Tax-Paying Quaker Outcast Timothy Davis Publishes His Heresy

Here’s another rarity: a pamphlet from Timothy Davis urging his fellow-Quakers to consider the rebel Continental Congress to be their legitimate government, and to pay taxes for its support.

There was a variety of Quaker tax resistance during the American Revolution that based the resistance on the theory that because the Continental Congress existed for the purpose of a rebellion against the established ruler, that any taxes paid to the Congress were not only war taxes that violated the Quaker peace testimony but were also taxes paid to support an anti-government campaign, which violated the apostle’s command to support existing governments (see Romans 13) — a part of Christian scripture that was more frequently deployed against Quaker tax resistance.

Davis tries to show in this pamphlet that Quakers had in the past been content to pay taxes to the de facto governments they were living under, without raising a fuss as to their legitimacy or origin.

Davis was disowned by the Sandwich (Massachusetts) Monthly Meeting in , and was thereafter joined by some other “Free Quakers” in a pro-Revolutionary “Davisite” splinter meeting. In , Davis recanted and was allowed to rejoin the orthodox meeting.

A Letter from a Friend to some of his intimate Friends on the subject of paying Taxes, etc.

Dear Friends,

With a heart painfully apprehensive of the distressed and calamitous situation of human affairs in the English dominions in general, and in the American Colonies in particular, I address you. — The experience I have had of your candor and christian concern for the good of mankind in an especial manner manifested at our last interview, gives me sufficient reason to think that you will excuse my freedom in thus communicating my thoughts on that branch of taxation that at some times raises scruples in the minds of some people; I mean when the charges of war are blended with those that arise in support of the various exigencies of civil government. Although we, as a society, concern not ourselves in setting up, or pulling down the kingdoms of the earth; nor seek to have much share in legislation, or execution of human laws, yet friends to all just laws and administration; and feel, deeply feel for our fellow subjects in their various trials and conflicts; nor are we forgetful of them in their remotest sufferings; but more especially those occasioned by the unhappy disputes between Great Britain and the colonies; in which we expect to continue to be sharers with them, until it shall please the Disposer of all events, to bring about a happy and lasting reconciliation, which is the hearty prayer of all true well wishers to their country.

While my thoughts have been engaged in this afflicting scene, I have entered very closely into that part of it which nearly concerns us, (viz.) that of Taxation. — The peaceable profession which we have long made to the world, (which constitutes a very amiable part of our religious character) will not admit of our taking up arms (it is painful to think it is reduced to that of Brethren’s pouring out the blood of each other as water spilt upon the ground) we may nevertheless expect to be taxed in common with other people, to pay the charge of the unhappy war, together with such civil charges as may arise for the support of government; which I perceive is like to be matter of scruple with some; yet, many others think they may as safely pay it, as many other taxes which they have had no scruple of paying. They say, and I suppose truly, that “Friends in England have freely paid their taxes, when by far the greatest part has been for the defraying military charges,” if it be said, “but not against our own nation,” — This upon examination will appear to be a mistake, which will be farther considered before I conclude. — in the colonies it has frequently been the case, that we have paid our taxes without hesitation when much the greater part has been for the charges of war. For instance, there is the province of Massachusetts Bay, when it has been taxed near a hundred thousand pounds, their currency, for one year scarce twelve thousand of it went for civil uses, that, eighty thousand pounds or thereabouts, went to defray the charges of war, but say they, “this tax came to us blending civil and military charges together, which it was hard to separate” — and perhaps the taxes we expect, will come to us in the same manner, it is beyond a doubt they will, and be as hard to separate. — If it be said in the present case — “we ought to separate them” — if we do, we shall show ourselves partial, which will justly expose us to the censure of every considerate person, in being so very exact as to examine into one case and not the other; for we might, with as much ease and propriety, have examined the votes of the former general court of assembly, as of the present. — If it be further objected that “we cannot consistently join in opposition to the king and parliament, so far as to pay a tax which will strengthen their opposers, who are not almost the whole of the American colonies.” — If it be safe to follow the example of our predecessors, I think we may very safely do it. — “Why, what did they do?” — I answer, they have from their very first appearance as a separate society, been subject to such who were invested with the authority of the nation, without meddling with the various disputes that have arisen since their time, concerning regal authority, and on whom it ought to devolve. For a farther consideration hereat, you may remember, that Friends made their appearance in ; who by his too much aspiring after sovereignty or despotism alarmed the people; who, headed by Oliver Cromwell, prevailed against the king, and took the reins of government into his own hands, and governed the kingdom himself, under the character of lord protector. —

Here we do contend but that Friends who had paid their allegiance and their taxes to the king, continued to pay them to Oliver Cromwell, during ; And what can be said of him, but that he headed the populace, and was as opposer of kingly authority, not merely as such, but as it became, through the hands of the king, subversive of the rights and privileges of the people: What harder things can be said of those who are at the head of the present opposition, that may render them less worthy of receiving taxes to defray the charges of government. By all that I have been able to discover, our society in England have ever made a point of being careful and exact in paying all taxes that are legally assessed, except the priests’ rates.

