Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 1942

This is the fifth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today I pick things up as the United States formally enters World War Ⅱ.

The Mennonite

Apparently, one of the initiatives of the Mennonite Central Committee — in anticipation of the war bond drives that the United States would engage in when it entered World War Ⅱ, and in fear of a repeat of the situation during World War Ⅰ when Mennonites who refused to buy war bonds were persecuted — was to quickly create something called “Peace Bonds” where Mennonites could send their money so they could tell people that they too were putting their money in service. An article in the issue explained:

An Explanation of the Peace Bonds

Very probably many of our people have heard something about “Peace Bonds” or Peace Certificates. In a letter sent to each pastor of our conference by the secretary of the peace committee, information was given as to where these certificates could be procured. But further inquiry made by some of the pastors revealed that some people do not understand the exact nature of these so-called “Bonds.”

These certificates are unlike the War Savings Bonds and Stamps in this respect, that they are not a financial investment. They will be outright donations toward our relief work in France, England, and Poland, or wherever war relief is needed. We do not forbid using them for our Civilian Public Service camps. But they will carry more weight with people if they are used directly for war relief.

These “Bonds” are made out in various size denominations from five dollars on up. You may show them to people, who press you to buy War Savings Bonds or Stamps, and explain that this is our method of working during time of war. We cannot fight or directly support the war with our money, but we can give money to war relief work in the war stricken areas, where homes have been destroyed and where people suffer for want of food and clothing. We will build up where others have destroyed.

These “Peace Bonds,” as we have entitled them, may now be procured by writing for them to Rev. P.H. Unruh, Goessel, Kansas. They have been printed by the Mennonite Central Committee. If you desire them, speak to your pastor, in order that he may procure them for your church.

A front-page article on Our Duties and Privileges as Loyal Christian Citizens by H.S. Bender appeared in the issue. It urged Mennonites to practice non-resistance (which also meant not actively resisting the war effort in any way) and noted that “[t]o date, no law or regulation has been passed compelling civilians… to participate in any way in the national war effort. There is no governmental compulsion to buy war or defense bonds or savings stamps… Therefore anyone who participates in the various phases of the war effort does so voluntarily. Pressures on our people to take part in these things may be strong, but they are no stronger than the pressures on our drafted men to accept service in the army. As sincere nonresistant people we should not yield to these pressures and thus compromise our faith and our conscience. We should not be less steadfast at home than those who are drafted to camp.”

A regular column called “What If They Say” provided rejoinders Mennonites could use to common rhetorical attacks on their peculiar beliefs. The column on page two of the issue, penned by Walter H. Dyck, read:

What If They Say

What if they say, “If you want to be entirely consistent in your scruples against war, must you not refuse to pay your taxes?”

All tangible property is said to have at least three legitimate owners. (1) “The earth is the Lord’s.” (2) The governments of given nations own sections of the surface and resources of the earth. (3) Individuals are said to be rightful owners of given amounts of the world’s goods.

Actually, God is the owner, and the other two are stewards. Either may act selfishly or willfully and, by the law of consequences, lose his stewardship.

God has set governments as guardians over the civil phase of the “life and pursuit of happiness” of its peoples. Jesus says: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Paul adds: “For this cause pay ye tribute: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.”…

But for the Christian the problem does not resolve itself so easily. Seeking the Kingdom of God first places demands on revenue one derives from property. Life represents labor. Labor represents property. The Christian is concerned that revenue from his labors be used wisely. Both God and Caesar have the right to given proportions of it. A Christian protests against the idea that Caesar’s levies are crowding God out of the picture, especially when Caesar destroys what God has set out to save.

A Christian pays taxes, realizing that the government is responsible for its use, but lamenting the fact that all of it is not being used for “protection through goodwill.”

