British Feminists Learn of Taxes and the Foundation of Freedom

The Vote

Here is another excerpt from Helena Normanton’s series of articles on “Foundations of Freedom” that she wrote for The Vote. This one comes from the issue:

Seeing that he who pays the piper calls the tune and that political power is merely the cutting edge of economic power, this article will offer a few considerations upon how Parliament came to control our taxation.

The whole of English history might be written to centre round the subject of taxation direct and indirect. From the time when Canute made the law: “I command all my reeves that they justly provide on my own and maintain me therewith; and that no man need give them anything as feorm-fultum unless he himself be willing” down to Magna Carta, disputes between King and nobles constantly circled round taxation. The question which agitated the mind of the mediæval landowner was this: Might the King take only certain dues which were recognised and customary, or had he the power to take other taxes if he thought fit? If necessity really arose that the King should have extra money to meet some national emergency, how was he to get it? By obtaining the personal consent of those who were to pay it assembled in a Great Council, said Magna Carta. Those people who drag in at this point that the barons intended that representation should precede taxation are introducing an unnecessary confusion. In his great work on Magna Carta Prof. McKechnie has shown how unhistorical it is to assign so advanced a point of view to thirteenth century barons. Personal consent to taxation was the point of view that interested them, not representation. The earlier struggles of reluctant taxpayers with the Crown assumed the principle of personal consent preceding taxation. The later struggles in Stuart days centred round the consent of Parliament to all taxation. The American Revolution was grounded on the principle that as the Colonies were not represented in the British Parliament it was unconstitutional to tax them therein. No Taxation without Representation was their cry, and they meant it in a national sense, not an individual one.

A long series of Charters and Statutes extending shows the intensity of the struggle made by Parliament against arbitrary taxation by the Crown. Four national rebellions of the first magnitude have been waged to secure this right — against John, Richard Ⅱ., Charles Ⅰ. and James Ⅱ. Individual protests have also played their part such as the cases of Reed, Bate, Darnel, and the celebrated one of John Hampden against shipmoney in the reign of Charles Ⅰ. John Hampden is often quoted in platform speeches, and people frequently get hold of the wrong end of the stick about him. He did not refuse shipmoney because of lack of representation, but because the King was imposing the tax without the consent of Parliament. It is noteworthy that out of the twelve judges seven gave verdict against him and he lost his case. But the decision was very unpopular and was undoubtedly one of the causes of the Civil War. This trial made Hampden “the argument of all tongues, every man inquiring who and what he was that he durst of his own charge support the liberty and property of the kingdom and rescue his country from being made a prey to the court.”

Where suffragists may well take Hampden as an example is in his fearlessness in making an individual protest. He was a lawyer and great student of the Constitution. Those who desire to bring about political changes or help in great movements, such as the enfranchisement of women, will never find a moment wasted in studying the character and achievements of such men as Hampden. We are told by his enemy Clarendon that “he was of an industry and vigilance not to be tired out or wearied by the most laborious, and of parts not to be imposed upon by the most subtle or sharp, and of a personal courage equal to his parts.”

How women in the Suffrage Movement need to share in that quality of “not being imposed upon by the most subtle or sharp!” The wisdom of the serpent is as necessary now as ever! That is why knowledge of the Constitution is invaluable in political work.

The long struggle between Parliament and the Crown over the control of taxation was practically decided by the Civil War of . After the Restoration of the Stuarts James Ⅱ. attempted to revive illegal taxation; for this and other misdoings he lost the throne, and by the Revolution of William Ⅲ. and Mary were offered it on conditions. One of those conditions was:—

“Levying money by pretence of prerogative without grant of Parliament is illegal.” (Bill of Rights, )

Normanton tosses out the names “Reed, Bate, Darnel” so casually, but I have no idea who they are, and they don’t seem to have warranted a mention in Stephen Dowell’s two-volume A History of Taxation and Taxes in England from the Earliest Times to the Present Day either.


Some tax resistance continued in Beit Sahour after the end of the tax strike there, as this article from the Manila Standard shows:

Palestinians question Israeli taxes

Kamal Abu Saada lost his supermarket, his car and most of his money because he refused to pay taxes to Israeli authorities occupying the West Bank.

Taxmen flanked by soldiers seized his property, forcing his eldest son to drop out of school to help feed the family.

But Abu Saada and 90 Palestinian businessmen like him have had enough of what they call the militarized tax system Israel applies to people in the occupied territories.

In a rare move, they have petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to find out why they pay more than Israelis and where the money goes. The Palestinians also are protesting at the use of force in tax collection.

“They ask us to pay heavy taxes, even more than the Israelis pay, yet we do not see anything in return,” said Elias Rishmawi, a Beit Sahour pharmacist who is the main petitioner in the suit.

“We want to know what do they do with our money,” he added.

The lawsuit is the first legal challenge to the Israeli tax system in the occupied territories since Palestinians in Beit Sahour openly defied the authorities in .

Israel cracked down hard on the tax revolt. Soldiers besieged the town for 40 days and confiscated millions of dollars worth of property.

Today, even Palestinians who keep records and pay taxes complain of harassment. Taxmen with army escorts regularly raid stores, seize property at gunpoint and threaten those who refuse to pay with military trials or imprisonment.

Palestinians say the taxmen pull assessment figures out of the air, forcing people to try to bargain their taxes down.

The army-run Civil Administration says West Bank taxation is based on Jordanian laws. Israel captured the territory from Jordan in .

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