Anthony Benezet Writes Moses Brown About War Taxes

Here’s a find. A letter from Anthony Benezet to Moses Brown concerning war taxes, in part in response to a letter from Brown I found a few years ago:


Dear Friend

I have been long waiting for an opportunity to write, in answer to thine of the & and expected to have had one by Willm Turpin, but his departure was so unexpected that I had but just time to give him a packet for thee, containing the Thoughts I had collected on the payment of taxes, which thou desired to see; which thou wilt find mostly coincide with thy own; also a number of pamphlets both in French & English which have been lately published, by direction of Friends of the Mg of Suffering, after they had been received & corrected by them; It’s a matter I had long had in prospect, & is chiefly intended for the information of my country people, but may also we hope be of service in removing mistakes & prejudices from others.

The perusal of thy remarkes, in thy letter, on the payment of Taxes for war, & those thou proposed to communicate to Friends in England, both afforded me much satisfaction. I am much concerned with thee that nothing be done in a wrong zeal, & I have been particularly desirous, as well for my self as others, that we don’t undertake to become reformers without feeling the meek & humbling evidence to attend, more especially, as thou observes, “this is a step in the reformation that crosses a received testimony”, so long & strongly established by the practice & the writings of several Friends of note, which will remain as a standing plea to cavillers & such as are inclined with Naaman, to say, “Pardon thy servant in this thing;” who tho thy may receive as quieting an answer as he did, may swerve from the most excellent way. However, I believe in the consistency of such a testimony, & that if it is of the truth, it will make its way in the love & patience; and that great care should be exercised that no censure, or even slight should be cast upon an honest hearted brother in that and all other cases, that cannot see as I do. To make our union to consist in a conformity of sentiments & practices in matters in which faithful men are not agreed from their different apprehensions of what the Gospel requires, is a great mistake; & has a greater tendency to beget hypocrisy, than true fellowship. It cannot be expected that children in the Truth will have the same prospect as young men, & these may not see things in the same light as elders; here the necessity & advantage of meekness, patience & charity is experienced.

Our Friends so freely paying taxes, the greatest part of which they knew was appropriated for military purposes, has from my first coming amongst them, which is near 50 years; as well as their being so active in government, even when military matters were mixed with civil always appeared to me inconsistent, & was what I have frequently expressed, even in the Yearly Meeting, more than 20 years past. I have observed that foreigners with whom I have conversed upon this weighty subject, have looked on the payment of these taxes to be inconsistent with a clear testimony against war: Nay the very thoughtful Indian has reproached us on this head. I trust, if such who apprehend themselves called to bear a testimony of this kind, do it with meekness & consistency, it may bring some to deeper considerations of Truth’s Testimony against War. The love of the world & the deceitfulness of riches, the desire of amassing wealth, of living a life of ease, delicacy & shew, is the great rock against which our Society has dashed, & Many not to rise again; from this mighty snare, I trust, the Almighty will, in a measure, deliver us by means of this testimony. Here it is the minds of the young people are carried away in the air & the world; and the parents, as in the case of Eli, give way: hence we are, generally, more like those clothed in purple & fine linen, — in soft raiment in kings’ houses, than conformable to our Saviour’s example & imitation of his followers, (ie) that cloud of witnesses, of whom the Apostle bears record, of whom the earth was not worthy; far opposite to the state of Pilgrims & Strangers, followers of him, who, tho Lord of all, claimed not so much in the world, as, even where to lay his head. — Now when this is the case of the young & unexperienced, it’s not to be wondered at, considering how strongly the bent of the human heart flows towards the world, its pleasures, honors & friendships; but to see those who have apprehended themselves peculiarly called to follow Christ in the regeneration; gifted ministers, well qualified elders, engaged in laying up riches, even sometimes by means of business, such as disputed titles, distillations, &c. doubtful as to their moral rectitude; as well as of a contentious nature & dangerous in themselves; others endeavouring to advance themselves by marriage with persons, on account of their wealth, who are unacquainted with the truth: Nay, I have in several, I may say in many instances, with sorrow of heart, seen preachers both young & old, whom the Almighty had called to his service in a low situation, so far insinuate themselves in the farms of the rich, by means of the esteem & respect gained thro the jewels God had adorned them with, for the carrying on his spiritual work, as to get advanced in the world & even join hands in marriage with people, which, had they not been rich, they would, as Job expressed it, not even “have put with the dogs of their flock”; making public declaration that they took one another in the presence of God; whence a query may arise, What God? Why the God of this world. Moreover, this terrible deviation from the path of truth, has been generally approved & even vindicated by professors, under the specious pretense, that, by means of the wealth thus attained, they would have more leisure to attend upon their ministry; forgetting that the Gospel has been predominantly dispensed to, & by, the poor, rich in faith, whom God has especially called, & will enable to perfect the work to which they are called, without going to Egypt & Babylon for help.

