Assaults on Tax Collectors Can Discourage Them

I gave some examples of attacks directed at tax offices, some examples of attacks on the apparatus of taxation, some examples of tax resistance campaigns using particularly humiliating violent attacks against individual tax collectors, and some examples of attacks directed at the property of tax collectors.

Today I’ll continue this chronicle of the more brutal side of tax resistance campaigns with some examples of direct violent attacks on individual tax collectors.

  • During the Tithe War in Ireland, a Mr. Hudson was leading a party to serve notices on people who had not paid their parish tithes when the group was met by resisters who threw stones at them. Hudson shot one, at which point the rest of his party abandoned him, whereupon “he was brutally murdered by the mob, who mangled his corpse in a very frightful manner.”
  • There were several examples of such attacks during the Whiskey Rebellion. These examples come from Alexander Hamilton’s report to President Washington:
    • “The officers now began to experience marks of contempt and insult. Threats against them became more frequent and loud; and after some time these threats were ripened into acts of ill treatment and outrage.”
    • A deputy reported that “from a variety of threats to himself personally, although he took the utmost precaution to conceal his errand, that he was not only convinced of the impossibility of serving the process, but that any attempt to effect it would have occasioned the most violent opposition from the greater part of the inhabitants; and he declares that if he had attempted it, he believes he should not have returned alive.”
    • “Designs of personal violence against the Inspector of the Revenue himself, to force him to a resignation, were repeatedly attempted to be put in execution by armed parties, but by different circumstances were frustrated.”
    • “The idea was immediately embraced, that it was a very important point in the scheme of opposition to the law, to prevent the establishment of offices [of inspection] in the respective counties. For this purpose the intimidation of well-disposed inhabitants was added to the plan of molesting and obstructing the officers by force or otherwise, as might be necessary. So effectually was the first point carried (the certain destruction of property and the peril of life being involved), that it became almost impracticable to obtain suitable places for offices in some of the counties, and when obtained, it was found a matter of necessity, in almost every instance, to abandon them.”
    • “[A]nother party of men, some of them armed, and all in disguise, went to the house of the same collector of Fayette which had been visited in April, broke and entered it, and demanded a surrender of the officer’s commission and official books. Upon his refusing to deliver them up, they presented pistols at him, and swore that if he did not comply they would instantly put him to death.”
  • The Fries Rebellion also was notorious for its violence against tax assessors. Here are some examples from William Davis’s book on the subject:
    • “In a few instances, and before any matured plan had been agreed upon, the officers were prevented by threats from making the assessments…”
    • “[A]s threats of serious injury had been made against the assessors, who were forbidden to enter the township, they declined to attempt it.”
    • “The assessor of this township had been so much intimidated and threatened he was afraid to go about in the discharge of his duties. Mr. Foulke also expressed some fears of going into the township, as threats had likewise been made against him, and he anticipated trouble.”
    • “Captain Kuyder, who was in command of a company of militia, called them into service to assist in driving the assessors out of the township.”
    • “[Fries] proclaimed his opposition to the law; and said ‘I now warn you not to go to another house to take the rates; if you do you will be hurt.’ ”
    • “[The assessors] came to the unanimous conclusion they would not be justified in further attempt to take the rates in Milford township, on account of the violent opposition of the inhabitants, led on by John Fries.”
    • The rebels confronted a small band of assessors, who split up on seeing them. “Rodrock now rode in advance, and, when he had passed about half through the crowd, without giving heed to their commands to stop, they started to run after him from both sides of the road, some carrying clubs and others muskets, and made motions as if they intended to strike him.” He was halted, threatened at gunpoint, and then he fled; his companions were captured. One was dragged back to a pub and beaten. When he refused to hand over an assessment he had made earlier in the day, “They again took hold of him and shook him severely; and one man came forward and said he should be shot.” Fries told him he would be if he ever came back to assess. “The circumstances which took place at Quakertown decided the assessors to make no further attempt to take assessments in Milford, as they were convinced it would lead to difficulty, and, possibly, bloodshed.”
