Public Oaths and Pledges of Tax Resistance

A very frequently-used tactic of tax resistance campaigns is to take public oaths or sign public pledges of resistance. This signals to potential resisters that they will not be alone, and is a show of defiance to the authorities. I’ve collected dozens of examples, which I’ll summarize here:

  • When Gandhi launched his first satyagraha-based campaign in South Africa in , a member of the meeting asked everyone present to take a solemn oath of opposition. Gandhi remarked:

    There is no one in this meeting who can be classed as an infant or as wanting in understanding. You are all well advanced in age and have seen the world; many of you are delegates and have discharged responsibilities in a greater or lesser measure. No one present, therefore, can ever hope to excuse himself by saying that he did not know what he was about when he took the oath.

    I know that pledges and vows are, and should be, taken on rare occasions. A man who takes a vow every now and then is sure to stumble. But if I can imagine a crisis in the history of the Indian community of South Africa when it would be in the fitness of things to take pledges, that crisis is surely now. … Resolutions of this nature cannot be passed by a majority vote. Only those who take a pledge can be bound by it. This pledge must not be taken with a view to produce an effect on outsiders. No one should trouble to consider what impression it might have upon the local Government, the Imperial Government, or the Government of India. Every one must only search his own heart, and if the inner voice assures him that he has the requisite strength to carry him through, then only should he pledge himself and then only would his pledge bear fruit.

    His entire speech, which reflects on vows and the responsibility of vow makers, is worth reading in this context.
  • In , “98 per cent of the merchants at Stuttgart and… 60 out of 60 merchants at DeWitt,” Arkansas, signed pledges to refuse to collect a new sales tax from their customers or to pay it to the government.
  • Also in , in Verdun (then a suburb of Montreal), 164 shopkeepers, including the mayor, signed a pledge to refuse to collect or pay a Montreal city sales tax.
  • , merchants in Gadsen, Alabama followed suit: gathering and voting unanimously to refuse to collect or pay a sales tax.
  • In Ghana, in , the Akuashongs met and “swore not to… pay any tax, even if the government should fight with them, and to make war with any party breaking the agreement.”
  • In several French newspapers printed the text of a pledge in which French liberals vowed to resist any taxes that the monarchy instituted without going through constitutional channels. The newspapers were themselves prosecuted for this. However, in court, they pointed out that the King himself, before he took the throne, had signed a tax resistance pledge of his own, along with three other members of the nobility, as a protest against republican infringements on their privileges.
  • In Castine, Maine, in , the pledge took the form of a vote: the town voted 125 to 65 at a specially-convened town meeting, to refuse to collect a school funding tax in defiance of a superior court order to do so.
  • In , some 5,000 businessmen in Belfast vowed to “keep back payment of all taxes which they can control, so long as any attempt to put into operation the provisions of the Home Rule Bill is persevered in.”
  • In the Women’s Tax Resistance League, members signed “pledge cards” that indicated which taxes they would be resisting if the government persisted in denying women the vote.
  • The Reform Act agitation really hit its stride in when a huge rally, 150,000 people strong, vowed as a group to stop paying taxes until the Act’s passage. One account of the meeting read:

    He declared before God, that, if all constitutional modes of obtaining the success of the reform measure failed, he should and would, be the first man to refuse the payment of taxes, except by a levy upon his goods [tremendous cheering, which lasted some minutes]. I now call upon all who hear me, and who are prepared to join me in this step, to hold up your hands [an immense forest of hands was immediately elevated, accompanied by vehement cheering]. I now call upon you who are not prepared to adopt this course, to hold up your hands and signify your dissent [not a single hand appearing, loud shouts and cheers were repeated].

