Ed Agro Explains War Tax Resistance

Peter J. Reilly has posted a follow-up in his series on war tax resistance (see ) at his Forbes blog on taxes. This time he turned the column over to Ed Agro, and allowed this war tax resister to explain himself.

It’s an interesting article. Agro doesn’t shy away from the grey areas, and confesses to a lot of uncertainty, ambiguity, and faltering in trying to find his way to a position on war taxes that works for him.

I haven’t been following the disturbances in London closely, but was struck by the on-camera explanation from one woman who was walking away with her booty from a store she had helped to loot:

“Well, we’re getting our taxes back!”

You get stolen from all year long, and then the opportunity comes for you to get your share of stolen goods: why shouldn’t you?

Just another way in which government, by endorsing the sociopathic behavior its agents undertake, contributes to the normalizing of sociopathic behavior in general.

In North Carolina, for nearly three-quarters of the first century of its settlement the Government was the veriest farce imaginable. During that time not merely all political authority but all private property in the soil as well, was vested in the Lords Proprietors, as they were called; yet it was said that one of them if here “would be regarded no more than a ballad singer would be.” Under their rule “the people of North Carolina were confessedly the freest of the free.” Generally speaking, they were sarcastically said to recognize no authority not derived from themselves and to have deposed their Governors until they actually thought they had a right so to do. Rebellions, too, so-called, were the order of the day.

That passage comes from an address by William L. Saunders, then the Secretary of State of North Carolina, in . Saunders had been a commander in Robert E. Lee’s rebel army, and was a North Carolina patriot. His address sought to trace the ornery and independence-minded Carolina character back to the early history of the colony. In the course of this, he includes these descriptions:

The first outbreak under royal rule was brought about by the attempt of Governor [Gabriel] Johnston to force the people to bring their rents to the collectors at places designated by the Government. In this connection it must be remembered that in those days the people did not own their lands in fee-simple as we do now, but were tenants and held them upon payment of an annual rent of so much per hundred acres. Owing to the lack of a sufficient currency, at a very early day laws were passed making these rents payable in produce and collectible on the premises. The trouble began in and several years elapsed before it was ended. In the year the people thought forbearance had ceased to be a virtue, and having exhausted all peaceable means, began to resort to force. In that year, at the General Court at Edenton, a man was imprisoned for contempt of Court, but the people of Bertie and Edgecombe, which then covered substantially all the settled territory to the westward, hearing that he was imprisoned for refusing to deliver his rents at the appointed places, rose in arms to the number of 500 and marched on the town, intending to rescue the man by force from the Court, in the meantime cursing the King and uttering a great many rebellious speeches. When within five miles of Edenton they learned the truth, and that the man having made his peace with the Court, had been discharged from custody. The “mob” thereupon dispersed, threatening, however, “the most cruel usage to such persons as durst come to demand any rents of them for the future.” This was the account of the affair the Governor himself gave, to which he added a declaration of his inability to punish them if they carried out their threats. The trouble did not end here nor for several years.

In this same Governor Johnston attempted to deprive the old counties of the province of their immemorial right to send five delegates each to the Assembly, and issued writs of election for only two members to the county. The result was that the old counties refused to regard his writs of election, and when they voted each voter put on his ballot the names of five men already agreed upon and the sheriffs so returned. The Legislature thereupon declared the elections void. But the people would vote in no other way, and in consequence the old counties for eight years were not represented in the Assembly, and not being represented, refused to pay taxes or to do any other act that recognized the authority of the Assembly. The new counties that sent only two members, seeing what the old ones were doing, said it was not fair to make them bear the whole burden of the Government, and they, too, refused to pay taxes. And this was the condition of the Province for eight years, at the end of which time full representation was restored. And the Governor was powerless to change it.

The next serious trouble grew out of the opposition to the notorious Stamp Act. This was an act of the British Parliament requiring everything to be stamped just as has been the case here under the Internal Revenue System. The stamp masters were seized and forced to swear they would have nothing to do with the stamps, and it being known when the vessel bringing the stamps would come up to Wilmington, Colonels Ashe and Waddell, having called out the militia from Brunswick and the adjoining counties to the number of some 700 men, seized the vessel and held her until her commander promised not to permit the stamps to be taken from her. Tryon, the new Governor, was a prisoner in his own house and utterly powerless. Nor was this all. The royal sloop Viper, then on duty in the river, having seized several vessels for want of stamped papers, the inhabitants of Wilmington entered into an agreement not to supply his Majesty’s ships with provisions until such seizures were stopped; and the boatmen sent for supplies were put in jail. This agreement was carried out until the Viper, after being entirely without rations for a day or two, was driven to terms and stopped her seizures. This was in the winter of .

There was neither disguise nor concealment about all this. Everything was done in the broad open day, by men perfectly well known, and in the very presence of the Governor, as it were.

Immediately after this period, the Regulator movement began its tax resistance campaign in North Carolina. Saunders notes that among the items on the agenda of the North Carolina rebels during the American Revolution was the legal rehabilitation of the Regulators, who had been defeated and forced to sign loyalty oaths.