A Remarkable Article About Nonviolent Resistance

I found this remarkable, unsigned article in the Leeds Times:

Passive Resistance.

We have been informed that large numbers of the working classes of several districts, have come to the determination of going to gaol rather than serve, if drawn for the militia!

Here is a suggestion which contains in it the germ of a tremendous moral power, — before which, if generally acted on, no bad Government could stand.

Suppose that the people generally, or even a large minority of the people, determine, as the members of the Society of Friends have long ago done — to go to gaol rather than bear arms, — and what is the consequence! That the physical force arm of the Government is paralysed, and it must then either govern by public opinion, or go quietly out of existence.

Fancy our gaols filled with men — torn from their wives and families, and from their industrial avocations, — because they will not fight — because they are wiser than their governors — because they are better Christians. In the early ages of Christianity, when its spirit was fresh, men refused to bear arms, — they refused to fight for any master — because they were Christians.

It would, indeed, be something to live in a time when the working classes were too enlightened to go to war for the benefit of the governing classes.

But suppose the principle were carried out. Suppose the working classes refused to enlist. The reign of oppression, of injustice, of monopoly, of fraud, and of wrong, would at once be brought an end!

It is because the people have been so ready to hire themselves out to force one another to submit to injustice, that they have so long been oppressed. Every wrong is maintained by brute force. If the people refuse to supply the brute force, the wrong would perish.

By passive resistance — by perseveringly refusing to aid or abet the government in its plans of coercion, the whole machinery of oppression would at once fall to pieces. It is because they have been ready to sell themselves to their oppressors, that the people have so long been oppressed.

It is not possible to force resolute people to obey an unjust law, if they be determined passively to resist it. It is not possible to force a people who use no force.

Passive resistance to bad laws has already effected much; but it is able to effect very much more. The Irish people got rid of tithes and vestry cess, simply by refusing to pay them. They resisted passively, and no force that could be employed against them, had the slightest effect. Passive resistance triumphed.

In most of our large towns, church rates have been put down by the same means. The people have gone to gaol sooner than pay them, and the tax became so obnoxious that it could not be levied. Passive resistance gained a triumph.

The Quakers, Moravians, and Separatists, have got rid of oaths, by simply refusing to take them. By passive resistance to a bad law, they overcame it.

And if men, because of a principle, have refused to take oaths, and to pay tithes and church-rates, — and by refusing, have overcome the law; — how much more would all men be justified in refusing to take up arms, for the purpose of mangling and destroying their fellow-creatures, and prolonging the sway of brute force, of physical outrage, of tyranny and oppression of the very worst kind.

Passive resistance could put down the militia law; and not only that, but every other bad law. The people have only to resolve not to support a law, and to go about their business quietly, just as if no such law were in existence, at once to put an end to it. By simple passive resistance, the most oppressive and tyrannous government that exists, can, without violence, be stript of every shred of its power, and reduced to utter impotency.

In passive resistance, the people have an enormous, an irresistible power, — did they but know it. ’Twere full time that they did.

We’re up to in our sampling of newspaper coverage of the “passive resistance” campaign against aspects of the Education Act in Britain.

The Gloucester Journal covered the summoning of 32 resisters to the Gloucester Police-court. The Reverend W. Hogan gave a speech to the court on behalf of the group, stating the usual objections against the Act, and adding:

The recent largely attended and thoroughly representative conference held in London to discuss the working of the Education Act of has shown us how great is the need for this protest, for a bad Act is being exploited in every possible way that is harmful to the best interests of the people, by some unscrupulous clergy.

The Derby Daily Telegraph of covered the summonses of two passive resisters from Littleover. One gave a passionate speech which was duly printed by the newspaper, and the magistrates ordered the usual distress warrants.

The London Daily News noted 38 resisters had been summoned to the Epping Petty Sessions, 37 in Lincoln City, eight in Newport, 28 in Hendon, four in Atherton, 17 in Chatham, five in Eltham, seven in Fareham, 61 in Grimsby, 80 in Kettering, ten in Royston, five in Shap, and four more in London. In one of the latter cases, the paper editorialized that the resister “will be summoned at the Mansion House also for the education rate in the City of London — a fitting place, seeing that it was built by fines extorted from Dissenters.” The paper also noted sales of goods of 53 resisters in Long Eaton and 25 in Leighton Buzzard.

In one of the Hendon cases:

An elderly lady, Miss Newberry, wrote that she would rather go to prison than pay, and she hoped the Bench would make the order as early as possible. As there were no goods upon which to levy distress, defendant was committed for seven days, the order to be held over for a fortnight.

In a surprising turn of events, the same paper reported in another case that a member of the establishment church had joined up with the passive resisters:

Churchman’s Strong Protest.

Some sensation was caused at a hearing of Passive Resistance cases in the Framlingham Police Court.

After several of the Resisters had stated their objections “as Nonconformists” to the rate, Mr. J.A. Aldis, of Saxstead Hall, a member of the Established Church, came forward and stated his, and concluded with the remark as genuine as it was unexpected: “Finally, as a Churchman, I object to the rate because it is so scandalously unfair to Nonconformists.”

The Bench, who had listened with courtesy, looked a good deal surprised at such a statement from such a quarter, which was greeted with a murmur of applause from the body of the Court.

An additional article from the same paper concerned a Wesleyan (Methodist) minister who had been trying to win the opportunity to resist the education rate (his church, which was not participating in the passive resistance campaign, had been paying his rates on his behalf). John Clifford wrote to the minister (W. Wakinshaw) to congratulate him on his stand and in the hopes it would bring the Wesleyans in line with other nonconformist churches in supporting the passive resistance movement.

The Nottingham Evening Post of covered the summons of dozens of passive resisters there. This case was rowdier. A spokesperson asked the court if they would hear the protests of two of the resisters, but the court interrupted them and shut them down when they tried to talk about their objections to the law. Then it quickly tried to issue orders against the whole bunch without letting anyone else talk and the courtroom erupted into “indignant cries” and the like.

Finally, the Essex Newsman covered the auction of goods seized from 27 resisters of London and Buckhurst Hill. “A meeting to protest against the Education Act was held afterwards, the Rev. G. Dent presiding. An address was delivered by Alderman O’Connor, who was imprisoned in Chelmsford gaol for non-payment of the education-rate…”