The Education Act Tax Resistance Campaign: August 1903

Nobody knew at the time that the struggle would go on for years. In the tax resistance campaign against the provisions of the Education Act that allowed for taxpayer funding of sectarian religious education was still ramping up.

It was a campaign that would inspire the later tax resistance struggles of the women’s suffragists and of Mahatma Gandhi, and which would associate the term “passive resistance” with nonviolent civil disobedience and with tax resistance in particular (a phrase that Gandhi chafed at, leading him to coin his own term: satyagraha).

The editions of The Sheffield Daily Telegraph and Evening Telegraph carried a letter from Henry Joseph Wilson, a Liberal Party member of parliament, to the assistant overseer for Sheffield in which he explained his refusal to pay the complete taxes. Some excerpts:

I beg to enclose cheque for the amount of your demand note, less the sum of £1. I decline to pay that sum, as a protest against the education policy of the Government, and particularly against the Education Act of

I wish to state, briefly, why I make this protest.

He then makes the by now familiar case against the Act’s “encroachments on popular rights, and on freedom of conscience, which, so far from enduring any longer, we are bound to resent, and to oppose to the utmost of our power.”

Under these circumstances, my wife and I, having protested in every way hitherto open to us, have decided that I ought to make the further protest involved in the indignity of a summons, magisterial proceedings, and distraint.

Below this were these articles:

“Passive Resisters” in Sheffield.

The Sheffield magistrates will be busy with “Passive Resisters” in a few days. Already 47 summonses have been issued at the instance of the Sheffield overseers, and now the overseers for Ecclesall are about to take action against some 67 defaulters. In both instances the lists contain ministers of religion, and leaders of the “Nonconformist conscience.” The Sheffield cases will be heard on , and those from Ecclesall township probably . The amount involved in Sheffield is about £14, out of the £117,000 that the rate will produce.

One of the Ecclesall “resisters” had a singular experience. He had appealed against his assessment, but while awaiting the result of the appeal, his rate fell due, and he paid it less a small amount, which he withheld because of his so-called “conscientious objection to pay for the maintenance of Church Schools.” His appeal was successful, and the balance in his favour was greater than the amount he had withheld, so that he has been robbed of all the glory of posing as a “Nonconformist martyr.[”]

The overseers of Nether Hallam have agreed to allow “Passive Resisters” to pay the undisputed portion of their rates.

A “Case” at Chesterfield.

The assistant overseer for the borough of Chesterfield (Mr. George Broomhead) has received a letter from the Rev. J.E. Simon, who is the pastor of the Congregational Chapel, Brampton, which the Mayor (Mr. C.P. Robinson) attends, stating he is unable to pay that part of the rate “which is levied for the support of sectarian schools. By this rate I am required to pay directly for the teaching of Romanism and doctrines of the Established Church, which I believe to be untrue. This I, as a Protestant and Nonconformist, refuse to do voluntarily.”

The amount which Mr. Simon was “prepared to pay” has been tendered to the rate collector, but as it was not the amount the last-named was “prepared to receive,” the sum was refused. Interesting developments are anticipated.

The Rights of Overseers.

Mr. Vicary Gibbs, M.P., has sent the following reply to a constituent in the Albans Division, who asked whether he could obtain from Mr. Walter Long a definite opinion in regard to the rights of overseers in accepting or refusing part payment of local rates in connection with the Passive Resistance campaign:– “Mr. Walter Long writes me that he has looked very carefully into the question, and finds that the overseers are vested by law with the responsibility of deciding whether or not they will accept part. I think you will agree that nothing would be gained by my asking him a public question.”

The Burnley Gazette of told the tale of another new resister:

Rev. W. Robinson as a Passive Resister

This week, Rev. W. Robinson, formerly pastor of Hollingreave Congregational Church, Burnley, and now pastor of Market street Congregational Church, Farnworth, was one among others summoned before the magistrates for not paying a portion of the Education rate.

Mr. Martin, assistant overseer, produced the poor rate book for the rate laid . Mr. Robinson’s rate was £7 19s., of which he had paid £6 16s. 11d., leaving £1 2s. 1d. unpaid. He had received the following letter from Mr. Robinson:–

, — Dear Sir, — Herewith find my cheque to cover the amount of the demand made by the overseers on the note enclosed, less that part of the amount demanded for the Education Committees’ expenses. This I shall not voluntarily pay, as it goes to the support of schools not popularly controlled, and to some schools in which teaching is given that has for its end the destruction not only of Free Churchmanship, but the overthrowing of English Protestantism. — Yours, sincerely, William Robinson.

Mr. Martin, continuing, stated that he had received a precept from the Farnworth Education Committee for £1,650, to be devoted to educational purposes.

