The Education Act Tax Resistance Campaign: 1907–1924

Here is some newspaper coverage from the later years of the “passive resistance” movement against the Education Act.

From the Yorkshire Evening Post:

The Monotony of It.

Mr. Percy Webb, a passive resister, of Crouch End, has been committed to prison for one day at Highgate.

“It is no pleasure for me to go to prison,” he told the magistrates. “I’m heartily sick of it. This will make the fifth time.”

From the Derby Daily Telegraph:

Passive Resistance to Go On.

Letter From Dr. Clifford.

Dr. Clifford, in a written statement, repeats what he said before the Paddington magistrates recently as to the new position created by the recognition by Church leaders in the recent compromise negotiations of the principle for which passive resisters fought, that denominational teaching should be taken off the rates. He concludes:–

Passive resistance will go forward; but I am asked, Ought we not to begin to organise the movement on a larger scale? Should not the leagues federate? Hitherto the movement has been spontaneous. Ought we to be content with that? Least of all, are we ready to listen to those who say, “You endure the wrong of supporting sectarian teaching through the taxes; what folly to suffer the distraint of your goods and the imprisonment of your persons when the wrong is perpetrated through the rates?” According to that reasoning our fathers ought not to have attempted to deliver the country from the “old Church rate” whilst they allowed the Establishment, a much greater wrong in their judgment, to continue. Nor should they have battled to get rid of “ecclesiastical tests” for municipal offices while similar barriers kept the doors of the Universities locked. And so on with our vicious land system and our tettering feudal aristocracy and many other evils. Everything cannot be done at once. The immediate task of the passive resister is clearly that of fighting on with increased determination and, if possible, with increased numbers, so that we may achieve the removal of Romanism and Anglicanism and eccleciasticisms of every kind off the rates.

From the Cambridge Independent Press (excerpts):

Passive Resistance.

The following manifesto of the National Passive Resistance League has been issued:–

It is fully manifest that there is not the slightest chance of any relief to passive resisters in the present Parliament.

The oppression of the conscience by the Education Act of not only continues, but increases year by year. The injustice grows.…

One thing is patent. It is the House of Peers and Bishops which prevents the amendment of the education laws, the repair of injustice, and the restoration of peace to the aggrieved conscience. The House of Commons would have carried out the mandate of the people had it not been for the veto of that Assembly.

Therefore we must concentrate all our energy on the destruction of that veto. We are not free men while it lasts. Our electoral impotence is degrading to us so long as we permit that usurpation. To get rid of it is the foremost duty we owe to the children, and to the citizens of Great Britain, to education, to temperance, to justice, to freedom, to social reform, and to religious equality, and God helping us we will pay that debt to the uttermost farthing.

And since a general election may occur very speedily it is necessary that we should prepare our forces for action forthwith.

John Clifford, President.
James Everett, Hon. Secretary.
Memorial Hall, E.C., .

From the London Daily News (excerpts):

Prison Preferred.

Dr. Clifford and Passive Resistance.

Twenty-eight Paddington Passive Resisters, headed by Dr. J. Clifford, appeared at the Town Hall… for non-payment of the local rate, to the sectarian portion of which they objected.

Dr. Clifford referred to the four methods recommended by the National Passive Resistance League, and said commitment to prison would be adopted if the bench would only send him to gaol instead of distraining on Mrs. Clifford’s goods.

Alderman W. Urquhart: We should be sorry to see you in prison, Dr. Clifford

Some of the defaulters protested and paid, and others elected to have their goods seized.

From the Portsmouth, Ohio Daily Times (among others), :

Refuses to Pay Tax to England

 — John Clifford, the non-conformist minister, who was a delegate to the recent Lake Mohonk Conference, has again refused to pay the sectarian state education tax. Dr. Clifford, who is at present in Canada, has written to the authorities saying that they can either distrain his goods or arrange to imprison him on his return to England. He concludes his letter, which was written at Lake Mohonk, by saying:

I write this letter in a country where the sectarian legislation against which we are protesting is regarded with amazement and indignation. They have none of it. The United States owes their origin to men driven out of England by religious persecution. We are bound to do all we can to drive religious persecution out of England.

From the Bath Chronicle (excerpts):

Passive Resistance

Bath Protesters in Court

Mr. G.J. Long Raises a Point of Procedure.

