Flee Before the Tax Collector Comes

One tactic tax resisters have used from time to time is to pack up and leave when the tax collector comes calling. Here are some examples:

  • Around the time of the Dharsana salt raids in Gandhi’s independence campaign in India, the government there was also stymied by mass migrations. Here are some news accounts from the period:

    Government agents began at once to attempt tax collecting, but in most cases found the natives had departed from their lands. The situation was viewed with great anxiety, as continued maintenance of the tax strike would seriously hamper government revenues at the end of the year.

    The evaders lock their doors and flee when tax collectors appear or hide in the fields, so attachment was resorted to.

    The anti-tax campaign which it was said would replace the campaign against the salt laws already has been initiated in the Bardoli district where officials are arriving to post signs warning the peasants that their lands will be forfeit if they refuse to pay the dues. Thus far they have found the villages deserted.

    All-India national congress reports say that 50,000 peasants of the Bardoli region [population ~88,000] have left their homes resolved not to pay land taxes until swaraj, or home-rule is established. Many left their household goods, chattels, crops behind, the government confiscating and auctioning them off. [Though another account said “The inhabitants had left, taking everything movable, including the newly harvested rice crop, household goods, and cattle. It was discovered that the villagers had been secretly removing goods and crops by night across the border into Baroda State territory, where the Baroda villagers harboured and helped them.”]

    The peasants are said to have for their slogan, “No swaraj, no revenue.” The leaders of the movement declare the peasants do not desire to evade payment, but simply will not pay until Mahatma Gandhi is released from jail and has ordered them to pay.

    The congress characterizes the peasants’ actions as “an unrivaled example of a migration movement on the part of the people who are resolved to forfeit their all in the interest of the Gandhi cause.”

  • There is a movement of sorts nowadays that goes by the initials “P.T.” — often said to stand for “permanent tourist,” but also “prior taxpayer,” and a handful of others. One advocate explained:

    In a nutshell, a PT merely arranges his or her paperwork in such a way that all governments consider him a tourist. A person who is just “Passing Through.” The advantage is that being thought of by government officials as a person who is merely “Parked Temporarily,” a PT is not subjected to taxes, military service, lawsuits, or persecution for partaking in innocent but forbidden pursuits or pleasures.

  • Terry Gilliam, Monty Python’s Yankee animator and director of such masterpieces as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Brazil and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, told an interviewer he renounced his American citizenship to become a taxpatriate: “I got tired of my taxes paying for exciting little wars around the world. Then I discovered that when I died, my wife would probably have to sell our house to pay for the taxes in America. The fact that Bush was [in office] there made it easier.”
  • “Financing the drum beat of war by paying taxes levied upon the sweat of my brow has become intolerable for me.” ―Jeff Knaebel
  • Jeff Knaebel left his life as an American entrepreneur to become a stateless mendicant in India in order to stop paying for American military adventures:

    Having made the decision to cease filing and paying income tax, I undertook a radical reorganization of my life. I would have to emigrate, to become a “tax exile.” It would not be right to benefit from the facilities and protection of my country while not paying my share.

    I made the decision to leave my own, my native land forever. I would become a man without a country, separated by a vast ocean from friends, family and my young adult children. No more would I smell the rain on high desert sagebrush, nor hear wolves howl across moonlit tundra, nor watch the Northern Lights dance in Arctic sky.

    I would owe allegiance to all of humanity and to no State. I would be the indentured servant of no gang of murderers sitting in any legislative body. By paying no tax to any State would I finally make a farewell to arms. I would seek peace and brotherhood. I would attempt Satyagraha, that strong adherence to truth which is love. I would aspire to a life of Ahimsa — nonviolence — which is the active force of love.

  • When the tax inspector came to town during the Poujadist uprising in France in , there might be nothing left to inspect — the business district having been abandoned in anticipation of the inspector’s arrival. One account put it this way:

    The tax inspector rapped on steel curtain after steel curtain, demanding to be let in to see the books. Nowhere did he get an answer. When they found that even the bistros were locked, the hapless inspector and his guards gave up their mission and beat a humble retreat…

  • Leaving the United States for tax reasons seems to be a growing trend. One “taxpatriate” wrote:

    I sleep much better knowing I no longer fund the military-industrial-banking complex. Anybody can get mugged, but every U.S. taxpayer is a constant patsy for the political establishment. The rip-offs are so unthinkably big and endemic, there’s nothing an individual can do to stop them.

    If you fall for the political fallacy that “the government is the people,” you end up with the faulty conclusion that America must be overrun by war-crazed, lawsuit-happy, debt-addicted criminals. How could anybody buy this after even a moment of clear thought? There’s certainly no resemblance to the American people I know. These problems stem from the military-industrial-banking complex, the dark heart of the U.S. political machine. Why continue being the stooge that supplies the money to run it?

    Looking at the world with fresh, open eyes isn’t easy. One of the great benefits of liberating yourself from the grip of the U.S. political system is that the world becomes your oyster. You’re free to embrace places that welcome individuals who seek to live peaceful and prosperous lives.

