Tax resistance was an important tool of the movement to force the British government to finally enact the Reform Act of .
Here are some examples, from the archives of The Spectator, showing how that magazine covered the tax resistance angle of the campaign.
First, from the issue:
At the Cinque Ports Reform Meeting, held last week in Rye, on the motion of Colonel Evans, a resolution was unanimously adopted, that the inhabitants of the ports and adjacent country, including the whole line of the Sussex and Kent coasts, were ready to come forward to support Ministers in their plan of reform, if necessary, with their lives and properties. Colonel Evans stated that he was aware of the existence of a society of mercantile gentlemen in London, who had determined, in the event of the Ministers’ measures being defeated, not to pay any new taxes levied by the Parliament; and that a similar determination had been come to in Birmingham and Manchester.
…the fear of losing those old walls, and old mounds, and old trees, with which for so many years they have plundered this once patient people, renders them blind to the danger of outraging the nation, now bent on governing and taxing itself. Suppose that they should succeed in buying a majority of votes for the new Parliament — what then? Have they heard of the discussions in Sussex and Warwickshire as to the legality of associations for the non-payment of taxes in money? Quakers are not supposed to do that which is illegal when they tell the tax-gatherer to seize their goods; and the Quakers are permanently associated for regulating the conduct of the whole body: so that we do not see how the very comprehensive law of “conspiracy” even could be brought to bear upon associations for paying taxes like the Quakers. The association, without the deed, would be enough; for who would buy the goods of one person in arrear of taxes, if a thousand persons in the same neighbourhood had declared that they would pay taxes only in goods? and what tax-gatherer would incur the expense of seizing goods without the least prospect of selling them? But even supposing such associations perfectly legal — on which point we offer no opinion as yet — the small amount of direct taxes may appear to render them insignificant. On this last point we have no doubt. At present, a rotten borough is worth but little in the market; but the old tree at Beeralston would not fetch one sixpence if twenty [thousand?] of the middle classes had associated to pay taxes like the Quakers.… In a word, association alone would suffice in this case; — the only question is, would such associations be contrary to law? That question was commonly, though not publicly, discussed before the introduction of the Reform Bill; and it will be tried, if the Association of Boroughmongers should buy a majority in the new Parliament and turn out the Ministers. Come what may, the immense sum subscribed by the boroughmongering lords and baronets will never be paid, as they intend it should, by the people. However, the question is yet in abeyance. That the borough lords may never render it a present one, none can desire more earnestly than ourselves.
Next, from the issue:
Months ago, we stated our apprehension, that, in case the Reform Bill should be thrown out, or materially damaged by either House of Parliament, the middle classes would associate for the purpose of withholding the direct taxes. Such a measure, it appears, is contemplated in various parts of the kingdom, and boldly announced too, as the certain consequence of a rejection of the Bill by the Lords. We do not pretend that such a measure would be justified by the occasion; nor do we, for our part, believe that the occasion will occur. But, as the occasion will surely occur unless the Lords be convinced of the evils to which it would give rise, — and as, moreover, no saying or omission of ours will alter the determination of the people, — we think it most desirable that their Lordships should have clearly pointed out to them the consequences of a refusal on the part of the people to pay direct taxes. The explanation may not be lost upon Ministers. But to the point.
The direct taxes form but a small portion of the whole amount of taxes. “Therefore,” it is said by the wildest Tories, “the Government may go on very well though the King’s taxgatherer should obtain nothing. People will continue to eat and drink as usual, and consequently to pay the indirect taxes, whatever the lords may do with the Bill. A fig for your threats!”
Let us see whether people would continue to eat and drink as usual after refusing to pay the direct taxes. Let us suppose that a majority of the householders of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, and some portion of London, have agreed to refuse the payment of King’s taxes in money; and that either the brokers refuse to act for the taxgatherer, or that, if the brokers should act, no one bids for the goods distrained and put up for sale. Let us imagine that only a tenth of the householders of Great Britain do that in reality which the stiffest of the Quakers pretend to do, — viz. desire the taxgatherer to seize their goods; and that (what would surely occur in that case) the goods were not sold. Two or three seizures in any district, without sales, would deter the taxgatherer from proceeding further; because seizures cost something, and, if they produced nothing, the loss would fall on the taxgatherer. Consequently, if one tenth of the householders refuse to pay direct taxes in money, a most important law is de facto repealed by the People in spite of the Legislature: all the direct taxes are in fact repealed, notwithstanding acts of Parliament to maintain them.
