Socialists Resist Poll Tax Delaware and Illinois

From a edition of The New York Call:

Wilmington Against the Capitation Tax

Socialists and Union Men Will Refuse to Pay Special Levy.

Members of the Socialist party in Wilmington and workmen allied with labor unions in this city have joined forces to resist payment of a capitation tax. A measure making it mandatory for all persons, whether property owners or not, to pay this tax was passed by the last session of the General Assembly.

The opponents of the taxation are so determined in their fight that a number of them reiterated that they would go to prison rather than meet the unwarranted and unnecessary payment. This determination is the most radical ever decided upon by any body of citizens in Delaware to prove the unpopularity of a law.

The matter came up at a meeting of the Central Labor Union, the parent body of all labor organizations. Resolutions were in readiness for adoption by the union vigorously protesting against the collection of the tax. Owing to the warm weather, however, the attendance of delegates was not sufficiently large to make passage of the protest representative. Action therefore was delayed until .

The Socialist party here, which is growing in strength, today began making preparations for the taking of a referendum vote on the issue, “Shall the tax (capitation) be paid?” Several days will be required to poll the vote. The result, however, will be virtually unanimous in the negative, it is believed.

The vote will be taken by means of postal cards. When they shall have been tabulated a committee of local Socialists will call upon the City Council and make a vigorous protest against the collection of… [illegible] …this shall not be sufficient, it was announced that labor unionists will join forces with the Socialists and they will send a joint delegation to the Council with a similar demand.

Several of the labor unionists and members of the Socialist party declare that they will go to the county workhouse in default of payment rather than meet the “unwarranted taxation.”

Fearing that they will have to jail every union man and Socialist, the city tax collectors were ordered by the men higher up to endeavor to collect the tax, but not to put any one in jail who refuses to meet the payment, although the law gives them the power to use rigorous means to this end.

The Republican and Democratic leaders are keeping out of the Socialist fight. They have no opinion to express on the subject of the payment or nonpayment of this tax. The law enforcing the collection, which was promoted by the interests, was enacted in order to increase the revenue in Wilmington without raising the tax rate.

A little digging uncovered some more examples of Socialist agitation against the poll tax. Here’s one from .

Socialist Refuses to Pay Poll Tax

Expert Powder Mixer Will Serve Six Months, He Says, for Principle, if Necessary.

J.J. Keon, a Socialist of this city, is in the city jail, having the time of his life, so he says, because he is forcing the city to spend $125 to punish him for failure to pay a poll tax of $1.50. Keon is employed at the powder mills here, where he is an expert mixer, earning $4.50 a day. He says he finds nothing in the state constitution which makes a poll tax legal, so he insists that the city keep him in jail for six months, which is the longest term possible for his “offense.” He believes that it will not alter his principle and that it may make the city tired of forcing its male population to pay a poll tax.

At first it was arranged that the prisoner should be served with fifty-cent meals, purchased at a wholesale rate of thirty-three cents from a local hotel. But in order to tempt him to pay his tax the jailer cut the price to twenty cents.

“I’ll be positively fat in six months,” predicted the lanky Socialist, as he stowed away his first twenty-cent meal, consisting of bread and butter, steak and hot coffee. Three such meals are served him each day.

Then the mayor, attempting to weaken Keon’s contumacy, notified him that he would have to pay for his own meals and defray the expenses of his incarceration.

“That’s unconstitutional!” shouted the prisoner. “Under the law the municipality is compelled to pay for the food and lodging of prisoners–”

“You’re right,” agreed the mayor, wearily. “We’re up against it. But I guess we can put you to work,” he hazarded.

“That’s unconstitutional, too!” said the prisoner, jovially. “Under the law–”

“Oh, all right, all right,” was the mayor’s weak response, as he mopped his brow. “Just take it easy, smoke all you please, read when you like, sleep well at night, and don’t let our worries trouble you.”

“Not in the least,” replied Keon with a grin.

