The People Have the Power of Withholding the Taxes

The following is an excerpt from The People’s Charter; an abstract from ‘The Rights of Nations,’ giving a condensed view of the great principles of representative government, and the chief objects of reform (). The author, whose name doesn’t appear as such in the book, was apparently William Carpenter. The book was part of the pro-reform agitation associated with the Reform Act of 1832. It shares a title with (and perhaps was inspiration for) The People’s Charter that started the Chartist movement .

The book alludes to the tax resistance campaign that was part of pro-reform activism:

The hour, then, is now come for the people to resolve better, and yet more firmly, than a weak-minded man [the king], the insolent intriguers who beset him, and the robbers who think they have again the revenue in their hands.

The House of Commons has, by the constitution, the power of withholding the supplies; and, if this be insufficient, the people have the power of withholding the taxes. The latter is, under the present circumstances, perfectly lawful; for Englishmen may not be taxed without consent of their representatives — the House of Commons admits that having been extensively corrupted, it has ceased to be truly representative of the people — therefore, the House of Commons is not authorized to impose taxes.

Happily, every petition now presented to the House of Commons, enjoins it to withhold the supplies from the executive government, until the reform bill shall have passed into law; and everywhere the resolution is declared not to pay taxes, till the representative authority necessary to their imposition is restored to the House. And to this, the House has responded, by some of its most independent members declaring that they themselves will refuse taxes.

Mr James, in the House, said, he knew that, if, in support of the boroughmonger faction, the soldiers should forget their duty as citizens and as a part of the people, still that would not be of the slightest account; for he was sure that guns, cannons, swords, bayonets, and even dungeons, could not compel that House to vote supplies for the support of the army. Neither could the people be prevented from resisting the payment of taxes: they were not obliged to pay in money, and who would buy goods distrained for them?

Mr Gillon, in the House, said that if they consented to vote supplies to an unreforming or wavering government, they would forfeit all character for consistency — all claim on the confidence of their constituents. This, he declared (and he believed the feeling to be general) that until a bill, at least as extensive as the one lately before the House, should have become a law, he should not pay one farthing of taxes. A despotic government, if such ventured to assume the reins of office, might imprison his person or distrain his goods; but they should not enslave his mind. If any man ventured to purchase these goods, a brand would be set on him like Cain, and he would be marked for the execration and detestation of his countrymen.

Even the late lord chancellor’s declaration of the illegality of refusing to pay taxes, has now received an explanation from his brother at the Southwark meeting. Mr W. Brougham there observed that “something had been said about the people not paying taxes, and a resolution to that effect would be highly illegal. People, however, might individually refuse taxes without rendering themselves amenable to the law. Now, this was an affair easy to be arranged. If a tax-gatherer were to call upon him, and ask him to settle his little bill for taxes, he might say to him in reply — ‘I have got a little bill of my own, Sir, which I should like to have settled by the gentlemen down at Westminster, who owe it me, and unless that little bill of mine be satisfactorily settled, you must never expect me to settle yours.’ ”

For the reason assigned above, however, this particular scheme does not seem essential; public meetings have everywhere passed resolutions for the refusal of taxes; and the following placard, in print, of which the form seems excellent, has, accordingly, been extensively exhibited in the windows: “I ⸺, housekeeper, do solemnly declare, that I will pay no more taxes, until the reform bill, with the 10l. or a less property qualification, disfranchisement to rotten boroughs, and enfranchisement to the metropolitan districts and populous towns, is secured whole and unmutilated to the nation.”

But this is not all. It is evident, that if the people carry their notes to the bank, every banker in the kingdom must at once join them, and ministers must be recalled. Every man, therefore, who has a 5l. note, ought to turn it into gold, and hoard it till the charter of the people’s liberties is won.

If, then, the people of England demand gold of the bank, refuse the payment of further taxes, and, by appointing commissioners to receive the present supplies, prevent their reaching the treasury, bloodshed may be prevented. The horrors of physical revolution are otherwise inevitable.