“Never mind,” say our Cumberlands and Londonderries: “the indirect taxes will suffice for a time; and these the people must pay, because they will continue to eat and drink as usual.” Will they? — Let us see.
The foundation of public credit is public confidence in the future payment of taxes. if the people take upon themselves the repeal of a single tax, even though its amount were not 1,000l. a year, public confidence in the future payment of taxes must cease. In such a case, the Government might be strong in votes of the Legislature and in the devotion of the armed force; but no one would reckon with confidence on the future payment of the dividends, and Government Stock would become unsaleable. If the Government Stock of this country were to become unsaleable, or were suddenly to fall in price 30 or 40 per cent., the whole framework of society would be broken up. If any one doubt this, let him reflect for a moment on the immense amount of transfers in Stock which take place every week for all the purposes of trade, and indeed, it may be said, for nearly all the objects of existence. Further, would Messrs. Grote and Co., or Messrs. Payne Smith and Co. — would the Bank of England — discount a single bill for 20l., if a sudden and great fall in the price of Stock had occurred through a repeal of direct taxes by the People in spite of the Legislature? In such a case, would any one take a Bank of England note? Every one who reflects for an instant on the nature of public credit, will answer these questions in the negative.
But if public credit fail, what becomes of private credit? Both are equally dependent on confidence in certain future payments. When Charles the Tenth issued his ordinances, the French Funds fell suddenly, and the assembled bankers of Paris put forth a declaration that they would no longer discount private bills. What happened? All the manufactures and trades of Paris were stopped forthwith: myriads of workmen were turned into the streets without the means of obtaining food: and then came the fighting of the Three Days.
In Paris, three days’ fighting produced tranquillity, and revived public and private confidence. In London, probably, this would not be the case. Here there is no Charles the Tenth — no Polignac — no Swiss Guard; here all the people ready to fight would be on one side. There would be no fighting then: what would there be?
The destruction of public and private confidence in future payments involves the cessation of all markets. If Bank of England notes would not pass, no cattle would be brought to Smithfield, nor any corn to Mark Lane. There would be no fighting; but all classes would be without food, after the small quantity of food at any time in London had been seized by the strongest. But this seizure of food by the strongest — this emptying of barns, shops, granaries, and grocers’ warehouses, by the starving workpeople — to what would it lead? To the emptying also of brew-houses, cellars, distilleries, and gin-shops! Next — there would be no fighting, but — let every reader’s imagination fill up the picture, recollecting that there are twenty thousand. common thieves in London, and that the Peel, and Hunt party has succeeded in its endeavours to exasperate the working classes against all above themselves.
What may be predicated of London, is true of all the great manufacturing towns. To all parts of the kingdom, where great masses of people live from hand to mouth by pursuits not agricultural, the mail would carry the infection of public and private distrust: in all such places, bank-notes would no longer pass, nor bills be discounted; the workpeople would be discharged; the markets would not be supplied; the physical force would be starving, drunk, frantic.
In a country where the great body of the people live by agricultural pursuits, so that in case of necessity they could seize the food — the cattle and the corn — in the midst of which they would live, an insurrection of the working class might produce less terrible effects than a refusal of the middle class to pay taxes. Peasants, though in insurrection, need not be driven to utter desperation by hunger; because, for a time, they could obtain food in spite of the destruction of public and private credit. But, in this country, where so great a portion of the physical force could not possibly obtain food without the concurrence of the middle class, it appears that an insurrection of the workpeople, if approved and guided by the middle class, would be less injurious than a refusal of the middle class to pay taxes. This distinction merits notice: we offer it to the consideration of the Bench of Bishops.
It is understood that Ministers do not feel confident of a majority for the Bill in the Lords; and that, whether the Bill be thrown out or withdrawn, they will not resign, but will prorogue and reassemble the Parliament, carry the Bill once more through the Commons, and secure its passage through the Lords by a creation of Peers. Of course Ministers expect that the People, being aware of the Ministerial intention, will patiently await the result: of course they expect that there will be no refusal to pay taxes unless they resign. Is this expectation well founded?
For our part, we believe that the House of Lords now assembled will pass the Bill unhurt; but if they should not do so, we have great doubts whether the people will any longer place confidence in the Ministers. For what is the state of the case?