    • “When the people of the township heard that another person had been appointed in place of the one first named, and had undertaken to discharge the duties of the office, they became very violent and threatened him with personal injury. The leaders of the opposition collected a number of the disaffected into a mob, who waited upon the assessor, and gave him to understand harm would be done him if he attempted to take the rates. This demonstration intimidated him to such degree he resigned, and declined to have anything more to do with it.”
    • “[T]he people were so much enraged at Nicholas Michael, the assessor, for accepting the appointment, they went in large numbers to his house at night to do him bodily injury, but, being informed of their intention, he sought safety in flight. The next day he went to the commissioner and made complaint of the treatment he had received, tendered his resignation, and begged its acceptance… …they went to Judge Traill, an associate judge of the county; but, when they arrived there, Michael became alarmed and begged to be allowed until the next morning to consider the matter; saying, that if he informed against the people, he and his family would be ruined. In the morning he wished to be put in jail to be kept from danger, so great were his fears, but his request was not complied with.”
    • “[Mr. Bailliott, a collector] was waylaid upon his return from Bethlehem, whether he had been on business, and so severely beaten a physician was brought from that place to attend him.”
  • The French Revolution also featured attacks on collectors:
    • “At Toulon a demand is made for the head of the mayor, who signs the tax-list, and of the keeper of the records; they are trodden under foot, and their houses are ransacked.…”
    • “Especially against collectors of the salt-tax, custom-house officers, and excisemen the fury is universal. These, everywhere, are in danger of their lives and are obliged to fly. At Falaise, in Normandy, the people threaten to ‘cut to pieces the director of the excise.’ … For four hours the clerks are on the point of being torn to pieces; through the entreaties of the lord of the manor, who sees scythes and sabres aimed at his own head, they are released only on the condition that they ‘abjure their employment.’ ”
    • “ ‘No collector dare send an official to distrain; none that are sent dare fulfill their mission.’ ”
    • “At Saint-Etienne-en-Forez, Berthéas, a clerk in the excise office, falsely accused of monopolizing grain, is fruitlessly defended by the National Guard; he is put in prison, according to the usual custom, to save his life, and, for greater security, the crowd insist on his being fastened by an iron collar. But, suddenly changing its mind, it breaks upon the door and drags him to death. Stretched on the ground, his head still moves and he raises his hand to it, when a woman, picking up a large stone, smashes his skull. — These are not isolated occurrences.”
    • “[A]t Béziers, thirty-two employés, who had seized a quantity of contraband salt on the persons of armed smugglers, are pursued by the crowd to the Hôtel-de-Ville; the consuls decline to defend them and run away; the troops defend them, but in vain. Five are tortured, horribly mutilated, and then hung.”
    • “ ‘The arrears of taxes to be collected is here very considerable, white all proceedings of constraint are dangerous and impossible to execute, owing to the fears of the bailiffs, who dare not perform their duties, and the violence of the tax-payers, on whom there is no check.’ ”
  • In , a tax official in Issoudun, France, was “dragged… through the streets, [the crowd] shouting out at each street-lamp, ‘Let him be hung!’ ”
  • During the Poujadeist tax strikes in France, “unabashed Poujade vigilantes went right on chasing tax collectors down the roads, mobbing police and defying troops assigned to escort them” … “Angry ‘Poujadistes’ began resorting to physical violence against stubborn tax inspectors who insisted on seeing the accounts.”

From The Sydney Monitor of comes this brief note about tax resistance accompanying Reform Bill agitation in Britain:

The Non-payment of Taxes.

, and on , a number of the inhabitants of St. Margaret’s and St. John’s Westminster, when applied to by the King’s tax-gatherer for the payment of taxes, refused in most unqualified terms. In some instances, the tax collector begged and entreated as a friend, that the parties would pay him. Not until the Reform Bill is passed! was the general reply. A number of the inhabitants had notices placed to that efiect in their windows. The determination is becoming more general every hour.