Video: “Paying for Peace: War Tax Resistance in the U.S.”

The documentary Paying for Peace: War Tax Resistance in the United States is now available on-line.

The film was made in by Carol Coney and features interviews with Brian Willson, Robert Randall, Holley Rauen, John Shibley, Karl Meyer, Ed Pearson, Vicki Metcalf, Ernest & Marion Bromley, Juanita Nelson, Maurice McCrackin, Randy Kehler, and Carolyn Stevens.

On the video, this film is sandwiched between segments of an earnest alternative media television program called “Alternative Views” that is, in this episode anyway, devoted to the October Surprise conspiracy theory. If you want to watch only “Paying for Peace,” skip ahead to about 16:20 and play through the 45-minute mark. Beware also the opening seconds of the video (outside of the documentary portion), which are marred by a high-pitched screech.

An act of tax resistance by a man named Bezhuidenot, or Bezeidenhout, or Bezuidenhout, or Bezuidenhoudt, or something like that (makes Googling that much more fun), was the spark that set off the First Boer War (or Transvaal War).

Thomas Fortescue Carter, in his A Narrative of The Boer War () describes it this way:

In the Volksstem, the avowed organ of the discontented party, published at Pretoria, remarked that there was no reason why, at the forthcoming mass meeting of the Boers in , the question of union with the Cape Colony should not be discussed, since it was no good sending delegates to England any more to obtain the reversal of the act of annexation. It was against the editor of this journal that the Pretorian Government commenced a criminal action for inserting a notice given by a number of Boers that they refused to pay taxes to the Government, because the country was being illegally robbed.

We now come to the actual outbreak of rebellion…

The details I give of the Bezhuidenot affair were related to me personally by the Landdrost of Potchefstrom under the British Government, and by the Landdrost appointed by the Boers as soon as they seized the town, and who was, previous to the outbreak, Bezhuidenot’s advocate when he was brought before the court. Bezhuidenot was no doubt one of the Boers who only wanted a little provocation to pick a quarrel and bring matters to a crisis. He with two other Boers in the middle of the year voluntarily suffered a week’s imprisonment rather than pay a fine of £5 imposed for obtaining gunpowder without having a permit. The sacrifice these men made of their liberty on that occasion was in some measure rewarded, as on coming out of jail they harangued the bystanders, and were presented with twenty sovereigns.…

…He was sued by the Government for £27, 5s., or for nearly £14 more than was owing by him; and it must be borne in mind this was not the only case in which the Treasury officials at Pretoria made demands which were illegal. Over and over again people summoned for taxes supposed to be due, produced their receipts when the matter came into court, and proved that they owed nothing. Only a few weeks prior to the Potchefstrom incident, the goods of a citizen of Pretoria were attacked, without any previous process of law, for taxes set down at £80. Afterwards £20 was ascertained to be the amount owing. Numberless instances of mismanagement such as these — mistakes, if you like to call them so, but always mistakes on the right side, i.e. against the taxpayer — caused the Boers to think that the Government was intent on squeezing money out of them.

Mr. Goetz, the Landdrost of Potchefstrom, informed me that when Bezhuidenot appeared before him to answer the claim made by the Government for £27, 5s., he declared his willingness to pay £14 out of that amount, on condition that the Landdrost would give a receipt, in which it was stipulated that the £14 should be handed over to the South African Republic if it was restored to govern the Transvaal in . This the Landdrost would not consent to do, until he had communicated with the Government at Pretoria, and the case was adjourned for that purpose. When it came on for hearing again, the magistrate accepted Bezhuidenot’s tender of £14, and ordered him to pay the “costs,” which curiously enough amounted to £13, 5s., thus bringing the sum up to £27, 5s., or the total of the original claim. Goetz says that he was instructed by the Government to give costs against Bezhuidenot. On what principle of law or justice a man who has been dragged into court to prove that he has been overcharged should have to pay the costs of rectifying an error of the other side, it is difficult to imagine. Bezhuidenot, acting on his attorney’s, Van Eck’s, advice, refused to pay the costs. The Landdrost thereupon attacked a wagon belonging to Bezhuidenot, and announced that it would be sold at . In the Potchefstrom district there were Messrs. Piet Cronje, Koetze, and Basson, who had been sued for arrears of taxes alleged to be due to the Government, but they had refused to pay them.

On the morning of , these Boers, with about a hundred of their sympathizers, came into the town armed, and in front of the Landdrost’s office a harangue was delivered by some of the foremen or leaders respecting the judgment given against Bezhuidenot. The crowd then proceeded to the public square, and waited quietly till . When the sheriff got on Bezhuidenot’s wagon and began to read out the conditions of sale, Cronje immediately rushed to the wagon, pulled him off, and kicked him, saying, “Away with you, you Government officials; we don’t acknowledge you.” The Boers assembled then dragged the wagon to the centre of the square, where they guarded it until a span of oxen was brought, and then the wagon was driven off in triumph. The sheriff having no force at his disposal to resist the seizure, had to stand by and watch the proceedings.

Another account, in Justin Huntly McCarthy’s England Under Gladstone, (), reads:

The Boer hour had come. As in most insurrections, the immediate cause of the rising was slight enough. A Boer named Bezhuidenot was summoned by the landdrost of Potchefstrom to pay a claim made by the Treasury officials at Pretoria. Bezhuidenot resisted the claim, which certainly appears to have been illegal. Curiously enough, Bezhuidenot was the son of a Bezuidenot who sixty years before was shot for resisting the law in Cape Colony, and was the cause then of a Boer rising. The son was destined to be the herald of a new insurrection. The landdrost attached a waggon of Bezhuidenot’s, and announced that it would be sold to meet the claim. On the waggon was brought into the open square of Potchefstrom, and the sheriff was about the begin the sale, when a number of armed Boers pulled him off and carried the waggon away in triumph. They were unopposed, as there was no force in the town to resist them. The incident, trifling in itself, of Bezuidenot’s cart was the match which fired the long-prepared train. Sir Owen Lanyon sent some troops to Potchefstrom; a wholly unsuccessful attempt was made to arrest the ringleaders of the Bezhuidenot affair; it was obvious that a collision was close at hand. While the English authorities were delaying, uncertain how to act, the Boers were doing their best to expedite the crisis. On , almost exactly a month after , a mass meeting of Boers at Heidelberg proclaimed the Transvaal once again a republic, established a triumvirate Government, and prepared to defend their republic in arms.