Ministers profess to have at their disposal the means of carrying the Bill. But say they — “We are not sure that the means is required: we are going to try an experiment on the Lords: if the Lords pass the Bill, well and good; if not, we shall add to their number, and then they will pass it; but let us try the experiment.” If Ministers really have the King’s permission to create Peers for carrying the Bill, the above is a fair report of the language held for them by their partisans. The desired result is in their power; but they prefer trying an experiment. If they pursue this course, they may try two experiments — one upon the wisdom of the Lords, and another upon the patience of the People. Were it not better at once to create a few Peers, and so put to rest all questions of hereditary wisdom or popular patience?
The Tories say that Ministers expect to be dismissed by a House of Commons elected under the Bill; and that they are therefore glad of a pretext for delay. This explanation of their conduct is more credible than that which supposes them bent on a most dangerous experiment, even while the desired result is in their hands.
The next excerpt, from the issue, covered the 150,000-person strong meeting of the Birmingham Political Union, at which the crowd roared a tax resistance vow. It quotes from the conclusion of a speech at the meeting by “Mr. Edmonds” (George Edmonds perhaps):
Should the Lords reject the Bill, and should the King refuse the creation of Peers, then it remained for the People to put in action a power which all constitutional writers admitted they had a right to exercise when Government was tyrannously opposed to the great majority of the nation. The power to which he alluded had driven an anointed King from the throne of England, and was equally competent to drive an unanointed Peerage from the House of Lords. They were all acquainted with a peaceful, orderly, and most respectable body of men called Quakers, to whose example he wished specially to call the attention of the meeting. This respectable sect of Christians refused to support a parson; but in their opposition they did not knock out the brains of the tithe-collector — they simply suffered a distraint to be levied upon their goods. Now, if the Quakers refused to pay the tithes, the people generally might refuse to pay the taxes; and if the bailiff came, he should like to know where they would find the auctioneer who would dare to sell, or the people who would dare to buy. The voice of the auctioneer, he conceived, would be passive, not active; and rather than knocking down, he would be himself knocked down. (Cheers and laughter.) While upon this point, he could not but think of another glorious patriot, whose name and character, during a long night of despotism, shone bright as the day-star of British liberty, whose example ought to be as an encouraging beacon for their future guidance. When Hampden refused the payment of ship-money, his gallant conduct electrified all England, and pointed out the way by which the people, when unanimous and combined, might rid themselves of an odious and oppressive oligarchy. Mr. Edmonds declared before God, that if all constitutional modes of obtaining the success of the Reform measure failed, he should, and would, be the first man to refuse the payment of taxes except by a levy upon his goods. (Tremendous cheering, which lasted some minutes.) “I now call upon all who hear me, and who are prepared to join me in this step, to hold up your hands. (An immense forest of hands was immediately elevated, accompanied by vehement cheering.) I now call upon you who are not prepared to adopt this course, to hold up your hands and signify your dissent. (Not a single hand appearing, loud shouts and cheers were repeated.) Mark my words, failing all other more constitutional means.”
The House of Lords did in fact reject the bill.
Next, from the issue, an article that quotes Thomas Attwood of the Birmingham Political Union as saying that he expects new Lords to be appointed in order to get the House of Lords to pass the bill; barring this, he expects the House of Commons to “refuse the supplies” — that is, to refuse to authorize government spending.
[“]Even if the House of Commons should refuse to do its duty upon such an emergency, still the people would possess within their own hands the peaceful and legal means of insuring their own redress. They had only to adopt the advice of Mr. Edmonds, which was strictly legal and constitutional, although it had been misrepresented, viz. — to act upon the system of the Quakers, and to submit to a distraint upon their goods for the payment of taxes, and the House of Commons would be instantly brought to see the position in which it stands. In this way the people would legally act upon the House of Commons — the House of Commons would compel the Government — and the Government would compel the House of Lords, and every thing would be right.”
Under another subhead in the same article came this news:
A number of people of Manchester and Salford have resolved to resist the payment of taxes in money. Their reason for this step is the passing of the Bill in the House of Commons, which solemnly pronounces a large portion of the members not to be elected by the people. They pledge themselves not to purchase the goods seized in execution for taxes, so long as the House remains unreformed.
