West. The westernmost European settlers in Pennsylvania were largely non-Quaker, and were impatient for a military defense — they felt that the Quaker pacifists in Philadelphia were using them as a shield. The Pennsylvania Assembly eventually gave in to their demands. It organized a volunteer militia and appropriated money for fortifications. This time it did not use the “for the King’s use” dodge by giving the money to the crown and letting it allocate the funds to war expenses, but instead the Assembly appointed its own commissioners to spend the money, and so became responsible itself for the war spending. (The legislation itself still tried to put a happy face on things, saying the grant was “for supplying our friendly Indians, holding of treaties, relieving the distressed settlers who have been driven form their lands, and other purposes for the King’s service,” but it was that last clause — “other purposes” — that hid where most of the spending would actually happen: largely building and supplying military forts.)

This compromise pleased few. Back in London there were calls to ban Quakers from colonial government entirely for their refusal to support the military defense of the colonies. London Quakers were urging pacifist Quakers to resign from the Pennsylvania Assembly as a way of forestalling complete disenfranchisement.

At the same time, a set of American Quakers felt that this was the last straw and if Quaker legislators were going to abandon their pacifist principles and enact a war spending bill, it would be up to Quaker taxpayers to refuse and resist. Several of them, including Anthony Benezet, sent a letter to the Assembly announcing that “as the raising sums of money, and putting them into the hands of committees who may apply them to purposes inconsistent with the peaceable testimony we profess and have borne to the world, appears to us in its consequences to be destructive of our religious liberties; we apprehend many among us will be under the necessity of suffering rather than consenting thereto by the payment of a tax for such purposes.”

That petition was not viewed sympathetically by the Assembly. They reminded everyone that nobody had had any problem paying those “for the Queen’s use” taxes in the past, and that this new tax was really not very different, even though the fig leaf had been removed. Meanwhile, the anti-Quakers in London got word of the petition which further enflamed them and gave them ammunition in their fight to get Quakers disenfranchised. The London Yearly Meeting was furious about the petition and it sent two emissaries to the colonies with orders to “explain and enforce our known principles and practice respecting the payment of taxes for the support of civil government.”

The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting held a conference in to try to come up with some guidance for Friends on whether or not to pay the new war taxes. They were unable to reach consensus. A group of them, including Benezet & John Woolman, sent a letter to quarterly and monthly meetings that set out the reasons why they were choosing to resist. The Assembly’s attempt to hide its war tax as a “mixed” tax with beneficial spending in the mix did not impress them. They wrote:

[T]hough some part of the money to be raised by the said Act is said to be for such benevolent purposes as supporting our friendship with our Indian neighbors and relieving the distresses of our fellow subjects who have suffered in the present calamities, for whom our hearts are deeply pained; and we affectionately and with bowels of tenderness sympathize with them therein; and we could most cheerfully contribute to those purposes if they were not so mixed that we cannot in the manner proposed show our hearty concurrence therewith without at the same time assenting to, or allowing ourselves in, practices which we apprehend contrary to the testimony which the Lord has given us to bear for his name and Truth’s sake.

This is one answer to the dilemma many Quakers find themselves in today. The U.S. government is in a constant state of war and threatens the whole world with its vast nuclear arsenal and its drone assassins. But it pays for this out of the same budget and with the same taxes as it pays for everything else it buys — including today’s equivalents of “such benevolent purposes as supporting our friendship with our Indian neighbors and relieving the distresses of our fellow subjects who have suffered in the present calamities” — so what is a good Quaker to do? Benezet, Woolman, and the rest took the position that mixing good spending and bad doesn’t erase the stain from the bad, but stains the good.

The capitulation by the Quakers in the Pennsylvania Assembly was not a compromise that satisfied either the militant Pennsylvanians, the anti-Quaker antagonists in London, or the prominent pacifists in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. In , under pressure from all sides, most Quaker legislators resigned from the Assembly, and the experiment in Quaker government in Pennsylvania came to an end.

