Tax Resistance in the U.S. Women’s Suffrage Movement


The Vote

From the issue of The Vote:

Women and Taxation.

Women are not only the least criminal part of our population, but they are also the most exemplary taxpayers. Until the repeated denial of their right of voting called forth the protest of passive resistance, the women taxpayers of the country must have won golden opinions from the officials of the Inland Revenue Office. But these days are gone. From every quarter comes the refusal of information and the refusal of payment. The gathering in of the income-tax of women has become a burden. The peaceful taxpayer of a few years ago has become to the official eye a most unsatisfactory defaulter. She claims the right of voting as an acknowledgment of her peaceful paying. She has taken for her motto “No Vote, No Tax.” She reiterates her grievance, and will not pay until it is redressed.

In addition to this general grievance, the special injustice and indignity imposed upon married women by the Inland Revenue procedure are met with resentment and growing protest and with categorical charges of illegality. The husbands of the women having separate incomes or earnings are adding their protests like fuel to the fire. They fail to see why they should be held responsible for the return of their wives’ incomes, and be penalised by the denial of abatement if such return is not forthcoming. They point out that the law gives them neither the power nor the right to enquire into the financial affairs of their wives. They add that by the illegal practice of putting the two incomes together and calling them the income of the man, the State is guilty of imposing a higher rate of taxation upon married persons. In this way marriage is specially penalised, and unorthodox unions are encouraged. This state of affairs is not satisfactory to either husband or wife; and both husband and wife have joined the protest against it. The Treasury will have both to meet if it does not alter its present course of action.

These are standing grievances, but an additional reason and an additional opportunity for revolt upon the resistance-to-taxation lines has been supplied by the new Land Tax. Unless the Women’s Suffrage Bill is carried into law this autumn, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to face the fact that every new piece of taxation carried through the Legislature will be impeded as far as possible by the efforts of women who have not been consulted about it. The outcry against the liquor taxes of the Budget, and now the growing clamour against the far-reaching demands of the new Land Tax Act, ought to make clear to this gentleman that there are quite enough natural opponents to increased taxation to be faced and vanquished without any Government going out of its way to raise up artificial ones by specific acts of injustice. But there are some people whom the gods make blind that they may be the more certainly overthrown.

There are not a very large number of women land-owners. Indeed, if the word is employed according to ordinary usage, there are very few. But for the purposes of this Land Tax a new meaning has been given to both “land” and “owner.” The new legal definition makes “land” include all kinds of structures, from mansions to stables, and also minerals, trees, and machinery; the owner is so defined as to include lease-holder as well as the owner proper; many a comparatively poor women will find herself included in the wider range thus assured for the Government’s operations.

Upon the Land Tax itself we pass no opinion. It may be a good thing, as some people claim; it may be a bad one conceived for a good end, as others hold; or it may be one that is bad altogether. Suffragists, as such, have no official opinion upon this point. They hold that it will be time enough for them to divide into hostile camps about land taxes when they are voters, and they put this, with many other issues, aside. But while they refuse to be partisans, they take a very definite stand against the application of any Act which entails the taxing of voteless women. Every new Act of this nature must count upon their opposition.

The famous forms on which the owners and lease-holders of the country have to prepare the necessary statistics for the levying of the new tax have been issued now in practically all parts of England, and they will be issued in Scotland within a few days. Already these forms have been returned unfilled up, and with a curt comment as to the status of the women applied to, by some of our members in England. They will be so returned by many Suffragists across the border. Neither information nor money will be forthcoming in response to the Inland Revene Department’s demands. As far as possible this piece of Government business will be impeded first by the determined refusal of information, and, second, by the withholding of the money claimed in taxes.

Such refusal to yield to tyranny is always desirable. But at the present moment it carries an additional value in that it can be employed to improve the chances of the Conciliation Women’s Suffrage Bill. From now until the fate of the Bill is decided, every woman to whom any Government application for information or for taxes is made should not only refuse to comply because of the unrepresented condition of her sex, but should add a rider to the effect that she will gladly supply information and provide the money claimed if the Women’s Suffrage Bill at present before Parliament becomes law this Session.

By this means pressure will be brought to bear upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and through him upon the Cabinet, in favour of our Bill. In order to make the protest completely effective, not only should it be made through the local revenue channels, but Mr. Lloyd George himself should be approached. A letter stating the reasons for the course of action followed, and repeating the promise to comply with the Government claim if the Conciliation Bill is carried into law, should be sent to him by every passive resister. To further emphasise the position, groups of tax-resisters should seek interviews with the Chancellor. There should be a series of requests for deputations to be received from every kind of taxpaying women. The women affected by the new Land Tax should send a deputation, if possible, from every district. The women payers of ordinary income-tax should send a deputation. The married women should send a deputation. The women liable to the super-tax should send a deputation. And everyone of them should preach the same path of salvation to the Treasury — the Conciliation Bill as the price of yielding to taxation by the women of the country. If, in addition to this series of lessons from women, a representative deputation of aggrieved husbands could wait upon the Chancellor, pointing out their intention to oppose the Government by their votes unless they are relieved from their present anomalous and burdensome position, the education of this member of the Cabinet would surely be ensured.

Many Liberal women, who have so far failed to share the worst risks of the Suffrage fight, could do great service to the cause now in this way. The attitude of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Conciliation Bill has completely absolved them of any obligations to him. Many thousands of them are taxpayers, and a determined demand for the passage of this Bill as the price of their taxes should have some effect. Much resentment is felt in Liberal ranks. But vague resentment, however warm, is of little practical value — it is ignored, its very presence is denied by the politician. Translated into this practical form, it would be more effective than the protest of any other body of people. Will the Liberal women rise to the occasion? Definite impeding of the Government business is the only policy that will carry weight now. Let all who can put their hands to the plough, and the task will yet be done.

Teresa Billington-Greig.

Also from the same issue:

Tax Resistance.

To the Editor of The Vote.

Madam,— My wife, being treated as an outlander in her own country, has refused payment of taxes levied on her own professional income. For this she has already twice suffered distraint of her goods in enforcement of that levy.

This would appear logical treatment for those in full possession of the rights of citizenship, the qualification for which is payment of taxes, direct or indirect.

On a third refusal, however, no suggestion of distraint is made, but I am informed that I am liable for taxes levied on her income, while at the same time the law places all her property entirely beyond my control.

This in itself is sufficiently illogical, but if it be a correct interpretation of existing law, then the distraints on my wife’s property were clearly illegal. I cannot be responsible for her income which I may not touch, and she liable to distraint for what she is not obliged to pay.

The logic of the market-place grasps the fact that you cannot have your cake and eat it. —Yours faithfully,

Mark Wilks.

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