Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 1943

This is the sixth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today we find ourselves in the middle of World War Ⅱ.

The Mennonite

The issue included a clip-out form that readers could use to order “Civilian Bonds”:

Subscription Order. Each subscription order must be accompanied by remittance of $1.00 service charge. To Provident Trust Company of Philadelphia. Date. Bond(s) to be registered as follows: The General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America, 521 Main Street, Newton, Harvey County, Kansas. Face amount of Bond(s)? In accordance with a folder of the Civilian Bond Committee of the National Service Board for Religious Objectors dated July 30, 1942, I hereby authorize you to enter subscription for my account to U.S. Government Bonds as may be directed by the Civilian Bond Committee of National Service Board of Religious Objectors. Such bonds shall be in the face amount and registered, both as indicated above, and forwarded to the registered owner by registered mail. I enclose $⸺ by money order / check drawn on (bank). Religious denomination? Signature? Address? All money orders or checks should be drawn to the order of Provident Trust Company of Philadelphia, Fiscal agent for Civilian Bond Committee.

A callout earlier in the same issue included this curious note on how to use the form:

The donor may specify for what the gift is to be used:

  1. For our Peace Committee for C.P.S. support; or
  2. As the Conference or its Executive Committee may deem best; or
  3. For a Conference cause specified by the donor.

(“C.P.S.” refers to the camps and other operations for drafted conscientious objectors; these were funded by donations through churches like the Mennonites.)

It’s not entirely clear to me what’s going on here. I think what’s happening is that the reader is being asked to purchase some “Civilian Bonds” (ordinary U.S. Treasury bonds, but without any “war bond” designation on them) but at the same time donate those bonds to the Mennonite General Conference. The note says that in return for your order you will get “a receipt” (not the bonds themselves), so I think I’m correct at least when it comes to the bonds going to the Conference, not to the donor.

But I find it a little mysterious that the donors are being asked to specify what they want done with the gift. Is this telling to Conference how they should allocate the interest and eventual return of principle from the bonds once they mature? Or maybe they could use the bonds as some sort of currency-like instruments and put them directly toward certain goals?

An article in the gave more hints:

In The Mennonite of , it was announced that “Civilian Bonds” might be donated to the General Conference in three different ways.

I [C.E. Krehbiel] am now told that there are almost as many bonds in the treasury, for which the cash has been paid out, as at present can well be used in this way.

Kind donors are therefore requested to continue to make further gifts to the General Conference; but please either leave it to the Conference or its Executive Committee to specify for what they shall be used, or do as one has done, add the words “at maturity,” which makes it possible to accept any amount of bonds, including those you have already bought and want to donate to the Conference by assigning them to it.

Another article in that issue explained that the Civilian Bond Committee were investing all civilian bond subscriptions in “the new F and G United States Savings Bonds” excusing this by saying that they “are not designated as ‘war issues’ ”. This verifies my suspicion that both these bonds and “war bonds” had the same practical effect, just with different labels. $859,400 in such bonds had been subscribed as of , $712,500 of which came from Mennonites.

The issue made note of the confusion caused by war bonds and not-explicitly-war bonds being so similar:

Many of our people are being told they can buy the same bonds locally. Much confusion has arisen in consequence. Certain of the Bonds which formerly were War Bonds are no longer in this category. This is true only of the new issues. And these new issues were to be released only after the old ones were exhausted. As a special concession to the Peace Churches, the Treasury released these new issues of non-War Bonds… to be used in our Civilian Bond program. So far as we know, these new non-War issues are not yet on the general market. We fear that some conscientious people may have unknowingly subscribed to War Bonds.

The article noted that only by buying these bonds through the Civilian Bond program would the Treasury be kept informed of how many “conscientious” bond purchasers there were out there. “It is definitely marked as conscience money. It leaves a witness of our convictions in relation to finances.” This idea of a “witness of sensitivity” was made more explicit in a note in the issue:

Bonds purchased through the church-approved plan are registered with the United States Treasury as having been bought by persons conscientiously unable to finance war. A witness of sensitivity is thereby made to the government relative to the problem.