Many who have too much given way to a self seeking, worldly spirit, have nevertheless retained in a great measure their prospects of many Gospel Truths, by means of which, & their wealth, they have become as leaders in their several Meetings; from hence our church has suffered much. People have been pleased they had the example of active members who seemed to have so good a prospect of things relating to the kingdom of God; not considering the many instances recorded in Scripture, where it appears, God did not withdraw a prospect of the truth, as an ability for service, from those he had once called, notwithstanding their deviation from the narrow way of the cross, as, in the case of Balaam, who so clearly prophesied to the rising of the Star of Jacob, even when he was seeking occasion to curse Israel, for the wages of covetousness. Well, if a faithful testimony prevails in the matter of taxes for war in those who are favored with the prospect, who, I am inclined to think, are many, I trust it will have a great tendency to wean such from the world, teach us to bring our wants & desires into a much narrower compass than they are at present; hence those corrupt propensities which are thereby so much fed in ourselves & our children, may more easily be kept under. I would judge the state of no man, with respect to God & him, but I cannot look upon the love of the world & giving way to a desire of riches, as many do, as a pardonable frailty; but rather esteem it a departure from the divine life, which must either gradually kill all religion in the Soul, or be itself killed, by it. If one tittle of the law was not to fail but all be fulfilled, can we believe we may act with impunity in so diametric opposition to solemn truths so agreeable to the nature of the Gospel, & so plainly verified to be so in their effects, particularly on the offspring of those who deviate from them, & yet retain the favor of God? Love not the world &c. Lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth, &c. How hardly shall those that have riches enter, &c. Wo unto you that are rich, &c &c. They that will be rich fall into snares &c. These are certainly fruits of the flesh; & the watch word still is, That ye cannot serve two masters, — Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also, — If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if thro the Spirit, ye mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

But, putting Christianity out of the question, let me say that there is a certain proportion of wealth in the world, which should be applied, & circulate for the general benefit & comfort of mankind; according to each’s particular circumstances, this is the duty & will be the concern of every feeling heart; Now that one more knowing or crafty than the rest, should, by buying cheap & selling dear, get possessed of such an heap, which might answer the sober wants of hundreds, who are actually under great discouragements & difficulties for want of their share thereof: to see this person make use of his abundance, principally to increase his heap, &, finally, leave it solely or even principally to his heir or heirs, to the gratifying their idleness & pride, & every other noxious passion of the human mind, this appears to me to be an atrocious degree of Vanity.

I fully believe that a people will arise, whether Friends or others, who will absolutely refuse wealth, will make it one article of their fellowship that none suffer more wealth to accumulate than may be necessary to enable them to follow their several callings, & thereby remove from themselves & their children that grievous snare, which has arisen from the Society’s being so fond of amassing & enjoying wealth, in opposition to our Saviour’s positive injunction, indeed to the whole nature of the Gospel.

The situation of our Friend Timothy Davis is a matter of great importance to himself, & may in its consequences be so to many others. If the innocent childlike nature of the Gospel was suffered to prevail, how easily would matters of this nature subside; our very steps & mistakes would become an occasion of instruction to us, & rather tend to strengthen our union & mutual charity than otherwise. Ah! the strong will of man, the corruption of the human heart; nowhere more manifest than in the support of our own missteps, which we have, often, some distant prospect we were mistaken or too hasty in, & yet what havoc it has made, & nowhere more than under an apprehension (I would rather say, than pretense,) of zeal for the truth. I do not know that it is safe for me, at this time, to say anything to Timothy, not having yet seen Abraham Griffith; perhaps thou mayst think well of communicating to him these or part of the thoughts I now express, with the Thoughts on Taxes for war. Timothy is a friend & held in much estimation & whom I still love. I earnestly wish for him, as for myself, that in any contention of this kind, [self?], that enemy of all good, may be held in no estimation, but that the honor of God & the good of our fellowman may be the only object of our desires; & then I have no doubt but things between Timothy & his Friends, will soon settle right. “I will be more vile than thus & will be base in mine own sight,” saith king David; & when reproached for his humiliation, gives this weighty reason, It was before the Lord, — who chose me. Oh that this may likewise be Timothy’s situation. It is recorded of our Lord, That in his humiliation his judgment was taken away. I take it to be the reasoning part, which so strongly asserts, I am right. When we are favored to pierce thro the mists & crowds that surround us, as well arising from our own passions & wrong pursuits, as the incumbrances of the world, & are favored with a sight of that which is of an eternal duration, that which soon will be all in all to us, — even a communication with a state & with beings of as different nature from humanity, as exalted above it, — all Contention & Striving will subside, & we shall feel the truth of [Edward] Young’s assertion, — 

Th’ Almighty from his Throne, on Earth surveys
Nought greater, than an honest, humble Heart, —
An humble Heart, His residence; pronounc’d
His Second Seat.

It’s common in contentions for the Parties to assert & persuade themselves that they are easy & justified in themselves; but nothing requires a nicer scrutiny than this; where our honor or interest is flattered; indeed, there is but little foundation for such an assertion, where any thing short of childlike candor is suffered to prevail; these apprehensions, are rather as our Idols, which occasion blindness. “I will, saith the Lord, answer him that cometh (to enquire) according to the multitude of his Idols, because they are estranged from me thro the multitude of their Idols.” Ezek 14 Ch. 4 v. This was the case with Balaam when for worldly views, he presumed to make a second inquiry.

Well, it is time to conclude, by saying that I am persuaded the testimony to the peaceable, suffering spirit of the Gospel will prevail, in opposition to the cruel & corrupting spirit of war, & that it will be attended with blessed effects to individuals, who will be thought worthy, thro suffering, in innocent simplicity to be the promulgators of it. — 

I have expressed myself with great freedom, but I fear without sufficient guard, tho I trust in great good will; nevertheless if thou apprehends me under any misapprehension, be so kind to mention it to him, who is indeed, with much sincerity thy affectionate friend Anthony Benezet.

[P.S.] I find there was a considerable debate amongst Friends in the year , on account of a tax laid for to assist queen Ann’s troops in an attack upon Canada. I have a pamphlet published at that time, by a Friend Jos. Rakestraw, grandfather to Isaac Zane, wherein he tells us he was disowned, in consequence of the debate which arose amongst Friends on that account.