When Juanita Nelson went to jail in her bathrobe in
after being arrested for her war tax
resistance, a sympathetic visitor told her: “You know, you look like a female
Gandhi in that robe.”
Gandhi in turn compared his own tax resistance campaigns to those of British
nonconformists and women’s suffrage activists that came before him, and he
published his own translations of Henry David Thoreau’s
Civil Disobedience and his interpretations of
Tolstoy’s non-resistance theories.
The suffragist Women’s Tax Resistance League carried into battle a banner
bearing the portrait of
resister John Hampden, and Tolstoy took inspiration from Americans like
Thoreau and William Lloyd Garrison. Thoreau and Garrison in turn drew on tales
of the American Revolution and the stubborn pacifism of American Quakers.
This family tree of tax resistance shows a family as diverse as any. There’s a
lot of ideological space between the tax resisters Karl Marx and Karl Hess.
Tax resisters have been armed revolutionaries like John Adams and pacifist
non-resistants like John Woolman; communists like Marx and capitalists like
Vivien Kellems; solitary consciences like Ammon Hennacy and leaders of
resistance movements like Mahatma Gandhi.
Some refused to pay a tax because they could not support with their money what
their consciences condemned. Others refused to pay taxes that were being
unfairly or illegally assessed. Others resisted as part of a campaign to
overthrow the government.
Why were taxes such a big issue at the time Jesus was teaching?
“Judas the Galilean”
The story of the Zealot tax resister, from Adolf Hausrath’s A History of the New Testament Times.
Matthew 17:24–27 (“The Temple Tax”), Matthew 22:15–22 (“Render Unto Caesar”), Luke 23:1–4 (“The Judgment of Pilate”), and Romans 13:1–7 (“Pay Ye Tribute Also”)
From Julia E. Smith’s translation of The Holy Bible () — Smith was a tax resister for women’s rights, whom we’ll meet again in a later chapter.
“John Hampden and the Ship Writs”
The story of the prototypical English tax resister, from Stephen Dowell’s A History of Taxation and Taxes in England.
The American Quakers
“We Cannot For Conscience’ Sake”
A letter to the governor of New York explaining why the writers were refusing to pay defense requisitions.
“Sufferings in Jamaica”
A chronicle of what happened to Jamaican Quakers who refused war requisitions in , from Joseph Besse’s A Collection of the Sufferings of the People called Quakers, for the Testimony of a Good Conscience ().
“Your Money Shall Not Be Dipped in Blood”
The Governor of Pennsylvania pleading with Quakers to pay for military defense, or at least to pay something ().
Excerpts from the Journal of John Woolman
“An Epistle of Tender Love and Caution”
“For Conscience Sake”
John Woolman’s mid-18th century meditations about war tax resistance during the French-and-Indian War are probably the most influential of all Quaker writing on the subject.
Excerpts from the Journal of John Churchman
“Nor Contribute to the Price of Blood”
Churchman was a contemporary of Woolman, and adds a story of how Quakers lobbied the legislature on behalf of conscientious objectors to military taxation.
“Those Who Connive at Payment”
The pseudonymous “Pacificus” expresses frustration at Quakers who, forbidden by their religion to pay militia exemption fines, managed to get other people to pay them on their behalf.
“A Drop in the Ocean”
Joshua Evans, in his journal, tells how he wrestled with his conscience and found himself unable to pay war taxes.
“A Severe Tax”
Benjamin Hallowell, in his autobiography, tells what happened when he would not pay the fines he was assessed after refusing to turn out for the militia muster in the early 19th century, and why he’s uncertain his stand is the correct one.
“The Liberation of Nathan Swift”
Dan Jenkins’s article from a recent edition of the Friends Journal shows how Quaker war tax resisters once convinced State legislatures to legalize some forms of conscientious objection to military taxation.
“On the Taxing of Conscientious Objectors”
A letter by Benjamin Bates protesting pre-Civil War Virginia’s policy of fining conscientious objectors for their refusal to take up arms.
