Quaker Thomas Cope Struggles With War Complicity

Here’s an entry from Thomas P. Cope’s journal, dated , in which he (a little too facilely) tries to sort out whether as a shareholder of a railroad that has pledged to give special treatment to military shipments in wartime, he has the sort of complicity with war that ought to bother a good Quaker:

A large meeting of Citizens was held at the Chinese Museum, Joseph R. Ingersoll in the chair, to forward additional subscriptions to the Pennsylvania Rail Road. A good spirit is said to have prevailed. Ward Commissioners were appointed & no doubt the necessary funds will be supplied. Previous to this meeting I added 80 shares to my subscription, thus constituting me a holder of 500 shares. A much less addition from others will prove sufficient to finish the work.

There is in the act of Incorporation a provision authorizing in time of war the transportation of military stores on the road at half price. As the act was not published when the subscriptions were first taken, this provision was known but to a few, & has been the cause of uneasiness to Friends who had subscribed. But should the privilege ever be claimed, Friends can then withdraw & leave the road to others, should it be found impracticable to have the law altered.

Every importer & consumer of foreign wares knows that import duties go to the payment of army & navy & the munitions of war, so that these indirect levies we have to submit to, or give up business — nor will retiring from business exempt us while we use dutiable article. In effect a portion of every tax levied by the U.S. Government is spent in warlike munitions or actual hostilities.

Cope had been a member of the Pennsylvania state Constitutional Convention in , and had lobbied that body to relieve Quakers from militia service or from the payment of militia exemption taxes.

he wrote about a collection of old papers in a trunk that the owner was about to destroy:

Among the loose papers I picked up one is signed Griffith John, in which he assigns his conscientious scruples to pay a certain tax: “I look upon it no less than imposition upon the tender conscience, being contrary unto the wholesome charter of this Province.” It bears no date, but must have been long before the American Revolution.

A quick hunt through the google shows a number of people named Griffith John from that time period (and more still named John Griffith), so I haven’t been able to uncover much more about this person.


From the Utica Morning Herald:

Tax Resistance in Steuben County.

Another attempt was made the other day to sell farm property in the town of Greenwood, Steuben county [New York], on account of a tax levied for the town bonding in aid of railroads, and another failure has followed. The scene was upon the farm of William Atkins, where 200 of the solid yeomanry of the town had assembled to resist the sale, and where the tax collector appeared backed by a sheriff’s posse of 47 men from Bath, Corning, and Hornellsville. Speeches were made by the leaders of the opposing parties — the officials urging the farmers to obey the law and pay the tax, and the farmers replying that there was no law for the burden sought to be imposed upon them, and that they would not submit to robbery in the name of law. A Mr. Brundage said: “We shall stand by our rights, and will not let our money go. We do not mean to fight the law. We turn out to help our neighbors, and they turn out to help us. We are oppressed, but will defend ourselves.” A Mr. Updyke, with broader hint, made these remarks: “I want to tell you folks that Mr. Atkins has paid all of his tax except this railroad tax; and we consider any man who will buy our property to help John Davis and Sam Alley as contemptible sharks. We shall remember him for years, and will know where he lives.” The tax collector finally rose and remarkes that in view of the situation he would not attempt to proceed with the sale, and he wanted it distinctly understood that he “never called on the sheriff for his posse, nor authorized any one else to do so.”

I’ve covered tax resistance related to corrupt railroad bond swindles in other locales as well. Seems there was quite an epidemic.

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