Road Tax Resistance in Kansas

Today, I pursue a tax resistance campaign in Kansas a century back… for a while, anyway.

From The Chanute [Kansas] Daily Tribune of :

Road Tax Law Test

Preliminary Steps Taken for Opposing Measure

Mass Meeting Was Largely Attended

Frequent Quotations From Socialist Publication.
Committee Appointed to Obtain Additional Signatures of Persons Who Will Refuse to Pay Tax and Contribute Toward Appeal to Supreme Court.

More than one hundred men met in Labor hall to protest against the road tax ordinance. The hall was packed from front to back and some were forced to stand. George A. Harp was elected chairman and Jeff Hurley secretary.

“I am above the tax age,” remarked Mr. Harp, “but I believe it to be an unjust ordinance and I am in favor of making a test case of the first man arrested. A coal miner in Crawford county was arrested and tried before a justice of the peace. Upon listening to the evidence and hearing from two of the representatives who helped to pass the bill, the justice dismissed the case.

“According to the representatives, the bill was ‘railroaded’ through the legislature along with fifty other bills and the case was dismissed upon the grounds of unconstitutionality. Let us all stand together and make a test case of the first man arrested.”

Apparently it was a law in Kansas that each bill must be considered separately by the legislature, and it was alleged that this tax bill was bundled up with a bunch of others and passed in bulk. Other constitutional objections included the facts that Kansas City was mysteriously exempted from the law, and that women were not taxed as men were. There was also some hair-splitting about terminology differences in the road tax laws the state had authorized cities to enact and the laws the cities had actually enacted in response.

The subject was thrown open for discussion and several speakers made short talks in which they all expressed an opinion that the case of the first man arrested should be made a test. W.H. Brown read the article in the Appeal to Reason describing the trial in Crawford county. The article brought forth a round of applause.

A motion was made that papers be passed around and each man present sign his name and pledge himself to give 50 cents or more if necessary to pay an attorney to defend a test case.

A finance committee consisting of C.O. Boyce, chairman; M.S. Egan, and William Reese was elected to collect this money and turn it over to the treasurer who will be elected at a meeting .

After the committee was elected the question was again thrown open for discussion. O.M. Hund, who was one of the men who called the meeting, explained that he had sent a copy of the Chanute road tax ordinance to an attorney in Independence and asked him to advise them on the matter.

“I have paid road tax for over fifteen years,” said Mr. Hund, “and have never made a protest, but when the city says that we must pay the cash and will not be allowed to work the tax out on the roads I do protest and will continue to protest until a test case has been carried through every court in the United States.

“I received my notice some fifteen days ago, but I do not intend to pay the tax until a test case is made. There are men among us this evening who are out of a job and whose families are in need of food and clothing. If it were possible for us to work our taxes out we could give our money to them and thus give them two days’ employment and $3, which would pay the grocery bill for a week.

“Why should we, who do not have automobiles or horses, be taxed to keep up the roads and streets for the automobilists? Here is a poor man under 50 years of age who is working in the shops for $2 a day and hasn’t money enough to pay the rent, let alone own a horse or an automobile.

“Up the street a little ways is a rich banker over 50 years of age who owns several automobiles and horses. The poor man pays road tax, while the rich man doesn’t, and yet who derives the benefit? Why, the rich man, of course.

“I know several men in this city who are paralyzed and one who is almost blind. Are these men exempt from paying road tax? No. They have to pay their $3 to keep the roads up for the automobilist, while their wives and children go about half starved and half dressed. I tell you it is unjust and unreasonable and the laboring men should not stand for it.”

“Human flesh is selling cheaper than hog flesh or beef flesh,” remarked W.P. Riley. “An auctioneer could not get as much for you or for me if he were to sell us on the street corner as he could for a cow or a horse. Sell us outright, too, body and soul. I, for one, will not stand for it if there is a possible way to get around it.”

The finance committee was instructed to take papers among the laboring men of the city and have them pledge their names for a small sum in case a test case is made. The committed is of the opinion that it can raise nearly $500 by .

The Ottawa [Kansas] Daily Republic also covered the meeting, saying that there were “[m]ore than one hundred men” there, such that “[t]he hall was packed from front to back and some were forced to stand.”

A follow-up in the Tribune said that “City Attorney Evans has announced that all who refuse to pay the tax will be prosecuted in police court. The penalty is a fine of $5 if payment is not made within thirty days from the time that notice is given.” The city hoped to tax between 1,800 and 2,000 men and thereby raise somewhere between five and six thousand dollars.