Meanwhile, what had become of those London Quaker enforcers who had come across the pond to knock some sense into the war tax resisting faction? Something unexpected happened: they met with representatives from both the taxpaying and tax-resisting factions, held a two-day meeting on the subject, and ended up agreeing to disagree. The London representatives, rather than chastizing the resisters, instead recommended that Quakers “endeavor earnestly to have their minds covered with fervent charity towards one another” on the subject without taking a position one way or the other.

That’s not what the London Yearly Meeting had in mind. But the logic of the war tax resisters’ position, and the sincerity with which they presented it, had an infectious tendency. Not long after the emissaries returned home, the London Yearly Meeting had been expected to issue a strong condemnation of the resisters who had signed the letter urging Quakers to consider refusing to pay the war tax. Instead, the topic was dropped from the agenda entirely. Why? Because the more Quakers in England heard about the war tax resistance in Pennsylvania, the more sympathetic they became. The Yearly Meeting authorities decided it was better not to discuss the matter at all rather than risk facing the sort of enthusiasm for war tax resistance that had rocked the Philadelphia meeting.

TPL · History of Quaker War Tax Resistance: The Beginnings

At the upcoming national gathering of NWTRCC at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, I’m going to be presenting a summary of the history of war tax resistance in the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Today I’m going to try to coalesce some of the notes I’ve assembled about the first period of Quaker war tax resistance — between the founding of the Society of Friends and the establishment of the Quaker colony in Pennsylvania.


The beginnings (~)

George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, was not a war tax resister. We know this because he explicitly advised Quakers to pay a war tax and also because his daughter kept good records of the family finances, which explicitly list “Souldiers pay” among the expenses.

But the fact that Fox had to write a letter encouraging Quakers to pay war taxes indicates that the question was a live one in the Society from the beginning. The Quakers did refuse to pay legally-mandated tithes to the establishment church, so a tradition of conscientious objection to taxation was there to draw on, and some Quakers quickly drew the logical conclusion that as pacifists they should also refuse to pay to the priesthood of Mars.

Fox, though, hoped to end the persecution of the Society of Friends by a suspicious government, and thought that by presenting them as both thoroughly pacifist (and thus no military threat to the government) and as willing taxpayers (and thus of direct assistance to the government), he could best make his case. If Quakers refused to serve in the military and also refused to pay war taxes, he worried, the government might find the Quakers to be more trouble than they’re worth, complaining “How can we defend you against foreign enemies and protect everyone in their estates and keep down thieves and murderers?”

But a number of Quakers must have disregarded Fox’s advice, because as early as you start to see entries in the “books of sufferings” maintained by the Society about the persecution of Quakers for refusing to pay things like “Trophy Money,” the “Charge of the Trained-Bands,” the “Charge of the Militia” and other war taxes of that sort.

In , Quakers became aware of another anabaptist sect, the Hutterites in Hungary, who were also practicing war tax resistance.

In , in Robert Barclay’s influential defense of Quaker principles, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity, he states that Quakers “have suffered much in our country, because we neither could ourselves bear arms, nor send others in our place, nor give our money for the buying of drums, standards, and other military attire.”

By this has started to become codified into an official discipline in some places. One Meeting had this query for its members that year:

Do you bear a faithful testimony against bearing arms, and paying trophy money, or being in any manner concerned in the militia, in privateers, letters of marque, armed vessels or in dealing in prize goods as such?

TPL · Groping Toward a History of Quaker War Tax Resistance

At the upcoming national gathering of NWTRCC at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, I’m going to be presenting a summary of the history of war tax resistance in the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Preparing for this talk has been daunting. It’s a huge topic, spanning centuries and continents, and there are gaps and biases both in the historical record itself, and in my personal knowledge about it.

I’m also not a Quaker, and so am in the awkward and somewhat suspect position of trying to explain Quaker history to Quakers (I expect many of the attendees will be Quakers, particularly as Earlham College is a Quaker institution) as an outsider. Indeed I’m not Christian or even religious, so when I read a Quaker testifying that the holy spirit or “the light” or something of that nature is compelling him or her to take a certain course of action, I just have to sort of take it “on faith” that they know what they’re talking about.

So I’m going to ask you to indulge me as I think “out loud” on The Picket Line while I’m trying to organize my notes.