The Rev. W. Robinson was sworn in the Scottish fashion [this apparently means that he was sworn in by raising one hand, rather than by kissing the bible which was the default; this may have been for a number of reasons, hygiene among them], and Mr. Hall suggested that as he admitted owing the rate, he should simply be asked if he refused to pay on conscientious grounds. They had all their own opinions on this matter. The magistrates had theirs, and he didn’t think it worth while going further — Mr. Robinson said he objected to payment of the rate on conscientious grounds, and had deducted the amount which would be devoted to what he termed sectarian schools. He would have deducted this money if all demanded had been going to the education of children in Congregational schools. He was a Congregationalist minister, but objected to pay money towards any denomination whatsoever. He thought if any man held a religious opinion or a negative opinion on matters of religion it was no affair of the State, and that no man ought to be penalised because he did not believe or because of what he believed. he would have objected to pay this money were it all going to Francis-street Congregational School — Mr. Hall: I suppose you pay income tax? — Mr. Robinson: I do. — Mr. Hall: And you know that a proportion goes to the Consolidated Fund, and for educational purposes? — Mr. Robinson: The matters are entirely different. My income tax is a mere trifle. I know I may be charged with inconsistency, but surely you do not suggest that I should object to pay the income tax. It would lead to much more contention than this. — Mr. Hall: I suggest that to be consistent, you should. — Mr. Robinson said that supposing he had two properties, and in order to have the opportunity of expressing his conscientious objection he paid the rate on one and not the other, would that not be equally inconsistent? — Colonel Ainsworth: It depends upon the law. — Mr. Robinson: Of course, and we Congregationalists are among the most law-abiding subjects. When, however, the law encroached on a man’s conscience, he could not pay the money. — Mr. Hall: With all due respect to you, I think we have heard enough. — Colonel Ainsworth: We are here to administer the law, and we cannot help it if you think the law is wrong. It is your business to get the law altered…

Here the article begins to lose legibility. There is an interesting exchange in which Mr. Hall asks whether the defendants would pay up without going through the process of distraint (the panel evidently having decided against them). On hearing that they would not, Hall asserts: “I remember the Church Rate days, when the Quakers refused to pay [illegible]. They, however, did not go to the extent of having their goods taken. If shopkeepers, they would leave [illegible] open, and tell the officers to help themselves to the cash.”

Distraint warrants were issued. The article notes that “The Court fees… were considerably reduced owing to the cases being taken together…” — evidently Robinson had been joined by some others at some point in the illegible paragraphs — “This will be much less than if they were not acting in concert.”

On the same page as the above article appears a letter from the Rev. J.B. Parry to the Burnley Borough Treasurer explaining why he was under-paying his general rate, giving a subset of the usual arguments.

The Rev. A. Gray, who seems to have become a spokesperson for the movement, penned an article for the Burnley Express and Advertiser:

The Passive Resistance Movement

The Right Hon. W.H. Long, President of the Local Government Board, in an address delivered at Devizes, Wilts, on , “appealed to passive resisters not to defy the law, but to try by constitutional means to obtain a repeal of the Education Act if they considered it to be unjust.” We are glad to note that at least one member of the Government is sufficiently impressed with the strength of the movement as to “appeal” to the passive resisters on the point at issue. Whilst we appreciate the spirit of the right hon. gentleman towards us, we cannot acknowledge the ground of his appeal. We disavow any intention “to defy the law.” Perhaps the name we bear is responsible somewhat for that misconception of our attitude toward the law. Just as the term “Nonconformist,” which is purely negative, is being slowly but surely changed for that of “Free Churchman,” which is positive, and more truly expresses our position to-day, so the term “resister,” which is negative, should be changed to obeyer, which is positive. Whilst we cannot, for conscientious reasons, pay the education rate, that is, the portion of the rate which is to be devoted to denominational schools, but leave the authority to collect it in such a way as it deems good, we thereby do render obedience to the law. It is “not active obedience,” but it is “obedience.” It is “passive obedience.” We intend “to give the State the honour which is due to it, without depriving the conscience of the honour which is due to it. The State was entitled to assistance only within its own proper sphere, and when the State went beyond its own sphere, it could not rightly claim the assistance of the citizens.”

I’m not sure what Gray is quoting there at the end. A little further on, he continues:

Because we feel [the Act’s] injustice we have taken this step. The injustice will be impressed upon the minds of the people as they see the goods of their fellow men distrained and sold to pay this rate. Further, we can assure Mr. Long, that we shall in addition to passive resistance work earnestly for the repeal of the sectarian clauses, and the general amendment of the Act.

He quotes a Sir Walter Foster, member of parliament for Ilkeston Division, who said in part: “As to passive resisters, he was glad that he had hundreds of them in his own constituency. If there was one thing that could save the nation, it was the men of strong conscientious conviction…”

He also addresses the dilemma of Free Church schools that qualified for funding under the same objectionable clauses that might fund Catholic or Anglican schools. Some of these Free Church schools were refusing to accept such funds, but others, like the schools in the Wesleyan Conference, could not resist the temptation. This raised the spectre of some nonconformists being distrained upon for their refusal to pay education rates that were destined for sectarian schools run by their own sects, which threatened to appear ridiculous. Gray reprinted the remarks of Robertson Nicoll, who condemned the Wesleyan Conference’s decision.

