Tax Resistance in the British Women’s Suffrage Movement

The Vote

From the issue of The Vote:

Mrs. Gonne Declines a “Doubtful Privilege.”

All Suffragists know the devoted service of Captain Gonne to the cause of justice for women; they will be interested to hear of the plucky fight which Mrs. Gonne is making on behalf of her husband, with regard to his recent tax resistance protest. During his imprisonment, she sent a telegram, giving the facts of the case, to His Majesty the King through his private secretary. A reply informed her that petitions to His Majesty, must be submitted through the Home Secretary. To this, her reply is that she declines “the doubtful privilege” she would rather die first! She asks for a faithful officer, who has nobly borne His Majesty’s Commission, and is “struggling to keep his King’s Honour as untarnished as his own,” the right to present a petition through a military officer approved by His Majesty. She awaits the result. We echo her declaration to the King’s private secretary, that things have come to a pretty pass, when the only use England has for an honest and courageous gentleman is to break his back and fling him into prison. Capt. Gonne’s serious injuries are due to the violence of Liberal stewards in ejecting him from meetings at which he has protested against a Liberal Government’s injustice to women; it is those who are under the sway of Mr. McKenna who discharged him, cripped as he is from Lewes gaol, after a forty-eight hours’ hunger strike, and sent him, in a state of collapse on a two hours’ railway journey involving two changes. Surely the refinement of cruelty and a near approach to tragedy. With Mrs. Gonne we ask of His Majesty: Is the sacrifice of an honoured officer’s life necessary in the denial of justice to women?

Also from the same issue (excerpt):

The Political Outlook.

The passive resistance, or defiance, policy of the League has been successful also in so far as the non-payment of tax and insurance contributions goes. The Government, however, has not taken proceedings against the League in respect of these omissions, and it is strongly doubtful whether it ever will. In so far, therefore, as the final climax is avoided, the policy remains ineffective. Methods of extending and reinforcing this policy must be discussed, and the League must make up its mind to action more drastic and resolute if resistance to the increasing loads of taxation laid on women without their consent is to be rendered sufficiently striking and useful. Insurance inspectors call at Headquarters office, and threatening-looking documents arrive, but the Government plainly avoids the final issue, or is unwilling to give the advertisement of a serious prosecution. If the pace is to be forced, it is from our side that the provocative action must come.

Quaker war tax resistance took some time to evolve out of Quaker pacifism. Here’s an anecdote about Thomas Story dating from around :

“Well,” said [The earl of Carlisle to Thomas Story], “you don’t like our ministers; but after all, I think you want but one thing to make you a very complete people; that is, to bear arms. Pray what would have become of this whole nation t’other day when the Spaniards were coming to invade us, if we had all, or the greatest part, been of your religion? No doubt we should all have been destroyed or enslaved.”

To this I answered, it was upon this very political consideration that the Jews crucified Christ; for as he had raised Lazarus from the dead, it greatly awakened the people concerning him, and many believed in him; insomuch that the rulers began to fear, that if he continued to preach his doctrines among the people, and work miracles, the body of the people would follow him: and the consequence of that would be, the state would not have soldiers or people enough to defend them against their enemies: For as it was prophesied that, under the new covenant, “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; and that nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more:” So Christ being the Mediator of that covenant, preached doctrines conducing to that end: “Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you; pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.” And, to take away all suspicion of any disloyalty to Cæsar, or danger of the state from his kingdom (which was their pretense against him), he said to Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world: for if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight…” … Now, Christ laying the foundation of such a kingdom, which is not of the world, though in the world, and declaring his subjects will not fight, it is in this kingdom, which is a kingdom of righteous, truth, and peace, in which the prophecy before mentioned is begun to be fulfilled; and of this kingdom Christ himself, the Prince of righteousness and peace, is only King, Ruler, and Lawgiver; and which no way interferes with the kingdoms of this world: For as Christ himself, being born a Jew, and they, at that time, subject, in some sort, to the Romans, paid tribute to Cæsar, and thereby giving an example to all his disciples, in all countries and states, and in all future ages, as well as that time: so the disciples of Christ, though they may not fight, they pay taxes and tribute to civil states…

…[T]he earl… heard me with great patience and candor, and then replied, “Tis true,” said he, “so long as you behave peaceably, are loyal to the government, and pay your taxes, as you do, I think, when all’s done, there is not an absolute necessity for your personal service in war, since his majesty may always have soldiers enough for money, as he may have occasion.”

True, said I, and there are but few, in comparison of the whole body of the people, that serve personally in war; and without all doubt, volunteers, of all others, are fittest for that service; where no man jeopards his life but by his own consent, choice, and inclination, and has no man to blame but himself in the consequences of it, with respect either to body or soul, since both may be in hazard, as men may be stated in such undertakings.

This is from Nathaniel Richardson’s Conversations, Discussions, and Anecdotes of Thomas Story (), pages 314–8.

This obsequious and rather repulsive argument of Story’s provoked a bitter rebuke from “Philalethes,” who heard Story speak in America in , then encouraging Quakers there to pay taxes to support England’s war against France in Canada using similar arguments, and who then wrote a furious tract called TRIBUTE TO CÆSAR, How paid by the Beſt Chriſtians, And to what Purpoſe. WITH Some Remarks on the late vigorous Expedition againſt CANADA. Of Civil Government, How Inconſiſtent it is with the Government of Chriſt in his Church. Compared with the Ancient Juſt and Righteous Principles of the Quakers, and their Modern Practice and Doctrine. With ſome Notes upon the Diſcipline of their Church in this Province, eſpecially at Philadelphia.