How Quaker War Tax Resistance Came and Went, Twice

I’ve got an article in this month’s Friends Journal on “How Quaker War Tax Resistance Came and Went, Twice.”

In the article I describe two dramatic periods of waxing and waning of war tax resistance in the Society of Friends: one from the middle of the 18th century to the end of the 19th, and the second during the 20th century Cold War.

(For a look at some of my earlier attempts to assemble the research that went into these articles, see .)

The article also looks at a recent attempt by Quakers in the Pacific Yearly Meeting to reignite the practice, and a sidebar introduces Kyle & Katy Chandler-Isaksen, Quaker simple living champions and war tax resisters from Nevada. Katy reflects on how war tax resistance and voluntary simplicity do and don’t harmonize with what she sees of current Quaker practices.


We’re up to in our journey through the newspaper coverage of the “passive resistance” movement against aspects of the Education Act.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph carried the news of a dozen resisters summoned in Derby. “Some of them have not paid any portion of their poor rate, so as to prevent the balance being paid anonymously.” A second article concerned 24 resisters summoned in Holbeach. “The Bench… made an order for payment in each case, declining an application for one warrant for each parish.” A third article:

An Overseer as Resister.

Henry Walker, market gardener and overseer, of Filey, made his fourth appearance before the magistrates as a “passive resister” at the Scarborough County Police Court. He had been summoned in respect of property at Gristhrope, the amount witheld being 4s.d. — The Chairman (Mr. Lea Priestley Edwards), addressing the defendant, said there could be no conscientious objection to obeying the law. He (the Chairman) objected to the whole of the School Boards in this country, but he paid his rates and taxes. Nobody could make his own laws. — The Defendant: My conscience is above the law of the land; I must obey my conscience. — The Chairman: You are talking nonsense, and wasting the time of the Court. The usual order will be made.

Also on the Cambridge Independent Press published the following (excerpts):

Passive Resistance.

Over 80 Cases as Cambridge

Warrants Issued.

There was an animated scene in the neighbourhood of the Cambridge Borough Police Court on , the occasion being the third appearance of the Passive Resisters to the rate levied for the purposes of education in the Borough under the Education Act of . Additional police officers were on duty within the court and its approaches, and the accommodation was taxed to the uttermost. There were many interested spectators present, including a number of ladies. The Resisters conducted themselves with the dignity befitting their cause, and were treated by the Magistrates in that kindly, courteous manner which has rendered their position easier than that of their fellows in many other parts of the country.

The gentlemen on the Bench… proceeded to hear the 82 rate summonses.

The Resisters had followed the course adopted on a previous occasion of appointing a spokesman to give expression to the reasons which prompted their resistance to the law, and for this consideration the Magistrates and officers of the Court were doubtless grateful.…

That spokesman said, in part: “To be asked to pay for doctrines in which one does not believe, is a violation of one’s conscience, and in obedience to a higher law, we have decided to refuse obedience to this law, which is only one of men, and which we do not recognise as binding. That is our position, and until the law is altered, we cannot give our hearty and cordial co-operation and support to the law, which it is our privilege and pleasure to give on all other occasions. We shall have, I fear, to appear here time after time until, in the wisdom of the legislature, the law is altered.”

The amounts the defendants were ordered to pay ranged from one shilling to two pounds.

The same paper also covered another set of summonses:

Seventeen Cases at Linton.

Two Magistrates and a Congregational Minister.

There was an unusual scene at the Linton Police Court on , when seventeen passive resisters, including two magistrates and a Congregational minister, were summoned. The little Court room was crowded, and considerable interest was taken in the proceedings, these being the first cases of passive resistance heard at Linton.…

In that case, each of the resisters got up one by one to try to give their objections, though these were quickly shut down by the magistrates. The paper reprinted a Manifesto released by the Linton resisters in which they stated their case more completely. It included, among other things, this argument about why paying under distraint was preferable to paying voluntarily:

If it be urged against our procedure that we must pay after all, our answer is that there is all the difference in the world between a payment handed to an official, and being compelled by process of law to pay an official. For a man to voluntarily bow to an idol would be sin; if he were by sheer force brought to his knees and held in an attitude of worship, no sin would attach to the act so far as he was concerned.

The same paper also covered the summons of three resisters from Shelford. In those cases, “[e]ach decided, after making his protest, to pay the amount due into Court.” Another article concerned “about thirty” resisters in Wisbech. Then came this:

Dr. Clifford’s Trowels Taken

“For Balfour and the Bishops.”

Among a number of Passive Resisters summoned at Enfield on was the Pastor of the City Temple. Mr. Campbell was unable to be present, but he wrote a letter stating that he “took the same stand” as before.

Dr. Clifford had an interesting and busy day. In the morning he addressed a meeting of Resisters, and in the afternoon he was “at home” to the High Constable of Paddington and other officials who came to seize his goods.

He had ready on a table a number of valuable articles, including silver presentation trowels, and when asked what articles he would like them to take, answered, “You take what you wish, but take enough, for you are acting for Mr. Balfour and the Bishops.”

A number of other cases here and there were briefly described as well. This section of the paper concluded with this article:

The Record of Summonses.

The number of summonses this week throughout the country promises to be the largest on record. In there were 1,978 summonses. the figures fell to 1,700, which included 379 in London alone; but a heavy list down for hearing at the end of the week is expected to carry the total well over 2,000.

Up to the full statistics of summonses, sales, and imprisonments since the movement began are as under:–

* Three of these twice each.
Summonses30,893(London 909)
Sales1,113(London 10)
*Imprisonments33

Among the imprisoned Resisters is a young chemist’s assistant at Hitchin, Mr. Ebenezer Housden, who has been sent to gaol for a month for refusing to pay the sum of 4s. 6d.

There are now 632 Passive Resistance Leagues in existence, 38 in London, the rest scattered far and wide over the country.


On , the “Marshall housewives” were again in the news:

Housewives Again Refuse to Pay Tax

 — The rebellious Marshall housewives have refused again to pay social security taxes on their domestic servants, but a government spokesman said it appears they cannot be fined or jailed for their failure to do so.

In their first public stand since the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider their attack on the constitutionality of the law, the housewives announced they had filed the return due but did not enclose the money.

“This may be the opportunity for congressmen to uphold their oath of office which charges them with the responsibility of protecting the Constitution,” Mrs. Caroline Abney, spokesman for the housewives, said.

“We’ve been given a judicial run-around.”

In Washington, an Internal Revenue spokesman said the housewives will have to pay the taxes, willingly or otherwise.

He said the housewives, by filing their quarterly returns, cleared themselves of any criminal violation of the social security law for which they could have been fined or jailed.

He said the Internal Revenue Bureau “will proceed on our normal way to collect those taxes.” He said normal procedure in such cases is for the bureau to issue “warrants of distraint,” under which it can attach the salary, bank account, or other property of delinquent taxpayers.

The housewives contend the household amendment to the social security law is unconstitutional because it makes the housewives tax collectors for the government.

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