Anthony Benezet and Benjamin Mason Urge War Tax Refusal

For some time I have been hoping to get my hands on a defense of Quaker war tax resistance that I’ve seen alluded to in some letters. For instance, in , Anthony Benezet wrote to Moses Brown, saying:

The thoughts on paying taxes of Samuel Allinson is well thought of even by those who yet pay them, and as he has got diverse arguments not in the piece now sent to the clerk of your Meeting for Sufferings, I have suggested to him if Friends with you should agree to the publication of anything, I thought some Friend might, out of them all, make the apology much more complete, which I could wish as done in preference to publishing this now sent.

I was able to track down Allinson’s piece, but the other one eluded me. Benezet also refers, in another letter that year, to “a packet… containing the thoughts I had collected on the payment of taxes…” The following year, he forwards to Robert Pleasants “some note which we have made on that weighty subject,” asking for help, and saying cautiously that “As it is a step in the reformation that so directly crosses a received testimony in Society more than any other we had need to step carefully and wisely in it. He that believes makes not haste.”

It seems that Benezet never managed to get his thoughts on paper in a form he thought was suitable for publication. Either he ceded to what he felt was an adequately-worded statement published by some other author or by the Society, or he gave up on the project, or he died (in 1784) before he could finish it.

But there is a draft that he co-wrote with B[enjamin?] Mason in 1779 in the archives of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College. They sent me a photocopy, which I’ve transcribed below.

It is a little difficult to determine which parts are Mason’s and which parts Benezet’s. They sign the document in a few places, but the handwriting can sometimes switch in the middle of a section. I’ve tried to make the punctuation more sensible and have corrected some odd spelling decisions (“Cannady” for Canada, “Ceasar” for Caesar, “angle” for angel, “porposes” for purposes, and so on). I’ve also added quotation marks to direct quotes from which they were missing.

Some Brief remarks offered as Reasons why we ought not to pay Taxes to support War

Come out from among them & be ye separate saith the Lord & touch not the unclean thing & I will receive you & will be a father to you & ye shall be my sons & daughters saith the Lord Almighty.

2d Corin. 6:17 & 18th


The design of the following remarks is not to feed the curious or to enter into a field of controversy; but first to demonstrate that our testimony against paying taxes to support war proceeds from & coincides with the gospel spirit, & is consistent with what has been revealed and discovered to the faithful of many generations, being agreeable to scripture & reason. And secondly that those who may be wavering or in doubt & have not sufficiently attended to the nature & design of our peaceable testimony and principles (which would lead all the families of the earth into the possession of peace) may be strengthened & encouraged hereby, for as we profess to be led & guided by the Spirit of Truth, which leadeth into all truth and out of all error I feel a desire that we may carefully examine whether we have so attended to this infallible guide as to be redeemed from every connection with those impure channels which convey life & vigor to the devouring spirit of war. In which scrutiny the succeeding sheets may serve as a touchstone.

With respect to the question put to our savior by the Pharisees and Herodians (which those who advocate the payment of taxes for military uses build much upon) it appears from Matthew, Mark, & Luke (who differ very little in stating the case) that their design was to ensnare him; Luke says “that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power of the governor” &c. But “he perceived their craftiness and said… ‘show me a penny, whose image & superscription hath it?’ They answered, ‘Caesar’s;’… he said unto them, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesars, & unto God the things which be God’s:’ And they could not take hold of his words.” Now it appears from the inscription Pilate wrote on the cross, & other passages, that they had conceived an idea that he had a design of usurping the kingdom, & doubtless they thought his views at that time would lead him to forbid paying tribute unto Caesar, which would have been construed as treason; the likeliest accusation to have place with the governor, but if he had said it is lawful to give, they would have represented him to the people as having done despite to the Mosaic Law, so that his answer is much better adapted to defeat their purpose than to determine their question; in that respect it is altogether ambiguous. He perceived their wickedness, bid them render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (which they certainly ought to do) but he did not say that money was Caesar’s nor command them to give it to him, neither was it his because it bore his image & superscription, more than if it had the impression &c. of Alexander the Great on it, or more than the money in Europe, which has the image &c. of the reigning princes on it can be said to be theirs. So that I apprehend that our Lord’s will with respect to that question cannot be understood by his answer, & it is plain that his adversaries did not look upon his answer as decisive, but being frustrated, marveled.