, king Charles the second came to the throne, and they paid taxes to him also. After which, the crown continued in the family of Stuarts, ; who, by his favoring popery, justly alarmed and incensed the people against him that thinking himself not safe among a justly provoked people, took shelter in France, which made way for the Prince of Orange. Here we find the line of Stuarts interrupted again, which devolved on them according to legal succession, and the Prince, in conjunction with the people, opposing the then kingly government in James; much the same as is laid to the charge of those who are at the head of the present opposition; and Friends who were desirous to live in peace with all men, paid taxes to him likewise; but say they — “James favored popery and endeavored to introduce popish government and therefore forfeited his right to the crown.” Be it so — but is favoring popery the only instance in which the kings of England can forfeit their rights to reign over a free people? — I should think that when the sword is put into the hands of a king, to be directed for the punishment of evil doers, and praise to them that do well, we might have some reason to expect him to act, in some measure, answerable to his exalted station, and the trust the people have reposed in him, (as kingly authority originates from the people) — But if to the contrary he should act so far below his exalted station as to turn the point of the sword at the vitals of the people, it must be very alarming, especially when they have conferred all the favors upon him that were in their power, confident with the safety of the kingdom, he as fully forfeits his right to reign over them as in the case of popery, nor can we assure ourselves that the interest of popery is not at the bottom of the present ministerial plan.

Every considerate man, no doubt, would be glad of such a form of government as might be unexceptionable; but we have no reason to expect it, in this imperfect state of things: Yes we ought to use all just and reasonable means to rectify all disorders in government that are in the compass of our power, consistent with the peaceable profession we make; and at the same time, to be as careful not to complain without just cause, but be as content as we can, under such a form of government as it has pleased Divine Providence to cast our lots: And it must be a very bad one indeed that is not preferable to a state of anarchy. I believe it may be very well allowed that even the present state of government in the Massachusetts Bay is better than none, and, if the inhabitants receive any advantage from it, they ought to be willing to bear a proportionable part of the charge that arises in support of it; though it may not be in such a state as they could with. — in a word, let a man be under any form of government he can imagine to himself, where he receives any advantage by it, and while he remains under it, he ought to bear his proportion of the charge of it; for the thoughts of having our lives and every thing that is near and dear to us lie wholly at the mercy of every invader, without any possibility of redress from any legal authority, I should think would incline us to be willing to bear our just proportion of the charge of such government as we are under, if it should not in every respect be consistent with the most perfect system.

Our Savior has set this matter in an indisputable light, to me, by the conversation he had with Peter on that subject, at a time when those who received tribute money came to Peter querying with him whether their Master paid Tribute or not, Peter said he did. Christ willing, it appears, to take advantage of this opportunity to leave an example to future ages of his approbation of paying taxes, in a case similar to the present, in every thing essential in the present argument, and as an additional weight to the holy example, introduced a conversation with Peter, not waiting for him to introduce it, or propound any questions on the subject, but prevented him, as with design to remove every hesitation, proceeded thus, What thinks you Simon, of whom do the kings of earth take custom or tribute, of their own children or of strangers? Peter says to him, of strangers. Jesus says to him, Then are the children free. As much as if he had said “then have they no just demand on us, we, being children, may very well refuse paying of it. — Nevertheless, lest we should offend them, it is best it should be paid, therefore I would have you do it,” which he was enabled to do by an extraordinary miracle. I cannot see how it is possible for any thing to be expressed more clearly to remove every scruple. It is further observable that there is not one word of objection either from Christ or Peter that part of this tribute money went to defray military charges, (for it undoubtedly did) which we might expect to find here if any where, seeing they were then upon the point of paying taxes. If it be argued, “that this happened before the abolition of the Mosaical constitution, while war was lawful, and consequently the paying tribute for the support of it,” I answer, whether the law was wholly abolished at that time or not, is not necessary to be inquired into in this case, it is sufficient to our purpose that the words of our Savior which are commonly urged to disprove the lawfulness of war were delivered in his sermon on the Mount, sometime before the conversation he had with Peter concerning paying tribute; and if war was forbidden in his sermon on the Mount, the paying taxes ever after that must have affected his followers in the same manner as it does at this day, unless it can be made to appear that the lawfulness of war did not cease at the same time when we generally supposed he forbade it; but that the cessation thereof was reserved to some future period; which we have little reason to believe.

Thomas Story, in the journal of his life explains this matter very clearly. Pages 124, 269, to which I shall refer you, and only transcribe a few sentences. “Though we are prohibited arms and fighting in person, as inconsistent (we think) with the rule of the gospel of Christ; yet we can and do, by his example, readily and cheerfully pay unto every government, in every form, where we happen to be subjects, such sums and assessments as are required of us by the respective laws under which we live.”

