Tax Resistance in U.S. Women’s Suffrage Movement

I have reproduced here before the text of some documents relating to the British women’s suffrage movement’s organized tax resistance campaign. Today I’ll add some concerning tax resistance in the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.

The first comes from Annie Shaw. It’s an amusing look at the state of that portion of the franchise that was being generously offered to the tax-paying women of Massachusetts by its men, and ends with Shaw’s pledge: “I will not pay another cent of tax in Massachusetts while I live.”—

You have all heard what school suffrage is in the State of Massachusetts, and it isn’t much of anything, for we have not school suffrage; we haven’t anything but school committee suffrage, and that is a good way from school suffrage.

When the law was passed giving us school committee suffrage I felt as old and as large as my brother did when he was twenty-one; and so I immediately started with some of the ladies of my church to register. We went out into the field to find a person to register our names, we hunted him up and brought him in from the hay-field, and then we all stood along in a row, like a lot of school-girls, waiting to take our oaths. The way they do this in Massachusetts, they make us women swear to our property in order to tax us. That isn’t the way they do with men; they tax them first and then send in their bill and let them do the swearing afterwards. I had never been taxed before for three reasons: being a Methodist preacher, nobody supposed I had anything to tax, and nobody asked me; and then again, having paid the tax on the property I did own in the place where it was, we in Massachusetts, by a double system, have to pay it over again, and I wouldn’t pay it anyhow; and then again, I don’t believe in taxation without representation, that is tyranny, and I never pay a cent of taxes unless I am obliged to.

Upon going there we women stood up in a little row, and took our little oath in regard to property. My property yields me $105 a year. Out of this enormous income I paid $22.50 tax! leaving me a large amount of money to live on the rest of the year, you see. On the morning of the election I did not know, as we lived in the country, when we were to vote for school suffrage; so we went early. The way they do there, they stand in a sort of line or procession, you know, as they do in our country places, and vote first for one thing and then another; so we stood there until our time came. At nine o’clock in the morning we got our places; and presently the men who were there began burning incense on the altar of liberty, and the smoke began rising until by and by, along toward noon, we could scarcely see across the house. We live in a seafaring place, where they smoke red herring, and every one of us went through the process and know how red herring feel when they are smoked through. At three o’clock our time to vote for school committee came, and now, we thought to ourselves, is our opportunity. Just as the time was announced the moderator said, with great dignity: “I appoint three men to nominate a gentleman for school committee.” And they walked out and returned with the name of the only man in town whom they could persuade to take the office. There was no pay to the office, and in order to get a man to take it they had to talk to him of George Washington and the Pilgrim Fathers and the Fourth of July, and wave the flag there in his face for an hour. So they nominated the only man they could persuade, and the moderator said: “I appoint Captain Crowell to cast the ballot for the town.” But I said, “Gentlemen, I thought I was to vote;” but they said, “This is the way we always do it.” I said, “Yes, I know, but I have paid $22.50 tax; I have been smoked done, and I want to be allowed to vote; may I not be allowed to cast my vote?” He said, “Ladies, we have no time to spare.” I said, “Gentlemen, I think I ought to vote, and I want to vote.” “Very well,” said he, “if you must vote, vote for the town.” But I said, “I can’t do that, gentlemen, because there are five other ladies here, who all want to vote.” And as I was talking, an old man, with a pipe in his mouth, snarled out, “That’s just the way; just the way I knew it would be, just the way.” The moderator quieted them down after a little, and I said, “Gentlemen, I insist upon voting; I came here to vote;” and then I nominated one of the ladies who was with me as my candidate for school committee, and then immediately we began to buttonhole and every one began to vote, and everybody began to dive to get a chance to vote for school committee; and it took us just three hours to vote. And then the old gentleman who was so angry that the institutions of the fathers had been overturned immediately mounted a chair, and, doubling up his fist, exclaimed, “If this is woman’s suffrage, I am agin it every time. Here we have spent three hours on the school-house, when we needed it all on the herring brook.”

