New National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee Newsletter

Ephraim Wood, in his book Quakerism Unveiled: Truth Prevalent: In Two Letters; Addressed to the Members of The Society of Friends, Liverpool: To Which Are Added, Fifteen Propositions; with Hints on the present Negotiation; or, the Way to a True and Lasting Peace: The whole designed for the serious Consideration of all Ranks and Degrees of Mankind, spied hypocrisy in the Quaker practice of war tax resistance.

But, as with so many of the old criticisms and reductiones ad absurdum, this one seems to me to be making some good arguments in favor of tax resistance while trying to invent and discredit bad ones:

I am vouched by authority on which I may place some confidence that certain friends set forth particular articles of ware (or goods) to be distrained for tithes. Truly… “to buy an article for the express purpose of its being distrained, is certainly a mockery of non-payment.” How “a young man” who “may be balloted for the militia,” and “by purchasing a horse or a cow to be distrained,” “preserves his unity with the society.” I must leave with this intelligent (once) member, and such of you, my friends, to settle. Sure I am it is repugnant to your written “testimony” and advices, which warn you that “what is not taken away by force, but with consent or connivance cannot be regarded as a suffering for truth.”…

I will only observe, the above is as “inconsistent,” and as ridiculous, as that man who pretends that his conscience will not allow him to pay such and such a tax, and yet apply to parliament for a new method, or for any method of compelling him to pay such a tax at a easier rate. But of all your “inconsistency of practices,” that of paying “the assessed taxes,” is not amongst the least. Many respectable persons (of other religious denominations) have queried to me the propriety or “inconsistency” of your society paying any taxes at all. And of all the manly, fair, and judicious reasoning on this important point of doctrine that I ever met with, none appear to me in so clear and convincing a point of view, as your contemporary, William Matthews: and I unite with him in recommending this to the serious attention of your society.

It is well known that the assessed taxes already imposed, (“as well as the enormous call, the income tax,”) is for the express purpose of war. “Permit me (says this judicious author) to transcribe the following words of the title and preamble to the act itself,” passed for raising; new taxes.

Act for granting to his Majesty an Aid and Contribution, for the prosecution of the War!


Most gracious Sovereign!

We, your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament assembled, feeling it our indispensable duty, at the present crisis, to provide effectually for raising the supplies, which are requisite to defray your Majesty’s public expenses in the prosecution of the just and necessary War, in which we are engaged, &c. &c.

“Here the object is not of a doubtful nature; but distinctly avowed, clear and unequivocal. — In paying these taxes, who does not see that you yield a direct obedience to human law, which virtually calls for a suspension of your ‘testimony against wars and fightings?’

“And yet, such is your situation, that, under the general injunction to submit yourselves to the ordinances of the ruling powers that be, you cannot refuse to pay the legal assessments, without incurring penalties, which you will not consider yourselves as called on to incur! In your case, — the whole is a series of implicit submission, either with or without a rational construction of general obedience. The situation may be painful, and doubtless you have felt it; — but you must and will, on the general principle of submission to government, pay and submit! — Neither do I see how you can continue your customary censure and excommunication of those who, in active obedience, pay the specific demands for raising the militia! Any shades of difference which you may attempt to define, in favor of paying the new assessed taxes, you will henceforward so attempt with small satisfaction to yourselves; and in the estimation of other men, the most accustomed to reason correctly on general matters of importance, — your arguments to that point must utterly fail. Permit me, therefore, briefly to repeat, and urge, for your consideration, what my leading reflections were mainly intended to impress, that, as you must find yourselves involved in augmented inconsistency, by now imposing on your own members, as you have done, your society laws, relative to tithes; you would wisely relax from that unnecessary, unhappy, and I wish I could not truly say, unchristian severity: a severity which you cannot, without the most glaring absurdity, continue to prosecute, — and which all you have written, or attempted to say, in the style of rational argument, is wholly insufficient to palliate!”

If “inconsistency of practice” is to be the standard to judge of the principles of religion, (to say nothing here of the conscience,) I might query, if — “all hostilities, whether offensive or defensive, are believed by the Christian Quaker to be in direct opposition to the express commands of Christ,” can the contribution to the support of war by the voluntary payment of any tax levied for that express purpose, be regarded in any other light than as a dereliction of one of the most important and distinguished testimonies of your society?

But I find several friends have been under considerable exercise of mind, from a desire to bear their testimony faithfully against the having any concern in, or giving any countenance to the promotion of war. “This difficulty (it is said) was so strongly felt by some persons in the more affluent ranks, that they had believed it right for them to discontinue keeping their carriages, rather than, by a payment of the tax imposed on them, contribute so largely to the support of war; and this, for the sake of an article which might perhaps be regarded as a luxury,” and pride too.

As this doesn’t have much direct connection to Quaker war tax resistance as it was being practiced in the Americas, I probably won’t include this in my upcoming book (which I’m trying to hold down to a manageable size by restricting it geographically), but I liked it enough that I couldn’t resist including it here.