American Quakers of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries were often so confident in their war tax resistance that they assumed (and sometimes said) that it had been a part of Quaker practice since the beginning of the sect. But some of the earliest Quakers, on the contrary, seemed eager to demonstrate their willingness to pay all taxes as a way of ingratiating themselves with the governments they lived under while under pressure from hostile establishment churches.
Here are some excerpts from William Charles Braithwaite’s The second period of Quakerism that highlight this:
The payment of taxes to the civil authority was explicitly covered by Christ’s words. [George] Fox, during the Commonwealth period, had advised payment, and wrote as follows about one of the Poll Acts of Charles Ⅱ.:
To the earthly we give the earthly: that is, to Caesar we give unto him his things, and to God we give unto Him His things. And so in the other Power’s days we did not forget on our parts, though they did fail on their’s… Which, if Friends should not do and had not done — give Caesar his due, and custom and tribute to them that look for it, which are for the punishment of evil-doers — then might they say and plead against us; How can we defend you against foreign enemies and protect everyone in their estates and keep down thieves and murderers?
In , in conversation with Peter the Great, Thomas Story said:
Though we are prohibited arms and fighting in person, as inconsistent we think with the rules of the gospel of Christ, yet we can and do by His example readily and cheerfully pay unto every Government, in every form, where we happen to be subjects, such sums and assessments as are required of us by the respective laws under which we live. … We, by so great an example, do freely pay our taxes to Caesar, who of right hath the direction and application of them, to the various ends of government, to peace or to war, as it pleaseth him or as need may be, according to the constitution or laws of his kingdom, and in which we as subjects have no direction or share: for it is Caesar’s part to rule in justice and in truth, but ours to be subject and mind our own business and not to meddle with his.
However, Braithwaite also refers in a footnote to some early cases of Quakers refusing to send men and materials for the militia, or to send money to hire substitutes. Here is an example from The First Publishers of Truth: Being early records (now first printed) of the introduction of Quakerism into the counties of England and Wales:
Richd Robinson … was truly Valiant in bearing his Testimony for ye Truth, both under ye Conventicle Act & against Tythes & Steeplehouse Assessmts, &c, and also for not Paying as sending to ye Malitia, for wch faithfulness upon these Accounts he suffered Deeply & Chearfully both by Imprisonmt & Spoiling of Goods for ye Lords sake, who was his Rich rewarder.
He likewise Bare a faithfull Testimony against the paymt of Tythes, and Bearing or finding a man to the Militia, for he was all along Charged with finding a man, But allways kept very Clear and never after his convincement would pay anything directly or Jndirectly, but suffered for the same by fines & distresses, frequently Jncourraging other friends to stand faithfull in their Testimony for Truth.
Refusal to pay legally mandatory tithes to the establishment church seemed to be more common. For example, the same book also mentions the following cases:
- a wife of John Watson who also “dyed a prisoner for her Testimoney against Tithes” amongst “Several Sufferings did attend [her companions] for their Testimony Against Tithes, And Several were Cast into Prison for their Testimony against ye Same”
- “Robert Atkinson, of Lawerance Holme, [who] was Persecuted for his Consentious Refuseing to pay Tythe malt to George ffletcher, of Hutton, to Sequesteration, & took goods from him to ye value of Sixty pounds and upward, besides 8 or 9 monthes Jmprisonment in Carlisle”
- “seurall of the frds of [Kirkbride] Meeting haue been deep Sufferers by Sequesterc̃on and otherwise, for bearing there Christion Testimony agt yt Grevious oppression of Tythe the Nation Groans vnder”
- John Richardson, “wth William Bond, Adam Robinson, & Thomas Graham, for refusing to pay tithes were committed to Carlisle prison amongst ye Fellons, into a nasty, stinking place where they were like to be stifled for want of air.… Judgment was given, & goods distrained & sold; great havock was made, but nothing returned, so that their sufferings were heavy, both by rude people and by colour of Law.”
- a Quaker convert, “ffrancis Howard, yt had before cast frds into prison for Tythes, and had said yet if he lost all his tythes he would never take yt rigid course to prosecute again”
- “Jn , Many ffrds were brought Prisoners to Colchestr Castle for nonpayment of tithes”
- Around Colchester, “there was great sufferings Jn ye County upon frds for non paymt of tithes & for speaking Jn Steeplehouses”
- A priest got a Chancellors Court warrant against Roger Beck and William Beck “for Tythes, Offerings, or other Ecclesaisticall dues (as they might be called)… to take the sd Roger & William both to Gaol, Butt the same Warrt (partly by the Unwillingness of the Constables to whom the warrt wass directed) was not Executed soe farr as to take Either of them to Gaole” though “Two third part of [Roger’s] Estate were Confiscated, & Ceized for the Use of King Charles the 2d… This Confiscac̃on continued for about ten years, dyring wch tyme the Under-sherriffe (for the tyme being), or his Officers, frequently distreyned, & took away, & kept (or disposed of) a horse, or other Goods from the sd Roger Beck (as ’twas pretended) for the Ualue Confiscated. All wch persecuc̃on & much more, the sd Roger Beck did Undergoe with patience.”
- “Richard Addams, of Limington… Layd Down his life in prison for his Testimony against Tythes.”
- “Richard Bonwick… was uery often a sufferer in the Case of Tithes… for a little Farme of Ten or twelve pounds a yeare in which he dwelt, and had some times one Cow and some times two att a time taken from him by the priest for Tithes.”
- “James Tennant… [was] taken Prisoner for his Testimony against Tythes, fro which he did not decline, but Patiently Endured Close Jmprisonment untill Death.”
- “Nichlas Raw stood a faithfull man to ye Truth till his Death, wch was in Prison at Yorke, for his Testimony against yt antichristian Yoke of Tythes.” (a footnote adds a quote from Memory of the Faithful Revived: “Nicholas Raw was committed to prison in the Castle at York, by warrant of two justices, grounded on a Certificate of Contumacy out of the Ecclesiastical Court, in a Cause of Tithes at the Suit of Tobias West, Vicar of Grinton. After above four years and three months close confinement, he died a prisoner in the said Castle, on .”)
- a Richard Geldart who “Dyed a Prisoner in Yorke Castle, because for Conscience sake he could not Pay Tythes”
- a mention of a bailiff named James Foster who “had taken much goods from friends upon ye Account of Tythes” who died suddenly (under the heading “What Judgements fell vpon persecutors.”)