Mark Wilks Jailed for Failure to Pay His Wife’s Income Tax

War Tax Resisters in New Hampshire are planning a get-together in Hopkinton on . The pot luck is being organized by Ginny Sсhnеider, and will be held at the First Congregational Church of Hopkinton at 1548 Hopkinton Road (Route 103).

Dave Ridley promotes the conference, and talks about the possible synergy between New Hampshire war tax resisters and the libertarian activists in the Free State Project, on The Ridley Report.

Here’s some commentary on an unusual tax resistance case in the battle for women’s suffrage in England — a man was imprisoned when his wife refused to pay her income tax.


(Communicated by Alvin Waggoner, Esq.)

The fact, not generally known, that in England, a man may be imprisoned for his wife’s failure to pay her income tax, should be of interest just now in this country where we are in the act of adopting an income tax amendment to our own Constitution. With a proposed exemption of five thousand dollars we need not remind ourselves that few lawyers are likely to go to jail for failure to pay the tax on their annual incomes, but if the English procedure should be adopted here, who can foresee what may come upon any one of us for a wife’s delinquency in this regard. It behooves us then to consider the case of one Mark Wilks.

Dr. Elizabeth Wilks is an English physician. From her practice and property she has an income sufficient to bring her within the tax on incomes. Dr. Wilks is a suffragette. With others of her sex, she believes that taxation without votes is tyranny, and is an enthusiastic member of the Woman’s Tax Resistance League. As concrete evidence of opposition to a man-made government, when her income tax became due, she refused to pay it. The government decided to make an example of — Mr. Wilks! He was called upon, under the statute, for the tax his wife owed. Whether it was a matter of principle or cash with him does not appear, but he also failed to pay the tax. Whereupon he was taken to jail. A wife, less conscientious and fixed in her opinions, might have wavered, but not Dr. Elizabeth Wilks. She stood on the doorstep and watched the detestable government cart her husband off to jail, feeling, no doubt, that her martyrdom was as sweet as it was peculiar. Other women had gone to jail for the cause; she had sent her husband!

The situation was sufficiently novel to attract a great deal of public attention. It was seized upon by the conservative press as a new subject for ridicule of the present government and its policies. The Wilks case soon assumed an importance equaled only by the Home Rule Campaign.

A great meeting of protest was held under the auspices of the Woman’s Tax Resistance League in London early in . Sir John Cockburn presided. George Bernard Shaw was the principal speaker, and a newspaper report quotes him as saying:

I knew of cases in my boyhood where women managed to make homes for their children and themselves, and then the husbands sold the furniture, turned the wife and children out, and got drunk. The Married Woman’s Property Act was then carried, under which the husband retained the responsibility of the property, and the wife had the property to herself. As Mrs. Wilks would not pay the tax on her own income Mr. Wilks went to jail. If my wife did that to me, the very moment I came out of prison I would get another wife. It is indefensible.

Mr. Israel Zangwill, the novelist, added to the gaiety of the occasion by suggesting that “marrying an heiress might be the ruin of a man.” Possible American complications, involving some of our best families, do not seem to have been pointed out, however, by any of the speakers.

In the end, after Mr. Wilks had been in jail several weeks, such an uproar was created that the Government receded from its position, and the prisoner was released.

The London Times, commenting editorially on the affair, declared that the Government had blundered in sending Wilks to prison, pointed out that this was “admitted by his release,” and added:

Mr. Wilks’s case is also worth noting because it illustrates the anomalies of the law of husband and wife, most of them very much to the disadvantage of the former. From one extreme the law has gone to another. The husband is liable for the wrongs committed by his wife, though he has no power to prevent her from committing them. She for many kinds of contracts is his agent, and can bind him practically to almost any amount. He may be compelled to find her in funds wherewith to carry on proceedings in the Divorce Court. Liabilities founded upon the identity of husband and wife are continued when, by reason of the Married Woman’s Property Acts, it no longer exists. Of these anomalies we rarely hear, though, as any one conversant with proceedings in Courts of Law is aware, they lead to cases quite as hard as that of Mr. Wilks. Somehow, then, is kept well in the background the fact that, in a Parliament elected by men, laws placing them in a position of inferiority and disadvantage are passed.

As usual the Times extracted the large fact of sober significance from an affair that was in most of its phases a comedy. Barely half a century ago, so far as property rights were concerned, the English law regarded the husband and wife as one person, and the husband as that one. Today she not only has her own property, but he may be imprisoned for her delinquency in paying her taxes. And yet there are those who say that the legal world does not move.

This is from the edition of The Green Bag: An Entertaining Magazine for Lawyers.