British Quakers Clarify Their Stand on War Taxes

The British Friend published a series of articles over many, many issues that spanned several years, with the title “Friends: Their Origin, Distinguishing Principles, and Practices.” I’m not sure when the series started, since Google Books only has the volumes going back to #4, but in an issue in volume #10, published on , they got around to the subject of War.

Curiously, though, the section on war taxes gets a footnote in which the editor argues with the author:

Friends have been charged with inconsistency in refusing military service, and yet in paying those taxes which are expressly for the support of wars. To this charge they reply, that they believe it to be their duty “to render to Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s,” and to leave the application of it to Cæsar himself, as he judges best for the support of the government. This duty they collect from the example of Jesus Christ, who paid the tribute-money himself, and ordered his disciples to do it, and this to a government not only professedly military, but distinguished for its idolatry and despotism.…*

* We fear our author has misunderstood the practice of Friends, in admitting that they pay “those taxes which are expressly for the support of wars.” It is true that they believe it their duty to “render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s,” but there is a wide difference between the payment of taxes for the general purposes of government, and that of a tax for the express support of war. The latter, we believe, has been very rarely imposed; and were such a tax attempted to be levied, we conceive it could not, in consistency, be paid by the members of our Society. — Eds.

The series, footnote included, was later compiled into the book A Portraiture of the Christian Profession and Practice of the Society of Friends: Embracing a view of the moral education, discipline, peculiar customs, religious principles, political and civil economy, and character of that religious society by Thomas Clarkson.

Clarkson himself was an Anglican, not a Quaker, and is now remembered mostly as a hero of the British abolitionist movement. I think it is remarkable how much ink The British Friend used to print the writings of a non-Quaker explaining the Quakers to themselves. Clarkson’s interactions with Quakers in the abolitionist movement gave him a lot of sympathy for the sect.

Isaac Zane and Anthony Benezet had this to say about the pledge of allegiance that the rebellious British colonists in America were trying to force Quakers to make (on ):

After deliberate and weighty consideration of the subject, unity was expressed with the following minute of caution and advices, issued by our Meeting for Sufferings, on . The committee appointed on the consideration of what is necessary to be proposed to Friends in general, on the subject of the Declaration of Allegiance and Abjuration, required by some late laws passed by the Legislatures who now preside in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, having several times met, and deliberated thereon, we have the satisfaction to find we are united in judgment, that consistent with our religious principles we cannot comply with the requisition of those laws, as we cannot be instrumental in setting up or pulling down of any government; but it becomes us to show forth a peaceable and meek behavior to all men, seeking their good, and to live a useful, sober, and religious life, without joining ourselves with any parties in war, or with the spirit of strife and contention now prevailing; and we believe that if our conduct is thus uniform and steady, and our hope fixed on the omnipotent arm, for relief, in time he will amply reward us with lasting peace, which hath been the experience of our Friends in time past, and we hope it is of some, who are now under suffering.… And in order that true union and Christian fellowship may be maintained amongst us, it is now earnestly advised that Friends may dwell in that fervent love and charity, which desires the restoration of such who have deviated and erred in this matter, and labor therein for their recovery; but where any continue to oppose the judgment of the meeting now expressed, Monthly Meetings should make it manifest that such do not regard the unity of the body. And as in some places fines and taxes are and have been imposed on those who, from conscientious scruples refuse or decline making such declarations of allegiance and abjuration, it is the united sense and judgment of this meeting that no Friend should pay any such fine or tax.