“Mind Your Own Way in the Truth”
John Richardson, an English Quaker, visited America and there was asked what the policy of English Quakers was regarding war taxes.
“Strengthen the Hands of Friends”
“The Solemn Requirement of Christian Duty”
“From a Letter to Joseph Hobson”
“A Letter to Asa Branson”
These excerpts from Joshua Maule’s Transactions and Changes in the Society of Friends, and Incidents in the Life and Experience of Joshua Maule () are fascinating looks into the war tax resistance debate among Quakers during the American Civil War.
Other Christian Pacifists
“To What Conclusion Does That Lead?”
Balthasar Hübmaier, an early Anabaptist theologian, was no war tax resister, but he saw the connection between taking up the sword and paying the state to do so.
“The Trial of One’s Faith”
Adventist G.W. Gillespe was unwilling to take up arms during the American Civil War or to pay a substitute to do so in his place, but was willing to pay an exemption fine.
“Caesar is Responsible”
Adventist John H. Dadmun faced the same crisis as Gillespe and came to much the same conclusions.
“War Tax Resistance of the Rogerenes”
Anna B. Williams, in The Rogerenes: Some Hitherto Unpublished Annals Belonging to the Colonial History of Connecticut () tells the stories of war tax resisters in this religious group.
“The Sandy Creek Resolution”
“Petition to the Assemblymen and Vestrymen of Orange County”
“The Regulator Oath”
These documents cover the interesting and neglected pre-American Revolution tax resistance struggle of the Regulator movement in North Carolina.
The American Revolution
“The Boston Tea Party”
An eye-witness report from George Hewes.
“The Most Remarkable Year of My Life”
“The Spirit of Liberty Triumphant”
John Adams reports on the colonial tax resistance of the .
“The Daughters of Liberty”
A poem by Hannah Griffitts that celebrates and encourages women who are boycotting imported British goods.
“Public Virtue and Private Economy”
A report from the Massachusetts Gazette on a formal ball at which women appeared in homespun cloth.
Announcing a boycott of British goods in Massachusetts, and a social boycott of businesses that stocked such goods.
“Stirring Tunes, Anthems, and Liberty Songs”
Women of New England met to spin yarn for homespun fabric, meanwhile spectators sang songs of liberty.
“To Our Ladies”
A poem encouraging women to eschew taxed British imports.
“The Mennonites During the Revolution”
How American Mennonites dealt with the pressure to financially support the revolutionary army, and how this led to a schism.
“Refusal to Use Continental Currency”
Ezra Michener reports, in A Retrospect of Early Quakerism (), that some Quakers felt that seignorage as practiced by the Continental Congress amounted to a war tax, and so they should not use the currency.
“Believing it My Duty”
Job Scott was one of those who refused to accept or use Congress’s paper money. In this excerpt from his Journal, he tells his story.
“One of the Engines of War”
Warner Mifflin reflects on his pacifism and his rejection of Continental currency.
Joseph Walton tells the story of how Yarnall was maliciously appointed, against his will, as tax collector, and then stood firm as his property was seized for failing to take his oath or to pay war taxes and fines.
“James Mott on the Postage Tax”
Mott says that when the postage rates were increased to provide additional war funding, he decided to stop sending letters.
“Against All Warlike Proceedings”
Joshua Evans tells how he stopped selling imported goods in his store after the United States imposed import duties to defray its war expenses.
“Why We Cannot Pay Taxes for the Support of War”
This excerpt from Samuel Allinson’s “Reasons against War, and paying Taxes for its support” () is a remarkably thorough and insightful Christian defense of war tax resistance. Circulated only in manuscript form during his lifetime, this is the first time it has been published for a wide audience.
“The Weighty Concern of the Meeting”
Rufus Hall reports on how one Quaker meeting debated “mixed” taxes during the post-war period.
“Worth Suffering For”
Isaac Martin tells how he stopped selling imported goods to avoid the war tax on such products.
“Navigator and Philanthropist”
Cuffe’s story, as told in J.W. Cromwell’s The Negro in American History ()
“Justice and Humanity Triumphed”
Cuffe’s story, as told in W.C. Neil’s The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution ()
“Petition for Relief from Taxation”
Cuffe’s successful petition to the Massachusetts legislature, explaining that black citizens were taxed but could not vote.
