War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal

On , I shared with you some interesting stuff from a edition of the Quaker periodical Friends Journal. That inspired me to hunt around on-line and see if there were any other copies in the archives. I was able to find a complete set, or close to it anyway, from .

And there’s a tremendous amount of material about war tax resistance in those pages.

War tax resistance, which had been such a core part of Quaker practice in America from the founding of Pennsylvania through the American Civil War, began to fade in , until by it seemed to belong to the same ancient past as “thee”s and “thou”s, and only an eccentric fringe of Quakers considered it a living practice.

But, from reviewing the back issues of Friends Journal, I see that the tradition had not died; it was only sleeping. It woke up in and regained its place as a core part of the Quaker peace testimony and a frequent topic of discussion at Quaker meetings. , hardly an issue of the journal didn’t have some discussion of war tax resistance, and there were periodic “special issues” on the subject (there was one as recently as ). Then, , the topic started appearing less and less, and migrating into the back pages (and the obituaries — over 25% of the mentions of tax resistance in the Friends Journal are past tense references from obituaries and retrospectives… and the only such mention I found in the six issues from is in an obituary).

Have we entered a new era of forgetting, or just a calm before the next outbreak?

I should probably be careful about drawing conclusions from this data. I have learned a lot about the content of one magazine, which gives hints as to the state of the Society of Friends, but may be biased by which Friends were subscribers and by the opinions of the magazine staff at different times. Also: in the scans I viewed, sometimes parts of pages are obscured or damaged, and I relied on the results of automated optical-character-recognition to do my searches, so I may have missed some things. I also was just doing a naive search for the word “tax” to find mentions worth investigating. For this reason, I may have missed references to “contributions to the national treasury” and other such equivalent constructions that don’t use the word “tax.”