William Fordyce Mavor Discusses Quaker War Tax Resistance

William Fordyce Mavor (), in his Historical Account of the Most Celebrated Voyages, Travels, and Discoveries from the Time of Columbus to the Present Period (, pages 300–3) spends some time going over the American Quaker attitude toward war taxes:

[The Quakers] have seen that the great basis of universal happiness must be universal peace; and that to open the way to that peace, we must pronounce an anathema against the art of war. Sacred writings have taught us to believe, that the time will come, when nation shall no more lift the sword against nation; and to lead to the accomplishment of so consoling a prophecy, this people believe that example is more powerful than words.

In Pennsylvania, they found the secret of defencing themselves from the scourge of military slaughter, till the war of , between France and England. Though mingled with the Indians, never any quarrels rose among them, which led to the spilling of blood.

The government of England could never engage the Quakers to give any assistance in this war. They not only refused this, but they resigned all the places which they had held in the government of the colony; for it was before almost entirely in their hands; and such was their economy, that the produce of the custom-house, and a small excise, were always sufficient to defray the public expenses; so that no other tax was known in the colony.

The war of changed this order of things, and occasioned heavy expenses, which the colonies were obliged to pay. The Quakers were subjected to them, as well as others; but they not only refused, as a society, to pay taxes, of which war was the object, but they excommunicated those who paid them. They persevered in this practice in the last war.

At this time an animosity was kindled against them, which is not yet extinguished. Faithful to their principles, they declared, that they would take no part in this war, and they excommunicated all such as joined either the American or the British army.

No person has spoken to me with more impartiality, respecting the Quakers, than General Washington, that celebrated man, whose spirit of justice is remarkable in every thing. He declared to me, that, in the course of the war, he had entertained an ill opinion of this society; he knew but little of them; as at that time there were but few of that sect in Virginia; and he had attributed to their political sentiments, the effect of their religious principles. He told me, that having since known them better, he acquired an esteem for them; and that, considering the simplicity of their manners, the purity of their morals, their exemplary economy, and their attachment to the constitution, he considered this society as one of the best supports of the new government, which requires a great moderation, and a total banishment of luxury.

It was not under this point of view that they were regarded by the congress, which laid the foundation of American independence. This congress joined their persecutors, and banished some of their most noxious leaders to Staunton, in Virginia, two hundred miles from their families. Since the peace, they have been subjected to another kind of vexation. Each citizen, from sixteen to fifty-five years of age, is obliged by law to serve in the militia, or to pay a fine.…

The author allows himself an aside here, in a footnote: “If defensive war is allowable, and every citizen is bound to assist the government that protects him, where is the hardship in a Quaker being compelled to make a compensation for his personal service, which he refuses to grant?”

…The Quakers will not serve nor pay the fine. The collector, whose duty it is to levy it, enters their houses, takes their furniture, and sells it; and the Quakers peaceably submit.

This method gives great encouragement to knavery. Collectors have been known to take goods to the amount of six times the fine, to sell for a shilling what was worth a pound, never to return the surplus, nor even to pay the state, but afterwards become bankrupts. Their successors would then come and demand the fine already paid; but the Quakers have complained to these abuses to the legislature, and an act is passed suspending these collectors till .

It would be very easy to reconcile the wants of the state, and the duty of the citizen, with the religious principles of the Quakers. You might subject them only to pacific taxes, and require them to pay a larger proportion of them. This is already done in Virginia, in abolishing, with respect to them, the militia service.