The Whiskey Rebellion
“A Resolution of Pennsylvanians”
Representatives from various parts of western Pennsylvania met and declared a social boycott of whiskey tax collectors.
“A Notice from Tom the Tinker”
“Tom the Tinker” was an alias used by the tax strikers, in this case, to send threatening letters to distillers who continued to pay the excise tax.
“Excerpts from a Report to President Washington”
Alexander Hamilton gave a thorough report on the rebellion as it was progressing, a rare behind-the-scenes look at how a government coped with a widespread tax resistance campaign.
“The Whiskey Rebellion: A Model For Our Time?”
Murray Rothbard says the schoolbook histories of the Whiskey Rebellion have got it all wrong — he says the rebels were ultimately victorious.
The French Revolution
“The People Made the Revolution”
Pyotr Kropotkin writes that tax resistance in the French Revolution came from the bottom-up, and when the revolutionary elite seized power, the people kept resisting.
These excerpts from Hippolyte A. Taine’s The Revolution show how tax resistance spread until it became impossible to stop.
The Breton Association
“A Point of Legal and Peaceful Resistance”
The background of the crisis that preceded Charles Ⅹ’s abdication, and the role of tax resistance by the Breton Association.
“Finding the Publication Libelous”
Newspapers that printed the Association’s call to resistance were sued by the crown.
“The Breton Subscription”
The text of the mutual-aid agreement signed by the tax resisters of the Breton Association.
“The Refusal—A Precedent”
Charles Ⅹ himself signed an oath to refuse illegally-enacted taxes before he became king.
Reform Bill Agitation
“Notice: No Taxes Paid Here”
“The Time for Resistance is Come”
“Join Me in this Step”
How England united against the recalcitrant House of Lords to force the passage of the Reform Act of , and how tax resisting “Political Unions” took the lead in the struggle.
The Bezuidenhout Affair
“We Don’t Acknowledge You”
“The Boer Hour Had Come”
“Women Aiding and Abetting the Men”
“Hostilities Might Have Been Avoided”
Excerpts from four histories of the first Boer War show how an act of tax resistance, and a community that rallied around the resister, started the rebellion.
19th Century Pacifists
“The New England Non-Resistance Society”
War tax resistance was a point of debate within the New England Non-Resistance Society.
“Refuse Their Requisitions”
Edmund Quincey protests against the Militia Law of Massachusetts in .
“No Union With Slaveholders”
William Lloyd Garrison, in The Liberator, says that nobody should willingly pay taxes to a government that upholds slavery.
“The Tax Resistance of Bronson Alcott”
Charles Lane tells of Alcott’s resistance, which inspired and preceded Thoreau’s.
“On Civil Obedience”
T.S. Grimké tries to reason out when it becomes un-Christian to render unto Caesar.
“Evils of the Revolutionary War”
This pamphlet by Charles K. Whipple anticipates with remarkable imagination and precision the arguments for mass nonviolent people-power that would later be taken up by Mahatma Gandhi and the Gene Sharp school of nonviolent conflict.
“We Cannot Rightfully Do It”
This excerpt from Thomas C. Upham’s The Manual of Peace () discusses the pacifist position on fees that pay for draft exemption.
Henry David Thoreau
In this excerpt, Thoreau discusses his arrest for tax resistance that interrupted his experiment in simple living at Walden.
“Resistance to Civil Government” (“Civil Disobedience”)
Certainly the most influential piece of writing about tax resistance.
From “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers”
Thoreau expands on his attitude toward the state and taxation in this excerpt.
“On War Tax Resistance”
Lawrence Rosenwald writes about how Thoreau’s great essay convinced him to become a war tax resister.
“Propagande par l’exemple”
Alvan Francis Sanborn asserts that Thoreau’s act of tax resistance represented the birth of “propaganda of the deed.”
