The Education Act Tax Resistance Campaign: November 1903

Our chronological trek through the “passive resistance” campaign against elements of the Education Act of continues. We’re now up to in our coverage.

I start to see less coverage in the papers at this point, but this could be from a number of reasons. It might just be a sampling bias of some sort in which newspapers I searched. It might be that at this point the movement has become less newsworthy, as the campaign settled into a regular rhythm. It might also be that the campaign was waning in enthusiasm and wasn’t making as much noise. Or it could have something to do with the calendar and when the rates were assessed, collected, and opportunities to resist arose.

The Bath Chronicle of covered a passive resistance meeting held at the Widcombe Baptist Chapel. Excerpts:

The chairman remarked that there was no need to be alarmed by the cry that Passive Resisters are likely to lose their vote. If it came to the worst, however, most of them would be willing to lose their vote rather than lose the freedom and equality their forefathers had obtained. He referred to a statement of Dr. Clifford’s that “Passive Resistance may not be a good policy, but principle is what we are struggling for, and possibly that may be after all the best policy.”

The Rev. Tolfree Parr, one of the missioners to the National Free Church Council, said he thought the Bath Citizens’ League was adopting a good policy in carrying the flaming torch from church to church, and training the people in their own churches in the Passive Resistance principles. He was rejoiced to find in the churchy and aristocratic city of Bath such a thing as a Passive Resistance League. This branch league was part of an ever-growing army which would fight this battle to the end. There had been 6,000 summonses already. He ventured the opinion there would be 60,000 soon, as the number of passive resisters would increase by thousands when the populous towns in the North of England would have to adopt the Act. The Archbishop had expressed the opinion some time ago that six months after the passing of the Act there would be no passive resistance. His letter this week did not look as if he held that opinion now. The speaker believed passive resistance was not going out, but that it was just coming in, and the courts would be yet more crowded with passive resisters all over the land and the magistrates will grow tired of the business. They could afford to ignore the sneer that they were cheap martyrs. What a splendid thing it would be to send Dr. Clifford to prison, for he would then have a fortnight’s rest which he could not get now.

An establishment church bishop addressed the Truro Diocesan Conference, which was covered in The West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser of . He denounced the passive resistance movement as being based on lies about the church and its schools, and with alarm said:

It broke the law, in more than half Wales is boasted that it would refuse to the schools of the Church that supply which the law required at its hands, and there were parts of England, like Cambridge, that seemed likely to follow the same lawlessness.

18 passive resisters had their goods seized and auctioned off in Market Harborough district on . The Northampton Mercury reported that this auction was a little unusual. Instead of just hauling the seized goods to a central location and auctioning them off there, the auctioneer went around to various resisters’ homes to hold many individual auctions:

The sale of the goods of 18 passive resisters distrained upon in Market Harborough district were sold by auction at the New Hall on , the auctioneer being Mr. Towson, of Long Eaton. There were three or four hundred persons present, and beyond some good-humoured banter nothing of moment occurred. The goods were all knocked down to Mr. Newcombe. The auctioneer was then driven to Foxton, where a timepiece of Mr. George Kirby’s was sold. The next call was at Laughton, at which place a four-wheeled carriage, of which Mr. C.J. Smith had been dispossessed, was disposed of, and purchased by an employé of Mr. Smith. The next journey was to Fleckney, where a considerable crowd assembled near the house of Mr. Iliffe, the collector. The auctioneer, who was posted inside Mr. Iliffe’s yard, was greeted with much jeering. The din was so great that he was scarcely audible. The lots were disposed of in dumb show, the purchaser being Mr. R. Gardiner, of Saddington. The auctioneer, on being driven away, had several lumbs of turf aimed at him, but only one seemed to hit the mark. Deputy Chief Constable Leach, Sergeant Burton, and five constables were present.

Up to 6,496 summonses had been issued against passive resisters, and 235 sales of effects had taken place. In all or nearly all instances the goods were bought by friends or by supporters of the National Resistance Committee and restored in due course to their original owners. Exception must be made in the case of a bassinette for which the owner declared there was no further use at home. The dictum of Mr. Justice Lindley has had no effect whatever on the movement.

“Passive resistance” is not unknown in France. At Besançon an ordinary barndoor chicken owned by a “passive resister” has fetched the remarkable price of £7. A sympathiser with the Clerical party, who had refused to pay his taxes as a protest against the operation of the Religious Congregations Act, was distrained on, and the fowl was put up to auction. The man’s friends bid merrily for it until the sum required was raised, when the bird was returned to its owner.

