Early Examples of Quakers Refusing to Pay War Taxes

On I reproduced here the bulk of a tract by “Philalathes” about whether Christians should pay war taxes, and just how entangled they should get with the state.

The book has a postscript that is also of interest:


I thought to have added (as our custom has been in England ) a catalog of all the sufferers for conscience sake in this province for not paying to uphold war. But at present, I’ll instance two or three monstrosities, and leave the rest until another time.

Henry Paxson of Bucks County, who served the country in assembly about twenty years at times, and had nothing for it, was by virtue of a warrant (as he told me) signed by Joseph Kirkbride, gospel minister, states man, and justice, and delivered to the constable (Thomas Stackhouse, church member assistant), thus used, he came to demand this tax, as abovesaid, in the Queen’s name, Paxson told him, “it could not be in her name, she never demanded any;” he answered, “he must have it in somebody’s name,” shows his power, Paxson kindly treats him with best he had, and when he had filled his wem, and drank plentifully of good cider, he distrains the plates he had eaten on, and the tankard he so freely toped out of, but the wife begged the tankard, and bid him take something in lieu of it.

Stone cold.

Ezra C[roasdale?] of the same place, preacher, was committed to the sheriff’s custody by the bench (I.K. present on the bench) for refusing on a conscientious principle to obey their unchristian orders.

Nicholas Ireland of Chester County, for same cause of conscience that could not pillage and rifle his neighbors, on the same foot as abovesaid, was committed to jail, by a warrant (inquire if not from Justice Caleb P[usey?].) and there kept, till by law, was forced to remove himself, and pay his fine. I ask my Reader if we did not use to call this persecution in England? (But this is more to be noted than all the rest) in any that I have spoken with, and many more that I have heard of, that at first dared not (for religion sake) pay this tax, yet some through sinful cowardliness, others for sake of peace (not of conscience, but the favor of the plotters of this contrivance) and others because the poor constable must otherwise have said to do at last, though directly opposite to conscience, comply and paid it (but it may be these formal peace-mongers may be disquieted one day).

But since I writ my pamphlet, I providentially met with the elaborate works of divine William Dell, who has a place amongst, if not all our Prints, and highly esteemed by good men for his excellent pieces now extant, I am not a little pleased to see how concordant we vie in our sentiments and notions of church-government, as well as John Milton, a man no less famous for good sense, and contemporaries, besides the sacred text and all our ancient Friends, and lately and principally the evidence and authority of God’s spirit that bears me up against all that oppose the publishing these essential points of our holy profession, etc. if I had no other authority, nor any body in the world to stand by me, this only would, and will, I am sure, support me. And though I am, by some that have seen my work, dissuaded to publish it, I shall not dispair of a reformation, when it happens into the hands of any not prepossessed; nay, such wise and good men too that have viewed me with a narrow eye, silently acknowledge the truth of which I offer; nevertheless these pillars in the church are and will be the Atlases of the state. I don’t care. I’ll wash my hands, and leave them to the next revolution, and then we shall see who is the blackest, they or me.

I little thought custom would have got such footing in so little time as thirty years; by custom I mean ill custom; good custom seldom holds long;

But the Devil and Self puts in for a snack.
When once it’s got footing, ’twill trun the scale back,

Makes me think of our no-fool J.T. whose lines want large characters, least our purblind doctors should not ken ’em.

“The Treacherous Mistress Custom first creeps in
 By gentle steps, so sly, she’s hardly seen,
 Till fixt by time, an Empire she obtains,
 A Tyrant worse then Nero, then she Reigns;
 Tame Fooles assist, their Follies to Increase,
 And Wise Men too oft err, for sake of peace.”

But what a peace a wise man can have in the truckling to known errors, I wot not; yes, the unity of the Friends and peace of the church. But read Dell and he’ll tell you what is the true peace of the true church, not to cloak innovations and absurdities, false doctrine and gross error; this is my business to unmask, and I hope I have done it honestly. And this I wot well, that as fools do see wise men stoop under pretense of peace, no wonder then that the empire of that cruel tyrant custom is so great, the greatest in all the world I dare say. But this I’ll tell you that are concerned, that if you, like schoolboys, will play truant together (I mean out of the school of Christ), you shall be all whipped together for company. Think of me when I am gone; the time is near that you shall see (unless you lose your eyes) that the nearer you get to the state, the further you get from the true church.

You know your lord and master tells you, you “cannot be heirs to God and Mammon too.” My advice therefore is to choose while it is in your power, lest when you would you cannot; for it’s a clear truth, you can rule but in one, properly. But the mystery is to make you believe it; for some men will not be guided by their knowledge, because of prepossession, but will persuade themselves they see not that heretofore was as clear to them as the sun. Wherefore I say, open your eyes and look at this text, and lay by your honorable faculty of the gown.

The house of God is his church, and the body of Christ is his church; the church is subject to Christ. Now am I not homogeneal with that body to whom I am joined? To be joined to two bodies is a monster. And if the house of God be his church, can any man join himself (homologically speaking) to both houses, viz. church and state too? Lastly, if the church be subject to Christ, pray whose subjects are you? You’ll answer, “to both.” Well then, if this plea will do, go on in the name of George, King of Great Britain; for his servants you are and good subjects too.

I conclude with divine Dell, in his book, called The way of true Peace and Unity in the true Church of Christ. His first practical rule, thus: “The true church is to preserve itself distinct from the world, and is neither to mingle itself with the world, nor suffer the world to mingle itself with it; for if the world and the church be mingled together in one society, the same common laws will no more agree to them who are of such contrary natures, principles and ends, than light and darkness, life and death.”

His second rule: “The church being thus distinct from the world, it is to be content with its own power for its own affairs.” But that the affairs of state belong to the church of Christ or of any of the true members is the point in controversy. Let the learned answer this, and perhaps it may save me the labor of penning another thesis to prove that the people called Quakers have no more to do in the state than the state has to do in their most solemn meetings.

By the state let the unlearned know, it is the world’s power, the civil magistrate that bears not the sword in vain, not the sword of the spirit, for that belongs to the true church, and no other.