250 Years Ago Today: A Quantum Leap in Quaker War Tax Resistance

, a group of Quakers in Pennsylvania refused to pay taxes for the French-and-Indian War. They sent this letter to their fellow Friends, and launched the American war tax resistance movement.


Dear and Well Beloved Friends,

We salute you in a fresh and renewed sense of our Heavenly Father’s love, which hath graciously overshadowed us in several weighty and solid conferences we have had together with many other Friends upon the present situation of the affairs of the Society in this province; and in that love we find our spirits engaged to acquaint you that under a solid exercise of mind to seek for counsel and direction from the High Priest of our profession, who is the Prince of Peace, we believe he hath renewedly favoured us with strong and lively evidences that in his due and appointed time, the day which hath dawned in these later ages foretold by the prophets, wherein swords should be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, shall gloriously rise higher and higher, and the spirit of the gospel which teaches to love enemies prevail to that degree that the art of war shall be no more learned, and that it is his determination to exalt this blessed day in this our age, if in the depth of humility we receive his instruction and obey his voice.

And being painfully apprehensive that the large sum granted by the late Act of Assembly for the king’s use is principally intended for purposes inconsistent with our peaceable testimony, we therefore think that as we cannot be concerned in wars and fightings, so neither ought we to contribute thereto by paying the tax directed by the said Act, though suffering be the consequence of our refusal, which we hope to be enabled to bear with patience.

[And we take this position even t]hough some part of the money to be raised by the said Act is said to be for such benevolent purposes as supporting our friendship with our Indian neighbours and relieving the distresses of our fellow subjects who have suffered in the present calamities, for whom our hearts are deeply pained; and we affectionately and with bowels of tenderness sympathize with them therein; and we could most cheerfully contribute to those purposes if they were not so mixed that we cannot in the manner proposed show our hearty concurrence therewith without at the same time assenting to, or allowing ourselves in, practices which we apprehend contrary to the testimony which the Lord hath given us to bear for his name and Truth’s sake. And having the health and prosperity of the Society at heart, we earnestly exhort Friends to wait for the appearing of the true Light and stand in the council of God, that we may know him to be the rock of our salvation and place of our refuge forever. And beware of the spirit of this world, that is unstable and often draws into dark and timorous reasonings, lest the God thereof should be suffered to blind the eye of the mind, and such not knowing the sure foundation, the Rock of Ages, may partake of the terrors and fears that are not known to the inhabitants of that place where the sheep and lambs of Christ ever had a quiet habitation, which a remnant have to say, to the praise of his name, they have been blessed with a measure of in this day of distress.

And as our fidelity to the present government and our willingly paying all taxes for purposes which do not interfere with our consciences may justly exempt us from the imputation of disloyalty, so we earnestly desire that all who by a deep and quiet seeking for direction from the Holy Spirit are, or shall be, convinced that he calls us as a people to this testimony may dwell under the guidance of the same divine Spirit, and manifest by the meekness and humility of their conversation that they are really under that influence, and therein may know true fortitude and patience to bear that and every other testimony committed to them faithfully and uniformly, and that all Friends may know their spirits clothed with true charity, the bond of Christian fellowship, wherein we again salute you and remain your friends and brethren.

Signed by Abraham Farrington, John Evans, John Churchman, Mordecai Yarnall, Samuel Fothergill, Samuel Eastburn, William Brown, John Scarborough, Thomas Carleton, Joshua Ely, William Jackson, James Bartram, Thomas Brown, Daniel Stanton, John Woolman, Isaac Zane, William Horne, Benjamin Trotter, Anthony Benezet, John Armitt, John Pemberton.