At the second meeting, the group decided to call itself the “Laborers’ Protective Association of Chanute,” and to meet every Monday, and they also expressed hopes of continuing as such even after winning their tax battle. But for that shorter-term end, they decided to call on J.I. Shepard, a Socialist attorney who had won the case in Crawford that they had celebrated at the last meeting. They elected as officers Ed Taylor, C.O. Boyce, M.F. Egan, and William Reece.

Egan recommended that those who decided to pay the tax make sure that their receipts showed that they paid “under protest” so that they could later take action to have the money refunded if the tax was declared invalid. Meanwhile, they had to decide whether to resist en masse, to just use a single test case to try the law’s validity, or to file an injunction to try to freeze tax enforcement for the time being. It’s a little unclear from the Tribune report, but I think they decided to go the single-test-case route.

A report in the Tribune said that Ottawa, Kansas had also formed an anti-tax league of about thirty people. The article went on to claim that the movement “started some weeks ago among the Socialists at Girard and spread from there to Chanute and Iola. It has gained considerable momentum, and nearly all parts of Kansas have taken the fight up.”

Pittsburg Daily Headlight reported that two people — Dilver Brown and A.W. Ricker — had been arrested in Girard, Kansas, for failure to pay the poll tax, and had selected Sheppard as their attorney. Sheppard struck out at the local police court, which convicted and fined Brown, but he won a temporary injunction from the district court . Alas, a permanent injunction was not in the offing, the judge not being convinced that the tax was clearly unconstitutional.

Tribune brought the news that Sheppard would not be able to fight the Chanute battle, except in an advisory role.

The Topeka Daily Capital of reported on the rebellion as it was playing out there, noting that 11,000 poll tax notifications that had been sent out had yielded “only about 100 payments as against approximately 10,900 letters of protest, three threatened test suits of the law, and the organization of a live Anti-Poll Tax association on the East Side.” The article listed the 35 “charter members of the East Side Anti-Poll Tax association.”

The Lawrence Daily Journal-World of reported on how the resistance was proceeding in Fort Scott. There, 74 warrants were issued for arrest of tax resisters.

The Fort Scott Tribune-Monitor of reported, among other things, that:

Something interesting for the officials of Washington township may take place shortly according to a report from the office of the county attorney. The officers there refuse to collect the road tax, as the law says they shall.

By , enthusiasm was waning, and “[s]carcely a dozen turned out” to the Laborers’ Protective Association’s weekly meeting. A week later, only two people showed up. At the following meeting they decided to stop holding meetings for a while. When they finally held another one, in , again “only a few turned out.” In , M.F. Egan, who had been so adamant about not paying the tax, gave in, pled guilty to not having paid, and surrendered his fine and his right to appeal.

And by that time I started to lose interest too. Various other dramas were playing out across the state (arrests, fines, denunciations of the law) and there was an appeal working its way up the courts in Topeka, but I decided to sit on the side of the trail and relax instead.

Also, a couple of notes about a tax resistance action in Bermuda in . My first notice comes from the Bury and Norwich Post of , though they credit it to a “New York paper”; a longer version of the same report (also credited to “a New York Paper of ”) appears in the Morning Chronicle of , which I interpolate below:

Remarkable Epoch of Bermuda

On , under the administration of his Excellency Lieutenant-General the Honourable Sir William Lumley, K.C.B. and in a time of profound peace, military force takes precedence of the civil powers!!! The people of the parish of St. George were not well pleased with their parson, and an opinion having gone abroad that owing to some informality in signing the assessment they were not liable to pay their taxes, refused to open their purses to the tax-gatherer. It was decided by judges of law that they must pay: the collection had, however, been retarded; and when the present or new vestry were chosen, the greater part of two years’ taxes was due. The priest wanted his cash, and finally called on the Governor [William Lumley] for help. The Governor ordered the old wardens to make up their accounts, and transfer them to the new wardens — allowing them two months for settlement of their accounts, when it is contended that the ecclesiastical law allows them two years for that purpose. They treated his order with contempt; he then threatened them in various ways, and told them they should go to “prison, where no power under Heaven could release them,” &c. He sent his constables after them to attend his court; they refused to come, and he then sent and brought them by military force to the church door, where, with closed doors, he ordered them to comply with his demands; but they were stubborn, and after much threatening on the part of the Governor, they were committed to gaol under a military guard.

Lumley’s acts were later ruled illegal (Basham v. Lumley, ), and he was fined £1,000. Even if, as governor of the Bermuda colony, Lumley had also been granted ecclesiastical authority by the crown, the court ruled, he was not thereby authorized to use his civil authority to imprison people who refused his ecclesiastical orders; at most he could excommunicate them.