This testimony is lost when the bonds are bought locally since the United States Treasury does not recognize such bonds as having been bought by persons with a conscience against war financing.

The earlier article noted that “the new Bond Drive has seven offerings. These are rather widely varied. Some are probably not objectionable in themselves; but the line of distinction, which is already thin enough, diminishes almost to the vanishing point. If subscribed through the regular War Bond solicitor, there is no witness of conscience against war financing.” So they recognized how small a fig leaf they were offering, apparently. The mystery is how they thought they could be effective witnesses for conscience when anyone could tell (certainly anyone in the Treasury) that it was only the names of the bonds that were different, not their effects. That just serves to make Mennonite “conscience” look like subservience to silly taboos. A mere “witness of sensitivity” might as well be no witness at all.

We are still striving for a better plan. We hope eventually to get a bond issued, the proceeds of which will go for relief and reconstruction. The only way that we can probably convince the Government that such a bond issue will pay is by our liberal response to the available program…

When a better plan is approved, it will be made generally known. Meanwhile we urge you to cooperate in trying to keep what we have until we get something that is proven better. Otherwise we may be in jeopardy of losing the advantages thus far gained by much effort.

At this distance it’s hard to know for sure, but is this really how the game is played? Give the government what it wants (your money, to spend how it likes), and in return it gives you some purely symbolic concession (the words “war” and “defense” don’t appear on the face of the bonds). Then, having given the government everything it wants without much of a fight, expect the government to make further concessions to you? Wouldn’t it have been more effective to say to the government “sure we’ll pay, but on our terms; meet us half-way”?

An article about American Quaker John Woolman in the issue mentioned his war tax resistance:

In the French and Indian War he refused to pay war taxes, but he proposed raising a fund to develop friendship with the Indians and relief suffering of plundered settlers. He vigorously opposed the practice of paying a substitute for war service as was the custom at that time. To such people he asked: “What is it you are objecting to? Do you just object to yourself being drafted? or do you object to the whole method of war? If it is the first you cannot logically claim a religious motive. If it is the second, you cannot put another man into the ranks in your place.”

The issue made note of the new federal income tax withholding program, and how this would reduce people’s take home pay and therefore the amounts they were likely to tithe. For this reason, the article urged church officials to make an effort to let their congregations know that, on their year-end tax returns, they could deduct as much as 15% of their income for tax purposes by making voluntary contributions to churches and other such nonprofits, and thus be eligible for a tax refund. No hint was given that this might be considered a conscientious tax resistance strategy.

From the issue:

Inspiration from Two Small Churches

While many of our people are finding it very humiliating to stick to their Christian convictions as they face scrap drives and war bond campaigns, the members of Woodland Mennonite Chuch at Warroad, Minnesota, have agreed upon a fine cooperative solution to such problems.

Ten Per cent of Each Cream Check

The church members have agreed to the suggestion of their pastor, Arthur F. Ortmann, that they instruct the local creamery to deduct 10 per cent of every cream check. The pastor collects this once each month and orders bonds through the Provident Trust Co. Since cream checks here are the main source of income and since members supplement these bond investments with money from other farm projects, the community feels that the Mennonites are helping the government and at the same time witnessing to their Christian convictions.

School Officials Impressed

Instead of collecting scrap iron and rubber the Mennonite school children in Warroad are buying peace stamps from the M.C.C. and are collecting clothing for relief. School officials here are impressed with this Christian testimony. Of course, here too, there have been expressions of hostility by a minority, but under the leadership of a fearless shepherd, the Mennonite here keep right on working, loving, and worshiping in the name of and for the sake of the Prince of Peace.

A note in the issue about how things were going on the other side of the Canadian border, mentioned “Victory Loan Bonds with a sticker attached (designating the use of the funds for relief work)” so there seems to have been some parallel effort to work around Mennonite scruples there as well.