Nicoll also wrote:

“Public opinion will shortly make it impossible for overseers and magistrates to refuse part payment, and as soon as the slow processes of the law permit, we shall know how far the authorities are entitled to make excessive distraints. We believe it will be found that they are not entitled, and that they can be punished for going beyond their commission. If so, steps will be taken to call every transgressor to account.”

Gray continued:

Whilst we are waiting the decision of the legal authorities consulted by the National Passive Resistance Committee on the question of excessive distraint, attention may be called to the fact that at Sheffield the following declaration by a K.C. was quoted:– “It is beyond question illegal to make an excessive distraint. The bailiffs have no right to remove more goods than are estimated in reason to meet the account of the rate and the cost of distraint. If the people who are taking part in the passive resistance movement feel that the bailiffs have been unreasonable, they can claim damages in court, and it is for the jury to decide. A vindictive distraint is also illegal. A distraint has been held to be vindictive where valuable goods have been removed against the wishes of the occupier, who has tendered other goods. A bailiff is not necessarily to take what is offered him, but if he take things that he is requested to leave, he may be convicted of vindictive distraint, and the owner may be awarded damages.”

The Shields Daily Gazette reported in their edition:

The Policy of Passive Resistance

In not a few Tyneside towns, including South Shields, the past few days have witnessed the painful spectacle of the invasion of the homes of respectable law-abiding citizens by police and bailiffs, and the carrying off of household treasures to be stored in common sale rooms and sold “for non-payment of the rates.” In most places the overseers have taken what we cannot but think the very high-handed course of refusing to accept part of the rate when tendered, and of levying execution for the whole amount. This may be law — although the question is not yet definitely settled, pending the appeal from West Ham to the High Court — but it is certainly not equity. Moreover, it is contrary to what appears to be the general usage of the overseers, whose collectors frequently accept part payment of the rate. Indeed, every demand note issued bears the significant line at the top “arrears of former rates” and arrears could hardly exist unless the collectors were in the habit of accepting part of the rate when tendered.

…it seems nothing short of monstrous that warrants should be issued and costs imposed for the full amount of the rate, when in reality the defendants have only declined to pay a very small proportion thereof.… The local authorities who are apparently bent upon making matters as unpleasant as possible for the Passive Resisters are unquestionably arousing deep and wide-spread sympathy for those sturdy protestants, even amongst those who do not see eye to eye with them in the course they have taken.

The following article comes from the Kent & Sussex Courier:

Passive Resistance at Tunbridge Wells.

Auction Sale Under Distraint Warrants.

.

Scene in the Police Yard.

“Boohing” the Auctioneer.

Prayer Meeting Precedes Sale.

the sale by auction of the goods and chattels of the four defendants who were recently summoned for non-payment of the Education Rate took place in the police yard, adjoining the Town Hall, in the presence of some hundreds of sympathisers and other spectators. The local Passive Resistance Committee had organised a demonstration for the occasion of the sale, on the morning of which the Town Crier was sent round to remind the public of the fact contained in the auctioneer’s announcement placarded about the town, as follows:–

In the County of Kent.
Borough of Tunbridge Wells.

Sale by Public Auction, under distress warrants, in the yard adjoining the Police Station, Calverley-street, Tunbridge Wells, on .

MR. W. LAING, Auctioneer, will OFFER for SALE, at the time and place above-mentioned, by PUBLIC AUCTION, the undermentioned goods, which have been seized under warrants of distress, issued by the Court of Summary Jurisdiction acting in and for the Borough of Tunbridge Wells:–

Lot 1.—Silver Cake Basket and Silver Salver.

Lot 2.—Thirteen Silver Spoons.

Lot 3.—Five Mahogany Chairs.

Lot 4.—Copper Coal Scuttle and Scoop, and Silver Fish Servers, in case.

Each Lot to be paid for and cleared immediately after the Sale.

Chas. Prior, Chief Constable.
.