Tolstoy’s Christian Anarchism
“The Wisdom of Children: On Taxes”
In Tolstoy’s parable, a child is unable to distinguish a tax collector from a thief.
“Bold and Unanswerable”
This excerpt from the epilogue to Tolstoy’s “Drózhzhin’s Life And Death” gives his interpretation of the “Render unto Caesar” koan.
“The Law of Love versus The Law of Force”
Tolstoy asserts that the common people become their own worst enemies when they cooperate with the government.
“What Must I Do With Myself?”
Tolstoy gives his program for ethical living.
From “Carthago Delenda Est”
Tolstoy says that refusing to participate in evil can be the greatest service to God and men.
From “Need it be so?”
Tolstoy tells the story of a Russian Thoreauvian who came up against the violence of the tax collector.
From “The Kingdom of God is Within You”
Excerpts concerning tax resistance from Tolstoy’s influential work on Christian Anarchism.
From a “Letter to Aylmer Maude”
Tolstoy says that a Christian cannot fail to try to free himself from paying taxes.
“Letter to a Japanese Correspondent”
Tolstoy differentiates passive tax refusal from violent resistance.
On Tolstoy’s “The Slavery of Our Times”
Tolstoyan Almyer Maude discusses Tolstoy’s tax resistance theories and compares them to John Woolman’s and Thoreau’s.
“A Humbug and a Phantasmagoria”
A visitor to Russia speaks with Tolstoy about taxes and government.
“No Tax Payments!”
Marx’s call to tax resistance that he published in his paper, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, in .
“Tax Refusal and the Countryside”
“On the Proclamation of the Brandenburg-Manteuffel Ministry about Tax Refusal”
“The Assembly at Frankfurt”
Articles from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung that discuss the ongoing tax resistance campaign in various parts of Germany.
“Karl Marx’s Defense”
The speech Marx delivered in court when he successfully defended himself against prosecution for printing his call to resist taxes.
“The Tax Refusal Trial”
The Neue Rheinische Zeitung reports on Marx’s acquittal.
The Irish Land League
“A Manifesto for the Land League”
Announcing the Land League’s rent strike.
“Refuse to Pay Extortionate Rents”
Charles Stewart Parnell addresses “The Irish Land Question” and defends the rent strike tactic.
Benjamin Ricketson Tucker
“The Power of Passive Resistance”
“Reason and the Plumb-Line”
“A Seed Planted”
“The ‘Home Guard’ Heard From”
In four essays from Liberty, Tucker relates his experiences and views regarding tax resistance as an anarchist tactic, and tells what happened when the tax collector came to call.
The Church Rates
“Law and Conscience”
Edward Swaine’s careful, methodical criticism of nonconforming Christians who refused to pay taxes on the grounds that the government would use the money to support the established church.
“Religious Conflict in England Renewed”
“Indisputable Energy and Determination”
Four accounts of a tax resistance campaign against government funding of sectarian education.
“The Ethics of Passive Resistance”
In the International Journal of Ethics (), J.G. James reviews and criticizes the tax resistance campaign, saying it has no ethical support.
The Vyborg Manifesto
“The Vyborg Manifesto”
When the Czar dissolved Russia’s first democratically-elected parliament, they fled to Vyborg, Finland, and issued this call for Russians to refuse their taxes.
“The Duma’s Defiance”
A contemporary news account of the Manifesto’s issuance.
“The Peasant Awakening”
Kellogg Durland, in The Red Reign: The True Story of an Adventurous Year in Russia (), reported that the peasants were skeptical of the Vyborg Manifesto’s call.
World War Ⅰ in the United States
“Plot to Defeat the Liberty Loan”
“They Will Be ‘Attended To’ Later”
“Liberty Loan Army Regards Slackers with Suspicion”
“Slackers Will Be Dealt With”
“Held for Preaching Against Liberty Loan”
“Theodore Pape Hanged in Effigy”
“Police Called On to Save Liberty Loan Obstructors”
“Girls in Factory Agitate Against Loan, Workers Strike”
“David Fast on The Sheep List”
“Police Push Liberty Loan”
“Livestock Seized for Loan”
“The Way of the Slacker is Odious and Hard”
“The Attention of the Council of Defense is Called”
“Yellow Paint Acts as a Persuader”
“Parade as ‘Bond Slacker’ Loses Suit”
A series of newspaper articles from across the country describing official and vigilante retribution against people who refused to subscribe to the (ostensibly voluntary) “Liberty Loan” to fund the war.