Some added interest was given to the proceedings against the Bath Passive Resisters who, to the number of 42, were summoned at the Bath City Police Court on for non-payment of the portion of the half-year’s rate which they regarded as devoted to educational purposes, by the fact that Mr. Councillor G.J. Long, who again acted as the spokesman, raised a question bearing on the procedure usually adopted by the Court, as soon as the magistrates had proceeded to the hearing of the summonses.

The number of defendants summoned was rather smaller than that recorded on some previous occasions.…

Mr. Long craved leave to make a statement before the business of the Court was allowed to proceed. He understood that in the north of England people who were summoned in this way had been allowed the opportunity of having a few minutes to state their case. At Newcastle, where this had been refused, they had engaged a solicitor, who had proved each case separately, and had occupied the Court for 2½ hours. He claimed that the defendants in that Court were entitled to one or the other alternative. If the Bench would allow them severally and individually a minute or two in which to state their case, it would be much quicker, and much more orderly.

The Mayor observed that to hear the cases separately would considerably increase the costs. It would mean an additional 3s. on each summons.

Mr. Long rejoined that if the Bench refused to allow the defendants to speak, they would have to re-consider their position, and engage a solicitor. It was not a question of money — that was no object to the people engaged in this movement.

The Mayor: Do I understand, Mr. Long, that you want to address the Court on behalf of every one who is summoned, or merely on behalf of yourself?

Mr. Long: The three defendants who are here want to speak. I do not want to put the Court to the indignity of being kept here two hours and a half.

The Mayor: I don’t think you will keep us detained that time.

I want, continued Mr. Long, to spare my friends the indignity of having to speak subject to ejaculatory remarks.

After a consultation with the Clerk (Mr. E. Newton Fuller), the Mayor said the magistrates would be very glad to hear the defendants on any points connected with the validity of the summonses or the question of the identity of the persons summoned. They could not hear them on matters which referred to the law in general. “We sit here,” continued his Worship, “not only as representing ourselves, but representing the Bench of the future, who may be guided by any precedent which we may set. It is quite possible we may have to consider at this Court similar cases which have no reference to these before us. It is very undesirable at this juncture to let it go forth that this Court is a vehicle for the expression of opinions with which the Bench have no concern whatever.[”]

Mr. Long: I quite see your point, all I ask is for a little patience.

The Clerk: Do you suggest to us that we should take all the cases separately?

Mr. Long: I think we had better go forward in the usual way.

The Clerk: Then we can take the lot.

The mayor gave little ground, shutting down the three resisters when they tried to make their case. Long was the most determined:

At this stage the Mayor interposed, and told Mr. Long that he could not listen to him further, but must proceed with the business of the Court.

Accordingly the business proceeded amid some disorder, as Mr. Long continued his protest till he had said all that he intended.

Mr. Long applied for the issue, as in former years, of two distress warrants to cover all the summonses, and this was agreed to.

At the conclusion of this business the Mayor asked the Press to make it clear that the business of the Court proceeded during Mr Long’s address, though he persisted in speaking the Bench had requested him to desist.

From the Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic (excerpts):

Cheltenham Passive Resisters.

Nineteenth Appearance Before the Bench.

Cheltenham Passive Resisters to the Education Act of made their 19th appearance at the Police-court on

A list of 25 resisters and the amounts they owed followed. Fifteen had asterisks by their names indicating that they had been “ ‘Resisters’ since the passing of the Act.” The resisters each briefly gave their reasons and the usual distress warrants were issued.

The next article comes from the Scotland Daily Record and Mail and seems to suggest that the struggle was now over:

Dr. Clifford, Passive Resister.

The occurrence of recalls the prominent part which the great Nonconformist divine took in the passive resistance movement some years ago. It was a national protest, it may be remembered, by Nonconformists against payment of the tax under the Education Act, it being contended that the tax was for the support of schools to whose teaching the nonconformist idea was entirely opposed.

Many people went to prison “on principle,” and Dr. Clifford himself was prepared to suffer similarly, but his friends always circumvented him by paying the tax which he himself declined to recognise.

A major Education Act, one that is still partially in force today I believe, was enacted in . I have one reference in my files to a resister (A.E. Dent) still resisting the education rate as late as , however, so apparently this did not settle the controversy.