Now to distinguish between what are the things of God & what are Caesar’s: Whatever infringes upon or operates against the law of God written in the heart or commanded through his Son in the New Testament cannot be Caesar’s due. And since we are commanded not to resist evil, not to love our friends only but our enemies also, if any ruler under the character of Caesar require us to resist evil or to give him money to promote violence or the destruction of enemies (which is a certain token of hatred) he hath invaded God’s prerogative, who is sovereign of the conscience, king of kings & lord of lords whom we are bound by the first & great commandment to love above all, without rival or competitor, which is manifest by obedience; therefore if we contribute one mite, knowingly to promote violence on earth, we shall violate his divine law “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,” shall bring guilt on our consciences & not stand acquitted in the sight of him who will in no wise acquit the guilty.

B[enjamin?]. Mason

With respect to the tribute paid by our savior at Capernaum, Thomas Stackhouse in his History of the Bible, page 1357, says every Jew of twenty years old or upwards was obliged to pay “an Attic dram or half a shekel, about 15 pence our money, for the use of the sanctuary, to pay for sacrifices, &c. and was the tribute which the collectors demanded; and not a tax payable to the Roman Emperor, as some imagine; which appears not only from our Saviour’s argument, viz. that he was the Son of the Heavenly King to whom it was paid & consequently had a right to plead his exemption, but also from the Greek word, which according to Josephus the most noted of the Jewish writers was the proper word for the capitation tax &c.1 Bishop [Jeremy] Taylor in his life of Christ, page 307, fully confirms the above assertion. Also Berkit [?], Samuel Smith & Daniel Whitby in their several commentaries on the scriptures. And Caidence in his concordance declares the same: with relation to the advice given by the apostles to the believers, to submit themselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake as unto them that are set by Him for the punishment of evildoers & for the praise of them that do well, for this cause, says he, pay your tribute, for what cause? 1 Timothy 2 2nd “that we may lead a quiet & peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.” Now it is plain from the text & the reason of things, that this injunction to the believers only related to that civil authority which was established for the peace of the community, & by no means refer to taxes for the support of wars, so destructive of all order & good government. And even if it could be supposed that in those early times, under the government of heathen emperors, the believers thought themselves excused in their complience to such requisitions; yet now that the powers under which we live profess with us to be the followers of Christ, in doctrine & practice, it seems very strange that we should freely pay taxes for the prosecution of those bloody wars which have been carried on both in Europe & America, not only in defense of their own territories but for the purposes of crushing those they esteem enemies & of enriching themselves through devastation & destruction in other lands. Read the history of late times & see what horrible destruction of human beings, many by means of wicked laws, dragged against their wills to slay or be slain; what corruption of manners; what waste of substance has been made by means of the many years war carried on in Germany what expence has occurred in order to get possession of the territories & wealth of the East Indies by every murdering art of war whereby thousands & hundreds of thousands have by sword & famine been brought to an untimely end. In Africa also a military power, forts &c. is maintained the better to enable the heathen, in conjunction with professed Christians, to make war on & merchandize of their brethren. And in America, how often during a long course of years, have the Indians been instigated to acts of violence & murder; Christians (so called) against Christians mixed with scalping Indians have stained the earth with human blood for a miserable share in the spoil of a plundered world. A world, as a late pious author well remarks, [that] should have seen, heard, or felt nothing from the followers of Christ but a divine love which had forced them to visit mangers with the glad tidings of peace and salvation.

Now if we deal truly with ourselves; if we desire to act up to the purity, sincerity, & plainness of our profession; can we with truth assert that taxes for these purposes are such as the Apostle had in view when he required of the believers that they should submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake? Will they fit us for every good work? Will they enable us to live a quiet & peaceable life in all godliness & honesty? Can the use of these taxes be said with truth to be for the punishment of evildoers & for the praise of them that do well? Are not the uses they are put to in direct opposition to our principles? Will our pretense of being ignorant of the use excuse us when we know they are put to some of the worst of uses, shall not we be justly reproached as acting in opposition to the plainness & sincerity of our profession?

There has long been a growing concern in the Society with regard to the paying taxes for the purpose of war. It is now between 60 & 70 years when it first appeared in this City, on occasion of a tax then laid on the people for raising a sum of money for the purpose of war which was carrying on, for the taking of Canada, which some friends refused to pay. And in the year 1756 the like concern was renewed in the payment of tax for carrying on a war against the Indians when a number of friends remonstrated to the Assembly on that head, as is particularly related in our Friends John Churchman & John Woolman’s journals. We also find by what is mentioned in our ancient friend John Richardson’s journal, page 119, that there was a growing concern amongst friends in England, when required of him by friends, of their Yearly Meeting in Rhode Island, what Friends of England did in the case of paying taxes for carrying on the war with France &c., he replied that he had heard the matter debated both in inferior & superior meetings in England, that many Friends there were not easy in the payment of these taxes, but did it on account of the difficulty which attended a separation from those taxes for a civil use.

