War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 1964

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

In the simmering issue of war tax resistance begins to hit the boiling point in the pages of the Friends Journal.

“Taxes for Violence”

In the issue appeared a brief article by Alfred Andersen entitled “Taxes for Violence.” While Mildred Binns Young’s article on revitalizing the Quaker peace testimony back in (see ♇ 9 July 2013) had suggested war tax resistance in the course of its larger argument, Andersen’s article was the first one that was both devoted to the subject of war tax resistance and that unmistakably recommended it to Quakers:

Friends have become increasingly concerned about paying taxes which finance war. Some reasons for this are:

  1. The Federal Income Tax provides 75 per cent of the money by which the military is financed.
  2. Yet there is no provision for conscientious objection to paying taxes, as there is for conscientious objection to serving in the armed forces. It is obvious that such a provision would be the equivalent of the existing provision for alternative service for C.O.s.
  3. Many Friends took the conscientious-objector position regarding military services when younger; now, in paying taxes, they are serving the military in a more fundamental, though less obvious, way.
  4. It is inconsistent for them to encourage young people to refuse military service while they themselves continue to “serve” in this way.
  5. Those who have merely sent the Internal Revenue a note of protest along with their tax checks are coming to realize that integrity requires that they follow protest with action.
  6. Those who have withheld part of their payment in protest are becoming aware (a) that what they do send is used for military purposes in the same proportion as all the rest, and (b) that because they indicate to the government the amount that they have withheld, the Bureau simply collects it by distraint and adds interest!
  7. Therefore, some Friends are increasingly clear that the thing wrong with the tax law is its lack of provision for conscientious objection; nothing short of noncooperation with the tax law itself (i.e., refusing to file a return until the defect is remedied) will meet the moral challenge before us.
  8. True democracy requires that all Federal laws provide for conscientious objection.
  9. All Friends have observed, and many have helped encourage, the successes of civil disobedience to laws discriminating against Negroes. Therefore, they feel encouraged to challenge other injustices with nonviolent resistance. Forcing persons to finance nuclear weapons makes them perpetrators of in justice toward all living creatures on the earth, both in our generation and in generations to come.

Therefore, we should expect that more and more Friends will refuse to file income tax returns until our government gives reliable assurance that whatever money is paid will not be used for those purposes which our consciences clearly tell us are out of moral bounds for us. As these refusals increase, we may expect that others will join the movement, affirming that where conscience and law conflict, conscience shall prevail.

As you can see, this not only advocated war tax resistance, but also tried to shut the door on many perennially popular half-way measures of tax resistance such as paying under protest or withholding a symbolic amount of taxes — claiming that “nothing short of [total] noncooperation… will meet the moral challenge before us.”

Several letters-to-the-editor, found in the , , , and issues, addressed Andersen’s argument:

  • Hanna Newcombe wrote about how the Canadian Yearly Meeting had been struggling with the issue. At first, she writes, they tried to lobby the government for “a tax law… which will channel our tax money into nonmilitary uses,” but then they “came to the conclusion that it would not do… since they would then simply readjust their books to use someone else’s taxes for military purposes only, and nothing would have been achieved.” They then adjusted their goal to be one in which taxpayers could choose to divert their money from the national government and into “non-governmental peace-directed activities.” Finally, “[i]n order to show the seriousness of our purpose and the intensity of our feeling, we offered to match the diverted amount from our own pockets, so that essentially we, as conscientious tax-objectors, were petitioning the government to increase our taxes!”
  • J. Passmore Elkinton wrote in to advance the subtle argument that because tax money is legally owned by the government, and not the taxpayer, the taxpayer has no moral responsibility for deciding what to do with it, aside from the ordinary legal processes of trying to influence the government in its decision-making. The conscription of money is not analogous to the conscription of people, Elkinton argued, since the ownership of money is a function of government policy to begin with, while the ownership of one’s body is inalienable.
  • Daniel Smiley, while expressing sympathy for Andersen’s position, and while claiming to be “against paying taxes for military purposes, past or future,” says that he has not refused to pay his income taxes because there are so many other taxes that also support war and that are embedded invisibly in every economic action — even something like buying a loaf of bread. If you cannot completely avoid paying war taxes (“we would have to remove ourselves completely from the economy of our country… by becoming hermits”), he thinks, there’s no reason to bother refusing to pay some particular tax. Besides, if we were to redirect our income taxes to, say, the Peace Corps, wouldn’t our contributions just end up getting replaced by those of taxpayers who don’t share our concerns?
    • A later letter by Thurston C. Hughes makes almost the same argument, even going so far as to say that the Quakers who emigrated to Costa Rica so as not to continue paying taxes to the U.S. government (see ♇ 5 July 2013) were making a vain gesture, as they still pay taxes for the police force there, and pay taxes on any imported goods they purchase!
  • Lee Maria Kleiss wrote in about the compromise she had come to — refusing to pay 55% of whatever small amount she still owed at filing time, as a protest, and then writing to the tax collector and her political representatives to ask them to enact some alternative for conscientious objectors to military taxation. “Certainly some protest concerning the inconsistency of paying for war — and especially paying to have somebody else do a dirty job that we refuse to do — should periodically be expressed.”
  • Samuel Cooper (there’s more about him below) wrote in to say that his war tax resistance grew out of his experience as an imprisoned conscientious objector during World War Ⅱ. “My wife and I have tried several means of protest and withholding; latterly we have resolved the problem by living within the non-tax income bracket.” He suggests this approach as a tenth item for Andersen’s manifesto.
  • Finally, Andersen writes a response to some of the letters mentioned above. I particularly liked his answer to Hanna Newcombe’s letter about her Meeting’s attempt to gain a legal method for taxpayers to stop funding war this way: “I suspect that it is only as we first commit ourselves to stop supporting what we clearly see to be wrong, thus living up to the moral insight we now have, that we shall be worthy of more.”

