How Can I Convince You Quakers to Pay for Our War?

The folks at the NWTRCC national office have kindly allowed me to borrow a copy of Barbara Andrews’s Tax Resistance in American History.

This unpublished study, which Andrews submitted as her senior project while studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree from Goddard College, is — as far as I can tell — the only work of its kind. Andrews drew on extensive research, interviews with living tax resisters, and the archives of the Swarthmore Peace Collection to come up with an unsurpassed history of tax resistance in the United States (and in those colonies that would become the United States).

My “Tax Resistance Reader” project continues to balloon (what I originally imagined as a 300–400 page book is now starting to look like it will weigh in closer to 600 pages). Thanks to Andrews’s study, I have been able to locate some more interesting bits.

Here’s Benjamin Fletcher, who had temporarily taken over the governorship of Pennsylvania from William Penn, trying to convince the Quaker assembly of Philadelphia in that they should pony up some money for military defense:

I have sundry things to offer to your Consideraton, but shall only insist upon two at present.

1st. You know that government, if it be not supported, becomes precarious, void, and ends in nothing.

2nd. Gentlemen, here is a letter directed to me as governor of this province, from her Majesty, whereof you shall have a copy. The province of New York has been a long time burdened with a troublesome war, (if it may be called a war, for indeed the French and Indians in Canada are a pitiful enemy, if they could be brought to fight fair, but the wood, swamps and bushes gives them the opportunity of vexing us.) You will see by this letter their Majesties’ commands, and what is expected from you towards the assistance of that province.

Gentlemen, if there be any amongst you that scruple the giving of money to support war, there are a great many other charges in that government, for the support thereof, as officers salaries and other charges, that amount to a considerable sum: Your money shall be converted to these uses, and shall not be dipped in blood. The money raised there for the support of the government shall be employed for the defense of the frontiers which do give you protection.

I would have you consider the walls about your gardens and orchards; your doors and locks of your houses; mastiff dogs and such other things as you make use of to defend your goods and property against thieves and robbers are the same courses that their Majesties take for their forts, garrisons and soldiers, etc. to secure their kingdoms and provinces, and you as well as the rest of their subjects. I speak the more to this matter because I have their Majesties’ command, which lies now here before you.

I also found some documents concerning the “Regulator” movement in North Carolina. The rebellion of these “Regulators” against the corrupt colonial administration from presages the American Revolution. It began with organized groups of rural North Carolinans refusing to pay inflated taxes to corrupt authorities, and eventually built to an armed rebellion (which was crushed).

Here’s the Sandy Creek Resolution of :

We, the underwritten subscribers, do voluntarily agree to form ourselves into an Association to assemble ourselves for conferences for regulating Publick Grievances and Abuses of Power in the following particulars, with others of like nature that may occur:

1st. That we will pay no taxes until we are satisfied they are agreeable to Law and Applied to the purpose therein mentioned, unless we cannot help and are forced.

2nd. That we will pay no Officer any more fees than the Law allows, unless we are obliged to do it, and then to show a dislike to it & bear open testimony against it.

3rd. That we will attend our meetings of Conference as often as we conveniently can or is necessary in order to consult our representatives on the amendments of such Laws as may be found Grievous or unnecessary, and to choose more suitable men then we have heretofore done for Burgesses and Vestrymen, and to petition His Excellency our Governor, the Hon’ble Council and the Worshipful House of Representatives, His Majesty in Parliament, &c., for redress of such grievances as in the course of this undertaking may occur, and inform one another & to learn, know and enjoy all the Privileges & Liberties that are allowed us and were settled on us by our worthy ancestors, the founders of the present Constitution, in order to preserve it in its Ancient Foundation, that it may stand firm and unshaken.

4th. That we will contribute to collections for defraying necessary expenses attending the work according to our abilities.

5th. That in cases of difference in judgment we will submit to the Majority of our Body. To all of which we do solemnly swear, or, being a Quaker or otherwise scrupulous in Conscience of the common Oath, do solemnly Affirm that we will stand true and faithful to this cause until We bring them to a true Regulation according to the true intent & meaning of it in the judgment of the Majority.

, the Regulators issued the following petition:

Whereas, the Taxes in the County are larger according to the number of Taxables than adjacent Counties, and continues so year after year, and as the jealousy still prevails amongst us that we are wronged, & having the more reason to think so, we have been at the trouble of choosing men, and sending them after the civilist manner, that we could know what we paid our Levy for, but could receive no satisfaction for. James Watson was sent to the Maddock’s Mills, and said that Edmund Fanning looked upon it that the country called him by authority, or like as if they had a right to call them to accompt. Not allowing the country the right, as they have been accustomed to as English subjects, for the King requires no money from His subjects but what they are made sensible what use it’s for, we are obliged to seek redress by refusing to pay any more until we have a full settlement for what we have paid in the past, and have a true regulation with our Officers, as our grievances are too many to notify in one piece of writing. We desire that you, our Assemblymen and Vestrymen, may appoint a time before our next Court at the Court House, and let us know by the Bearer, and we will choose men to act for us, and settle our grievances until such time as you will settle with us. We desire that the Sheriffs will not come this way to collect the Levy, for we will pay none before there is a settlement to our satisfaction; and as the nature of an Officer is a servant of the publick, we are determined to have the Officers of this country under a better and honester regulation than they have been for some time past. Think not to frighten us with rebellion in this case, for if the Inhabitants of this Province have not as good a right to enquire into the nature of our constitution and Disbursements of our funds as those of the Mother Country, we think it is by arbitrary proceedings that we are debarred of that right; therefore, to be plain with you, it is our intent to have a full settlement of you in every particular point that is a matter of doubt with us, so fail not to Answer by the Bearer; if no answer, we shall take it for Granted that we are disregarded in this request again for the Publick.

The “Regulator Oath” was as follows:

I, —— —— do promise and swear that if any sheriff, county officer, or any other person, shall attempt to collect taxes unlawfully levied, or make distress on any of the goods or chattels or other estate of any person sworn herein, being a subscriber, for the non-payment of said unlawful tax, that I will, with the aid of other sufficient help, go and take, if in my power, from said officer, and return to the party from whom taken; and in case any one concerned should be imprisoned, or under arrest, or otherwise confined, or if his estate, or any part thereof, by reason or means of joining this company of Regulators, for refusing to comply with the extortionate demands of unlawful tax gatherers, that I will immediately exert my best endeavors to raise as many of said subscribers as will be force sufficient, and, if in my power, I will set the said person at liberty; and I do further promise and swear that if, in case this, our scheme, should be broken or otherwise fail, and should any of our company be put to expense or under any confinement, that I will bear an equal share in paying and making up said loss to the sufferer. All these things I do promise and swear to do and perform, and hereby subscribe my name.

The histories of the Regulator movement are often extremely partisan in tone. Reading them reminds me of Thoreau’s experiment in which he read two histories of the French-and-Indian War:

Read the Englishman’s history of the French and Indian wars, and then read the Frenchman’s, and see how each awards the meed of glory to the other’s monsters of cruelty or perfidy.

Whether the Regulators were fools who followed a cowardly and ego-mad demagogue, or whether their brave stand against tyranny provided the inspiration for American patriots, the story of their organized tax resistance campaign is an interesting one — and the defeat of the movement when it turned from nonviolent to violent resistance is a useful cautionary tale.

I mentioned a play about war tax resistance that had been written by Holocaust-denier Bradley R. Smith. Here’s a follow-up in which Smith explains how the play came to be, and how it fits in with his Holocaust denial falderol.