The same issue reprinted from the Gospel Herald a statement from the Peace Problems Committee of the Old Mennonite Conference. Excerpts:

We are conscious of the fact that the human and material resources of the nation are being marshaled by our government in a total war effort, and that we shall be expected and asked, possibly in some matters commanded, to participate in it… [W]e do not see how we can consistently participate in this national war effort, much as we purpose in all other respects to be obedient, loyal, and productive citizens.

We are deeply grateful for the continued recognition of our religious conscience…” e.g. in alternative service to conscientious objectors to the military draft, “[and] we are confident that in all lesser demands a similar freedom and protection of conscience will be extended. This, we believe, will apply… to participation in war financing through the purchase of war or defense bonds and savings stamps… We shall continue to plead before our authorities for deference to sincere conscience in the practical application of our nonresistant position in [this] and similar points as need may arise, remembering that as yet… [no] compulsion [has] been exercised or even proposed.

Meanwhile we desire to appeal to our people…

That we do not purchase war and defense bonds and savings stamps, but rather purchase civilian government bonds and savings stamps as they are provided.


Inasmuch as the question of the purchase of government bonds and savings stamps is now before many of our people, we suggest the following to meet this situation:

  1. That M.C.C. certificates of donation for relief and civilian public service, and M.C.C. donation stamps, might serve as alternates to defense bonds and savings stamp purchases, particularly for those with limited means and for children.
  2. That those who are able to purchase government bonds of substantial size might make use of a statement of readiness to purchase civilian bonds when they become available. The following form might be useful for this purpose:
    Statement of Readiness to Purchase Civilian Government Bonds

    In consistency with my religious belief and conscientious convictions, I cannot aid or abet war or give voluntary support to the national war effort, and for these reasons cannot purchase government obligations the proceeds of which are used for war purposes. However, I do wish to support my country with such means as are at my disposal, for constructive ends and particularly in works or relief of human need and suffering, and am accordingly prepared and ready to purchase $⸺ par value of government obligations that may become available for such purposes, when and as they are approved by the Mennonite Central Committee to this end. I will subsequently make additional purchases as my circumstances and the general situation may warrant.

    Signed ⸺

Walter H. Dyck was back again in the issue with another “What If They Say” column on a familiar subject, which suggests that this was a Frequently Asked Question:

What if they say, “Is there any difference between the payment of taxes which go for war purposes and the voluntary financing of war operations?”

A true Christian pays “tribute to whom tribute is due”… A tax is a “charge laid upon a person or property for public use” (Webster). Refusal to pay taxes brings the eventual and rightful confiscation of property. In this sense taxes are compulsory. In general, all other causes appeal to the willingness to contribute, and are supported to the extent that interest is aroused for them. Appeals for foreign and home missions, war sufferer’s relief, civilian public service, as well as appeals for help in the propagation of the war remain voluntary.

The state is responsible for the use of funds collected by taxes. But so is the Christian for every other dollar asked of him. He is willing to render services for his country and contribute financially to causes not contrary to the spirit, life, and teachings of Christ. He will give so that methods of love may abound. He will give to those in need, distress, or suffering. He wishes to sacrifice positively. To him “Christian liberty” means “permission to do” what others neglect, regard as unimportant, or even scorn as “helpful to the enemy,” such as the feeding of innocent women and children in conquered lands.

This may be the cue to our answer. If it is a tax, then the state is responsible. If it is an appeal, then an enlightened Christian conscience will dictate whether we may “lend” a helping hand in the name of Christ.

The Peace Section Secretary, J.W. Hoover, reported in the issue that they were still working on coming up with a satisfactory civilian bond, but that in the meantime, “we encourage the increased use of the Contributor’s Certificate and the Statements of Readiness to Purchase Civilian Government Bonds. These two expedients have proven effective in the relief pressure to buy Defense Bonds in most cases that have come to our attention where they have been wisely employed.”

In the issue, Hoover gave more details:

Judging from the constant flow of inquiries, there is obviously a rather general misunderstanding concerning the purpose and use of bonds, certificates and stamps. The Mennonite Central Committee has adopted a certificate for contributions to Relief or Civilian Public Service. This serves as a form of receipt for contributions to the services administered by the M.C.C. for the various cooperating groups. The minimum contribution for which these certificates were formerly issued was ten dollars. This has now been changed, so that any gift of five dollars or more will be recognized by a certificate.

