The Education Act Tax Resistance Campaign: June 1903

Continuing from where I left off , here are a few more examples of the newspaper coverage of the tax resistance campaign against provisions of the Education Act, a long-term, widespread campaign with mass participation that proved very influential to other tax resistance campaigns that followed.

First, some excerpts from the Western Times:

Passive Resistance.

An Enthusiastic Meeting at Stratton.

A large and enthusiastic meeting to hear an address on this subject by the Rev. S.B. Lane, of Brighton, was held the Lecture Hall, Stratton, . The audience consisted chiefly of men who came from the district round, Mr. J.P. Baker presided and he was supported on the platform by the Rev. S.B. Lane, Rev. J. Seldon (Kilkhampton), Rev. E. Craddock (Holsworthy), Rev. F. Rabey (Bude), and Mr. Williams (Schoolmaster Kilkhampton). After a hymn and prayer by the Rev. J. Seldon, the Chairman said they had met to welcome Mr. Lane and to give passive resistance to the wretched Education Act which he said was bad from the crown of its head to the sole of its foot. It was an unfair Bill, it imposed tests, and the country would not rest until it was wiped out of the land. He hoped the audience had come with an open mind and he trusted some would be convinced. He (the Chairman) was prepared to go to prison, if need be, rather than pay the rate.

The Rev. S.B. Lane said they wanted no bitter feelings against anyone, what they wanted was religious equality. Some of them were passive resisters. He was glad to see some Churchmen present, he wanted deal with the question fairly. He (the Speaker) formed one of the deputation to Mr. Balfour when Dr. Fairbairn said to Mr. Balfour that they would not submit. He would not have agreed to the compromise On questions being invited, an Elector enquired if he refused to pay the rate, whether he should lose his vote. The Chairman thought there was no fear of losing the vote. It depended upon the overseer whether he would take part of the rate or not.

Mr. Williams (Wesleyan Schoolmaster, Kilkhampton) said in England and Wales he would debarred from 16,000 schools. In Cornwall, 162 schools, and within six miles seven schools were closed against him. Why? Because went to chapel. “Is that right?” he asked, and added. “I shan’t pay!”

The Rev. E. Craddock moved “That this meeting strongly denounces the Act and earnestly seeks its early repeal, and sympathises with those who refuse pay the sectarian rate on conscientious grounds.” This was carried with no dissentients. Hearty votes of thanks were passed to Mr. Lane and the Chairman. Invitation was given to join the Passive Resistance League, names to be given in to Mr. Williams.

The first reports of reprisals begin to come in: from the Aberdeen Journal:

Objectors to the Education Act

Distress Warrants Granted.

Two Baptist ministers, a coal merchant, and a Dissenting schoolmaster, were summoned at Stroud (Gloucester) Police Court for not paying their rates. They pleaded that they conscientiously objected to pay the full rate because part was devoted to the maintenance of sectarian schools. The chairman advised the defendants to pay under protest. The bench could only carry out the law. Distress warrants were issued.

An article by the Rev. A. Gray in the Burnley Express included a tribute to John Hampden, and this note about how the campaign was proceeding in Wales:

Wales is leading the van in this great fight against the Education Bill of . The “rock of offence” in their eyes, as well as in ours, is the teaching of denominationalism at the public expense. At Cardiff, on , a Welsh National Convention was held, “which was remarkable for the determined spirit manifested thereat.” As is well known most of the Welsh County Councils have determined to administer the Act in “the spirit and along the lines of the motto, ‘no rate aid without public control.’ ” Mr. Lloyd-George made a great speech at the evening meeting, in which he counselled ratepayers to adopt Passive Resistance in “those areas where the county councils are determined to administer the Act in the interests of denominationalism.” “In these infected areas where the councils had betrayed the people, let the people withhold the rate from them.”