A[nthony]. Benezet

As I have unity with our testimony against military services, as pointed out in the foregoing hints [glints?], & believing there is room to add & that the subject is important, therefore I am free to say that I fully believe we are called to lift up a standard (in the sight of the nations) for the Prince of Peace, more separated from the mixtures than has hitherto been by our Society in an embodied capacity. And insomuch as we have, in any wise heretofore, complied with military requisitions, we have fell short of the noble profession we have made, and rendered ourselves unable to answer that part of the 6th Query2 with clearness which requires us to bear a faithful testimony in that respect, for how can we faithfully testify against that which we freely support; We cannot consistent with our profession pay any taxes appropriated to support war, or the spirit of strife, or without doing a military service, in so doing we shall deny him before men, who commanded us to love our enemies (and declared he came not to destroy men’s lives but to save them) by supporting these in breaking his commandments, & empowering them to destroy those lives whom he came to save.

In the next place, I shall endeavor to obviate such common objections as may occur, which are advanced to justify the payment of such taxes as are under notice, some of whom are treated of in the preceding pages, but not altogether cleared to my satisfaction.

With respect to the tribute paid by Peter at Capernaum for himself & his master, in order to avert the force of a necessary reason why it may not be a precedent for us (viz.) its being done under the legal dispensation, it is objected that it was paid to a heathen & that no payment was ever directed by the Law of Moses, but it may be answered that the use of the sword was commanded & the manner of a king described by Moses, which could not be supported without tribute or something of a similar nature; and if every thing which our Lord did in his outward appearance be obligatory on us, then we must be circumcised & wash one anothers’ feet (which amounts to a command) and pass through the whole ceremonial train of the Jewish rites; but if he only passed through these these to fulfill the righteousness thereof and if by that one offering, these type of services were abolished, then consequently the outward warfare, as more particularly appears by his command to Peter. And as he is not the author of confusion, he cannot will that his professed followers shall support what he has forbid them to use; Which the apostle Paul well understood when he said, “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal” &c.

Another objection is advanced to oppose & limit the progress of our testimony in regard to taxes for military uses, by charging those who profess a scruple against compliance therewith with a pretense to new revelation & further discoveries not warranted by scripture, reason, or the practice of the faithful, adding that new revelation requires new guidance. To which I am free to observe that our Lord said to his disciples, when near to be separated from them, John 16 12th “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” I do not take this to be only applicable to them, but to the church in its infant state, & to His followers in every age, which undeniably contains a promise of further discoveries of His will. Now although the church increased mightily in the apostles’ days, yet it was soon after eclipsed, with a long night of apostacy, in which she retired into the wilderness, there to abide during her appointed time, & now in these latter ages in the reformation & coming forth of our ancestors, it pleased Infinite Wisdom to call her forth, through the revelation of His will anew to her, in which she made some glorious advances towards the day of Christ, as spoken of by the apostle saying ([2] Thessns 2d 2–3) be “not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand; let no man deceive you by any means, for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, & that man of sin be revealed” &c. Also in Revelations 10th 7: “But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.” “And the seventh angel sounded & there were great voices in heaven saying the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of Our Lord & of his Christ, and He shall reign for ever & ever.” These wonderful predictions represent the church in its greatest splendor; fully come out of the wilderness, by which we may clearly see that the day of Christ there spoken of is only coming; and that she is but yet on the way as it were, leaning on the breast of her beloved, and since revelation is the rock & foundation whereon he promised to build his church & that every degree of true advancement she has made has been on that basis. Why then do we shrink thereat & marvel that things should be discovered to her that have been hid from ages; that is this dependence on the revelation of the divine will, which is her preservation from the prevalence of the gates of hell. I fully believe as she attends to her holy head & advances towards this thrice happy day, that many things will be revealed to her that we are not yet able to bear, even that the work & foundation of many generations will be manifested & “the wicked be revealed whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth” &c. [2] Thessns 2. 8th. Yea & things which the faithful in past ages have not seen, which may stand for a reason why we may be led out of some things which our predecessors practiced. In the days of the apostles the spirit of unbelief was foreseen which hath made its appearance & spread desolation in the Christian churches (viz.) “Where is the promise of His coming, for since the fathers are fell asleep all things remain as they were from the beginning.” And in process of time the existence of revelation was denied, but in the days of our predecessors it was fully believed in & experimentally witnessed, which blessing continues to this day; yet such is the declension amongs us, that some (who believe our forefathers to be influenced thereby) are in effect uttering this language again, since the fathers are fell asleep &c. and ready to scoff at those who believe in immediate revelation. Nevertheless it is evident from the following prophecies that the testimony of truth will overcome every thing of a military nature. We do not, neither did our ancestors, refuse to support civil government simply considered, but we cannot countermand the end of Christ’s coming by paying for taking men’s lives, which He came to save; & outward war is no more necessary to support a righteous civil government, than to uphold the church of Christ.