Louis Creswicke, in his South Africa and the Transvaal War () gives another version:

Big things have often small beginnings, and the Boer rebellion, that has brought so many complications in its train, commenced with a very small incident. A certain Bezeidenhout, having refused to pay his taxes, had, by order, some of his goods seized and put up to auction. This was the signal for the malcontents to attack the auctioneer and rescue the goods. So great became the uproar and confusion, the women aiding and abetting the men in their disobedience of the law, that military assistance was summoned.

Blanche St. John (Moschzisker) Bellairs, in her The Transvaal War, () claims that “But for the Bezuidenhout affair, hostilities might have been avoided:”

But although a dangerous, dogged resolution, displaying the common tenacity, or famous fault of the Dutch, had no doubt been previously formed by the majority of the Boers — in some way, by force all others failing, to obtain redress of their grievances — it may yet be reasonably doubted if there would ever have been occasion for them to have resorted to open hostilities, had not the Bezuidenhout incident, — an attempt to levy taxes which were, in amount, if not illegal, certainly inequitable, — been most unnecessarily forced into prominence by the maladroit action of the local government, who thus suddenly fanned into a flame the smouldering discontent of the country, and so infuriated the people that not only did they rise en masse, but, worst of all, escaped from the ordinary control of their leaders, who were even threatened with death if they did not head the movement, and assist the former in obtaining by arms what they conceived to be their rights.

There has been no intention on the part of the disaffected Boers to take any active steps in that direction until the assembly of the people, which had been called for . The attempted arrest of Bezuidenhout by a body of constables specially raised for the purpose — there being no police forthcoming in the Transvaal for such duty — followed by the despatch of a military force to Potchefstroom in November, — in the belief that its presence would alone suffice to exercise such a moral restraint as would cause the arbitrary decisions of the Government to be respected, — occasioned the immediate assembly of several hundred armed men to guard Bezuidenhout from arrest, and the advancement of the date originally fixed for the mass meeting by a month. Had nothing occurred to have obliged the leaders to call an earlier meeting, the Boers would have assembled on in a much les excitable spirit, more amenable to control, and, as before, disposed to leave the direction of their cause in the hands of their leading men.

She later gives more details about how the “Bezuidenhout affair” played out:

It was during the early part of the month of November that the proceedings taken by the Government in the Bezuidenhout affair — which had been going on for some weeks — culminated in a crisis and rising of the people. As we have already remarked, the case arose out of an attempt to enforce the payment of taxes which were, in amount, if not illegal, certainly inequitable. The case was, however, but the last of many previous wrongful attempts at official exaction.

In the account which Mr Hudson, the Colonial Secretary, gives of his interview with Mr Kruger and the Boer Committee — which took place at Kaulfontein, near Potchefstroom, on … Mr Cronjé, who subsequently commanded the Boers at the siege of Potchefstroom, is mentioned as expressing his desire to state “all the circumstances which have led to the present difficulties,” and as proceeding as follows:—

“Mr Bezuidenhout was served with a tax notice to pay £27, 5s. He appeared at the office of the Landdrost of Potchefstroom, and told him he was willing to pay £14, which was all that could legally be demanded. The Landdrost refused to receive it, but said Bezuidenhout must pay £27, 5s.; but he declined to do so. He was then summoned for £27, 5s., and appeared, presenting his last receipts, and tendered again £14. The Landdrost answered as before. Bezuidenhout flatly refused to pay. Subsequently judgment was given for £14, with £8 costs, and the waggon was attached for the £14. If this matter is looked into, it will be seen how illegally the Government has acted.”

…To make Mr Cronjé’s statement still clearer, it should further be mentioned that Mr Bezuidenhout was possessed of certain half or portions of farms, which were assessed at the full or same rate of tax as levied on full farms, — reckoned at 6000 acres each. The law — probably through an omission, or because the division of fars was not at the moment foreseen — only specified one rate for farms, meaning the recognised farms of 6000 acres each. For half farms, at half rates only, Mr Bezuidenhout’s tender of £14 in payment of all taxes due by him was correct, and should have been accepted.

From the fact of the Landdrost having finally revised his decision, and given judgment for £14, it would seem that the Government had tardily recognised their error to that extent. But, not satisfied with having put Mr Bezuidenhout to great unnecessary trouble, as well as expense, in employing an attorney to resist a wrongful claim, he was mulcted in costs — for proving he was right.

As Mr Bezuidenhout refused payment, a waggon belonging to him was attached in execution, and steps taken to sell the same in front of the Landdrost’s office at Potchefstroom on . The sale was interrupted by an assembly of about one hundred Boers, who forcibly took the waggon away.*

* In his letter of , calling upon Colonel Bellairs to despatch troops to Potchefstroom in aid of the civil power, Sir Owen Lanyon gives a different version of the cause of Bezuidenhout’s non-payment of taxes. He says — “This waggon had been taken under authority of the Court for non-payment of taxes, Bezuidenhout having refused to pay the same, not because he was unable to do so, but on the grounds that he would not recognise her Majesty’s Government.” No mention is made of the real facts of the case.…