War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 1960

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

By the glacier that had crept over war tax resistance in the Society of Friends for almost a century had started to recede, and you can see evidence of this in issues of the Friends Journal from that year.

The issue mentions the legal case against A.J. Muste based on his tax refusal . Excerpt:

At a hearing on , A.J. Muste declared that “on grounds of Christian teaching, conviction, and conscience” he could not help to pay for the development of more nuclear arms or hydrogen bombs.

(A follow-up article noted that “The United States Tax Court ruled in that the First Amendment to the Constitution, which assures religious freedom, does not give the conscientious objector immunity from paying taxes which are to be used in part for war or preparation for war.”)

Muste, however, was a Presbyterian, not a Quaker. It is telling that although there was some latent sympathy for war tax resistance in the Society of Friends at the time, the number of exemplars seemed to still be few. But that would change. Here is an article from the issue:

Several Friends have sent letters to the Collector of Internal Revenue, United States Treasury Department, Washington, D.C., declaring they cannot pay taxes for war purposes. The following letter by Wilmer J. Young of Pendle Hill, Wallingford, Pa., is indicative of the trend and spirit of letters by other Friends, copies of which have been sent to the office of the Friends Journal:

I cannot voluntarily pay taxes which are used to prepare for the destruction of mankind.

For the past twenty-four years I have lived voluntarily on a scale which meant that I was not called upon to pay a tax on income. In , however, due to unusual circumstances, I am eligible for such payment. I am sending today checks to various organizations whose object is to encourage a nonviolent approach to the solution of international problems, which will more than cover the amount of my tax.

Taxes for the ordinary expenses of government, schools, roads, proper police activity, etc., I pay cheerfully and gladly. But modern war has now become so serious a threat to mankind, that I would prefer spending the last years of my life in prison rather than deliberately supporting it.

In the issue, Frances G. Conrow briefly reviewed a seminar on “The Origin, Development, and Significance of Our Quaker Testimonies” that had been led by Clarence E. Pickett, and suggested:

In a world where there is no defense against modern war, there is need as never before for the peace testimony. Is refusal to pay taxes for support of war effort emerging as a new testimony in support both of purity of purpose in simplicity and as a peace witness?

It goes to show how thorough the glacial forgetting of Quaker war tax resistance had been, that in war tax resistance could be described in a Quaker publication as possibly “emerging as a new testimony.” (The same issue has an article titled “The Quaker Peace Testimony, : Some Suggestions for Witness and Rededication” that doesn’t mention taxes at all.)

In the issue, in an article on “The Peace Testimony and the Monthly Meeting” by Lawrence McK. Miller, Jr., he wrote:

Pacifist and nonpacifist Friends are also much closer to each other than they care to admit in terms of their personal involvement indirectly in preparation for war. The tax-refusal cases are making it clear that through our federal taxes we are all contributing to the so-called defense effort. In many other ways most of us are cooperating, if only in our reluctance to protest. It is the pacifist in these instances who particularly must act with a sense of regret for the measure of his involvement and with real humility for the compromising position he is in.

Awareness is growing, but still the emphasis seems to be on sad-eyed, shoulder-shrugging regret, rather than resistance. Tax refusal is largely still seen as something other people do, while Quakers are to just sorrowfully and humbly reflect on their complicity.

On , Robert J. Leach wrote to the magazine about the Geneva (Switzerland) Yearly Meeting and noted that one of the “high points” of the meeting was when an “octogenarian Friend, Elizabeth Blaser, pled with Friends to refuse to pay defense taxes.”

In the same issue where that report appeared, the pseudonymous Quaker history columnist “Now and Then” wrote about the emergence of the Quaker peace testimony in , and concluded by saying:

We may search our hearts to see whether we have allowed this testimony to grow as it should have done in three centuries or even in our own lifetime. Have we kept abreast “the Truth,” as Friends used to call Quakerism? Can we be satisfied with the feebleness of our efforts for peace even ? Are there not too few Friends willing to find for our testimony more radical expression, which, whatever else it may do, will strengthen our own determination not to acquiesce in the trend to war? Between the Fifth Monarchy rising and the cold war of a nuclear age there is a vast difference. Should not our peace testimony become correspondingly more aggressive and more inclusive and more costly? What will we do this anniversary year about civil defense, about biological warfare, about the hidden control by the Pentagon of our minds and property, about taxes that go to war preparation, about the suppression of the truth concerning the risks of nuclear war or even of testing?

The following years would show that many Quakers shared this dissatisfaction with the feeble state of the peace testimony, and that many saw war tax resistance in some form or another to be key to giving that testimony some backbone.