War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 1962

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

An odd article leading off the issue begins: “It is timely to remind Friends that during the first third of our almost three centuries in America Friends did not pay taxes; nor were they taxed.” The author, Godfrey Klinger, quotes a historian about the aversion of the settlers in Pennsylvania — both the Quakers and the later Dutch and Germans — to being taxed. But Klinger seems to me to be sort of dancing around the topic of Quakers and their proper response to war taxes without ever mentioning it directly. His concluding paragraph says:

It was only after the Quakers in the [Pennsylvania colonial] Assembly permitted themselves to be influenced by the dire predictions of the warmongers, whose real aim was to rob the Indians of their land, that taxes and conscription were imposed and much-needed capital wasted on the tools of war, a crime which, in the next two hundred years, was to reach today’s proportions of half of every man’s labor and self-respect.

In the same issue, Guy W. Solt penned an article on “Friends and Their Money” in which he asked “whether there is virtue in accumulating more money than we expect to use in our lifetime.” Among the reasons he thinks Quakers should find wealth-accumulation to be suspect is this:

Federal and state taxes consume a large portion of our income. In general, the more wealth we have, the more taxes we pay. The portion of our federal taxes used for military purposes is 80 per cent, or more. This portion is very problematic for some Friends who oppose militarism, because if they refuse to pay the portion of federal taxes used for military purposes, they may be penalized and pay far more than the regular tax. Some Friends resent taxes because of government waste. Regardless of our attitude toward taxes, the fact remains that Friends are responsible for a part of their tax problem if they retain more money than is needed during their lifetime. We pay taxes on the value of our property in addition to the income from it.

An opening editorial in the issue on the subject of “Direct Action,” asked, in passing: “Does the refusal to pay taxes still deserve the name of direct action when the objector has a bank deposit waiting to be confiscated?”

A later article in the same issue, on the subject of peace activists in England, noted: “Tax refusal is difficult for us, for, if we earn, we have tax deducted before we are paid. Some of us asked to be transferred to another schedule so that we might withhold tax and send the equivalent to the World Health Organization or another good cause, but we were informed that this was not permitted.”

A report in the issue on the “round tables” that had taken place at the Friends General Conference in New Jersey , mentioned a round table discussion on “The Visible Witness: Friends and Direct-Action Projects” at which it was noted that “Avoiding a martyr complex is important. Vigils and tax refusals as the most conspicuous witness were discussed.”

All of these mentions are conspicuously incidental: brief surfacings of war tax resistance in the context of a discussion of something else.

In “ ‘A Place to Stand In’ ” in the issue, Mildred Binns Young cast a suspicious eye on the middle-class ordinariness of the current Society of Friends, when contrasted to the crucible of sufferings in which the Society had been born. “If friends are now indistinguishable [from any other class of quiet, honorable, successful, comfortable, and useful citizens], is it because all the causes for which we had to stand have been won, as the right to silent worship or the right to affirm in court have been won?” Indeed not, she says — “we are living in a time when things are as wrong as they were when Christians were being thrown to lions, and as wrong as they were when Friends for years together were lying by hundreds in filthy dungeons. Where now are the Christians, and where the Friends, prepared to suffer in resistance to these wrongs rather than to acquiesce in them?” Specifically:

Where are the Friends who refuse to pay the taxes that go to build the armaments we abhor, as early Friends refused to pay the tithes that supported an ecclesiastical establishment they abhorred?

A few Friends do refuse, mostly Friends with such small taxes to pay that the government can afford to ignore them; and many Friends pay the taxes, but with sorrow. Recently I saw a letter from a young man who had served a prison term for refusing to register for the draft after the Second World War. He had chosen his present job with great care, putting aside more lucrative offers to keep as free as possible from war-making. But his letter says wryly: “I have just solemnized my contract to give the government $600 toward war-making.” He meant he had just signed and filed his income tax report. What if all the young Quaker heads of families in America had been refusing to file for this tax? What if all the older, even the wealthiest, Quaker heads of families had been refusing it? What if we had been prepared, as the early Friends were, to pool resources in order to take care of the families of men who lost their jobs or their land, or were imprisoned?