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph had an anonymous letter opposing the passive resisters that included a comment about Quaker war tax resistance that caught my eye:

Formerly our Quakers rebelled in like manner against war taxation. They had far better grounds, for war not absolutely defensive is no actual or imaginary injustice; it is confessedly unchristian. But Quakers are more sensible in these days. Their opinions are known, and they pay their war tax with that reservation.

That paper also covered additional cases of passive resisters being taken to court. “Considerable interest was evinced in the cases, as the two defendants were well known, being the Rev. T. Collins, resident Primitive Methodist Minister for the Patrington Circuit, and the other Miss Lilla Talbot, daughter of the late Mr. E. Talbot, Methodist minister.” Distress warrants were granted against each.

At Alnwick on , George William Thompson and the Revs. John Oman, John Otty, and Ernest Oliver, Nonconformist ministers, were summoned for refusing to pay the Education Rate. — Mr. Joel, barrister, who prosecuted, said some people sought the martyrdom, which might be the object of those proceedings. — Mr. Thompson said he had no desire to be a mock martyr, but those proceedings were the only remedy the law allowed him of expressing disapproval of the rate. — The other defendants objected to pay the portion of the rate devoted to education purposes, on the ground that it inflicted gross injustice on Nonconformists. — The magistrates made an order on all the defendants to pay the rate demanded.

The News and General Advertiser brought this news:

Berwick Passive Resistance League.

This League met in the Baptist Church on , the Rev. R[obert] Leggat presiding. The Chairman explained that the meeting had been called for the purpose of taking into consideration what measures should be adopted when the demand notes were issued by the overseers, which would take place within the next few days. He was given to understand that the overseers had already discussed whether they had to instruct their collector to take the rates less the Education rate, or whether they should insist on having the full pound of flesh. The discussion, he understood, had been a very animated one, and lasted for over an hour, practically degenerating into a wrangle between Church and Dissent. It had been ultimately agreed by 4 to 2 to refuse anything except the whole rate. The Churchwardens had voted solidly for this motion which meant of course that they would put the Nonconformists to as much expense and trouble as possible. On the other side of the river the demand notes had already been issued, and some persons had paid the full rate in ignorance of the fact that the Education rate was included in the Borough rate. It would be well that they should understand that this new rate was not specified on the demand note, but was included under the heading of the Borough rate. Mr George Martin said that as the Council had the appointment of overseers it would be for the community to see at the next election whether churchwardens as such should be appointed overseers. The Rev. Lamb Harvey said that the Education rate was 4d. in the £ rental, and the rate for sectarian schools would therefore be about 1d. in the £ so they should recommend to members of the League that they should tender payment of all with the exception of the 1d. in the £ rental for sectarian schools. It was also agreed to issue a further manifesto making plain the position of the League, and the reasons which had led them to adopt this attitude.

The manifesto followed that article. It lays out their complaints about being forced to pay for sectarian schools and says “we earnestly invite all lovers of religious liberty and even-handed justice to join us in refusing to pay this rate.”

The Hull Daily Mail covered a meeting presided over by parliamentarian Robert W. Perks, in which he slammed the Education Act and had this to say about the passive resistance campaign:

He deprecated the idea that people should always submit to Parliamentary enactments, that a law abound the property and conscience of the people. That was not English, it was not in accordance with British history. He believed the Education Rate was an unjust and an immoral tax, and he did not believe it would be defended upon any righteous ground. When the bailiffs came to his house they would have to worm it from him by distraining upon his goods (applause).

The Burnley Express and Advertiser of covered a meeting of the Burnley and District Passive Resistance League which was attended by about 400 people. The meeting entertained the following resolution:

That this meeting protests against the so-called Education Act, , because it is unconstitutional in character, and seriously violates the principles of religious liberty, and hereby pledges itself to make every effort for its early repeal, and meanwhile gladly recognises the patriotic action of those who are prepared to resist the payment of that portion of the rate which may be levied for dogmatic teaching in rate-aided schools.