Next, several months later, as yet another version of the bill has passed the House of Commons and is under consideration in the House of Lords, from the issue:
At the meeting of the Northern Political Union, held at Newcastle-upon-Tyne some days ago, a Mr. Fife declared, that if the Reform Bill were not passed in all its integrity, no inducement would prevail on him to pay one farthing more of taxes. The same sentiments have been expressed at the meeting of the National Political Union in the Metropolis, by Mr. Galloway and others. Our contemporary, the Standard, is witty at the expense of those who imagine so vain a thing as opposing a passive resistance to the “Peel and Dawson Crew,” when they again come into office.
“A poor honest cheesemonger,” he says, “who trembles at the crack of his own carter’s whip, will talk you ‘cannon, fire, and smoke, and bounce,’ in a manner to disturb the nerves of a buccaneer. Sir Walter, who has scarcely left one human feeling or one human folly unmarked, has illustrated this cumulation of fictitious heroism, from rivalry, in the case of the little cutting mercer of Abingdon. At the Black Bear meeting, Master Goldthread talked as highly of his desperate courses as Messrs. John Fife and Larkin of what they mean to do — scrupled as little to confess his willingness to commit a highway robbery, as the Northern Unionists talk of their alacrity to embark in high treason. But Laurence Goldthread cut a very different figure on the high-road. When unhorsed by the very pedlar whom he had threatened to rob, he bore the case as peaceably as a Quaker; and so peaceably, no doubt, would Messrs. Fife and Larkin bear the defeat of the Revolution Bill, notwithstanding all their swagger. Mr. John Fife questionless would pay his taxes (that is, if he is of taxable rank) as punctually as ever; while Mr. Larkin would scud before a stirrup-leather in the hands of any of the driver’s corps that had ever served under the Duke of Wellington.”
The Standard afterwards gets into a sort of passion with Messrs. Fife and Larkin; and calls them ignorant fools, resolved traitors, villains, and compares them to Thistlewood and Jack-the-Painter, and such like. We regret his indulgence in this strain, for two reasons, — first, because, by giving way to anger, it would seem that he fears the men that he affects to despise; second, because, when we instructors begin to rhodomontade, we bring the clerk-craft into danger, and act no higher rôle than the Unionist whom we censure. It is as easy for the journalist to bluster at his desk, as the Reformer on the hustings, and he is as likely as the Unionist is to prove the Master Goldthread of his own tale.
While we do not receive with implicit credit every profession that a Reformer may happen to make, any more than we would every profession that it might please an Anti-Reformer to make, we can see little wisdom in despising the professions either of the one side or the other. What is to hinder the People, if they will, from refusing to pay direct taxes; or from abstaining, if they will, from the consumption of articles, not necessary, that are burdened with indirect taxes? We should like to see the strap either of the Duke’s driver corps or driven corps attempt it. We suspect, like that worthy magistrate mentioned by the author whom the Standard quotes, in the Duke’s anxiety to break the honest man’s head, he would contrive to break his own. It was said by Lord Eldon — whom, indeed, the very mention of refusing to pay taxes seemed to strike with consternation — that it was illegal, we believe he said treasonable, to combine for the purpose. Grant that the retired Chancellor make it out to be treasonable, and that Bishop Phillpotts anathematize it, still it may be practised, for it has been practised. We presume, if there be in mundane affairs any truth less disputed than another, it is, that what has been done once may be done again. What does the Standard say to Ireland? Have not the people there combined, and have they not combined with perfect success? How long before they combined did their cry go up unheeded; and how speedily afterwards was it listened to and considered?
We know our contemporary’s answer. Theirs was a religious combination. But if Englishmen feel as strongly on the question of Reform as the Irish feel on the question of Religion, they will combine as readily. The case of Ireland is not a solitary one. Look to Edinburgh. There is no religious feud in that case; it is a mere question of pounds, shillings, and pence. Yet the people of Edinburgh have suffered their goods to be seized by the clergy, and not a soul has been found false enough to the popular cause to purchase.
But there is no need for that extended combination among the People, which seems to our contemporary only a fit subject for ridicule. Suppose the auctioneers only — a very small class of the community — should say, “We will not distrain” — will the Duke’s stirrup-leather frighten them too? Suppose their zeal quickened by a hint, that if they perform that very disagreeable and ill-paid duty, they must not look to be employed in such services as are not disagreeable and that are better paid?
