David Irish Covers Quaker War Tax Resistance for the Friends Intelligencer

David Irish () wrote frequently for the Friends’ Intelligencer (usually as “D.I.”) on the subject of the Quaker peace testimony and related issues — such as boycotting slave-labor products:

Believing that “whoso gives the motive makes his brother’s sin his own,” he made his protest against slavery by abstaining, so far as possible, from the use of slave-labor products. This conscientious scruple was shared in his earlier years by one, his favorite sister, and together they made maple, to take the place of cane sugar, and used nothing but linen and woolen clothing (largely homespun). This abstaining he continued for himself and his family until slavery was abolished; although at a later period free-labor stores were kept, in New York and Philadelphia, from which supplies were obtained, but at a higher price and of inferior quality.… In his home was always made welcome the trembling fugitive fleeing from his Southern prison house; he was fed and lodged, and with words of cheer sent forward with a few lines of endorsement to the next station towards the North land of freedom. Occasionally one was kept for a time and employed, if it was deemed safe, and there must never be any distinction made in the family on account of his color; he sat at the same table, and was treated as an equal.…

He never voted for any government or even town officers; his reason, that the ultimate resort for the enforcement of law as governments were now formed, was force, and it was not justifiable to do by the hand of another what we would not do ourselves. In the time of our Civil War he allowed his cattle to be sold by the tax collector, not feeling free to pay the direct war-tax.

Here is an example of his writing in which he urges Friends to be careful about supporting war with their taxes:

Friends have been and still are surrounded by circumstances that require them to be on their guard, lest they compromise their testimony against war.

To my understanding, the religious Society of Friends hold that they are bound to obey no law calculated to uphold and perpetuate the war system, deeming this system to be at open variance with morality, Christianity, and the best interests of man; and that this view is clearly corroborated by the precepts and example of the blessed Jesus.

We may be told that to decline obedience to such laws is impossible; that the military and civil laws of this country are so connected that in obeying the latter, the former shares a degree of this obedience as a matter of necessity. What then? Shall we cease all intercourse with our fellow men, and shut ourselves up between two walls? No! To decline the payment of a bounty tax — a tax exclusively to be applied in hiring men to enter the field for the slaughter of their fellow men — involves no such difficulties. True, the sacrifice is to be submitted to, which the non-compliance with such requisition inflicts as a penalty: but is it not better to obey God than man, especially when obedience to the latter is disobedience to the former? Now, I ask, can there be a plainer case, or one where Friends, by their profession, are required to decline obedience to a military demand, than the payment of a bounty tax? — not even that of entering the field excepted. What a man does by the hand of another, he does himself; so that the payment of the bounty tax, by any one disposed to bear a testimony against war, has not the shadow of a valid excuse.

The discipline of Friends expressly prohibits a compliance with military requisitions, or the payment of a fine or tax in lieu thereof; because to do so would be a violation of their testimony against war. Is not such testimony violated in paying a bounty tax, as well as the whole spirit and meaning of the discipline on the subject of war? If the discipline may be construed as meaning the military service required of Friends, it does not follow that the payment of a bounty tax is not in lieu of military service: on the contrary, it is so intended by legislative bodies, so as to equalize the burden of war. Again, if the discipline positively enjoins upon members non-compliance with military requisitions, or forbids any payment being made in lieu thereof, is not the meaning and force of this, and the testimony it is designed to sustain, violated by giving direct aid to others for entering the field of human slaughter? and, as the greater includes the lesser, there is no specific discipline needed against the payment of bounty taxes. We have no discipline definitely prohibiting members of our society from making and furnishing swords, pistols, cannon, etc., in those very words; but to do this would surely be a violation of the meaning, and letter too, of a discipline requiring its members not to “comply with military requisitions, make payment in lieu thereof, or furnish the means for carrying on war.”

Would not that father who should hire his neighbor to enter the army, having a son tempted to enlist also, disqualify himself for advising that son against such a step, on the score of having a testimony against war? And where is the difference, whether one man hire his neighbor, or one hundred unite in furnishing the means of hire? There can be none; the principle is the same.

I do not see how any Friend can pay the bounty tax, without its being detrimental to the testimony under notice; for the unprejudiced observer cannot fail to see the inconsistency of such a course, which might greatly tend to lessen his estimation of this testimony and its professors. Here we see the injury that may be done to the community, to say nothing of the injury done to the individual, and his fellow members.

Should unfaithfulness increase in the maintenance of this righteous testimony, can we look for anything else but that government will gradually withdraw those favors Friends are now receiving on this subject, so that if the testimony be regained, it will be through much suffering? Oh, how important that the Society of Friends throughout should speak but one language, and exhibit but one good and consistent example on this great subject! Who can estimate the amount of influence that thereby might be brought to bear upon the great family of man, for the extinction of the odious system of war and its attendant evils. May the members of this Society everywhere dwell under a due sense of their trust in regard to this noble Christian testimony, and the greatness of the obligation for its uncompromising maintenance. Then our “peace would be as a river, and our righteousness as the waves of the sea,” which are onward and onward. Such results would inspire the hope that the glorious day spoken of by the Prophet would soon arrive, in which the “sword will be beaten into a plough-share, and the spear into a pruning hook; and nation no more lift up sword against nation, neither learn war any more.”