Fifteen watches were among the goods listed to be sold at Chester on to pay portions of rates which had been refused by passive resisters. The assistant overseer announced that the Excise authorities had at the last moment warned them that jewellery could not be sold without a special license, hence the sale could not take place. Great uproar ensued, vigorous protest being made against an adjournment and further consequent expense. The assistant overseer assured the excited crowd that further expense would not be entailed. The resisters then held a conference, and eventually it was announced that the auctioneer would sell the articles with the exception of the jewellery. The Rev. Cairns Mitchell advised the resisters not to treat privately for jewellery, and warned the auctioneer that a public sale would be insisted on. Then, amid good-humored chaff, eight lots were disposed of, the jewellery being held over. A public meeting was subsequently addressed by G. Leech, of March. A letter from Dr. Clifford was read, and a copy of the Education Act was torn into small pieces.

On Mr. Margetts conducted a sale of goods belonging to a large number of passive resisters, including several ministers, at Willesden-green. Several hundred people attended the sale, and the hall was crowded. Before the sale commenced those present joined in singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” and much cheering greeted the auctioneer’s announcement that no commission on the sale and no fees for valuation would be charged. The proceedings passed off quietly, and though there were 130 lots offered, the sale was quickly concluded, most of the goods being knocked down at the first bid. Among the lots were four volumes of the “Life of Spurgeon,” and three Bibles.

The Portsmouth Evening News printed an enthusiastic report of the local passive resistance league in its issue:

The New President of the Local League.

An Appeal to Associate Members.

(By an Inside Contributor.)

The members of the Passive Resistance League in Portsmouth are greatly pleased with their new President, the Rev. W. Miles, Pastor of Buckland Congregational Church. He is not only a strong Passive Resister, but a powerful and eloquent speaker, and he is the minister of one of the most influential churches the borough. The officers of the League now represent the Baptists, Bible Christians, Congregationalists, Primitive Methodists, and Wesleyans, for the Treasurer is a Wesleyan layman and a T.C. and J.P.; and the energetic financial secretary is also a Wesleyan. When Mr. Lloyd George, M.P., visits Portsmouth on , the members of the League will endeavour to secure him for a public luncheon and afternoon conference. But it is doubtful at present whether Mr. George’s engagements will render this possible. But whether it be or not, they will hail his advent to Portsmouth with delight, for no man in the House of Commons opposed the Education Bill more brilliantly or effectively than the Hon. member for Carnarvon. And he is rendering splendid service for our cause in the country; last week he was at Aberdeen, and after a powerful address, Principal Salmond, in moving a vote of thanks, acknowledged that Mr. George had entirely won the sympathy of the Scotch people for their English brethren in the “magnificent stand they were making for their rights.”

The extraordinary growth of public opinion favour of the Passive Resistance movement is little short of marvellous. Everywhere Nonconformists who at first were in doubt are gradually coming over. Reflection is producing conviction, and the working the Education Act is inspiring thousands either with alarm or disgust. Evangelicals in the Established Church are now beginning see that Protestantism in the Church England is doomed if the priests, who have captured the day schools, are able to retain them.

The hearty thanks of all Passive Resistors are due Mr. Alderman J.J. Norton, of Poole, for his victory over Sir Richard Glyn, who, as Chairman the Bench, ordered Mr. Norton into the dock. Twice the sturdy Alderman refused to go into the dock, and twice the case was adjourned in consequence, and on the third occasion the Magistrate wisely gave up the fight, and Mr. Norton was the victor. It is now pointed out that it is not only indecent to order a Passive Resister into the dock, but obviously illegal. The dock is the place for persons accused in criminal proceedings of public offences. The Passive Resister is in no sense of the law or fact to be classed among criminals. He need not to the Court at all unless he likes, and if he does he can take his hat and walk out at any time he chooses, and for a Magistrate to treat him a criminal under arrest is unjustifiable. Thanks to Mr. Alderman Norton this is now made clear.

The West Ham appeal case, of which have heard so much, is down for an early hearing. This is a test case which is to determine the point whether the Overseers of that Borough have the legal power to insist on full payment of the rate, or whether they must accept part payment, and levy a distress for only the balance of the account. Overseers all over the country are waiting the issue of this appeal, and this fact goes far to account for the falling off of summonses and distraints. After Christmas the gorge of many a disgusted Overseer will rise, as he is perforce compelled to take up this hateful work of prosecution.

Let me close my notes this week with an appeal to the Associate Members of the Passive Resistance League. They will, of course, like other people pay the District rate without demur, but they should by no means pay the Poor Rate without a strong pretest. This protest can written and handed in with the money. But, better still, the Associate Members can refuse to pay till they are summoned. They can go into Court, and there pay under protest before the Magistrate. But the “Full Members” look to them to make some protest, and to make it strong as they can. Meanwhile, let the Full Members be of good courage. The flowing tide is with them. The opinion of the country is veering round in their favour. To the Passive Resisters of Edinburgh in John Bright wrote: “I trust your great and growing combination will bring you a speedy success, but I am not sure that this can secured unless your inhabitants are resolved to resist the payment of the tax, whether levied by itself or as part of some other tax. There is no power greater than that of Passive Resistance.” The truth of John Bright’s words is being proved anew.