Ways to Support Arrested Tax Resisting Comrades

There are many ways to support tax resisters when they are targeted by the police or courts, including:

  1. supporting the families of imprisoned resisters (see The Picket Line for )
  2. accompanying resisters to and from prison and visiting them while inside (see The Picket Line for )
  3. holding rallies outside the courthouse or prison (see The Picket Line for )
  4. attending their trials (see The Picket Line for )
  5. assisting their legal defense (see The Picket Line for )
  6. disrupting the trials or breaking resisters out of prison (see The Picket Line for )

Another way to help resisters who are tangling with the legal system is to pay their legal fees or their fines. I covered “mutual insurance” plans, with which tax resistance campaigns spread the cost of fines and other such costs over more resisters than just those explicitly targeted.

Today I’ll cover some examples of more ad hoc, after-the-fact generosity in a similar vein.

Sylvia Hardy

Sylvia Hardy, retired and living in Exeter, was upset that the cost of living increase in her pension was less than 3%, while her council tax was rising at a double-digit percentage each year. So she decided to stop paying.

A sympathizer paid her bill one year, and in response Hardy wrote to the city council to ask them not to accept any further donations in her name. Later, she was told that someone had called in by telephone offering to pay her whole bill, and she again refused, saying continued refusal was “the only way to get our voices heard.”

Nonetheless, when she was jailed in , an anonymous sympathizer paid her outstanding taxes, and she was released after spending two days behind bars.

Old Holborn

Nick Hogan, a Bolton pub-owner, defied a new anti-smoking ordinance and openly permitted his patrons to light up. For this he was fined £3,000, and another £7,000+ in court costs. He refused to pay and was thrown in jail.

Hogan was set free the following month when a blogger going by the handle of “Old Holborn” dressed up in a Guy Fawkes mask and cape in order to remain anonymous and delivered a suitcase full of cash to prison to pay Hogan’s fine. The funds had been donated by thousands of people around the world who were sympathetic to Hogan’s fight.


A man named Carter (his other name has, as far as I know, been lost to history) refused to pay a $1 militia tax for conscientious reasons in . For this, his town put him in jail and vowed to keep him there (at a cost to the town of $2.50 per week) until he paid up. He was stubborn, and stayed there at least 21 months.

A newspaper article about his case says, “[f]riends offered to advance the money to Carter, but he stubbornly refused to accept the money and pay the tax.”

Zerah C. Whipple

When Zerah C. Whipple was imprisoned for refusing to pay a militia tax, an anonymous donor eventually paid the tax and costs to have him released.

At an unexpected moment an entire stranger called at the prison and desired to know the amount of the tax and costs, which he paid, saying he knew the worth of Z.C. Whipple, and that his family for generations back had never paid the military tax, and he wished to save the State from the disgrace of imprisoning a person guilty of no crime.

The money was paid and the door opened, and his friend took the receipt to his children and said, “Keep this as a reminiscence that in your father paid this bill to release a young man from prison, that he might enjoy the rights of conscience.”

Mary McLeod Cleeves

When women’s suffrage activist Mary McLeod Cleeves was threatened with imprisonment for refusing to pay a carriage license tax, the suffragist newspaper The Vote noted that “Mrs. Cleeves has been beseiged by friends asking to be allowed to pay her fine; but like a true Suffragette, she refused.”

Annuity Tax resisters

Quakers, also a nonconformist sect, were largely in sympathy with the Annuity Tax resisters of Edinburgh, Scotland, but an editorial in one Quaker periodical chided those resisters for being eager to pay up to get their colleagues out of jail, rather than to embrace martyrdom like a good Quaker would:

We are principally induced to advert to this matter, on account of the means by which the liberation of the prisoners was effected — that of a public subscription. This, we consider to have been most objectionable. … we see nothing to commend, but every thing to reprobate, in the conduct of Dissenters in this matter. The movement may bespeak their sympathy for the sufferer, but we contend that it was both injudiciously expressed, and exceedingly ill-timed. Had the public subscription been deferred till after the prisoners had been liberated, in what we should consider a legitimate manner, and its object of course been different — to testify at once the sympathy of the subscribers, and to compensate for the injury sustained by the prisoners — there would have been no objection to the manifestation.

Did it not occur to the Dissenters of Edinburgh, that it was not from want of pecuniary ability that either of the prisoners allowed himself to be immured in jail? Or again, what was the difference between these individuals paying the tax themselves, and its being paid for them by public subscription? If it was wrong in the one case, it must be equally wrong, and a violation of principle, in the other. It has surprised us, that not one of the Dissenting Journals that we have met with has taken this view of the subject. In their joyfulness at the liberation of the prisoners, they seem to have lost sight entirely of the sacrifice of principle at which it was obtained.

Lessons from Thoreau, Maurice McCrackin, and Juanita Nelson

You’ll note that in many of the cases I mentioned, the offered money was an unwelcome gift — the resisters were not going to jail for lack of funds, but for principle.

The trick to supporting imprisoned tax resisters is to respect their real needs and desires. When “someone interfered,” as Thoreau put it, and paid his taxes in order to spring him from his night in jail, they thought wrongly that they were doing Thoreau a favor, “for they thought that my chief desire was to stand the other side of that stone wall.”

When the lawyers the court assigned to defend war tax resister Maurice McCrackin — who was refusing to cooperate with the court entirely, and who wanted no legal defense whatsoever — vowed to pursue an appeal of a verdict they thought was unjust, McCracken emphatically said that he was not interested in pursuing an appeal: “I said I wanted to file no appeal, nor did I want steps taken to keep the door open, so an appeal could be perfected later. I do not recognize any appeal on my behalf… My position is not changed. This is a moral, not a legal, struggle.”

Juanita Nelson tells a happier story: of the support she received in jail, where she had been taken in her bathrobe from her home. Her supporters took the time to learn how to support her in a way that was appropriate to her resistance:

Two fellow pacifists, one of them also a tax refuser, had been permitted to come to me, since I would not go to them. I asked them what was uppermost in my mind, what they’d do about getting properly dressed? They said that this was something I would have to settle for myself. I sensed that they thought it the better part of wisdom and modesty for me to be dressed for my appearance in court. They were more concerned about the public relations aspect of getting across the witness than I was. They were also genuinely concerned, I knew, about making their actions truly nonviolent, cognizant of the other person’s feelings, attitudes and readiness. I was shaken enough to concede that I would like to have my clothes at hand, in case I decided I would feel more at ease in them. The older visitor, a dignified man with white hair, agreed to go for the clothes in a taxicab.

They left, and on their heels came another visitor. She had been told that in permitting her to come up, the officials were treating me with more courtesy than I was according them. It was her assessment that the chief deputy was hopeful that someone would be able to hammer some sense into me and was willing to make concessions in that hope. But he had misjudged the reliance he might place in her — she was not as critical as the men. She did not know what she would do, but she thought she might wish to have the strength and the audacity to carry through in the vein in which I had started.

And she said. “You know, you look like a female Gandhi in that robe. You look, well, dignified.”

That was my first encouragement. Everyone else had tended to make me feel like a fool of the first water, had confirmed fears I already had on that score. My respect and admiration for Gandhi, though not uncritical, was deep. And if I in any way resembled him in appearance I was prepared to try to emulate a more becoming state of mind. I reminded myself, too, that I had on considerably more than the loincloth in which Gandhi was able to greet kings and statesmen with ease. I need not be unduly perturbed about wearing a robe into the presence of his honor.