A G.W. King moved the resolution and added: “There was one weapon left with which they could deal out some heavy blows against the Act, and that was the weapon of passive resistance.”

The Rev. T. Seaton Davies seconded the resolution. He spoke of what he called the marvellous growth of the passive resistance movement, and said the passive resisters were becoming a force which would have to be reckoned with. On the whole he thought they had gained rather than lost in popularity by the sneers of their enemies and the criticisms of their friends.

“Alderman White, M.P.” spoke next, and in part, “replied to the charge made against the passive resisters that they were revolutionists and anarchists, and remarked that it did not matter whether the education rate was 1d. or £100, he would resist it.”

What he felt as the most serious part of that business was this, that the Protestantism of the nation was very largely at stake in that matter, for none of them knew what the insidious influence of High Church was, how it was burrowing underground in many ways. Therefore, he said that one means in his judgment of keeping that thing alive was to resist paying the rate, as it was necessary for the maintenance of their Free Church principles, and for their Protestantism, to do so, and many of them felt they could not do less, whatever the consequences were. They alone could do it. It was the Free Churches which must do it. It was not a single combat, but a war. In entering upon that position they were entering upon a long struggle which could end only in the disestablishment of the Church — (applause) — which was the sole cause of putting the educational clock back. Being on the right in that matter, they were bound, in the long run, to gain the victory. (Applause)

Below this was an accompanying article:

“Resistance” at Padiham

On the executive of the Free Church Council met at Mount Zion Baptist school, the Rev. D. Muxworthy presiding, and it was decided to form a Passive Resistance League for the town, and a public meeting will follow, probably next week. We are informed that a deputation has waited upon the accountant and assistant overseer (Mr. R.T. Whitehead), with reference to the deduction of that portion of the poor rate which is put down for education purposes — 3d. in the £, and the president of the Free Church Council states that the answer was that resisters could pay the rate with this reservation, and that the law would have to recover this separately.

On , the Rev. G.W. Bloomfield, pastor of the Mount Zion Baptist Chapel, preached on passive resistance, and gave the following reasons for refusing to pay the education rate, having already refused… [the usual grievances follow]

An editorial in the Coventry Herald decrying the passive resistance movement, put the danger in these terms:

Not only is resistance to the law being made or contemplated, but, in some cases at least, the particular methods taken to encourage it constitute an additional defiance of the law, amounting to legal conspiracy. There may be nothing illegal in passive resistance, in itself considered; legal authorities have been cited to that effect. In such cases the law executes itself; those who refuse their money have to part with their goods; they pay in the end. A peaceful acquiescence in this solution of a legal liability exemplifies the theory of passive resistance. In a by-gone generation Quakers took this attitude in regard to war taxes; but they did not seek to emphasize their action by public demonstrations, or to make it spread beyond their own borders. What is called passive resistance to the Education Act is, for the most part, of another character; it is organised, and, practically, missionary.

The author quotes from a letter by James Guinness Rogers that appeared in the London Times, in which that nonconformist minister and disestablishment activist warned that “Passive resistance may be regarded… either as a piece of political strategy, or as an act of supreme loyalty to conscience, and the two cannot be confounded without serious misunderstanding as to the issue at stake.”

The editorial adds this note about the “missionary” strategy of the resistance movement:

We have in Coventry a Passive Resistance League for the city and district. A week ago, the number of members was stated at 150, and it is believed to be increasing. There was recently a public meeting in Queen’s Road Chapel, at which a manifesto, setting forth the case against the Act, was approved. This manifesto, addressed “To the People of Coventry,” is about to be distributed from house to house; eighteen thousand copies have been printed. Attached are two forms; one is for those who desire to be added to the list of passive resisters; the second is for persons “who unable to decline” to pay the education rate (compounders and others presumably) desire to show their sympathy with those who refuse it and their willingness to contribute to an indemnity fund. Sympathisers with the manifesto are invited to fill either of the forms, and to send the same to one of twenty-five gentlemen whose names are given; the twenty-five include nine Nonconformist ministers. This is “passive resistance” up-to-date.

