Quaker War Tax Resistance North & South During American Civil War

Some bits and pieces from here and there:

  • Wendy McElroy, at The Freeman, gives an overview of the persistent tax resistance of Vivien Kellems.
  • From an article about a crackdown on tax evasion in Italy:

    …Popular comic and political activist Bepe Grillo on Monday week [sic] described the tax collection office Equitalia as the “terror of every Italian” and said he could understand why an anarchist group had that very day sent it a parcel bomb.…

    La Repubblica newspaper quoted finance department data which suggest levels of tax evasion have leapt fivefold in the last three decades, with the treasury losing $275 billion in the last year alone.


Nereus Mendenhall wrote to Friends’ Review on to correct the record about how Quakers fared under the governments of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Some excerpts:

I do not hesitate to say that in my opinion the course of North Carolina and of the Confederate government was as liberal toward Friends as that of the United States government, or even more so. In the North the Friends were in sympathy with the government. It is supposable that they rejoiced over every Federal victory, and were sad at every Federal defeat. They could go into hospitals, they could do other service, they could pay the commutation money. Not so the Friends in the South. They had no sympathy with the Southern cause; they were opposed to the war, as Christians, as citizens, as men. They regarded every Confederate victory with sorrow, believing, as they did, that it but prolonged the bloody contest. And yet, under the knowledge of this well-known feeling, the Convention of North Carolina had such respect for the sincerity of their convictions that it passed an ordinance releasing them from military service on the payment (I think) of $100. And the Confederate Congress — that ogre, as some would regard it — clearly released Friends on the payment of $500 — $500 of Confederate money, even when the whole sum was not worth more than $10 or $20 in gold.

Which acted most in accordance with the principle of Friends in this matter, those who served in the hospitals, thus enabling the United States to keep as many fighting men in the field, or those who refused either to do this or to pay the trifling sum of $500 Confederate money, and thus acknowledge the right of the Government to tax us for our consciences, may here be left without answers.

The editor of the Review answered:

The Discipline of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting discountenances the performance of any military duty whatever by its members, or the procuring of a substitute. The Meeting for Sufferings also, soon after the civil war began, issued an advice that members should not pay the commutation tax in lieu of service. Although this was felt by many young men as going farther than their own consciences would require, we know of no instance in which such commutation was paid, or service in hospitals, etc., rendered instead of bearing arms, by any member of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Almost certainly the number of Friends in the North who adopted the measure proposed for their relief by the Government was very small. The number who abandoned the principles of peace would seem to have been proportionally much smaller than at the time of the war of the Revolution, when many Friends entered the army.

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