Edinburgh Meets to Decide How to Fight the Annuity Tax

On , a public meeting was held in Edinburgh to discuss how to organize to get rid of the hated Annuity Tax, the proceeds of which went to the local clergy of the official state church. The Caledonian Mercury was there to report on the proceedings. Tax resistance was touched on at points, and I’ll reproduce those parts of the report here:

About [the speaker, W.D. Gillon, Member of Parliament] had presided at a public meeting, which had been held in this town, to petition Parliament for the abolition of the annuity tax. At that time two most respectable citizens — one of them a member of the Municipal Council — and the other an aged and worthy individual, were inhabitants of the common jail in this city; and this circumstance no doubt created a considerable sensation.… The grievance still remained unredressed; and when an evil had grown to such a height as this, none but vigorous means would suffice for its removal. It was not for them to employ force or violence, but they would gain their object by acting with determination, and by bringing to bear against the annuity tax the indomitable force of passive resistance. If they wished to get rid of the grievance let them follow the example of Messrs Russell and Chapman; and the tax would soon be abolished for ever.… [W]hen two citizens were languishing in jail, all these efforts were made to divert him from his purpose of bringing the facts of the case before Parliament.… When entrusted with that petition on behalf of two suffering men who, from their dungeons, stretched forth their arms demanding the privilege of viewing the light and inhaling the air of heaven, he could not hesitate.

Gillon also stated that “1,961 warrants had been issued for the recovery of annuity tax” in which “[t]he goods of the citizen would be taken and sold in the market place.”

William Tait, who had been imprisoned for a few days in for refusing to pay that tax, also addressed the crowd, saying that “if he were backed by 99 persons who would go the same length as himself in refusing to pay the tax, the impost would soon by abolished.”

John Ritchie put it this way:

They must not say that he inculcated rebellion when he declared, that there was one principle — they might call it passive or active resistance — though passive resistance was not in his dictionary — for many was an active creature — passivity was against human nature; there was one principle which he would urge on the attention of the meeting. He spoke no rebellion when he said that every member of this society ought actively to resist the tax — to speak, and agitate, and call on others to join him in opposing it by every warrantable means. A very excellent friend of his — they called him Dr Harry Cooke of Belfaast, said, “John Knox did not rebel, but he did not obey.” He (Dr Dr R.) only asked the meeting not to rebel, but not to obey. They could not obey the law relative to the annuity tax without rebelling aginst God’s law.

Then…

The Rev. Dr John Brown of Broughton said, that being one of the 1961 individuals against whom warrants had gone forth, the time was now come for him to make a statement of the grounds on which he resisted the tax, and which, with the view of publication, he had embodied in a few sentences, which he would read to the meeting. It stated that he was the only minister of the Secession Church liable to be assessed for the annuity tax; he had not paid it; and while he maintained his present conviction he never would pay it — not from any hostility to the Established Church or its ministers, some of whom he rated so highly, both for their talents and their worth, that were there any risk of the public being deprived of their valuable services, he should reckon it an honour to take part in averting the evil; but he resisted the tax from the fear of contracting guilt before God. He had formerly paid the tax, contenting himself with publicly protesting against it; but finding that had not been attended with the expected result, he had now come to the determination never to pay it again, as he could not do so without offering violence to his conscientious conviction, not rashly or hastily formed.

Brown was in the process of writing a book about the controversy — The Law of Christ Respecting Civil Obedience, Especially in the Payment of Tribute — which I summarized in two Picket Line posts here and here.