It is true that, in London, it may be easy to find men regardless enough to do any thing; and there are so many holes and corners, that let a man’s villainy be ever so great, he may easily contrive to stow it out of sight. But such is not the case in smaller towns. In a town of twenty or thirty thousand inhabitants, such concealment is impossible. A rogue may escape the eye of the Magistrates or of the Police, but we would defy Satan himself — unless, like Mr. Salusbury, of St. Mary’s, Aldgate, he were a non-resident — to play his pranks in such a town without being observed by his neighbours. The strike against tax-paying; if ever we come to such a pass, will begin in the lesser towns.
We hope and trust, that the Lords will not by their conduct throw temptation in the People’s way, Above all, we trust they will not be flattered into an opinion, that the People are to be driven from their purpose with the smallest show of coercion. If the Duke of Wellington were insane enough to put foot in stirrup against the People of England, he would find it the toughest piece of work he has hitherto cut out for himself. He and his partisans might boast while putting on their harness; but, truly, we believe their boast would be small when they came to take it off.
Another article in the same issue also covered the Fife speech, and began as follows:
At a meeting of the Union at Newcastle, on , it was agreed to send a petition to the House of Lords, praying them to pass the Bill unmutilated; and another to Earl Grey, calling upon him to effect this object by the creation of Peers. Mr. J. Fife, in the course of an eloquent speech, said, “he trusted that the People would reject the Bill with scorn if it was impaired or emasculated. For his own part, he was prepared to endure any consequences. He would pay no taxes — they might confiscate his lands — they might persecute him to banishment or death — he would endure to the last, rather than be the willing slave of a tyrannical Ministry.”
The House of Lords again balked on passing the bill, and the King was dragging his feet on elevating enough pro-reform peers to that House to ensure passage. This article appeared in the issue:
A Court of Common Council was held on , for the purpose of petitioning the House of Commons on the subject of the present crisis. Mr. Galloway moved the resolutions; which were seconded by Mr. Pritchard. The principal resolutions were as follows —
“That this Court views with the greatest grief, mortification, and disappointment, the extraordinary and distressing communication made by his Majesty’s Ministers, that his Majesty had refused to them the means of carrying through the House of Lords the Reform Bill passed by a large majority of the House of Commons, and required by an overwhelming majority of the people.
“That whoever may have advised his Majesty to withhold from his Ministers the means of insuring the success of the Reform Bill, have proved themselves the enemies of their Sovereign, and have put to imminent hazard the stability of the throne, and the tranquillity and security of the country.
“That, under these circumstances, this Court feels it to be its duty, as a necessary means of procuring for the people of this great country an efficient Reform, to petition the Commons House of Parliament to withhold the Supplies until such a Reform should have been secured.”
Alderman Waithman and Mr. Thornhill followed Mr. Pritchard on the same side.
Alderman Winchester objected to the language of the resolutions as too strong. He thought the Court should not offend the Crown. The Alderman’s anxiety about the Crown produced roars of laughter, which rendered a great deal of his eloquence unintelligible.
A member called Howell, opposed the resolutions, because they would give a tone to the country; three fourths of which, he said, was opposed to Reform. This gentleman also excited great merriment.
Alderman Marshall and Mr. Hughes Hughes spoke against the third resolution. Mr. Hughes thought it very possible the next Administration might be as zealous for the People as the last. Mr. Hughes was too dull for laughter — he was only hissed. The two first resolutions were carried unanimously; about twenty hands, including those of the three dissenting Aldermen and Mr. Hughes Hughes, were held up against the third.
The Livery of London met ; when strong resolutions were voted, and addresses to the House of Commons, calling on that body to stop the Supplies, agreed to. Several speakers declared that, as far as in them lay, as individuals, they would do what they could to stop the Supplies, as they would pay no further taxes till the Reform Bill was passed.
Another article in the same issue read:
On , the instant the intelligence of Ministers having resigned reached Manchester, a petition was agreed on to the House of Commons, praying them to grant no Supply until the Bill was passed unmutilated. In four hours, it was signed by 25,000 people; and three gentlemen — Messrs. R. Potter, J. Filden, and Shuttleworth — left Manchester for London with it. The following notice has been placarded all over the town of Manchester–
Has, for the present, prevailed over the voice of twenty-four millions demanding reform. The King has refused to support his Patriotic Ministers, and they have resigned. What is to be done now?
Let the People petition the Commons to refuse the Supplies and let them form Associations pledged to discontinue the use of all Taxed Commodities. These are the peaceable means of destroying the Boroughmongering domination. It will depend upon the Usurpers whether other measures need be resorted to.”