A big crowd had consequently assembled and awaited the unlocking of the gates of the station yard, and a good many people had evidently come in from the surrounding districts to witness the proceedings. , the Chief Constable escorted the Rev J. Mountain and the Rev H.C. Palmer, with several ladies, to the gates, and the crowd, recognising the ministers, gave them a very cordial reception, to which they bowed their acknowledgments. As soon as the gates were open there was an excited rush to enter the yard, in which a considerable proportion the fair sex came in for some derangement of their toilette, and in a very few seconds the crowd in the street had transferred itself en masse into the yard, where a posse of stalwart constables was drawn up on either side of a temporary rostrum erected for the auctioneer, and directly communicating with the door leading into the police officer — a strategic arrangement in view of possible contingencies. The Chief Constable had very diplomatically discounted any likelihood of a disturbance of the peace by affording the demonstrators the greatest possible latitude. The platform erected for the sale was placed at their disposal for a protest meeting both before and after the sale. It was eminently judicious of Mr Prior not to confine himself to the strict letter of the law, but to permit the demonstrators to demonstrate as much as they pleased within orderly limits. The station yard being full and a further crowd in the street beyond, the preliminary protest meeting was at once proceeded with. The Chief Constable smilingly escorted the Rev. Dr. Usher, the Rev. J. Mountain, the Rev. W.H.C. Palmer, and the Rev. Dennis Cooper to the rostrum, and an outburst of cheering greeted their appearance, which was renewed when the word went round that the redoubtable Dr. Clifford was also present. Placards of protest were affixed to the rostrum to give place later to a bill of the auction, and then Dr. Usher gave out the hymn “O God our help in ages past,” after which the Rev. Dennis Cooper engaged in prayer.

The Rev. Dr. Usher then explained that they were allowed to meet by the courtesy of the Chief Constable, a gentleman whose acquaintance they had been proud to make. He had met them in the kindest and most conciliatory manner (hear, hear). They had met as citizens to protest against a law which went against the religious beliefs of millions of his Majesty's subjects. The grievance was as real as those under the Uniformity Act, the Conventicle Act, and the Five Mile Act, or as the progress of Ritualism in the eyes of their evangelical brethren. It had been said they did this for political purposes, but Free Churchmen had been in advance of political leaders in this matter. They were called law breakers, but he denied that they were. They submitted passively. Their doors were open and their furniture could be seized for that which they could not as matter of conscience pay voluntarily. But if they were law breakers, they were proud to bear the shame in such company as Latimer and Ridley, who went to the stake when the Law said do one thing and God said do another. They heartily sympathised with their four friends in what they had had submit to. They protested not against the auctioneer or the Chief Constable, but against the political power of the land and particularly the Bishops, for the way in which they had misused political power. If those present wished to show true sympathy with their cause, they would allow the proceedings which were to follow to be conducted in an orderly manner. Those proceedings would be repeated if need be a dozen times. There were plenty more defaulters waiting to have their goods seized for conscience sake, and he asked them never to forget that in , in a town like Tunbridge Wells, they had seen the goods of true citizens sold for religious purposes.

The protesters then proceeded to vacate the platform, but the Chief Constable informed them that they had another five minutes yet in which to demonstrate, as the sale would not commence before . Accordingly the hymn, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus,” was given out, and was immediately succeeded by a decided contrast. The hymn-singing changed to a different sound as the crowd proceeded to booh at the top of their voices when the auctioneer made his appearance and hung his card over the rostrum. This bore the inscription, “Wm. B. Laing (late Savage and Son), Auctioneer, 127, New Road, and Whitechapel Road.” Above the groaning and hooting could be heard various insulting expressions hurled at the auctioneer, who smilingly informed the crowd that he was not in a hurry and could wait. The address appeared to take the fancy of the crowd, who shouted “Whitechappeler,” “Coster,” “Hooligan,” “German-Jew” until they were hoarse. Dr. Usher appealed in pantomime for silence, and Mr Fryer, who was standing conveniently near the rostrum to buy in some of the effects, was heard by those near to shout to the crowd that the auctioneer was not a German, but a Scotchman. “More shame to him” roared the crowd, and the boohing was renewed with redoubled vigour, in which even the shriller voices of the ladies present could be heard above the hubbub. The auctioneer lost no time in announcing the sale and putting up the first lot. “You have not read out the conditions of sale,” bellowed a gentleman, who had been doing his best to drown the auctioneer’s voice. “I have just done so,” retorted the auctioneer. “I never heard you,” retorted the gentleman, with unconscious humour, as he proceeded to booh louder than ever as the auctioneer attempted to make himself heard. Had the devotional exercises failed to soothe the passions of the crowd? The auctioneer, amid laughter, removed his silk hat to a place of greater security, and pointed to the auction bill as he stentoriously called for Lot one. Several gentlemen who had arranged to buy in goods stood on the alert, and Mr Mountain and Mr Palmer supported each other in the absence of the other two defaulters — Mr Alexander and Mr Edmonds — who are enjoying themselves on the Continent. The Chief Constable, notwithstanding the eulogy just passed on him, found it quite as difficult to obtain a hearing as he stated, amidst renewed hooting, that he was there to do his duty by carrying of the magistrates’ orders under the distress warrant, and that the auctioneer, who was doing his duty, had come down at a very moderate charge to carry the law into effect. Amidst considerable hubbub, the articles in the first lot were then handed out from the police office window under the guardianship of the constables. This lot consisted of a silver cake basket and silver salver, the property Mr Edmonds. “Who bids £1”? shouted the auctioneer. Mr Elwig promptly bid £2 15s on behalf of the owner, and the auctioneer knocked down the bid, and before the crowd realised it, the goods were handed back into the police office. Lot 2, a dozen silver spoons, the property of Mr Alexander, were next handed up in the same way, and at once knocked down to Mr Drake, acting for Mr Alexander, for £2. Lot 3, five mahogany hair stuffed chairs, the property of the Rev J. Mountain, were promptly bought in by the Rev Dennis Cooper, for £2, and the concluding lot, a copper coal scuttle and silver fish servers, the property of Rev. W. Palmer, were similarly knocked down to Mr Fryer, on Mr Palmer’s behalf, for 30s. The auction, which concluded in dumb shew had not lasted five minutes, was over before the crowd had finished hooting the auctioneer, and then some missile was heard to strike the window behind the auctioneer. It turned out to be only a match box, and the police, who were interspersed in the crowd, at once seized the offender, bat as he appeared to have only jocularly thrown the missile, which was first thought to be a stone, he was not arrested, and no proceedings will taken against him. The auctioneer and his clerk, Mr E. Smith, promptly vanished within the police office, where the bidders followed them to write out their cheques, and claim the furniture, after which the protest meeting was resumed, and proceeding without incident, except that an elderly man, named Sewell, living in Kirkdale road, was overcome by the heat, and had to be removed to the Hospital on the police ambulance.