Andersen, by the way, certainly practiced what he preached. In the issue of the Journal is a brief note about the IRS seizure and auction of his home (the IRS got $1,500 for the property; the Andersens owed $36,000). The note concludes: “The Andersens [Alfred and Connie] have refused to file an income tax return for more than twenty years.”

Samuel Cooper

I’m going to deviate from my chronological system here a bit so that I can follow the trail set down by Samuel Cooper, who wrote letters to the editor of the Journal promoting war tax resistance:

  • There’s the letter I mentioned above, from , in which he responds sympathetically to Andersen’s argument and notes that he and his wife are practicing low-income/simple-living tax resistance.
  • In , he wrote in with disappointment over “how few Friends have refrained from payment of income taxes, knowing that a large portion goes for past wars and preparation for future ones!” He noted that Quakers in John Woolman’s time “suffered ‘distraint’ of goods, rather than willing payment for war.”
  • In Samuel and Clarissa Cooper wrote to ask “what should Friends do” about “income taxes and the 51 per cent of the budget allocated to the military.”

    Should Friends now stand by in acquiescence, letting a few others take the risks of civil disobedience and possible imprisonment? One can bear testimony, even refusing to pay part or all of the tax. If the Society of Friends were to unite on this aspect of our peace testimony — to take a stand not to support war any more — what might the influence and result be?

  • In he wrote in again:

    I have been witnessing for more than twenty-five years against the payment of part or all of the tax levied against my income. I do not presume that it has hindered the war program by one iota, but it has said no to war after I said no to conscription and served a time in prison. I believe there is a real relevance, although all one’s assets are involved in our economy. Simply buying one’s food is supporting, through hidden taxes, the war effort. If one is working for money, then time is a contributing factor.

    There is no satisfactory way to be consistent for peace and against violence.

    Our Quaker peace testimony can only be resurrected — from near death by inaction — by corporate action, standing together instead of quibbling over methods, expediency, and results.

    Let the light of Christ shine in your heart to show the true way acceptable to the Prince of Peace.

  • Also in , he wrote in about socially responsible investing, noting that this isn’t just a matter of avoiding stocks “in the military-industrial complex and its subcontractors” but that because some “businesses pay nearly as much in Federal taxes as they do to their stockholders… [they contribute] indirectly toward military procurement.” He recommends investing in low-income housing.
  • In , Cooper addresses a number of points related to war tax resistance:
    • “It is not the amount of money… but the principle — whether one feels easy to support the war-minded Government…”
    • “[V]oluntarily living below the taxable income” is one way to “avoid the issue” — another is to “scrutinize very critically the source of that income.”
    • He says that a response to people who accuse tax resisters of not supporting Government is that even tax resisters pay “hidden taxes in most things we buy.”
    • He recommends some less-offensive investments: municipal bonds, and bonds for “college, hospital, rest homes and such” that “yield good income and help humanity instead of destroying.”
  • In , Cooper returned with a letter about the 1,000-person-strong peace walk and vigil that accompanied the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting . “Does this ‘witness’ satisfy our Peace Testimony for a year? What do we do now?” He recommends phone tax resistance as something Friends can do to make their testimony continue through the year.


In the issue, Robert Horton briefly reflected on the voyage of the Phoenix, a small ship that tried to interfere with nuclear weapons testing at sea. In the course of this, he asked this series of rhetorical questions:

“Why does one do what he doesn’t have to do?” Why did Thoreau refuse to pay taxes and why did he write Civil Disobedience? Why did Columbus sail an uncharted ocean? Why did Kagawa of Japan go to live in the slums? Why did my young neighbor, married and with three children, refuse to pay taxes for war? None of these heroic souls could see the eventual result of their actions; there was no guarantee to them that their actions would be effective in changing social patterns. They were true to the Inner Light and left the result in the hands of God.

In the edition was a brief review of Edmund Wilson’s book The Cold War and the Income Tax (see ♇ 5 September 2003). Excerpt:

But [particular] interest to Friends is his objection to at least one half of what is collected [by the Internal Revenue Service] being used to prepare for the destruction of the world as we know it. He recounts the experience of a few tax refusers whose action meets with his approval; a number of others equally dramatic are well known to Friends. Since the great debate is going on in the minds of many Friends and others as to effect on our society, our times, and on us as individuals of our promoting the peace testimony on one hand and paying for world destruction on the other, this book will at least help clarify the issue, even though it will not contribute to peace of mind.