It had been intended to have a public meeting in Bristol on , but the resignation of Ministers produced a sensation in that town which could not be controlled so long. On , accordingly, the Mayor having refused the Guildhall, the Reformers, headed by Mr. Herapath, the President of the Political Union, met in the Assembly Room, Prince’s Street. It was instantly filled; and after some considerable delay, principally from a fear that some alleged breach of the peace should give the military, who were under orders to act, pretense to interfere, an adjournment took place to Brandon Hill. The number of persons that assembled was about 7,000. We need not give the resolutions, for they are the same as in all the meetings that have been held on the same occasion. A spirited letter from Mr. O’Connell was read at the meeting.
The people of Brighton met on , to the number of 2,000 or 3,000, on the subject of the Bill. Resolutions in favour of a creation of Peers were unanimously passed. The meeting declined petitioning the House of Peers, “because, as at present constituted, they had no confidence in it.”
At the Reform meeting at Bury, on , Mr. Eagles, one of the speakers, noticed Lord Eldon’s doctrine respecting the non-payment of taxes–
“It had been said by the Earl, that indictments could be framed to compel those who refused to pay taxes; now, if the Earl of Eldon, or Sir Charley Wetherell, or any other lawyer, were ingenious enough to frame an indictment, he should like to know where they would find a jury who would convict their countrymen of a conspiracy against themselves?”
The King’s dinner for the town of Salford is countermanded, in consequence of the disclosures of this week.
On the news of the late division reaching Leicester, the people could only be kept quiet by a promise from the Political Union to call out the whole town en masse, to meet and deliberate on the present alarming state of the country.
A third article in the same issue covered the meetings of the Birmingham Political Union, before and after news of the resignation of the Ministers came out. Excerpts:
The ground chosen was the foot of Newhall Hill, where the gradual slope, not less than the extent of the area, is peculiarly favourable for a meeting of such vast magnitude. The space immediately occupied by the meeting measured about 17,000 yards; and it is calculated, from the manner in which they stood, was amply sufficient for at least 100,000; but the entire number that attended was not less than 150,000, including in this number those that crowded the heights in the immediate neighbourhood, as well as the roofs of the surrounding houses,. and every point from which even a bird’s eye view of the exhilarating spectacle could be obtained. The bustings were pitched at the lower part of the field, so that they were not only in view of the entire meeting, but the voices of the speakers were audible to much the greater portion of it. Every arrangement that the utmost sagacity of the Council could devise, had been employed to give regularity and order to the numerous bands that continued for several hours to pour in from the surrounding country. The following has been given as an authentic statement of the names and numbers, of the various parties that entered Birmingham on this eventful occasion–
“Grand Northern Division, headed by Mr. Fryer, the banker, including Wolverhampton, Bilston, Wednesbury, Sedgley, Walsall, Willenhall, Darlaston, West Bromwich, and Handsworth. The procession extended over four miles; there were upwards of 150 banners and 11 bands of music. — Grand Western Division — including Stonebridge, Dudley, Harbourn, Cradley, Lyewater, Oldbury, Rowley, and Halesowen. The procession extended two miles, and was accompanied by 9 bands of music and 70 banners. Grand Eastern Division — including Coventry, Warwick, Bedworth, Kenilworth, Leemington, Solihuil, &c., with 8 bands and 30 banners. Grand Southern Division — including Worcester, Bromsgiove, Redditch, Studley, Droitwich, and Alcester, with 6 bands of music and 12 banners. The preceding estimate is exclusive of the inhabitants of Birmingham and its immediate vicinity. Upwards of 200 bands of music were in attendance, and from 700 to 1,000 banners waved over the assembled throng.”
At half-past twelve, silence was proclaimed throughout the mighty host by the sounding of a bugle; and Mr. Attwood, on the motion of Mr. Edmonds, assumed the Chair. He was surrounded by Napoleon Czapski, a Polish nobleman; Count Rechberg, Secretary to the Austrian Embassy; H. Acland, Esq., James West, Esq., Arthur Gregory, Esq., H. Boulthee, Esq., W. Allsop, Esq., of Derbyshire, Stubbs Whitick, Esq., R. Fryer, Esq., the Hon. Godolphin Osborne, Esq., and a great many other gentlemen from the town and neighbourhood.