For smaller amounts or for those who prefer the stamp-album plan stamps have been provided as a receipt for contributions. When stamps have been accumulated to the amount of five dollars, a certificate will be issued if desired.

“Possession of… certificates and stamps by individuals who cannot conscientiously participate in the financial side of the military program, indicates their eagerness to support an alternative program of constructive service to their country and their fellowmen. These certificates and stamps are not officially recognized by the United States Government as alternative to defense bonds and stamps, but they are significant to the extent that they represent genuine sacrifice on the part of the contributors, and support to national service which they can conscientiously give.

“Neither the certificates nor the stamps are redeemable. Their only dividend is satisfaction in a service of good-will rendered in behalf of human freedom and welfare.”

The certificates and stamps are simply evidence of gifts made to this testimony for peace and good-will, which is the spirit of Christ and is done in His name. Such evidence of support given to such humanitarian and constructive causes as are sponsored by the M.C.C. should have its effect in relieving pressure to contribute or lend to military purposes. But these are not officially recognized as alternatives to defense bonds.

As a direct answer to growing pressure to buy defense bonds the M.C.C. and other interested groups through the National Service Board are seeking to have a special issue of civilian government bonds or notes from the U.S. Treasury Department, which will be ear-marked for civilian services instead of for war. There is reason to believe that such will eventually be available from the government. But this is not yet certain. These bonds are not yet available. When they are issued, information as to where and how to obtain them will be given.

Meanwhile, the continued and consistent use of the “Statement of Readiness to Purchase Civilian Government Bonds” is encouraged. These have provided temporary relief of pressure in most cases where wisely applied. These are simply what the name implies, an indication that the individual is willing to purchase Civilian Government Bonds if and when such are issued. It is well to read carefully the statement which is carried on these. It should be self-explanatory.

When new developments come information will be given. Until then, it should help substantially to relieve pressure if you have evidence of generous contributions to the relief and Civilian Public Service program now being carried on by the Mennonite Central Committee.

Note: General Conference Mennonite churches should get their certificates and stamps from Rev. P.H. Unruh, Goessel, Kansas.

The government was slow to accommodate Mennonite needs, as this letter from the Under Secretary of the Treasury, D.W. Bell, indicates (excerpts):

This will acknowledge receipt of your letter… suggesting the issue of bonds for civilian purposes.

Many suggestions similar to the one made by you have been made for the issuance of a special obligation, but such suggestions have not been adopted. The moneys received by the Treasury from the sale of War Savings bonds, as well as from the sale of all other public debt obligations of the United States, are deposited in the general fund of the Treasury and mingled with all other moneys received by the Treasury from the collection of taxes or from other sources. All expenditures of the Government are paid from the general fund pursuant to appropriations made by the Congress.

The President, in his Budget Message of , made the following statement:

In a true sense, there are no longer non-defense expenditures. It is a part of our war effort to maintain civilian services which are essential to the basic needs of human life. In the same way it is necessary in war time to conserve our natural resources and keep in repair our national plant. We cannot afford waste or destruction, for we must continue to think of the good of future generations of Americans. For example, we must maintain fire protection in our forests; and we must maintain control over destructive floods. In the preparation of the present Budget, expenditures not directly related to the war have been reduced to a minimum or reoriented to the war program.

During the current fiscal year it is estimated that more than six billion dollars will be spent by the Government for other than war purposes, including payments to maintain the agricultural program, general public works, etc. In view of these substantial payments for other than war purposes, persons who desire to purchase War Savings bonds can do so with the knowledge that substantial parts of the Government’s receipts are being devoted to “maintain civilian services which are essential to the basic needs of human life,” as stated by the President in his Budget Message.