Next, from the Gloucester Citizen:

Passive Resistance.

The Mayor of Wisbech declares that he will suffer distraint of goods rather than pay the education rate.

It is thought that the distrained goods of some “passive resisters” at Matlock Bath will be taken to some distant town and sold.

Mr. Lloyd-George, M.P., speaking at Stratford on , extolled the passive resistance movement, and incidentally expressed the opinion that Mr. Chamberlain had started his new idea of taxing the people’s food for the purpose of withdrawing public attention from the iniquitous Education Act.

On , Prime Minister Balfour released a lengthy letter to the press in which he attacked the arguments against the Education Act and in particular the Passive Resistance campaign against it. This suggests that the government had begun to become alarmed.

The gauntlet was taken up by the reverend A.S. Hollinshead, who devoted his sermon to “Christ and Cæsar” — insisting that this time Caesar had gone too far and it was the duty of Free Churchmen to refuse.

On a meeting in Cheltenham of “large attendance, including a number of ladies in the gallery” discussed the question: “Shall we resist?” A report was given in ’s Cheltenham Chronicle. Balfour’s letter was derided, but also held up as a sign that the movement was making headway in becoming a genuine thorn in the side of the powers that be.

The Rev. Walker Blott, during whose speech a collection was taken on behalf of expenses, explained the basis on which the Cheltenham and District Passive Resistance Union had been formed. The refusal of the Cheltenham overseers to make a simple concession that they might easily have made showed that they would have no consideration in the battle; but they did not yet know how far persecution would be carried. They wished to collect funds sufficient to enable them to support the poorest townsmen in the struggle, and also to distribute literature (cheers).

The reverend Hirst Hollowell included the following in his remarks:

Here the speaker referred to the action of several Christian ladies in Suffolk who had boldly entered the precincts of a police-court and stated before the magistrates their reasons for refusing to pay this rate. … Not only were people refusing to pay this rate all over the country, but were going before the magistrates, and that very day the Government had commenced business on behalf of the Churches of Rome and England. At Worksworth, in Derbyshire, the auctioneer had commenced to flourish his hammer, for there they were taking the lead in this historical refusal to pay the rate. Nine o’clock was the time secretly fixed for the first sale by public auction of a passive resister’s goods and chattels; but men heard of it, and drove 14 miles to the nearest telegraph station, messages being dispatched in all directions. One reached Dr. Clifford, who left London by the newspaper train at 5.15 in order to be present (loud cheers). Six hundred men faced the auctioneer, and not a public bid was given (loud cheers); but someone privately bought the articles seized and restored them to their owners. Then a huge crowd surrounded Dr. Clifford, who spoke to them for over an hour in the rain (loud cheers). He believed they were on the eve of one of the greatest triumphs for liberty England had ever seen: and he trusted that in the preceding battle and sacrifices the harassed and brilliant town of Cheltenham would take a foremost and glorious place (loud cheers).

The meeting continued:

The Chairman then put the resolution– “That this meeting approves of the formation of a Passive Resistance Union for Cheltenham, and resolves to give it hearty support.” — The meeting rose to support it, and on those against it being also asked to stand up, Mr. Alf. Mann and Mr. Bradfield proved to be the only dissentients.

The Rev. J. Foster, in moving a vote of thanks to the speakers, expressed the hope that they should have 500 or even 1,000 pledged passive resisters (applause). … He warned people to ask before paying their rates if anyone had already paid the sectarian proportion for them, and to make a further deduction if necessary.

The Rev. J. Lewitt seconded, saying that he had never paid an ecclesiastical rate in his life, and that by God’s help he never would do so (applause).

The motion was heartily carried, and the meeting closed with a vote of thanks to the chairman.

And that takes us through