  • In South Africa’s “New Rush” in , a number of miners signed a pledge reading, in part, “I promise on my honour and in presence of the people that I shall not from this day forward — until released from this obligation by the officers of the League — pay any taxes or impositions whatsoever to the Government, id est, for the support and maintenance of the Government of this territory; and that I shall buy from, sell to, or deal with only such men as have also taken this pledge or obligation; and that I shall to the utmost of my power, with purse and person, protect any and every officer and member of the League against coercion or consequences of what nature soever arising out of the action necessitated by this pledge.
  • At least 1,000 taxpayers in Elmira, New York, signed a declaration in saying that “The undersigned taxpayers… believing the county, city, and school tax rates as levied are too high, hereby refuse to pay until the budget has been thoroughly examined by the committee of the Taxpayers’ league. We also refuse to pay penalties until such revision has been made and a lower tax adopted.”
  • 500 taxpayers in Cadillac, Michigan, signed a petition in in which they vowed to refuse to pay taxes for two years unless the local government cut its budget by 20%.
  • In , 36 New Jersey residents signed their name to a petition to the home country in which they declared that they would refuse to pay any further taxes so long as a Roman Catholic was in charge of tax assessment.
  • At a “monster meeting” at Castlemaine in Australia in , a group of miners unanimously adopted a resolution to refuse to take out licenses.
  • Taxpayers in Zeehan, Tasmania, met in an open-air meeting in and passed a resolution stating that they “hereby express our solemn determination to passively resist the payment of the unjust income tax imposed by the late Government.”
  • A Queensland, Australia stealth tax on rural irrigation improvements, was resisted by the farmers there in , who, organized in groups called “Local Producers’ Associations,” passed motions vowing to resist. For example, the Association in Rockhampton “unanimously decided that all members pledge themselves to offer passive resistance to the operation of the Act by refusing to make the required applications or to furnish any returns, or to make any payments as demanded by the Act. Further, it was decided to invite all other LPAs and kindred bodies to adopt a similar attitude.”
  • , about twenty households near Paddock Wood, England, “signed a declaration to withhold [tax] payments” to protest the lack of government action against vagabonds camping in their neighborhood.
  • When the Russian Duma-in-exile issued the Vyborg manifesto in , calling on Russians to refuse to pay taxes to the Czarist autocracy, a number of villages responded by voting whether or not to heed the call and then taking the results of the vote as a pledge they were bound to abide by.
  • In , 149 members of a Catholic War Veterans post vowed to refuse to pay their real estate taxes unless the government dismissed a Communist Party member from his post as an advisor to the Borough President of Manhattan.
  • At a meeting of the Charleston Board of Trade in South Carolina in , the white supremacist group unanimously passed a series of resolutions declaring that they considered debts incurred by the reconstruction government to be illegitimate and that they would resist the payment of taxes meant to pay them off.
  • At a mass meeting of white supremacists in Louisiana in , they passed a resolution vowing that “we will pay no more taxes to State or city.”
  • Some resisters of Thatcher’s poll tax made their resistance dramatically public by burning their “final reminder notices” at demonstrations.
  • This tactic has been prominent in the American war tax resistance movement. For example:
    • In the American pacifist group Peacemakers released a statement, signed by 59 members, in which “the undersigned state hereby that we are not going to pay our federal taxes.”
    • In , some 370 people signed a public oath saying “We will refuse to pay our federal income taxes voluntarily.”
    • In , more than five hundred writers and editors added their names to a war tax resistance pledge that appeared as a newspaper advertisement. The names included James Baldwin, Noam Chomsky, Philip K. Dick, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Grace Paley, Susan Sontag, Benjamin Spock, Gloria Steinem, William Styron, Hunter S. Thompson, Thomas Pynchon, Betty Friedan, and Kurt Vonnegut.
    • Also in , a letter was circulated largely among academics, and signed by more than a dozen professors, among others, organized as the “No Tax for War Committee” in which the signatories pledged to “withhold all or part of the taxes due” and urged the recipients to join their public pledge.
    • The ongoing War Tax Boycott has a public sign-on component.

On , William S. Burroughs wrote to Norman Mailer to explain his reluctance to sign up with the writers and editors war tax strike:

Dear Norman,

As regards the War Tax Protest if I started protesting and refusing to contribute to all the uses of tax money of which I disapprove: Narcotics Department, FBI, CIA, any and all expenditures for nuclear weapons, in fact any expenditures to keep the antiquated idea of a nation on its dying legs, I would wind up refusing to pay one cent of taxes, which would lead to more trouble than I am prepared to cope with or to put it another way I feel my first duty is to keep myself in an operating condition. In short I sympathize but must abstain.

all the best
William Burroughs

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