The Postal Savings System accepts deposits and funds placed with that System are utilized by the Government. Also, there are available for purchase the regular issues of Treasury Bonds, Tax Series Notes and other obligations which do not bear any descriptive designations relating to our War activities.

Below this was news from First Mennonite Church, Beatrice, Nebraska: “More than thirty Peace Certificates have been issued to date. Nearly $1,200 () has been contributed by our congregation for War Sufferer’s Relief and Civilian Public Service . Ask for your certificates or stamp album today!” So it looks like a variety of alternative-giving programs had been set up.

The issue reported this news:

Bulletin, First Mennonite Church, Reedley, Calif., “Miss Florence Aurenheimer, who has taught the Week Day Bible School for four weeks, was called to resume the responsibility of Camp Dietitian at Placerville. This camp (C.P.S.) is to be opened by .” As kindergarten teacher in the Reedley school system Miss Aurenheimer refused to sell defense stamps to the pupils. Her resignation was requested, and she tendered it. Might all Christians be as true to their convictions!

Hunting for some more information about Florence Aurenheimer, I found this article from the California Mennonite Historical Society Bulletin. After a brief stint at the Camino Civilian Public Service camp, Aurenheimer ended up working for the rest of the war as a teacher at the Tule Lake internment camp for Japanese Americans, where she advocated for better treatment for those confined there.

The cover story in the issue concerned the ways Mennonite congregations were responding to the pressure to participate in war bond drives. This largely consisted of pledges to purchase civilian bonds when they become available.

In the meantime the National Service Board for Religious Objectors continues to work on plans for a civilian bond. This week eastern Friends, Brethren, and Mennonite bankers and lawyers are meeting to see what types of bonds other than those used to finance the war might be made available. Plans… for a civilian bond have not gone through, not because the Treasury Department has been hostile, but because there have been technicalities that have interfered… In Canada, however, civilian bonds have been made available, and the money derived from this source is used for purposes other than war financing.

A note by J. Winfield Fretz in that issue claimed that conscientious objection was in general much stronger among rural than among urban Mennonites. “The same thing held generally true in the matter of adults buying liberty bonds [in World War Ⅰ] at least if one judges by the records of those who were punished for not buying them. Will the same situation pertain in the matter of buying defense bonds in the present war?”

Fretz was back to make this claim in the issue. 80% of the boys who opted for civilian public service camps instead of military training came from rural communities rather than cities, he said, and “our town and city people tend to tacitly support the war efforts by buying defense bonds and stamps more readily than do our rural people.” He speculated on the various pressures that make conscientious objection more difficult for Mennonites in the city: including less economic self-reliance, more interactions with a non-Mennonite majority, and more conformist pressure in general.

It seems some progress was being made on the “civilian bonds” front. This, from the issue:

Civilian Bonds

Since last week’s press release of Secretary of the Treasury, Henry M. Morgenthau Jr.’s letter of to Paul French, naturally many inquiries have come to M.C.C. headquarters as to the necessary next steps in taking advantage of this announced provision for purchase of non-war Bonds. A committee representative of the several groups most interested in this has held a number of meetings and is in process of completing arrangements with the Provident Trust Company of Philapelphia to serve as intermediary in this matter. It is expected that the detailed plans to make the arrangement effective will be ready for submission to the responsible agencies in these several groups by . It is hoped that fully detailed information will be available for any one interested in using this provision before . Naturally, all who are concerned in this problem are appreciative of the Treasury Department’s attitude.

