The latest issue of the Stanford Law Review includes an article by Juliana Tutt on “No Taxation Without Representation” in the American Woman Suffrage Movement.
It gives an overview of the rhetoric and practice of tax resistance in the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, and explains why such tax resistance was relatively rare (compared, say, with the movement in Britain) — with a number of notable individual examples, but little in the way of a sustained and general tax resistance movement.
Among the reasons:
- The American women’s suffrage movement was in general less militant than the movement in Britain.
- American suffragist activists seemed more risk-averse than their British counterparts, with even those who did practice tax resistance being largely reluctant to take things to the stage of imprisonment or property seizure (with some exceptions).
- For a time, there was a competing tactic — called the “New Departure strategy” — that urged women to vote under the theory that the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment already guaranteed women the vote. But since some states made tax-paying a prerequisite for voting, tax resistance would interfere with women who wanted to test the New Departure strategy. (The Supreme Court deflated the New Departure strategy when it decided in Minor v. Happersett () that though women were indeed citizens, this did not automatically grant them voting rights.)
- The potent “no taxation without representation” argument really only
implied that taxpayers should have the vote. During the time of
the suffrage debate, only the wealthy paid direct taxes. But the women’s
movement largely wasn’t interested in fighting for the rights of wealthy
women to vote, but for all women, on the same terms as men. This
made the taxation-without-representation argument less useful, and tax
resistance less of an attractive tactic.
- I’m wondering why this was less of an issue in Britain, where taxes also fell largely on the well-off (which is why, in the tax resistance cases reported in The Vote that I’ve been reproducing here, it seems like all the feminists have motorcars, estates, and plenty of silver to be seized and auctioned off). I remember women being advised in one issue that if they currently were subject to no tax, they should go out immediately and get a dog so that they could refuse to pay the dog license tax! One answer to this conundrum is that in Britain at the time only a propertied minority of men were able to vote, so women who agitated for the voting rights of wealthy, taxpaying women, would have been arguing for a political equality in a way that their counterparts in the United States would not.
In all, a fascinating article, and welcome proof that I’m not the only one who finds the history of tax resistance interesting.