Dr. Clifford then mounted the rostrum, and had an enthusiastic reception. His remarks were somewhat inauspicious, as they related instances of other sales, where the auctioneers had “not dared show themselves,” but the doctor as he went on cleared himself from any suspicion of arriere pensee by congratulating the crowd on their orderly behaviour. He went on to add that their protest was not against magistrates or chief constables, but against the bishops. He congratulated Tunbridge Wells on having a Chief Constable of such fairness and moderation — a remark which the crowd, who had just hooted Mr Prior, now responded to by cheering in the utmost good humour. He was glad that the vindictiveness of magistrates at other places was passing away, and they were being treated with consideration. They were being forced to pay for religious teaching they did not believe in, and to submit to their children being proselytized.

A Voice: That is Christianity.

Dr. Usher: No, Churchianity.

Dr. Clifford: It illustrates the tyranny of the Established Church. It was one of the most atrocious spectacles that the opening of the 20th Century could witness — a pampered, favoured, law-established sect forcing itself by political means upon those who conscientiously differed from them. This Act could not last. It would have to be repealed, because it would injure the Established Church more than it would injure these who resisted it. These scenes would have to go on until the Act was repealed. His father took him as a boy to witness a distraint sale for refusing to pay a Church rate, but the Education Act was more iniquitous than that. The Church rate was to maintain church buildings, but the education rate was to proselytise their children. This Act would be swept away, and they would not rest till they had a free system fair to the children, fair to the parents and teachers, and fair to the ratepayers.

J. Mountain spoke next, saying nothing particularly unexpected, unless it was to call Clifford “the Oliver Cromwell of this century.” Then W.H. Palmer spoke:

Rev. W.H. Palmer said they had been taunted that this was a matter of pocket, but it was not so. His education rate was 4s 9d but the recovery of it would cost him 30s. They had the expense of an auctioneer from London, because no local auctioneer would lower himself to perform the task of selling goods which were suffered to be seized for conscience sake, or, rather, the Chief Constable had not asked any local auctioneer to so degrade himself. At a local auction the goods could have been sold more cheaply, viz, for 2s in the £, but they were glad no local auctioneer could be found, even though to obtain 4s 9d from him 30s had been spent. This would show it was not a question of pocket, and they did not keep their conscience in their pocket. He was proud to be one of the first to be summoned, but there were plenty more waiting to stand in the same position. Some 40 persons had already intimated their readiness to be summoned.

The Rev. Dr. Usher expressed the sympathy of those present with the four martyrs, and added that he himself expected to be in the next batch, and they should go on till the victory was won. In conclusion, he asked those present, for the sake of the ladies, to leave the yard with less of a rush than they came in.

The Doxology and a verse of “All hail the power of Jesu’s name,” and a verse of the National Anthem concluded the proceedings; while outside the cheering was renewed as the furniture was displayed on a cart decorated with flags and evergreens, and bearing an inscription. “This the furniture of gentlemen who refused for conscience sake to pay the Priest’s rate.” The cart was drawn in triumph to the owner’s residences, and a sale of memorial cards adorned with coffins, to represent the burial of the Education Act was proceeded with among the crowd. The proceedings, though noisy, were orderly; and the Chief Constable is to be congratulated on his excellent arrangements.

Immediately following this article was another, featuring many of the same cast of characters, describing a meeting “on the Common in the evening,” and then another, describing an “evening meeting at the Great Hall” that followed. These were rallies that were meant to remind attendees of what was at stake and to encourage them to keep up the struggle to the bitter end, but the reports do not otherwise shed much light on how the campaign was progressing.