  • In Sierra Leone in , collectors of a new imperial government “hut tax” found fewer huts than they expected:

    The trouble in Sierra Leone has arisen by the enforcement by the Government of a tax of 5s each annum on native huts. In many cases the huts are not worth 5s, and when the tax collectors went round in many of the people knocked down their huts and slept under trees.

  • The tax collectors in Mytilene, Turkey, were so rapacious that much of the rural Greek population there abandoned their farms and “emigrated to the towns and cities in the hopes of subsisting on private charity” in rather than risk losing their farms to the tax collector before harvest time. This passive resistance was the precursor to a more active tax resistance campaign that swept Turkey starting in .

And here is an example from the Boston Evening Transcript on :

Remarkable Tax Controversy.

J.F. Hathaway of Somerville Says He Will Move Rather Than Pay Tax Assessed.

A long-standing controversy between James F. Hathaway of Somerville, president of the Sprague & Hathaway Company, engaged in the manufacture of portraits, and the board of assessors of that city has culminated in a statement by Mr. Hathaway regarding his attitude in the matter. It seems that in the principal assessors taxed Mr. Hathaway for corporation stock which he was supposed to own. Mr. Hathaway and business friends made strong efforts to induce the assessors to abate the tax. Acting upon the advice of the city solicitor, the board refused an abatement, and turned the bill over to the city collector for collection. Mr. Hathaway says he will remove the plant from Somerville if the collector forces payment. It appears from the statement he has given to the press that he made the same threat in , and that on , he packed up his furniture and prepared a move from the city rather than pay a tax. Why he did not carry out his intention he explains as follows:

“While my household goods were being loaded on a wagon in order to get them out of Somerville before , I received a message to come to the City Hall at once on important business. When this message came over the telephone the wagon had not been at my house more than fifteen minutes. Evidently they had someone watching my movements; they did not think I intended to move out of the city. I went down to City Hall and fond the full board of assessors there, the city solicitor, the mayor and several others, who were probably never there at that time in the morning except by appointment. When I arrived, they asked me what I wanted, and I said: ‘Gentlemen, this is a nice time to ask me what I want.’ They proposed that I should pay one-half the tax, which I refused to do. Then they proposed that I pay one-third of the tax. I said: ‘Gentlemen, I will never pay one cent of it; if any part of it is just, it is all just.’

“They were all very anxious to find some way out of the difficulty and keep me in Somerville. The city solicitor told them then and there they had no right to abate the tax; it had been legally assessed, and there was no legal way out of it. But in a very few minutes they told me they would drop it; they were anxious that nothing more be said about it, and desired to let the matter drop out of sight as quietly as possible; they said they would never force the collection of the tax. The day this matter of the tax of was settled the chairman of the board of assessors brought me home in his private carriage. On the way, he said: ‘Mr. Hathaway, I am very sorry this ever occurred, and I am glad to find some way out of it.’ I asked him how about the future, and told him that if this thing was to be repeated next year or at any future time, my goods were all on the wagon then, and I might just as well get out of Somerville immediately. He said: ‘This taxing of foreign corporations never has come up before, and probably never will again. I assure you that so long as I have anything to do with the assessing of the taxes in this city you will never hear from it.’ ”

Hathaway went to jail in for refusing to pay the tax, but emerged victorious, as the Somerville Board of Aldermen voted to rescind his taxes. “He had threatened to take his business out of Somerville if this was not done,” a news account says.

A related tactic is for tax resisters to flee or hide to evade arrest. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Residents of St. Claire county, Missouri, in , used a number of methods to avoid being taxed to pay back railroad bonds that the county had issued as part of a swindle (the railroad was never built). Among these was the election of local judges who were willing to refuse to enforce higher court rulings meant to force the county to raise the tax funds. “[T]he judges were elected with the understanding that they would stay in the timber or in jail, as conditions might require, during their term of office. Deputy United States marshals searched for them in the forests and the people of the county helped hide their fugitive officers. Occasionally the courts would meet at nights and transact their business…” According to one account:

    Since local taxpayers believed that the judges were, finally, obeying public opinion, they helped the judges evade the marshals and the law. Homeowners welcomed and hid any judge trying to escape the marshals. In Dallas County the court met in the woods, under culverts, in barns, and other places where marshals were not likely to look. At the county seat of Buffalo, residents developed an elaborate network to warn the judges whenever a stranger appeared who might be a marshal. These new forms of representative government, featuring imprisoned local officials and court meetings in the woods, restored to taxpayers the traditional control that citizens had exercised over elected officials. The plain truth was that those officials had abdicated their governing function, leaving the field of battle to local taxpayers and remote investors.

  • During the Annuity Tax resistance in Edinburgh in , a group of resisters liberated an arrested resister. A newspaper report at the time said, “we hear that the constables are on the alert each night to catch the marked men; and that, fearing a visit in the dark, these persons quit their homes and sleep abroad.”