Most of the material I’m working with while assembling this history comes from two sources: the huge stash of documents I assembled into the collection American Quaker War Tax Resistance, and the archives of the Friends Journal. Both of these sources are biased towards reports of American Friends and Meetings, leaving out much of what may have been happening elsewhere. They also leave time gaps. The first stops at ; the second covers . I’ve tried to supplement this with material from other sources when I could find it.

There seem to me to be some distinct “periods” of Quaker war tax resistance:


The beginnings (~)
War tax resistance has been part of Quaker practice almost from the very beginning. George Fox paid his war taxes and counseled Quakers to do so, but Robert Barclay’s Apology published in reports that Quakers “have suffered much… because we neither could ourselves bear arms, nor send others in our place, nor give our money for the buying of drums, standards, and other military attire.”

The Pennsylvania experiment ()
Quakers ran the colonial legislature in Pennsylvania, founded by Quaker William Penn. This allowed them to put their pacifist principles to the test, which they did to some extent. But most commentators on the period portray the legislature as refusing to enact requested war funding measures mostly as a negotiating gambit, and that they eventually would cough up the war money in thinly-veiled ways. This led several individual Quakers to pledge to refuse to pay taxes to the Quaker government, which in turn led the London Yearly Meeting to come out against such war tax resistance. Eventually this tension became too great, and Quakers gave up government control in Pennsylvania.

The American revolution & aftermath ()
The conscientious Quaker dissidents in America proved influential and their ideas spread, even, eventually, to London, where the meeting found itself coping with a new, home-grown challenge to war tax paying. American Quakers suffered much during the American Revolution for their refusal to give material support to the rebel army, and some dissident Quakers broke off from their meetings because of this. A purifying and intensifying tendency began to rock the Society of Friends, in the aftermath of the war, which tended to strengthen the testimony against paying war taxes, but ended by splitting the Society.

The U.S. Civil War period ()
American Quakers identify with the abolitionist cause, which eventually becomes a war aim of the Union side in the Civil War. The society largely maintains its peace testimony and refusal to pay war taxes through the war, at least on an official level, but there is a slackening in how it is practiced and enforced, and in the aftermath of the war both are shadows of their former selves.

The great forgetting ()
War tax resisters are few and fairly quiet for decades. When war tax resistance is mentioned, it is as a relic of a former time like “thees” and “thous”. To the extent that it still remains on the record as a part of Quaker discipline, it is ignored as something belonging to another time. By and large, Quakers pay even explicit war taxes without complaint.

The thaw ()
A war tax resistance movement begins to coalesce in the United States, but it’s notable how few of its prominent members are Quakers. Eventually, though, this begins to embolden the remaining American Quaker war tax resisters and to rekindle interest in the Society of Friends.

The renaissance ()
The cold war nuclear arms race and the Vietnam War cause a resurgence of war tax resistance in the Society of Friends around the world, from Japan to Norway. By , pretty much all American Quakers must have confronted the issue of war taxes and made a decision about what to do about it. Some Meetings began resisting taxes as a group. War tax resistance becomes a central part of the Quaker peace testimony, and American Quakers who are not resisting in some fashion are on the defensive about it.

The second forgetting ()
The end of the cold war took some of the urgency out of the war tax issue for some Quakers, and those who still felt a concern about war taxes often looked for magical ways to make the issue go away without having to resort to actual tax resistance — such as “peace tax fund” legislation or increasingly desperate and fruitless legal appeals. Remnants of the renaissance period war tax resistance stands still exist, but have little vitality or momentum. Most mentions of war tax resistance in the Friends Journal are seen in the obituaries column.

In some of these periods, to be a Quaker was necessarily to be a war tax resister, as just about every household was subject to some sort of explicit war tax or militia exemption tax and the discipline of Quaker meetings required Friends to refuse to pay such taxes or to risk being disowned. In other periods, such explicit war taxes had vanished, and the government paid for war through less explicit, less transparent, more general-purpose taxes. In those periods, Quaker war tax resistance was more a subject for individual decision and debate and there was a less clear-cut orthodox opinion on how Friends should behave.