One thing I thought was noteworthy was a slideshow that included scenes from that afternoon’s distraint auction:

The room was then darkened for local views of passive resistance taken by Mr Lankester and Mr Jenkins, to be exhibited and explained by Dr. Usher.

The views commenced with portraits of passive resisters, commencing with Alderman Finch, who was introduced as the first Nonconformist Mayor. Then came portraits of the Chief Constable, the Town Clerk, and Alderman Stone, the latter two being loudly boohed. A series of views were next shown taken outside the rate collector’s office (a group of resisters refusing to pay rates), outside the Town Hall (after the hearing of the summonses), outside the residences of the several defendants (at the distraining of the goods), and lastly, a series of snapshots taken of the sale that afternoon, and of the meeting on the Common. A portrait of Mr Hedges, with an injunction to vote for him at the next election concluded the series.

Clifford then spoke, saying among other things:

He asked them to regard this as one of the services a town could render an Empire. They were assisting a national work. Nothing was so characteristic of the movement as its spontaneity. It was springing up not only in large towns, but in little hamlets. He quoted cases of resisters upwards of 70 and 80 years of age, of resisters in poor as well as affluent circumstances. A nation was judged by its ideals, and we were at a turning point in national history.…

The Evening News of Portsmouth reported in its issue:

[T]he Passive Resistance movement seems to be spreading like a prairie fire. Over sixty persons will shortly be proceeded against in the Sheffield Police-court. Ninety-nine resisters have now appeared before the Magistrates at Bath; a huge furniture van has been driven round Edgbaston, Birmingham, by the bailiffs and police, who carried off drawing-room suites, clocks, and other articles of furniture in great quantity. No part payment is accepted in the city of Mr. Chamberlain, but relentless thoroughness has been thus far the order of the day on the part of Overseers and Magistrates. It is remarkable how the well-to-do people are joining the movement. In Bath some of the best known public men are Passive Resisters. Mr. Ansell, of Birmingham has been a leader among the “Unionists”; Mr. Percy Rawson, the Liberal candidate for the Stamford division, is among those whose goods have been seized; while Mr. W.B. Bembridge, a Magistrate of Ripley, Derbyshire, has resigned his position on the Commission of the Peace because he cannot conscientiously apply the penalties of the law to Passive Resisters. Some of the Resisters are looking to Portsmouth J.P.’s to take sides with them and become Resisters too, but it is hoped they, like the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, will not resign unless called upon by the proper authority to do so. But they should refuse to sign summonses of distraint upon others.

The article goes on to say that Clifford and others had met with “Liberal leaders” and had gotten their promise “that should they come into power at the next election the repeal or amendment of the Education Act should be their first business.” The Liberals would come to power in and hold the reins of government . Any guesses as to whether they’ll keep their promise?

This, and the resistance slide show that ended pointedly with “[a] portrait of Mr Hedges, with an injunction to vote for him at the next election” show that then, as now, politicians are quick to swoop in on a grassroots activist campaign and coopt it for the purposes of furthering their careers.

Following that article was this one:

Some Lively Scenes

At a Passive Resistance Sale.

Auctioneer Goes with a Revolver.

Lively scenes were witnessed on at a sale of goods of sixteen Wimbledon Passive Resisters in Plough-road, Battersea, and the auctioneer, fearing an attack from the crowd, armed himself with a revolver.

Over 2,000 persons besieged the closed saleroom, and the large staff of police could not prevent a rush being made for the auctioneer, Mr. Thomas Spearing, who is an elderly man of slight build.

Mr. Spearing was severely handled before he could reach the saleroom, and two Pressmen who found themselves mixed up in the crowd were arrested.

When the auctioneer reached the saleroom the attitude of the crowd became more threatening. Mr. Spearing, therefore, before admitting the public, and, beginning the sale, took up a loaded revolver.

The police, however, anxious to prevent anything in the nature of a riot, persuaded him to put the revolver away, and after some difficulty they succeeded.

At first only about a dozen persons were admitted to the saleroom, but the crowd clamoured for admission, and protested that the auction was not public, and therefore illegal. Four times the auctioneer postponed the sale, but at last, at the request of one of the overseers, he proceeded, amid laughter and hooting, a portion of the crowd gaining admission.

With the exception of a perambulator and a baby’s chair, for which the late owner had no further use, all the lots were bought in by Mr. Robert Hunter, on behalf of the Resisters.

Courteous Magistrates.

At Nailsworth (Gloucestershire) Police-court, on , two Baptist ministers, of Stroud and Minchinhampton, and five other Passive Resisters were summoned. The court was crowded, and several Nonconformist ministers were present. The Bench decided to allow all the defendants to pay part of the rate, and to allow a fortnight to pay the balance. The defendants had made their protest, said the Chairman of the Bench, and now he hoped the remainder of the money would be paid. If not, it must be recovered in the usual way. Defendants thanked the Magistrates for their courtesy.

