War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in the 1950s

The first edition of the Friends Journal is dated , and billed itself as “Successor to The Friend () and Friends Intelligencer ().”

The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which had been split into an Orthodox and a Hicksite meeting , had reunified . The new magazine reflected this merger: The Friend had been the organ of the Orthodox meeting, and the Intelligencer that of the Hicksite meeting.

, the magazine shared offices with the “Friends Peace Committee” of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which may have led to some cross-pollination, and increased coverage for peace testimony concerns in the magazine.

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

There are few mentions of war tax resistance in the early issues of Friends Journal. We have reached the last years of the long decline of war tax resistance in the Society of Friends that began around the time of the American Civil War.

In , the American Friends Service Committee put out an influential booklet, Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence, that mentions war tax resistance only once, in reference to its use by Quakers in (this despite the fact that war tax resisters A.J. Muste and Milton Mayer were part of the committee that wrote the booklet).

The first mention I found comes from the issue. It is a single-sentence sardonic comment on the tax resistance of conservative Utah governor J. Bracken Lee: “The Governor of Utah should be welcomed to the ranks of conscientious objectors, even though most Friends and other pacifists would not resist paying income tax on the ground that they were conscientiously opposed to economic aid to other countries.”

The issue mentions a lawsuit filed by Milton Mayer “to recover income tax taken from him forcibly in what he claims was a violation of his conscientious objection to war.” The three-paragraph article is conspicuous for how much effort it seems to go to to avoid referring to Mayer as a Quaker. Mayer is “a well-known writer,” a “Carmel, Calif., author, formerly a Chicagoan,” “who writes for leading magazines,” and “has been a lecturer for the American Friends Service Committee and at many colleges, universities and churches,” and “has been a member of the faculties of the University of Chicago and Frankfurt (Germany) and is consultant to the Great Books Foundation.” All that resume material in the brief article, and yet no mention that he is a Quaker convert. The article says that “his religious principles will not let him buy guns for other men to shoot” but doesn’t call these Quaker principles or refer to the Quaker peace testimony. So it makes for a curious article: a respectful nod at war tax resistance with a pained effort to distance the Society of Friends from it.

The issue included a “symposium” on “Investments and Our Peace Testimony” which highlighted the difficulty of finding investments “free of the taint of involvement in war preparation.” Only one of the participants, Samuel J. Bunting, Jr., explicitly mentions taxation as something that triggers the same concern. Excerpts:

The problem has worried me ever since World War Ⅰ. At that time, at the risk of losing a position and the chance of becoming permanently barred from my chosen profession (the investment business), I refused to sell or otherwise handle U.S. Liberty Bonds. My firm respected my conscientious convictions, however, and the ax did not fall.

Since then I have scrutinized the activities of the corporations whose securities I have considered selling to my clients and have rejected many because of their service in military production. Yet I still think there is no satisfactory solution of the problem for most of us. We live in a world geared to military activities. I see no way of escaping it except by the destruction of militarism itself and by adjudicating differences which might lead to war.

Investments are only a small fraction of the over-all problem. Payment of taxes is another important aspect of the situation.

It is true that to some extent mortgages could be considered, but, of course, income taxes would have to be paid from the interest.…

The issue included an interesting note about the Quaker outpost of Monteverde, Costa Rica, in the form of a letter from one of the inhabitants there. Excerpts:

You are so surprised that our group consists of so many North Americans. The reason that most of them have established themselves in Costa Rica is not the climate, nor the possibility of finding work here, but rather an idealistic reason, typical of Quakers. They were convinced that it was against their conscience to continue living in a country where, indirectly, they had to collaborate in arming the nation for war by means of taxation, and where it is impossible to educate their children according to principles of Quakers. A few of them spent a year in prison for being conscientious objectors before emigration to Costa Rica.

So finally, a full-throated reference to real live Quakers who have taken action in response to their conscientious objection to paying war taxes. Perhaps their geographical remove made this feel safer to mention. Or perhaps the ice that had formed over American Quaker war tax resistance was beginning to crack. The issue covered the goings-on at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting earlier that year. On , according to the article, war tax resistance was discussed:

It will always be unfinished business that Friends’ practice of our testimonies is not consistent with profession. The discussion centered on the payment of income tax, particularly that portion used for military purposes. Few present felt it right to refuse to pay, nor yet felt comfortable to pay. Varied suggestions were presented: Send an accompanying letter expressing one’s feeling about war; live so simply that income is below tax level; make no report, but once a year send a check for nonmilitary purposes; engage in peace walks and other minority demonstrations; follow Jesus’ example of rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; beware of taking for granted the evils deplored, such as riding on military planes; associate more closely with the Mennonites, who share Friends’ concerns; rise above one’s own shortcomings through personal devotion; work to unite with all Friends Yearly Meetings in refusal to pay taxes. Nothing can be done unless there is a willingness to suffer unto death.

The next mention comes from the  issue, and shows the cracked ice has begun to melt. Excerpt:

Meetings [on the West Coast] in general have been reconsidering the meaning of the peace witness. Newer activities have included… street distribution of a leaflet on tax refusal because of the amount going to arms (write Franklin Zahn, 836 South Hamilton Boulevard, Pomona, California, for samples), and a poster walk in front of the federal tax office on income tax day,

Franklin Zahn’s name will come up frequently during the years of the thaw and resurgence of war tax resistance in the American Society of Friends.