So that is my voting; that is the opportunity which we say we women are not equal to grasp! When the question of appropriations for schools came up, there was a certain class of men who wanted to cut them down, and I was asked to speak a word against it, and I said I would do it gladly; but the moderator said: “The lady can not speak upon that subject.” And I said: “Why not; I am entitled to vote on this subject?” And he said: “No; you don’t vote on questions pertaining to schools; it is only a question pertaining to school committees” — and that is school suffrage! And men who never paid a dollar of tax, and men who never paid a dollar for the town, voted to cut down that appropriation, but to increase the fund to support the poor outside of the poor-house, knowing very well that the women who paid the taxes would raise that fund. I said to the gentlemen: “Can’t you stop this?” and they said: “No, ladies; we can’t stop this.” I looked up to see who it was, and I saw he was running for representative, and I knew he couldn’t stop it, because there were nine or ten votes involved there. Finally I said: “Gentlemen, I can stop my part of it, because I will not pay another cent of tax in Massachusetts while I live.” He said: “You can’t help it; that is what school suffrage does for women in Massachusetts. They register and swear to their property, and we know what they have and we tax them after.” Said I: “Gentlemen, you will never tax me again in Massachusetts.” They laughed at me and said I could not help it; but I could. I happened to be my own master, so the next day I put my property in such a shape that it has never been taxed in Massachusetts since, and it never will be taxed there if I live there until the angel Gabriel blows the last trumpet. It costs me more not to pay the tax than it would to pay it, and my friends say: “You are squandering your money.” I know I am squandering my money, but if I have any money to squander I want to do it. That is my experience on school suffrage in Massachusetts.

Now, do you wonder that every woman in the State is not anxious to be taxed and get nothing but the privilege to vote on such an unimportant matter as this, knowing full well that if she does vote it will amount to nothing at all?

Lucy Stone wrote:

It is the duty of woman to resist taxation as long as she is not represented. It may involve the loss of friends as it surely will the loss of property. But let them all go; friends, house, garden spot, and all. The principle at issue requires the sacrifice. Resist, let the case be tried in the courts; be your own lawyers; base your cause on the admitted self-evident truth, that taxation and representation are inseparable. One such resistance, by the agitation that will grow out of it, will do more to set this question right than all the conventions in the world. There are $15,000,000 of taxable property owned by women of Boston who have no voice either in the use or imposition of the tax.

An this is the letter she wrote to the tax collector when she put this into practice:

Orange, N.J.,

Mr. Mandeville, Tax Collector, Sir:— Enclosed I return my tax bill, without paying it. My reason for doing so is, that women suffer taxation, and yet have no representation, which is not only unjust to one-half the adult population, but is contrary to our theory of government. For years some women have been paying their taxes under protest, but still taxes are imposed, and representation is not granted. The only course now left us is to refuse to pay the tax. We know well what the immediate result of this refusal must be.

But we believe that when the attention of men is called to the wide difference between their theory of government and its practice, in this particular, they can not fail to see the mistake they now make, by imposing taxes on women, while they refuse them the right of suffrage, and that the sense of justice which is in all good men, will lead them to correct it. Then we shall cheerfully pay our taxes — not till then.

Lucy Stone

Elizabeth Cady Stanton tried to get some momentum behind an organized and large-scale campaign of tax resistance:

Should not all women living in States where woman has the right to hold property refuse to pay taxes, so long as she is unrepresented in the government of that State? Such a movement, if simultaneous, would no doubt produce a great deal of confusion, litigation, and suffering on the part of woman; but shall we fear to suffer for the maintenance of the same glorious principle for which our forefathers fought, bled, and died? shall we deny the faith of the old Revolutionary heroes, and purchase for ourselves a false power and ignoble ease, by declaring in action that taxation without representation is just? Ah, no! like the English Dissenters and high-souled Quakers of our own land, let us suffer our property to be seized and sold, but let us never pay another tax until our existence as citizens, our civil and political rights be fully recognized.… The poor, crushed slave, but yesterday tolling on the rice plantation in Georgia, a beast, a chattel, a thing, is to-day, in the Empire State (if he own a bit of land and a shed to cover him), a person, and may enjoy the proud honor of paying into the hand of the complaisant tax-gatherer the sum of seventy-five cents. Even so with the white woman — the satellite of the dinner-pot, the presiding genius of the wash-tub, the seamstress, the teacher, the gay butterfly of fashion, the feme covert of the law, man takes no note of her through all these changing scenes. But, lo! to-day, by the fruit of her industry, she becomes the owner of a house and lot, and now her existence is remembered and recognized, and she too may have the privilege of contributing to the support of this mighty Republic, for the white male citizen claims of her one dollar and seventy-five cents a year, because, under the glorious institutions of this free and happy land, she has been able, at the age of fifty years, to possess herself of a property worth the enormous sum of three hundred dollars. It is natural to suppose she will answer this demand on her joyously and promptly, for she must, in view of all her rights and privileges so long enjoyed, consider it a great favor to be permitted to contribute thus largely to the governmental treasury.