One of the speakers, Joseph Parkes, is quoted as alluding to tax resistance:
[“]I do not touch on the chances of a refusal to pay taxes; I would not now hold out to the Lords unnecessary threats or terror; but I warn them that John Hampden dwells in the breasts of three-fourths of the inhabitants of these islands, and will inspire them with patriotism and self-sacrifice. The image of John Hampden, with his deeds inscribed, will be the worship of the People of England, Scotland, and Ireland, if occasion require.[”] (Loud and repeated cheers.)
An article in issue included an account of Captain Williams’s speech at a reform rally in Kensington:
“Couriers are already flying to announce the tidings to the tyrant of Russia, who is yet reeking with the unavenged blood of Poland — to the wily Austrian — the perfidious Prussian — the bigoted Ferdinand — the guilt-covered Miguel. Nothing can arrest his daring career, but intimidation, or, to use an imported word, ‘agitation.’ It was by this instrument the Irish beat him down, and wrung from him Catholic Emancipation. Let us wield the same weapon, and he shall again capitulate. The House of Commons will stop the Supplies. We are told of a dissolution of Parliament; let it come to that, and it will be seen what a grand blow there will be struck throughout the empire. It is recommended to pay not taxes; let every man adopt that expedient — I for one will pay none.…”
And a Mr. Brougham was quoted addressing a meeting in Southwark as follows:
[“]Something had been said about the people not paying taxes. A resolution to that effect would be highly illegal; but people might individually refuse without rendering themselves amenable to the law. Now this was an affair easily 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 Bill of my own, Sir, which I should like to have settled; and, unless you settle mine satisfactorily, you must never expect me to settle yours.’[”]
The King asked the anti-reform Duke of Wellington to try to form a government, which he was unable to do, so then the King asked pro-reform Earl Grey to return and also promised to create as many new Lords as it would take to get the Reform Act passed. It passed in June.
The last of the Spectator’s articles that came to my attention comes from its issue:
Lord Milton’s avowal of his intention to refuse the payment of taxes, in case of a successful opposition to the passing of the Reform Bill, has given rise to a controversy between the Morning Herald and the True Sun. The Herald severely censures Lord Milton’s conduct, upon moral grounds, which (leaving the argument of constitutional right to the disputants who have been discussing it) we conceive to be wholly fallacious.
It must be considered what were the circumstances in which Lord Milton made his remarkable declaration. The country was in a state of extreme and imminent peril. A great measure, the object of the dearest wishes of all classes of the community, devised by the King and his Ministers, and carried by the Representatives of the People, was thwarted in the House of Lords, by an opposition so pertinacious, that the Ministers, finding themselves unable to fulfill their pledge to the Nation, resigned their places. This astounding event, and the still more astounding intelligence that the functions of Government were on the point of being committed to the very men who had then successfully defeated the People’s hopes, produced a storm of indignation in every quarter of the country. Nor was this a storm of words merely. The whole mass of the People was preparing for deeds of tremendous import. The Bank of England in a couple of days was drained of a million of specie; runs on the country banks threatened ruin to them and to the thousands whose property was in their hands; the House of Commons was about to stop the machine of Government by stopping the Supplies; and the People, by tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands, were prepared to demand their rights, and to resort to the ultima ratio, that of conscious power, for compelling them.
In such an unheard-of situation of things, what would have been the inevitable consequence of the insane Anti-Reformers being allowed to persist, for three days longer than they did, in their factious opposition? The storm would have burst in thunder more terrible than ever was heard within our shores. Its course would, indeed, have been brief — the whirlwind would have swept away the Opposition and its authors; but still its career might have been desolating. We know that the portentous aspect of things — the indications that, such a storm was impending in the air — were the very circumstances that averted it. Among the Anti-Reformers themselves, the heart of the boldest quailed within him. He yielded to the force of necessity; he allowed the tide of Reform to flow unresisted; and calmness was instantly restored.
What prevented the extreme consequences that were impending? It was the terror produced by the indications of their approach. Every indication, then, which contributed to heighten this most salutary terror, was a benefit to the country; and every one who bore his part in those indications, was a public benefactor. Among these indications, was the threatened refusal of the People to pay taxes; and Lord Milton, by his emphatic declaration, gave it, from his station and character, a decisive power and effect. Instead, therefore, of Lord Milton, in the Herald’s words, setting “an example to the People, the effect of which would have been to reduce society to its first elements, and put in hazard the institutions of the country,” he set them an example of a line of conduct which actually did the very reverse.
The True Sun got caught up in another tax resistance kerfluffle the following year. But I’ll save that for another time.