Read from “We Won’t Pay! A Tax Resistance Reader”

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In three previous Picket Line entries (, , & ) I’ve included excerpts from Stephen B. Weeks’s Southern Quakers and Slavery: A Study in Institutional History () concerning Quaker tax resistance in the years before, during, and after the American Revolution. Today, an excerpt that covers the Civil War period:

In , a conscription act passed the Confederate Congress which ordered every man between eighteen and thirty-five into the army. The North Carolina Meeting for sufferings had a called session and drew up memorials to the State Convention and to the Confederate Congress. The latter was presented by John Carter and Nereus Mendenhall. It was laid before the Senate by Hon. William T. Dortch and before the House by Hon. J. R. McLean. The committee continue: “We were treated with respect by every one with whom we conversed on the subject, and by some, with tenderness of feeling. We may particularly mention William B. Preston, of Virginia, chairman of the committee on military affairs for the Senate, and William Porcher Miles, chairman of a similar committee for the House. On an interview with the former, he told us to make ourselves entirely easy on the subject; that the Senate committee, in acting upon it, were unanimously in favor of recommending an entire exemption. He said that some were for requiring us to furnish substitutes, but that he was well aware that we could not conscientiously do that, and that nothing but a clear and full exemption would meet our scruples. Miles, chairman of House committee, invited us to a hearing, in their room, before the committee at large, and took pains to arrange the sittings as much as possible to suit our convenience. We here had the very acceptable company and assistance of John B. Crenshaw, who labored faithfully in word and doctrine.”

They did not secure what they desired, however. Friends were exempted from military service by Congress only on the payment of $500 each into the public treasury. Strictly, to the Quakers this was no favor at all, for they were no more willing to pay the fine than to go into the army itself. In taking action on this proposed exemption the committee report: “While, in accordance with the advice issued by our last Yearly Meeting, ‘we do pay all taxes imposed on us as citizens and property holders, in common with other citizens, remembering the injunction, tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom’; yet, we cannot conscientiously pay this specific tax, it being imposed upon us on account of our principles, being the price exacted of us for religious liberty.” To this statement of principle they add: “Yet do we appreciate the good intentions of those members of Congress who had it in their hearts to do something for our relief; and we recommend that where parents, moved by sympathy, or young men themselves dreading the evils of a military camp, have availed themselves of this law, that they be treated in a tender manner.”

Here, a footnote:

Some North Carolina Quakers who went to Indiana to escape being conscripted into the Confederate Army found themselves drafted into the Federal Army, and had to pay an exemption fine to keep out of service. One of these was Albert W. Brown, of Northampton County.

Hon. George W. Julian writes me, under , concerning the Indiana Quakers: “The large body of Quakers whose Yearly Meetings are held in Richmond not only have a good anti-slavery record, but a record for patriotism. I think it is conceded that in proportion to their number they had more soldiers in the war for the Union than any other religious denomination.”

Weeks continues:

It is reasonable to conclude from the tone of this report that those Friends who preferred to clear themselves by paying the requisite sum were not held to a strict account by the Society. But there were cases where Friends declined to pay the ransom, and to escape conscription were compelled to hide in the woods in caves, or “dug-outs,” and were subject to no little hardship. There were also cases where Friends were drafted into the army and on their refusal to perform military duty were treated harshly, even cruelly, but it is probable that such instances were few in number.

The class to suffer most were those who were convinced of Friends’ principles after the beginning of the war. The Society was thus liable to become a refuge for men who were for any reason unwilling to fight, and the term “war Quaker” became a term of reproach. No provision had been made for them under the Confederate exemption act, and we have record of several cases of much suffering. It is but just to say, however, that the Society did not allow itself to become a refuge for men whom it thought to be insincere, and that many of these newly-convinced Friends remained faithful to the cause which they had espoused.

And here, another footnote:

See… Sufferings of Friends, , and an interesting article on The Cave Dwellers of the Confederacy (Atlantic Monthly, ), by David Dodge (O. W. Blacknall). The fortune of Southern Quakers has been treated exhaustively by Fernando G. Cartland in his Southern Heroes or the Friends in War Time (Cambridge, ), 8°, pp. 480, with portraits; and in novel form by Lydia C. Wood in The Haydock’s Testimony (Philadelphia, ).

I’ll reproduce sections from Cartland’s and Wood’s books in later Picket Line entries.

See The Picket Line for for the Cartland excerpts, and for the Wood excerpts.

Jennifer at Mermaid Musings shares her letter to the IRS, which has a novel argument for tax resistance: “In this country that prides itself on allowing pharmacists and doctors to refuse medical care to women seeking to terminate and/or prevent pregnancy, surely there is room for my right to refuse to pay for the violence heaped upon the innocent people of Iraq.”