Distress Warrants Granted

There were several cases before the county Magistrates at Kidderminster on in which Nonconformists were summoned for refusing to pay their poor rates. In each case they objected to pay because of the education rate forming part of the amount demanded.

The Magistrates declined to hear any objections except as to the validity of the rate. The defendants admitted its validity. In each case an order for distress was granted.

The Berwickshire News and General Advertiser quoted from the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch in its issue:

In an English newspaper devoted to this resistance movement accounts are given of the rowdyism of the mob and the vehement protests of the clerical resisters. In one case “several townsfolk were ready with a sack to capture the auctioneer with,” and this functionary has invariably to be protected by strong bodies of police from being subjected to bodily violence.

Below this was an article about eight Passive Resisters being charged at Berwick Police Court, and applications for distress being granted. In that case, the overseers were willing to accept partial payment.

The edition of the same paper gives an account of a trial that gives a feel for some of the jousting between resisters and officials, the former trying to turn their trials into opportunities to demonstrate against injustice, the latter trying to reduce this inconvenience:

Spittal Passive Resisters Summoned.

A Minister and Town Councillor Proceeded Against.

A Scene in Court.

At Berwick Police Court, on , Rev. Archibald Alexander, Minister of St. Paul’s English Presbyterian Church, Spittal, was summoned for non-payment of poor rate in full, the sum of 1s 7d being left due.

On being charged, defendant said— I am summoned here to show cause why I have refused to pay. Am I at liberty to show cause?

The Clerk— Do you acknowledge the summons?

Defendant— I believe I am here to answer the Magistrates.

The Mayor— You must answer the Clerk’s question. That is your first duty.

Defendant— I decline to answer that question.

Robert Lambert, rate collector, Tweedmouth, was accordingly called to prove the rate. The amount required from Mr Alexander was £1 1s 10d of which £1 0s 3d had been paid, leaving 1s 7d for which defendant had been summoned.

The Clerk— The rate was one which was legally made and allowed by the Magistrates. Do you wish to ask any question from witness?

Defendant— I have no desire to ask any question from witness.

The Mayor— Have you anything to say about the legal aspect of this?

Defendant— It is an outrage that I should be called upon to pay to support schools which are sectarian and which are to detach our young people from the religion of their fathers, and make them indifferent and even opposed to that religion. I protest against this outrage before this Court.

The Bench decided that the usual order for payment should be made.

Three other cases were decided in a similar way. Another article on the same page gives a little more detail about how the property seizures were carried out:

Berwick Passive Resisters’ Goods Seized.

On , the distress warrants issued is the case of Berwick Passive Resisters — 8 persons including 3 ministers — were carried into effect. Mr George Moor, Assistant Overseer, accompanied by Police-Sergt. Wm. Moor, drove round to the houses of the 8 defendants, and seized goods to the amount required, the proceedings passed off quietly. In all cases payment of the rate, less the disputed portion, with expenses up to the issue of the warrants, was tendered and accepted, the balance being distrained for. The articles taken were of small value. They will sold by public auction next week.

The articles that have been seized include biscuit-boxes, and boxes of cigars, and one case a picture. Three of the Resisters brought the articles down to the Police-station themselves.

As has been said the portion of the rate not in dispute was tendered along with expenses up to date, 1d in the £ being deducted as the amount at present levied for educational purposes, and this was accepted. Some article in the household was then accepted to realise the amount disputed and the expenses to be yet incurred. In the majority of cases the articles seized were small. It is alleged that the Overseers are having difficulty in securing the services of an auctioneer to dispose of the goods.

The next example comes from the North Devon Journal:

Passive Resistance at Barnstaple.

Eight Persons Before the Magistrates.

Great Demonstrations.

Barnstaple is the first town in Devonshire to furnish passive resistance cases, eight summonses having been heard before the Borough Bench on . The day was marked by two great demonstrations under the auspices of the Barnstaple Citizens’ League. At a prayer meeting in the Congregation Schoolroom was conducted by the Rev. F.J. Kirby, (President of the League), and shortly before , the hour at which the Borough Bench sat, the passive resisters and friends marched to the Guildhall in procession singing “Onward, Christian soldiers.” There was a crowded attendance at the Guildhall, sympathisers with the passive resisters appearing to predominate; and the proceedings were very lively from start to finish.

In these cases, the overseers were not willing to accept partial payment, which increased the amount of antagonism between the resisters and the authorities. The individual cases proceeded on a now-familiar track, with the resisters trying to plead the injustice of the rates, the mayor trying to rubber stamp distraint orders as quickly as possible, and impatient crowds siding with the resisters giving cheers, boos, and other peanut gallery calls. Here is one example

When Mrs. Martha Blackwell, of Alexandra-road, the first lady to be proceeded against in Barnstaple, entered the box, she received a tremendous ovation. — When the cheering had subsided, Mr. Ffinch [the mayor] said to the Head Constable (Mr. B. Eddy): Take some of them into custody. We shall know how to deal with them.