One thing is certain, this course will necessarily involve a good deal of litigation, and we shall need lawyers of our own sex whose intellects, sharpened by their interests, shall be quick to discover the loopholes of retreat. Laws are capable of many and various constructions; we find among men that as they have new wants, that as they develop into more enlarged views of justice, the laws are susceptible of more generous interpretation, or changed altogether; that is, all laws touching their own interests; for while man has abolished hanging for theft, imprisonment for debt, and secured universal suffrage for himself, a married woman, in most of the States in the Union, remains a nonentity in law — can own nothing; can be whipped and locked up by her lord; can be worked without wages, be robbed of her inheritance, stripped of her children, and left alone and penniless; and all this, they say, according to law. Now, it is quite time that we have these laws revised by our own sex, for man does not yet feel that what is unjust for himself, is also unjust for woman. Yes, we must have our own lawyers, as well as our physicians and priests. Some of our women should go at once into this profession, and see if there is no way by which we may shuffle off our shackles and assume our civil and political rights. We can not accept man’s interpretation of the law.

The Presbyterian Magazine told its readers that “We fear that these deluded women are the unconscious subjects of that influence which tempted their first maternal ancestor in Paradise. A glance at some of their sayings in the Syracuse Convention, as reported in the papers, will confirm this apprehension.” Among these sayings were the following:

Miss Lucy Stone took the platform. She wished to say a word about taxation. She wished to urge women heroically to resist, bear the reproaches, receive the disgrace, but resist firmly oppression. What did our fathers say to taxation without representation? She advised woman, when the tax-gatherer came, to refuse; and when brought to justice, to reply that taxation and representation are inseparable, and keep saying it in reply to every question asked.

Mrs. E. Oakes Smith advocated woman’s right to resist taxation. She made a motion: “Resolved, That it is the right of every woman holding property, to resist taxation till such time as she is fully represented at the ballot box.”

Miss Susan B. Anthony offered the following resolutions, drawn up by Mrs. Henry B. Stanton:

Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of those States, in which woman has now by law a right to the property she inherits, to refuse to pay taxes. She is unrepresented in the Government…

Finally, the story of Julia and Abby Smith, and their cows Votey and Taxey:

From time to time women had protested against taxation without representation, some going so far as to refuse absolutely to pay. The most notable case was that of Julia and Abby Smith of Glastonbury, Connecticut, who, rather than pay their taxes without the privilege of voting, allowed their fine dairy cows and rich meadow-lands to be sold, year after year, at public auction, until even the assessor grew ashamed to visit them.

These women attracted wide attention because of their plucky stand. At the time they made their fight they were aged women, with neither brothers, husbands, nor sons. They were highly educated ladies as well as thrifty farmers, earning by their labors a goodly income. Becoming converted to the principles of equal rights, they carried their conviction to the logical end and resisted taxation. When at last they were reduced to two cows they named them respectively “Votey” and “Taxey,” and it is recorded that “Taxey” was always aggressive, while “Votey” was ever timid and shy.

Lucy Stone had long since gone on record on the subject, and held that women were in duty bound to resist taxation even though they should lose all they had, and that by combining they could force the Government to consider their rights. Dr. Harriot K. Hunt protested every year, and many others did the same.

In a number of anti-tax societies were organized, chief among which was that of Rochester, N.Y. The war taxes made big inroads upon incomes and laid heavy burdens on all property. Large meetings of protest were called in many places, as the women felt the pressure severely, and at last they resolved to resist. It was in vain they struggled, however, and, after many fruitless appeals for justice, they gave up the attempt. Strange, is it not, that men laud to the sky the historic Boston Tea Party, by which the participators lost not a cent, and yet will continue year after year to collect the taxes of unrepresented persons, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any one brave enough to resist their tyranny? Men boast of their chivalry, of the fulness of their protection, yet they inflict upon helpless women wrongs which they themselves would never suffer. If the women resist, the courts are set in motion; back of the court stand the prison, the Government, and the army. Truly, men have but little of which to boast in their treatment of women as a class, whether the women be brave or meekly submissive.