The prophet Isaiah certainly foresaw a day wherein this testimony against the use & support of carnal weapons will be exalted higher than hath been by our honorable ancestors when he said “It shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, & shall be exalted above the hills & all nations shall flow unto it.… And He shall judge among the nations & shall rebuke many people; & they shall beat their swords into plowshares & spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” 2 Isai. 2nd. [&] 4. Also when he speaks of the beasts (by way of allegory) dwelling in harmony together, saying “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” ([Isaiah] 11. 9th). These evidently describe the peaceable kingdom of the messiah in a more glorious & exalted degree than hath hitherto been in which military achievements & requisitions can have no place, under what character soever. He further says “Then thou shalt see & flow together & thine heart shall fear & be enlarged, because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the gentiles shall come unto thee &c.” (Isa. 60 chap. 5 verse). And 1 Malachi chap. 11th “from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name &c. And Christ said to His followers; “ye shall hear of wars, rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled, for all these things must come to pass but the end is not yet.” By which Christians are admonished not to be concerned with wars & directly informed that they shall come to an end, which with the above corroborating prophecies, concerning the universality of the gospel spirit in the latter days, are recalled to shew that the revelation, of a higher day unto which the testimony against everything that will hurt or destroy will advance & finally prevail over all nations, is not new & therefore does not require new evidence.

The apostle Paul in the 13th of Romans speaks largely of the duty of subjects to magistrates, saying “Let every soul be subject to the higher power, for there is no power but of God; the powers that be, are ordained of God; whosoever therefore resisteth the powers, resisteth the ordinance of God” &c. “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil” &c. “for he is the minister of God to thee for good; for, for this cause pay you tribute also, for they are God’s ministers” &c. “Render therefore to all their dues, tribute to whom tribute” &c. Similar to this are his expressions to Titus 3 chap. 1 verse & first of Peter viz. “submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether it be unto the king as supreme or unto governors as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers & for the praise of them that do well.” It appears evident that these injunctions are not intended to enjoin obedience, in an unlimited sense, if so then apostles & believers in every age stand condemned thereby for they could not implicitly submit to the ordinances of men upon this very principle did they suffer reviling, abuse, imprisonment, & death itself for not submitting to the ordinances of men. Yea Paul himself said (Ephesi. 6th 12) “We wrestle not against flesh & blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places;” which does not imply actual submission but a warfare against them. Our Savior also said to his disciples (Matt. 10th 17) “Beware of men for they will deliver you up to the councils & they will scourge you in their synagogues, & ye shall be brought before governors & kings for my name sake, for a testimony against them and the gentiles.” “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted & shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” Not for submission say I; & if it had been his will that his followers should implicitly submit to every decree of men, or to the powers of the earth, it would have been unnecessary to have advertised them of persecution; for having received an implicit faith, they might have evaded & escaped the whole catalogue of sufferings that have befallen them down to this very day. If the conduct of the apostles may be used as an index to their writings, I humbly conceive that it will appear they only meant a submission in civil matters in which they might comply without violating their conscience; & to such magistrates or ministers of God only as faithfully executed their office in punishing evildoers & standing for the praise of them that do well, otherwise Nero would be included; the conscience is God’s prerogative, & not subject to the control of magistrates of any degree; if we should suppose that they meant an entire actual submission (as the words seem to imply) to the commands of every earthly power or ruler (many of whom have grievously persecuted the righteous while the wicked have gone at large unpunished) then should we make a Christian the most temporizing creature in the world, who otherwise have been patient in tribulation & patterns of stability & unshaken fortitude to the rest of mankind; and should impute all manner of sin & oppression to that power which is infinitely perfect, by deriving the authority & administration of wicked rulers wherefrom; in short such rulers as the apostles described will not ordain edicts that will infringe on conscience, from which I infer that passive obedience is not meant.

