Francis Place Considers English Tax Resistance Campaign

On , Francis Place wrote a letter to John Cam Hobhouse that included these remarks:

I have seen a letter from the man whom I consider the most influential man in England, Thomas Attwood of Birmingham, proposing an association to collect the names of persons in London who will pledge themselves to pay no more taxes if ministerial interference should produce the probability of a war with Belgium, and I believe something of the kind will be done. There has long been growing a disposition to refuse paying taxes, but it is only now that rich men who have any influence have countenanced it. Now there are many such willing to take part in it.

Now mark the consequences. If any considerable portion of the housekeepers were to refuse paying taxes, and especially if this were to happen in London, a revolution would be effected in a week, in spite of the Government and the army. If taxes were refused it would instantly produce a panic, Bank of England notes would no longer circulate, and Government would be powerless. No one would bring a sack of flour, a bullock or a sheep, to the London markets. The moment taxes were really refused the shops would be all closed, decent people would remain at home until the populace and the soldiers had fought and were reconciled. A provisional government would thus be formed — no man can tell what fortuitous circumstances may produce a revolution…

This excerpt is from The Life of Francis Place by Graham Wallas, who adds in a footnote:

In , Mr. Thomas Attwood and his friends had founded the formidable “Birmingham Political Union of the Middle and Lower Classes,” with a Populist programme, to use the American term, of manhood suffrage and paper money. In regard to the proposal to refuse to pay taxes, Place wrote, “I was induced to put Attwood’s proposition into a form which, if not strictly legal, was yet not punishable, as his certainly was, by all who should sign it. I therefore wrote out a declaration in a very few words, thus:— ‘That in the event of the present ministers so misconducting the affairs of the country as to make it probable we shall be involved in a Continental war, we will consider the propriety of checking so mischievous an event by withholding the means as far as may lay in our power, and will then consider whether or not refusing to pay direct taxes may not be advisable.’ This was readily agreed to by a great many of the most prosperous shopkeepers, and by many other persons of property and influence.”

I hadn’t realized (or maybe I’d forgotten) that the tax resistance campaigns of the Political Unions for the Reform Bill had been born as war tax resistance campaigns against an anticipated war in Belgium.