The Tax Resistance of Lothar Bucher

I had seen the name of Lothar Bucher connected with tax resistance in several places before, but the references were very vague. I’ve finally found something a little meatier.

Bucher was arrested and tried for fomenting tax resistance around the same time and in the same cause as Karl Marx, during the constitutionalist rebellion against an autocratic Prussian government in .

The New York Sun did a recap of Bucher’s career later on, when, in an unlikely across-the-aisles alliance, he had become the right-hand man of right-wing Chancellor Bismarck. Here’s an excerpt about his tax resistance from that article:

Bucher is a “Forty-eighter.” That is, he was one of the men who, like Franz Sigel, rebelled against the Government in , and demanded a strictly constitutional administration. But 29 years old, he became known as “Bucher the Red” in the Prussian Parliament, where he sat on the extreme left, while his later master, Otto von Bismarck, thundered against constitutional government from the extreme right. Despite his youth, he was soon the leader of the fighters for the new Constitution, and to him was due the credit for originating the policy of starving the monarchy under the Ministry of Brandenburg into desisting from its violations of the new Constitutions in the early fifties. “Let every taxpayer and taxpaying community,” he said, “refuse to pay taxes, and thus in the way of the bloodless revolution the will of the people’s representatives may be accomplished.”

“I have never heard a man speak with more eloquence or moderation,” wrote Gen. von Brandt of him at this time. “His light hair, his passionate gestures, reminded me always of the pictures of Saint Just.” But the Prussian Government was not fond of eloquence or learning on the extreme left, and so Bucher and forty-two other Radicals found themselves presently under arrest for treason and refusal to pay taxes.

This most celebrated State case in recent German history, except, perhaps, the Harry Arnim case, was eighteen months in preparation, and was tried in an uninterrupted court sitting of fifteen hours. Bucher defended himself with passionate eloquence, but to no purpose. He was condemned to eighteen months’ imprisonment and loss of his offices. When the Government officers went to take him off to a fortress, however, he was gone. A powerful friend, such as the Pearl of Bismarck has never lacked, warned him after he had made his great speech of defence that his fate was sure and that he must flee. Bucher read the warning note, then tucked a roll of legal papers, as if for immediate perusal, under his arm, and apparently much exhausted by his address he sauntered bareheaded into the garden adjoining the Court House. At the gate he jumped into a cab, and that was the last seen of Bucher the Red in Berlin for some time.

Karl Marx, you may remember, had better luck in court. His legal defense convinced the jury that he had been justified in calling for tax resistance from the pages of his newspaper, and they acquitted him.