“You’re losing $4.50 a day while you are in jail,” pleaded the mayor. “In six months that will amount to more than $500.”

“Money is nothing to me when compared with a principle,” replied Keon. “And let’s see what I am costing the city. Meals, 150 days, at sixty cents a day, $108; night watchman, $5; chicken fence wire, $2; miscellaneous, $10. Total, $125. The entire poll taxes for the year are only $325. Total, blocks of concrete pavement lost to Grafton through my imprisonment–”

“Don’t rub it in,” pleaded the mayor, departing in distress.

Lacking a jail, the city confined Keon in a room at city hall, with the windows hastily sealed with chicken wire.

Ralph Korngold visited Keon in jail. He noted that “the state committee of the Socialist party has started proceedings against the town authorities [and so] they have been more lenient in allowing Keon books and papers. The mayor still refuses to allow Keon the services of a barber.” Korngold used the visit as an opportunity to give a speech outside:

This time I did not ask for permission, but spoke and had one of the largest crowds that ever assembled at a public meeting here. The sentiment is entirely with Keon and against the poll tax.

I asked the crowd, “Do you want the poll tax?” And they shouted, “No!”

“Well,” I said, “you have been foolish enough to give the government of your town over into the hands of the business element and they are trying to force the poll tax down your throat to relieve themselves of part of the taxes.”

I happened to find out that the banker owned the mortgage on the mayor’s home and was practically running the mayor, and I used this in my talk.

“All over the United States,” I said, “business men dodge their taxes; but did you ever hear of a business man going to jail for doing so?”

The crowd said, “No!”

“Do you think,” I said, “that the mayor would send the banker to jail if the banker refused to pay any kind of tax?”

The crowd said, “I guess not!”

“Of course, he wouldn’t,” said I. “If he did the banker would foreclose the mortgage on the mayor’s property.”

There was a laugh at the expense of the mayor.

“You are to pay $1.50 poll tax or work on the road two days,” I continued. “That means you working-men look to the city administration like 75 cents. Pretty cheap, isn’t it? But you can make them look still cheaper. You can make them look like 30 cents at the next election.”

There was a round of applause which did not bespeak well for the future chances of the present administration.

I compared the Keon case with the case of Henry D. Thoreau, who refused to pay taxes before the civil war, saying that he would not pay toward the support of a slave government.

Henry D. Thoreau was placed in jail and was visited there by his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson, walking up to the bars, said to Thoreau:

“Why, Henry, what are you doing in jail?”

Thoreau answered:

“Why, Ralph, what are you doing out of jail?”

“And the question is,” I said, “what are you workingmen doing out of jail? If you had gone to jail with Keon the business interests by this time would have lynched the mayor or would have driven him out of town.”

The following year, after serving his six months, Keon ran for mayor, and was defeated by only 89 votes by the incumbent mayor — who was also the prosecutor who had argued the tax case against Keon (only winning a conviction on the third trial).

The South Australian Register shared with its readers “a few interesting items of news from our files of the Friend of India to ,” including this:

The Rast Goftar, the best of the native journals in Western India, describes a somewhat tragic case of resistance to the income tax. The Bhats are a class of strolling bards, beggars, and astrologers combined, who rejoice in the fact that from remotest antiquity they have been exempt from taxation of every kind. To this plea the inexorable Income-tax Assessor could not listen any more than to the better-founded representations of the self-denying Basel missionaries. He assessed the Bhat village at rs. 450 in all, which fell on individuals at the rate of rs. 4 or 5 per annum. Two thousand men turned out to remonstrate with the Superintendent of Police who appeared on the scene. He remained firm, whereupon they cut themselves with knives, cursed the Assessors, bespattering them with their blood, and declared they would rather die than surrender their birthright. When several were apprehended, their wives began to hack their persons, and so severely that several have since died. Up to the last intelligence the Bhats still gloried in their refusal. Quiet distraint of their property and land will soon end the tragedy.