And this, from the issue:

Civilian government bonds have been approved by Henry Morgenthau. The lowest denomination will be $50. They will be registered bonds with approximately the same rate of interest and maturity date as the war bonds. They will be marketable, but not redeemable before maturity date. If you work on the payroll plan, you will have to tell your office girl about these bonds. She will accumulate your money and then send it to the Provident Trust Co. of Philadelphia, Pa., and you will be sent a bond within thirty to sixty days. The moment your deposit reaches the bank, you will be sent a postal receipt. You pay the face value when you buy, but then you will get your interest semi-annually. The bank must have a flat rate of $1.50 for each deposit, no matter whether for $50, $100 or up

A “Jotting” from the issue, taken from The Conscientious Objector, noted that “State administrators of the War Bond drives in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have authorized pacifists to contribute to the support of the C.P.S. system or to relief agencies as a substitute for the purchase of war bonds.” To me, “authorized” seems an odd word to use for something that was still being represented as an ostensibly voluntary bond drive, so coercion of some sort must have become a big factor at this point.

The cover story in the issue concerned The Civilian Bond Purchase Plan and covered it in detail. Excerpts:

Ⅰ. What it is

A concern for some such plan was first noted and discussed by the National Service Board for Religious Objectors in , at which time a Committee was appointed to study possibilities. For many months all contacts with Treasury Department officials seemed fruitless. , it was agreed that those groups most concerned should address their petitions in writing to secretary of the Treasury Henry Morganthau, and that Paul Comly French of the Committee would then present these letters in person. Among these was the following prepared under the direction of the Mennonite Central Committee:

In the attached statement of the position of the Mennonite Church on “Peace, War, and Military Service,” adopted at its General Conference at Turner, Oregon, in , you will note… the following: “We can have no part in the financing of war operations through the purchase of war bonds in any form or through voluntary contributions to any of the organizations or activities falling under the category described immediately above, unless such contributions are used for civilian relief or similar purposes.” … All of the Mennonite bodies cooperating through the agency of this Committee hold substantially this position…

…The purpose of this letter, however, is to bring to your attention the quotation noted above with the request that your office give consideration to some technique by which our members could consistently aid their government with the loan of financial means at their disposal without violating conscience.

…Inasmuch as our constituents in Canada were faced with a similar situation earlier than we, and since the Canadian government arranged to make available to them two special types of investments (a Series B, non-interest-bearing, non-negotiable certificate whose proceeds were designated for reconstruction and relief work; and special stickers for the regular Victory Bond Series, which served to designate such funds for the same purpose), it was our earlier assumption that perhaps similar offerings might be made available to our members in the United States. Through Mr. French, however, we now learn that your Department has investigated this Canadian provision and has stated that such provisions would be too expensive from the standpoint of administrative cost. Representatives of the Treasury Department in Ottawa have advised our own leaders in Canada of their satisfaction with the arrangement and of their appreciation of the subscriptions to date. From the angle of our own position such an arrangement as is provided in Canada would be entirely satisfactory. In the matter of the cost of administration to the government in making such or similar offerings available to our people here, we believe also that a plan could be worked out to cover this administrative cost by and within our own group.

We have also been advised by Treasury Department representatives that the type of certificate, bond, or evidence of indebtedness which would meet these purposes is not available in the United States and could not be made available except by an act of Congress. On this point, we of course, recognize that you yourself would be in the best position to know what might be best or could be arranged. It has occurred to us, however, — inasmuch as our Government does continue to have financial needs along a number of civilian lines as heretofore — that perhaps some form of special, long-term, low-interest-bearing, non-negotiable Treasury Note might be made available… bearing a statement on its face to the effect that the amount of money in question represents aid to the Government in certain of its continuing civilian interests. We think, for instance, of the budget requirements allowed to Selective Service — Camp Operations Division — by which funds are provided for the “Work of National Importance” technical agencies cooperating with our present Civilian Public Service program… We would be happy to have the proceeds of loans made by our people so indicated on the face of the aforementioned Treasury Note.

The provision of such an arrangement… would also imply that the Treasury would recognize local subscriptions to these on the part of our members as acceptable in lieu of subscriptions to the regularly offered Defense Bond Series; in fact, it would be entirely satisfactory to us to have such subscriptions channeled through the regular local soliciting agencies as is being done in Canada.

