The Education Act Tax Resistance Campaign: November 1904

Tens of thousands of British nonconformists have been refusing to pay at least a portion of their rates because of their opposition to the provisions of the Education Act of that allow for taxpayer funding of sectarian religious education, which, more often than not, means Anglican or Catholic religious education. In our survey of a sample of newspaper coverage of the movement, we’re now up to .

The Berwickshire News covered a rift among nonconformists. Dawson Burns, “the well-known Nonconformist and Temperance reformer” had put out a pamphlet discouraging nonconformists from joining the passive resistance movement, in spite of his own opposition to the Education Act. It included the standard reductio ad anarchia among other arguments against civil disobedience in general, and, apparently, also included the following woeful argument:

The Society of Friends, says Dr Burns, have not refused to pay taxes applied in payment of warlike armaments to which they conscientiously object.

The London Daily News of included a quote from a letter written by John Clifford in response to a request that the passive resistance movement formally align with the Liberal party:

In reply to your note, I wish to say that although the Passive Resistance movement is wholly independent of political parties in its origin and progress, yet it is obvious that the protest wee are making against injustice can only be made efficient through anti-clerical representatives, and, therefore, I think it the duty of Passive Resisters to support all Liberal organizations whose members are pledged to get rid of all support by taxes and rates of sectarian teaching in the elementary and secondary education carried on by the State.

The Cambridge Independent Press of covered a County Congress of Passive Resisters held . at which a new Cambridge District Citizens’ League was rolled out to coordinate the area’s passive resisters. Excerpts:

Mr. [James] Everett [secretary of the National League], who was cordially received, said he was glad to know that they had decided to enlarge their coasts, and take in the men and women of the villages. That had been done in Derbyshire and Leicestershire, where the movement began, mainly with the object of strengthening each other’s hands. They must stand by the people of the villages. (Hear, hear.) It was much more difficult to be a Passive Resister in a little village than in a large town. There should never be a summons heard in any place without some representative of the district League attending to show sympathy and give any help possible. He was of the opinion that their rule for the admission of associates was too wide, and it seemed to him that if a man wanted to join the League he must be a Passive Resister. (Applause.) They might call a man a sympathiser, but those were not the kind of people they wanted. They wanted men who had the courage of their convictions, and who were not afraid to declare themselves. Other people were of no use, and his experience was that they were rather a drag upon the wheel. His Committee had always insisted that active members should be Passive Resisters, and associates should be those who would be Passive Resisters if they could. As to the general outlook, the movement was undoubtedly progressing. There was no cessation anywhere. (Applause.) It seemed to him, however, that it was getting too easy to be a Passive Resister, and too respectable. Where oppression was rampant, there Passive Resistance grew.… He hoped that the conference would result in real good. Up to the present there had been no need for organisation. Passive Resisters had sprung up here and there spontaneously, and there had been 637 Leagues formed without instigation — by spontaneous combustion as it were. (Applause.) But the time had now arrived when it would be a good thing if people in a district combined for common aggressive or defensive work, and he was glad to be present at the formation of their League. (Applause.)

Some resisters from surrounding villages stood up to give their reports. A League in Bishops Stortford had seven resisters. 16 resisters in Burwell had been summoned recently. The resister from Harston said he was the only one in his village, saying “the vast majority of Free Churchmen seemed to have no interest in this great matter [and i]n his own village his own deacons seemed to oppose him rather than help him.” In Isleham the rate-collector had claimed that no portion of the rates went to education, as there it was funded in another way, but the representative was skeptical and was resisting anyway.