Our refusal to contribute toward the present war is clearly consistent with the testimony of our ancient friends, which take in the following words (viz.) G[eorge]. Fox’s Jorn. pa. 317 “All bloody principles we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, strife, & fightings with outward weapons for any end or under any pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world.” Page 321: “All plots, insurrections, and riotous meetings we deny, knowing them to be of the devil, the murderer,” Page 366: “that all plots & conspiracies, plotters & conspirators against the king, & all aiders or assisters thereunto we always did & do utterly deny to be of us, or to be of the fellowship of the gospel of Christ’s kingdom, or his servants.” Page 544: “It is our principle and testimony to deny & renounce all plots & plotters against the king, for we have the spirit of Christ, by which we have the mind of Christ, who came to save men’s lives & not to destroy them.” These & many other passages might be inserted which clearly evince that war with all its appurtenances is utterly opposite to the spirit of the gospel (which breathes peace on earth & good will to men; which principle we profess to believe & live in); therefore if we be found contributing thereto directly or indirectly, knowingly to any power on earth, our conduct therein will contradict our profession & will breathe violence on earth & destruction to men instead of peace; and how can we in the present case pay a tax to support war & not be aiders and assistors let the unbiased judge.

If I see a man going headlong to destruction & premeditating the pain of others, & furnish him with money to bear his expences in his design, I shall certainly cooperate with him in his enterprise & be accessory in part to the consequences; and what sort of a testimony shall I bear against his conduct; it will not alleviate my guilt to say he commanded me to aid him in that way, because I have power to refuse doing it actively; or that I did not wish my quota to be misapplied since I assuredly know what use it is for; yea if I do not warn him of his danger as well as refuse to further his evil design, he may fall in the event & perish in his sins, but his blood will be required at my hands. The tax demanded to carry on war & the people employed therein, with the consequences, are exactly parallel to the above remark, which is a sufficient reason why we ought not to comply.

Will the name of a tax, because often applied to civil uses, sanctify a military requisition, or any epithet that can be given to it? Why is a fine more obnoxious to our testimony? In order to reconcile the payment of taxes therewith it is objected that we cannot pay a fine because it is in lieu of personal service, but I answer, were that service requires to do something in peaceable way [sic.] consistent with a follower of Christ we could not conscientiously refuse; so that our refusal is not because it is personal, but because it is for a purpose that we as Christians cannot own; because it is to destroy those whom Christ commanded us to love. Seeing then that our testimony is not against personal service, merely because it is personal, or against fines because they are fines, but because of the purpose they are for, how then can we do that by proxy under the character of a tax which we cannot do in person or under the character of a fine? How can we actively pay men for doing that which we say we cannot do for conscience sake? Let us take heed that we be not like the foolish woman, pulling down the house with her own hands & thereby adding cause of stumbling to the weak & to the discerning enquirers. We believe we are called to bear an unsullied testimony against outward war, in every sense of the word; then let us not be willingly blind through fear of suffering, let us not through fear of suffering give our money for the worst of purposes. Let us be exhorted to try all things, & hold fast that which is good; and labor to be clothed with that invincible armor which will enable us to stand in the evil day with that magnanimity which becomes soldiers of him who overcame through meekness & patient suffering; but if we account ourselves unworthy by withstanding & diverting his cause, we shall be rejected & have the reward of the unfaithful & others who may be comparatively as stones will be raised up & qualified to be faithful standard-bearers, to lift up an ensign to the nations of them that sit in darkness, that they may see & flow together and that the abundance of the sea may be converted unto him who is king over all the earth the increase of whose government & peace there shall be no end.

B[enjamin]. Mason

  1. In the edition of this book that I was able to find, the quote reads: “Every Jew that was twenty years old, was obliged to pay annually two Attic drams, or half a shekel, (about fifteen pence of our money), for the use of the sanctuary, Exod. ⅹⅹⅹ. 13. 16. or to buy sacrifices, and other things necessary for the service of the temple: And that this was the tribute which the collectors here demanded, and not any tax, payable to the Roman emperors, (as some imagine), is evident, not only from our Saviour’s argument, viz. that he was the Son of that heavenly king to whom it was paid, and, consequently, had a right to plead his exemption; but from the word διδραχμα, which, according to Josephus, [Antiq. lib. 18. c. 12.], was the proper word for this capitation-tax that was paid to the temple at Jerusalem; whereas the Cæsarean tribute money was the denarius, a Roman coin, and would have been gathered by the usual officers, the publicans, and not by the persons who are here styled (as by a known title) they that received the διδραχμα; Hammond’s and Whitby’s Annotations.”
  2. This would have been something like: “Do you maintain a faithful testimony against oaths; an hireling ministry; bearing arms, training, and other military services; being concerned in any fraudulent or clandestine trade; buying or vending goods so imported, or prize goods; and against encouraging lotteries of any kind?” (that’s the 1843-era version of the query, anyway).