“No Vote, No Tax”
Lilian M. Hicks writes to the New York Times to report on Beatrice Harraden’s tax resistance.
“Miss Harraden Hit in Eye”
The Times reports that Harraden was assaulted while attending a tax auction of some of her property.
“You Will Never Tax Me Again”
Annie Shaw declares her tax resistance at the International Council of Women in .
“I Return My Tax Bill”
Lucy Stone returns her tax bill unpaid to the tax collector, and explains why.
“Until Our Rights Be Fully Recognized”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton wonders whether the time is right for a women’s tax resistance campaign in the United States.
“Refuse to Pay Taxes”
A report of a women’s suffrage meeting at which tax resistance resolutions were made.
Julia and Abby Smith
“Taxation Without Representation”
Julia Smith tells how the two sisters came to resist their property taxes, and how the men who ran the town (and spent their money) reacted.
“Abby Smith Addresses the Town Meeting”
The text of the speech Abby Smith gave to make her case.
“What Would You Do?”
Abby Smith explains her position to the readers of the Hartford Courant.
“Votey and Taxey”
Belle Squire recounts her recollection of the Smiths’ battles against taxation without representation, and of the Smiths’s cows “Votey” and “Taxey.”
“Tyler, Hampden, and Bunyan”
Gandhi writes that he saw the English rebels Wat Tyler, John Hampden, and John Bunyan as inspirations for his own struggle for justice in South Africa.
Gandhi compares the tax resistance of shopkeepers in South Africa with the tax resistance campaign of nonconformists in Britain.
“Duty of Disobeying Laws”
Gandhi introduces his translation of Thoreau’s Resistance to Civil Government (Civil Disobedience).
Gandhi praises the tax resistance struggle of British women’s suffragists.
“Exemplary Case of Satyagraha”
Gandhi praises an isolated, spontaneous poll tax refuser.
“From a Letter to A.H. West”
Gandhi outlines the deliberate steps he plans to take before launching a mass tax resistance campaign in South Africa.
“Letter to Secretary for Interior Gorges”
Gandhi explains to the government what is at stake and why he has begun his South African tax resistance campaign.
“Letter on the Kheda Situation”
“Letter to Madan Mohan Malaviya”
“Pure Civil Disobedience”
Gandhi discusses the tactic of tax resistance as practiced in India.
“Non-Payment of Taxes”
“Refusal to Pay Taxes”
Gandhi urges caution, and insists that people must be trained to exercise self-control and nonviolence before they are asked to engage in mass tax resistance.
“Awakening in a Andhradesha”
Gandhi takes stock of the tax resistance campaign of the Andhras and of the government’s measures in response to it.
“Civil Mass Disobedience Has Begun”
The New York Times reports on widespread tax resistance following Gandhi’s arrest.
“Deadly, Without Precedent, Unheard-of”
The author of a travelogue comments on what he saw of Gandhi’s campaign
“Revolution Without Violence”
A summary of Gandhi’s campaign.
“Speech at Sabarmati Ashram”
Gandhi embarks on his salt march and urges his listeners to keep up the struggle if he is arrested.
“Speech at Borsad”
“I have made sedition my dharma,” Gandhi tells his audience.
“Questions for Gandhi”
In excerpts from two Q&A sessions, Gandhi discusses tax resistance in a broader context than his specific campaigns in South Africa and India.
“Render Unto Caesar”
Gandhi gives his interpretation of the Bible episode.
The Amish and Social Security
“Valentine Byler vs. the IRS”
Brad Igou tells the story of how the Amish resisted the Social Security tax and eventually won an exemption.
“My First Fast and Picketing”
“How do I get by with it?”