Charles Joseph suggested that the resisters try harder to tie up the courts:

Mr. Upton had said that sixteen Resisters were treated with scant courtesy by the Newmarket Bench. He took it that the men on the Bench were simply their neighbours, men of like passions with themselves, and those sixteen persons were quite as respectable as the Magistrates. (Hear, hear.) They were quite as honourable, quite as good, quite as honest, and quite as law abiding, and he took it that the Magistrate would not be impertinent to them in the street, in their homes, or in the Corn Exchange, or elsewhere. Unless there was worshipful conduct in the man on the Bench, he was no longer “his worship.” Personally, he should say, “What is the matter, Mr. Smith?” He would not treat the Magistrate with the respect generally given to the Bench, unless he treated him with respect. The Magistrate forfeited all worship from the man before him when he ceased his worshipful conduct. As to not bing allowed to address the Bench, every citizen had the right to employ an advocate to plead his cause, and he had noticed that when solicitors or barristers were engaged for Passive Resisters, they were generally listened to. Surely a citizen had all the rights for himself that could possibly be given to his pleader. When the Magistrate asked the defendant whether he admitted the rate, he generally said that he did, and that was foolish. He should say at once, “I admit nothing at all. You must prove everything.” Then they would have to prove the making of the rate, the service of the demand note, etc. If he were not allowed to speak he would admit nothing, and if sixteen persons did the same thing it would become rather monotonous. (Laughter, and hear, hear.) By the time these little Jacks-in-office had heard sixteen cases they might see the wisdom, if not the courtesy, of treating Resisters with some Consideration.

Joseph asked James Everett for his advice on the legal rights of defendants in such cases, and Everett pulled out the book Passive Resistance Law “and read out such portions as dealt with the questions put by Mr. Joseph.” This may have been The Crusader Manual of Passive Resistance Law by J. Scott Duckers. A brief review of this book in Law Notes (volume ⅩⅩⅣ, page 349) reads in part:

The object of Mr. Scott Duckers’ little manual appears to be to put the passive resister up to every legal trick and device to obstruct the collection of the rate; as, for instance, the giving of an absolute bill of sale in favour of a wife. We can honestly recommend this manual to all those whose consciences require them to be passive resisters. Within the covers of this little book they will find full information on the subject, and all possible assistance to help them in tripping up a collector or justice who fails to comply with the strict letter of the law.

On the other hand, T.R. Glover didn’t much like the idea of making trouble in the courtroom, seeing it as a distraction from the main thrust of the campaign:

Mr Glover [St. John’s College] said he could not help wishing Passive Resisters said less in the courts. A good many things had been said on the spur of the moment, which, when the campaign was over and the battle won, they would wish they had not said. Let Magistrates say whatever they liked, and do what they liked. (Hear, hear). He would not ask a single favour of them, and the worse they made things, the better.

Mark Wyatt of Chittering, Waterbeach said during his comments: “He had had the two last summonses framed and dedicated to his two eldest grandchildren, but as he had three families of grandchildren he was looking forward to the next. (Laughter and applause.)”

Mr. E.J. Culyer said some of the reports of the Passive Resistance cases from Burwell gave the ages of the defendants, and he found that the average of the 16 was 65. The aggregate was 1,040, and the oldest was 86. He regretted that more young men did not stand up for the honour of Nonconformity.

Rev. R.W. Ayres said the new League had a roll of 125, and 90 of them were Passive Resisters.

The Kent & Sussex Courier of covered the auction of goods seized from 48 passive resisters at Tunbridge Wells. “It was a bitterly cold afternoon, and everyone was agreed that no time should be wasted. The auctioneer… disposed of the 48 lots in quicker time than had ever been his experience before. The goods were bought in on behalf of the resisters for the sums necessary to satisfy the warrants…” Afterwards, speakers rallied the troops. One, Dr. Usher, said in part:

They were being taxed to pay for [the “advance of Popery in the realm”], and the result of their opposition now seemed to be that they were to be deprived of their votes. That was not quite so bad as they had anticipated, for at first they were “conspirators.” They were few in Tunbridge Wells, it was true, but they were a portion of 80,000 all over the country, who would refuse to lose their votes without an effort, and be satisfied with a judgment which was said to be in accordance with common sense (hear hear).