Sir, It Is My Deliberate Intention Not to Pay the Income Tax

From The Nelson Evening Mail, , comes this remarkable letter that, with the updating of a few details, would look good in tomorrow’s daily:

Taxation — Speaking Out.

The following letter is copied from an English journal, and is addressed to Mr. Lowe, Chancellor of the Exchequer, by Mr. St. Swithin Williams, a tradesman at Oxford.

Sir — It is my deliberate intention not to pay the income-tax. In a humble way I shall do what Hampden did about the ship-money; I shall take care not to break your laws, but within the limits of your laws I shall withstand you to the utmost.

I refuse to pay your demand for the same reason that I should resist the demands of a highwayman or a burglar. Archbishop Whateley reminds us that it is only so far forth as the taxation of a country is a fair charge for the services rendered by the Government that taxation differs from avowed robbery.

Now, is forty-three millions a year a fair charge for the services rendered to us by the tax-consumers? Everyone knows that all the real good you do for us could be done for very much less than forty-three millions a year. This is admitted by every minister when out of office. My own conviction is that twenty millions a year of your taxation is unnecessary: to that extent your taxation is robbery.

In return for shameless taxation you fail to perform the first duties of a Government. So ignorant are you of the art of war, that ten thousand British soldiers, when led by you, are no match for a handful of Maori barbarians. You cannot even tether our troop horses. Our seamen you run aground and drown. Hundreds of thousands of labor’s hard earnings you fling into the waves at Alderney; but our commercial ports, on whose safety our food depends, you leave, with sinister designs, open to bombardment. Your miserable allowance to witnesses and prosecutors in courts of justice compels policemen and all prudent men to shut their eyes when crime is committed. In order to check the growing wealth and power of the industrial and commercial classes, you contrive insolvency and bankruptcy laws which enable the extravagant and dishonest to defraud the industrious and thrifty of thousands of millions.

It is not because it is the income-tax that I refuse to pay you. I wish that I could raise the issue on some tax still more iniquitous; such as the millions you snatch from poor people’s necessaries — their tea or sugar. As I neither import nor make taxed articles, I can challenge you only on a direct tax.

Nor do I wish to shirk my duties as a citizen; quite the contrary. When the Crimean war had proved to us the imbecility of your standing armaments, I was one of the first to become a volunteer — a volunteer in earnest. If I save this income-tax from your clutches I shall offer it as a donation to societies for promoting political reform — the Financial Reform Association, &c.

Your fallacy, that if I pay you less some one else must pay you more, deceives no one who understands your expenditure — you just squander all that you can lay your hands on. True, you apply a little now and then to a sham reduction of the national debt; but you run us into debt again the first opportunity; so that our national debt is about as much to-day as it was forty years ago. Could you rob us of another ten millions a year you would govern us no better; you dare not rule us worse if we saved twenty millions a year from your bottomless pit.

Until members, who are or have been tax-consumers, or whose fathers or sons or sons-in-law are tax-consumers, are excluded from voting on questions of taxation, it is absurd to look to Parliament for a reduction of taxation. For you make it the interest (pecuniary or social) of a majority in both Houses to increase the expenditure.

A national refusal to pay unnecessary taxation is our only remedy; and it is a sure one. You tried to tax our American brethren against their will, and you failed. The Irish peasantry got rid of your church cess and your tenants’ tithes by dogged non-payment. A few dissenters steadfastly refused to pay your church-rates, and church-rates had to be abolished. You can rob us of our chairs and tables, but they will be of no use to you if we will not buy them of you.

In the hope that others may be induced to follow my example, I shall publish this letter.

Notice how conscious the author was of the history of tax resistance in the British empire. He mentions John Hampden, the American revolutionaries, the anti-tithe movement in Ireland, and the tax resistance by Christian nonconformists. There was a time when examples like these fixed themselves in the public mind and became historical landmarks of common reference. Today, hereabouts, semi-confused references to the Boston Tea Party are about all we can hope to find common ground on.