“What Could a Fellow Do About It?”
“Why Am I Picketing?”
“Why Did You Pay Your Income Tax?”
Selections from Ammon Hennacy’s The Book of Ammon, including stories of his tax resistance and examples of some of the pamphlets he handed out while picketing the IRS.
Libertarians, Objectivists, and Voluntaryists
“Tax is Theft! (and what to do about it)”
A brochure that was originally written and published for the Movement of the Libertarian Left by Samuel Edward Konkin Ⅲ. This version has been minimally edited by Wally Conger.
“To Shrug: An Alternative Lifestyle for an Individualist”
A chapter from David King’s A Guide to the Philosophy of Objectivism discussing how he shrugged, Atlas Shrugged-style, living simply and not contributing to the State.
“‘Voluntary’ Contributions to the National Treasury: Where Does One Draw the Line?”
Carl Watner’s essay from The Voluntaryist.
American Constitutionalists and the Peace Tax
“That All the World Should Be Taxed”
Vivien Kellems’s argument that the federal tax withholding mandate was unconstitutional, and her refusal to pay it justified.
“Alternative Service for Drafted Dollars”
From a pamphlet put out by the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund.
“Peace Tax Fund Bill Deserves Support”
Remarks in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative George E. Brown, Jr.
“A Peace Tax Parable”
A parable criticizing “peace tax fund”-like schemes
The letter Hess sent his tax collector declaring his refusal to pay his taxes.
An op-ed Hess wrote for the New York Times in , explaining how he turned to barter so as to make it difficult for the IRS to seize his wages.
The Cold War and the Arms Race
“The Nuremberg Principles”
Forged in the aftermath of World War Ⅱ, these principles inspired the emerging modern war tax resistance movement.
“Reading and Writing”
Commentary on the war tax resistance of Caroline Urie.
Reports on the founding of “Peacemakers” — a landmark event in the modern war tax resistance movement.
“Death and Taxes”
Richard Groff explains to the IRS his conscientious refusal to pay his taxes.
“A Matter of Freedom”
Juanita Nelson tells the story of how she was arrested and taken to court in her bathrobe for her tax refusal.
“No Money, No War”
Allen Ginsberg writes about his Vietnam-era war tax refusal.
“Rendered Unto Caesar”
Milton Mayer explains that war tax resistance is the draft resistance for people who are no longer eligible to be drafted.
“For a Just World at Peace”
Bernard Offen compares his paying taxes for nuclear weapons to his father’s having paid taxes to the Nazis who murdered him.
Mildred Ryder, the “Peace Pilgrim,” tells how her life of voluntary simplicity allows her to avoid paying for war.
21st Century Tax Resistance
“This War Threatens Our Democracy”
Julia “Butterfly” Hill announces the largest single act of war tax resistance in U.S. history.
“Some Thoughts On Civil Disobedience: My Duties and Responsibilities”
Jeff Knaebel decided he’d rather live in a hut in India than continue to pay taxes to the U.S. government — so he did. He explains how Gandhi’s satyagraha principles guided his decision.
“Petition to the Provincial Court”
David T. Little tells the judge why he cannot pay taxes if some of the tax money will go to pay for abortions.
“Conversation With a Few Good Men (and Women)”
David R. Henderson instructs young military officers about individual and group responsibility, and they respond with some difficult questions about Henderson’s responsibility for war as a taxpayer.
“The government is bad, but what can we do?”
Kat Kanning reports on the creative nonviolent civil disobedience actions of libertarian tax resisters in New Hampshire.
Gene Sharp, the dean of nonviolent action scholars, looks at tax resistance in this excerpt from his book The Methods of Nonviolent Action.
“Is it Unethical to Evade Taxes in an Evil or Corrupt State?”
Robert W. McGee looks at how Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, and Christian teachings about taxpaying shape the answers people give to this question. Was a German Jew morally obligated to pay taxes to the Nazis who wanted to murder him? You’d be surprised at how many people say “yes.”
“Death and Taxes”
Robert T. Pennock writes about the historical and philosophical background of pacifist tax resistance.
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