That didn’t seem to deter anyone, as “renewed cheering” greeted the following defendant.

Some of those summoned were only willing to pay the offensive portion of the rate when ordered by the court to do so; others were unwilling to do so even then, and would only relinquish the money involuntarily via distraint.

The defendants also raised a number of procedural points about their cases that had nothing to do with their conscientious objection, which suggests to me that they had adopted the strategy of trying to clog the courts and make each case take as long as possible to resolve.

After the proceedings, the resisters held a rally in the marketplace. Rev. F.J. Kirby announced that the overseers had decided, after all of that courtroom fuss had annoyed the Mayor, that they would accept partial payments after all, so the resisters won that particular skirmish.

The speeches were rousing rally cries urging the crowd to resist what was painted as an Anglican/Papist conspiracy to wipe out nonconformity by indoctrinating children. The rally ended with the singing of the national anthem.

There was a second demonstration in the evening at the Music Hall: “a crowded and enthusiastic attendance [with s]everal hundreds of persons [who] were unable to gain admission” and the Salvation Army Band playing “Onward, Christian Soldiers” as they marched in “followed by a large contingent of young people.”

The Rev. H.J. Crouch spoke first, and, among other things, explained that he had been one of the token nonconformists on the Walton-on-Thames School Board but realized that he had no influence and was disgusted that the board was grilling prospective teachers about what religious denomination they belonged to during the hiring process. He said he resigned from the board in disgust and resolved to join the passive resistance movement.

The Rev. G.F. Owen exemplified the increasing rhetorical temperature when he concluded his speech this way:

He was not born to have a saddle upon his back, and he would not be sat upon by the despotism of kings or Parliaments either. He was free, and every bone in his body should be broken, and every drop of blood shed, before he paid a penny to help the priest to degrade the children and lock them up in the darkness of heathenism and superstition for generations to come. (Cheers.)

F.J. Kirby spoke next and gave some more detail about how the authorities were proceeding against the resisters:

Up to he was unaware that any proceedings were to be taken against any of those who had been made known as active members of Barnstaple and District Citizen’s League. To his great surprise on , on opening the North Devon Journal — that paper cherished by North Devon people next to their Bible — he read that summonses had been issued against eight citizens who had decided not to pay the Education rate. Not more than ten minutes afterwards a ring came to his door and a gentleman in blue presented himself. “Well,” said Mr. Kirby, “I believe he was more afraid than I was.” (Laughter and applause.) He was most courteous, as had been all the authorities, with one or two exceptions. All had been as kind as they could be under the circumstances. When they knew that they had to appear before the magistrates that day they had at once in their minds the determination to make some means of voicing their convictions before the public of Barnstaple. They soon got together speakers and sympathisers, and were able to put upon the bills the names of those who spoke and at that meeting. But that meeting did not require eloquent speakers. It was itself eloquence.

Kirby also issued a plea to the Wesleyans and Brethren to show solidarity with them by refusing to take Education Act funds for their own schools, something they had apparently thus far been unwilling to do.

A Councillor Hopper spoke next, advocating that resisters insist on stating the conscientious grounds for their stand in court, and replying to one of the magistrates’ suggestion (or threat) that the authorities strike nonconformists from the voter rolls if they refuse to pay their full rates.

Finally, an article in the Dover Express and East Kent News covered a meeting of a passive resistance group:

Passive Resistance at Dover

Nonconformists’ League Describes Its Policy and Aims.

On a public meeting under the auspices of the Dover Citizens’ League, an association for the promotion of “passive resistance” against the Education Rate, was held at Salem Chapel. There was an enthusiastic gathering of Nonconformists, the chair being taken by Mr. John Scott (the President of the Dover Free Church Council), who was supported on the platform by Mr. W. Bradley, the Rev. W. Holyoak, the Rev. W.H. Parr, G. Clark, etc.

Scott put the struggle in the context of other civil disobedience struggles that nonconformists had to go through over the ages, just to be allowed to hold their own services for instance, and said that it was the duty of modern nonconformists to stand up like their predecessors had and to refuse to submit to an unjust law. The other speakers addressed various arguments concerning the Act and the tactic of tax resistance. Finally:

Mr. Lewis explained at the conclusion of the meeting that the Dover Citizens’ League consisted of members who agreed not to pay the Education Rate, and also Associates who approved of the policy of passive resistance not being ratepayers, or for other reason, would not offer passive resistance. The subscription was not less than 6d. per quarter, paid in advance.

That takes us through the end of in what I’ve collected (certainly only a sample) of the newspaper coverage of the opening year of this tax resistance movement.