If our rulers pursue measures for the defense and support of civil government, that we think not strictly consistent with the rules of the gospel, even by repelling force by force, to the shedding of human blood, it is our of our power to help if they proceed in the defense of government as it suits them best; and if their manner does not suit us, that may not hinder, but we may receive as much advantage from it as if they pursued such measures as we may think we could point out. However, let them proceed in a hostile manner or not, in the defense of our rights and privileges, it is certain if we receive advantage from civil government, we ought to bear our part of the charge of maintaining of it, or else have no recourse to it in any case whatever; for it would be very odd for us to seek protection against the encroachments or abuse of our fellow creatures from an authority that we refuse to help to support. It may farther be observed, that the tribute that Peter paid by our Savior’s direction, was at a time when the Jews were under the Romans, and Cesar at great expense in supporting his legions for the defense of his empire: That as Christ by the hand of Peter paid a tax, He must consequently pay a proportionable part of such charge.

In one place Christ says, Render to Cesar the things that are his; but in the instance before us, he sets us an example of paying the requisition of civil authority, not only when the soldiers received a part of it, but even where not strictly due, rather than give offense; although it helped to uphold a government under which they (i.e. the Jews) were reduced by the dint of sword; an example of meekness that ought to have place in every considerate mind; that while we remain steady to our testimony against shedding human blood, we may preserve our consciences void of offense toward God and man, and by no means at any time throw out any unbecoming reflections against those in authority, nor mistake will for tender scruple of conscience in paying taxes, or in any thing else, nor give civil authority any unnecessary trouble.

If it be said that “Christ submitted to the paying of a tax to show his subjection to kingly authority,” I answer, but I believe not to show that he gave the preference to kingly authority, for there appears to be a clear instance to the contrary in that of Israel’s asking for a king, at which time it was shown them what the consequence would be, which they afterwards felt to their sorrow. 1 Samuel 8 “He showed them what should be the manner of the king that should reign over them: He will take your sons and appoint them for himself for his chariots, and to be his horsemen, and some shall run before his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers, and he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants, — and he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and you shall be his servants. — And they said, nay, but we will have a king, etc.” That, from this instance, or any other, we have little reason to prefer a kingly government. — The Evangelical Prophet Isaiah seems to have had a very lively idea of their being formerly governed by judges before they had any king and speaks of it in a way and manner that very clearly indicates it to be far preferable to a kingly government, and foretells, very clearly, its return: ch. 1, v. 25, 26. “I will turn my hand upon you, and purely purge away your dross, and take away all your tin. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterwards, you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” — Before this becomes our condition I believe I may say, without breach of charity, a very great reformation must take place in the heart of every denomination among us, when “Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.” v. 27.

But with respect to kingly government, I hope there are none among us, such sticklers for a republic, but that it would be very acceptable to all well wishers to America, if the controversy between Great Britain and the colonies should subside, and that things might return to their old channel.

The apostle Paul seems to have had a very great regard for civil government, and discourses largely upon the subject in his 13 ch. to the Romans, and carries the matter so far as to say, “There is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.” Without criticizing particularly on what he says, we may safely conclude thus much from it; that all power capable of serving God and mankind, whether by means of civil authority, or otherwise, is of God, and no other; and that when this power is exercised by those in authority for the good of mankind, they ought to be encouraged and obeyed in it; but whenever they act from a contrary power and principle, the mischievous effects of it will presently appear, either less or more, to the distressing and corrupting the people, that when the wicked bear rule the land may very well be said to mourn.

To conclude, I meet with some who appear to be well disposed persons, who from some disagreeable circumstances they have taken notice of, are led to doubt the sincerity of the intentions of some, who have some influence in the American counsels; and that they fear their designs are to enrich and aggrandize themselves at the public cost. How well grounded these suspicions may be, I cannot pretend to say; but thus much I think I may say with safety, that I am fully persuaded it is far from being the case with the most of such whose conduct therein I have been able to form any judgment about; but if there be any such, who in this time of deep distress, act from motives so mercenary and repugnant to every idea of justice and humanity, they ought to be ranked among the worst of enemies, as well as among the most impious of men. — Let us now call to mind, that it is a time that calls aloud for all closely to examine their standings, tradition or education, although of the best, will not be able to support us in the time that is swiftly approaching; although it may be of excellent use, in regulating our manners, if rightly regarded; nor will others being firmly established on the immovable rock of ages, as an everlasting foundation, be any alleviation to us in the day of our distress: We must experience this for ourselves, or sink into perdition; but I hope we shall, while the door of mercy is open to us, seek earnestly to be redeemed from the earth and earthly mindedness, that our minds may be stayed upon the Lord, that we may be preserved in perfect peace while the world is in confusion, like the troubled sea, casting up mire and dirt.

With much respect, I am your sincere Friend, etc.