Friends never have failed to make it clear that, officially and as a body, they refuse to recognize war or other violence as a legitimate means of settling disputes among nations or individuals. But what about our tacit consent to an economic system that thrives on war preparation and has not learned to exist without it? What about our easygoing participation in — nay, our prosperity within — an economic system that, to hold its own, trades in death, manufacturing the capability to destroy all that we love, and brandishing this capability of destruction as irresponsibly as a boy brandishes a stick with a nail in it?

Granted that there no longer exists any way to refuse all complicity in this system and continue to live, how often do we consider accepting only simple subsistence from it — laying up no treasure from it, refusing to operate in it to our own advantage? As long as we are living well on it, we are not likely to be fully committed to changing it; we talk of peace, and sometimes we talk hopefully of it, while we know that peace is no lid that can be applied over a seething volcano, no plaster to lay over a festering abscess.

And with this, no longer was the coverage of war tax resistance in the Friends Journal the sympathetic coverage of fringe (and largely non-Quaker) activists, or the solemn and sorrowful contemplation of taxpayer complicity. The gauntlet has been thrown, and now Quakers need to declare where they stand and what they plan to do about it.

(It’s worth noting that Young was on the Board of Managers of the Friends Journal at the time, and so was well-positioned to light a fire under its coverage of, and practice of, confrontational Quaker activism.)

Baltimore Yearly Meetings

The Baltimore Yearly Meetings seem to have had a burst of interest in war tax resistance around this time, and an article in the issue gives the credit to “Mildred Binns Young’s lecture” (which I believe the just-quoted article above was based on).

One “concern” expressed at the Joint Meetings for Business of the Baltimore Yearly Meetings in “advised all member Monthly Meetings to consider the responsibilities of Friends in paying or refusing to pay their taxes, now that much of our government’s funds is spent on violence, and to consider the Meeting’s possible response to the needs of Friends and their families if individuals conscientiously refuse to pay.”

The issue reported the results of a survey of 350 adult members of the Baltimore Yearly Meetings concerning the peace testimony, and bemoaned “the lack of responsible feeling about personal financial policy, something that it would seem most persons could consider with little extra effort.”

Less than 60 per cent would refuse to invest in arms production. Only a little over half would prefer their tax money to be used for nonmilitary purposes. Only two or three would go so far as to undertake the difficult course of refusing tax payment on this account. It is encouraging that not far from half would be willing to tax themselves in some degree for support of the United Nations. (This has been a growing concern, judging by the increase in such contributions.)

Drifting a bit from to keep this line of thought intact, I find in a future issue a calendar notice for a “Open panel discussion on tax refusal… sponsored by Baltimore Yearly Meetings Joint Peace Committee” featuring the speakers “Jesse Yaukey, Lawrence Scott, and Oliver Stone.”

Remembering Quaker history

In the issue, LaVerne Hill Forbush looked back at “Suffering of Friends in Maryland, ” and noted that there were 296 cases of Friends suffering fines in one region, 34 “for refusal to pay priest’s wages, [but] the greater number of fines had to do with military assessments, under such headings as refusal to go to war, refusal to muster, refusal to sign association papers or join the militia. War taxes were doubled or trebled when Friends refused to pay them.”

In the article that recounted the results of the survey of Baltimore Yearly Meetings members, the author spent some time recounting how the Baltimore Yearly Meeting had coped with these issues in the distant past:

In Baltimore Yearly Meeting added to the Queries: ‘Do you bear a faithful testimony against bearing arms, military services, or contributing to the support of war?’ (italics ours). In the Yearly Meeting recorded: “Most Friends appear to be careful in maintaining our testimony against war by refusing the payment of taxes.”