A second letter from French to Morgenthau read in part:

…[M]embers of the religious groups represented by the National Service Board for Religious Objectors who feel conscientiously unable to purchase Defense Bonds… understand that there are continuing expenses for the regular functions of the Government, totaling some six billion dollars annually. Would it be possible for us to purchase regular issues of Treasury bonds and notes and then redistribute them to our people in smaller denominations through a non-profit corporation we are organizing?

Any rate of interest established by the Treasury is agreeable to us, but we would prefer a rate lower than that paid on Defense Bonds. We are willing to accept notes with any maturity date which seems right to you. We would handle all subscriptions, and the Treasury would not be required to assume any additional clerical burden on our behalf.

If this plan is satisfactory to you, would it be possible for us to explain to our neighbors that we are aiding in the financing of the Government in ways that our consciences permit and that the United States Treasury has approved our plan?

Morgenthau responded positively, but was careful not to explicitly say that the money invested in these civilian bonds would not go to the war effort. Instead he noted that the government continues to have a lot of ordinary expenses not directly connected with the war, that the Treasury issues various bills, certificates, notes, and bonds to cover government expenses in general and that these “are not designated by their terms as ‘war issues’ ”, and that “[t]he Treasury would be willing to have the funds to be subscribed by your people invested” in such things.

But during World War Ⅱ the vast majority of federal government spending would be explicitly for the war effort. It’s not clear to me that even war bonds were being actually earmarked for the war as opposed to put in the general spending budget along with everything else (I believe that they evolved from “defense bonds” which evolved from “baby bonds” and the name changes were for marketing purposes rather than being indicative of how the money was explicitly targeted). So what this seems to amount to is that there would be two types of bonds and stamps offered to the public. One set would have the words “war savings bond” printed on the front; and the other wouldn’t; and purchasers of each could imagine their money would be spent accordingly, but really it wouldn’t make much difference.

Be that as it may, the Mennonite Central Committee and several “constituent groups” were reportedly “practically unanimous in favoring the plan.” The government bond purchases were to be supervised by a committee including one representative from the M.C.C., one from the Brethren Service Committee, and one from the American Friends Service Committee.

The issue reprinted a note from Fellowship reminding readers “that legally the purchase of war bonds is entirely voluntary” and another from The American Friend in which Quakers were urged to buy the new not-explicitly-for-war-bonds:

Friends to whom the use of their money is as much a matter of conscience as the use of their hands, should act immediately… so that this opportunity (Civilian Bonds) now opening to us as Friends is met with an enthusiasm which clearly indicates that we are worthy of the rights granted to us as a very small minority in American life.

On the Conference of Mennonite and Affiliated College Administrators issued A Statement of Position and Proposals for Action concerning “the problems which face our colleges as a result of the war”. They pledged “[t]o support the sale of Civilian Bonds as made available by the government through the Mennonite Central Committee,” but said they “find ourselves unable to accept… [p]romotion of the sale of war bonds or stamps.”

The Young People’s Organization of the Middle District Conference resolved at its conference: “With other people saving their pennies and investing them in defense stamps, it is imperative that we invest in Civilian Bonds, or better, make generous gifts toward the successful continuance of the program.” (It’s ambiguous from the context whether “program” means the Civilian Bonds program or the Civilian Public Service Camps.)

The issue mentioned that $108,400 had been subscribed to the not-explicitly-for-war bonds through “M.C.C. constituencies.” The issue reported that the total number of sales of such bonds as of amounted to $347,250. By , the total had risen to $527,100 (85% from Mennonites).

This brings us to the end of the first year of America’s declared entry into World War Ⅱ. On the one hand, there is much more awareness in The Mennonite of the theoretical conflict between Mennonite pacifism and the purchase of war bonds than there was during World War Ⅰ. But on the other hand, this conflict seems to have been resolved by offering Mennonites the fig leaf of not-entirely-for-war-at-least bonds that they were told they could enthusiastically invest in without scruple. This may have meant that fewer Mennonites would actually resist paying for war this time around.

In future episodes of this series, we’ll see how attitudes evolve as the war continues.