Joshua Maule, in his book Transactions and Changes in the Society of Friends, and Incidents in the Life and Experience of Joshua Maule (), gives a good look at how the debate over war tax resistance played out among Quakers during the American Civil War.
… If the Society of Friends was in a healthy condition, there would, I have no doubt, be some action taken in the yearly meeting, in giving counsel and encouragement to strengthen the hands of Friends faithfully to maintain a Christian testimony against war and all warlike measures, including the present levying of a tax for the support of the war. The latter subject was brought before the meeting, but the spirit which prevails, and has ruled for years past, turned judgment away backward, and the honest-hearted, who had hoped for counsel and advice from the Church, were discouraged through the position taken by the leaders of the meeting, who endeavoured to make it appear that our testimony did not require us to decline paying the tax now demanded. They referred to the writings of early Friends on the subject of taxes, intimating that their testimony was not against such a tax as the present; but they did not produce the proof of such an assertion, neither could they. I am satisfied there are no writings of sound Friends of any period in the existence of the Society which justify or seek to defend or excuse the payment of a clear and direct war tax such as ours. But there is abundant evidence that they bore a clear testimony against it. The discipline of Ohio Yearly Meeting says:
Believing, as we do, that the spirit of the Gospel breathes peace on earth and good-will to men, it is the earnest concern of the yearly meeting that Friends may adhere faithfully to our ancient testimony against wars and fightings, avoiding to unite with any in warlike measures, either offensive or defensive, that by the innocency of our conduct we may convincingly demonstrate ourselves to be real subjects of the Messiah’s peaceful reign, and be instrumental in the promotion thereof towards its desired completion, when, according to ancient prophecy, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea; and its inhabitants shall learn war no more.”
Following this, the discipline enumerates a number of things which it is the judgment of the yearly meeting our members should not engage in, and says “that a tax levied for the purchasing of drums, colours, or for other warlike uses, cannot be paid consistently with our Christian testimony.” The whole chapter on war in the discipline is well worthy to be read. It clearly shows that those who now control and direct the affairs of our yearly meeting are not the same in principle with the Friends who framed the discipline; as they pay taxes which are named as being direct for war, and discourage others from maintaining a testimony against them.
There were many hindering considerations presented to my mind, and many arguments were used to discourage from declining to pay this tax, by Friends who were intrusted with the important concerns of the Church, and whom I had much esteemed and would have looked to for help, instead of hindrance, in supporting the testimonies of Truth. Amid the “strife of tongues” and the abounding of reasoning, which I often thought brought darkness rather than light, it remained clear to my mind, as I endeavoured to look to the only sure Guide, “the Wonderful Counsellor,” that, let others do as they would, the only safe way for myself was to entirely decline paying the war tax, and leave the consequences.
Fully impressed with this feeling, I went to the County Treasurer, and informed him how I wished to pay my tax. He objected to receiving it as I requested, as he thought the law would not allow it, but he did not find any law to prohibit him from so doing. I told him I was aware that the authorities would collect the unpaid part of my tax by distraint, but that I believed it was not right for me to pay money to support war. He made many objections to complying with my wishes, all which I answered as well as I found ability. He heard me patiently and kindly, and admitted that he understood the ground of my declining to pay the war tax, and he seemed about to accede to my request when a new difficulty arose in his mind. He said “he did not know whether the law would allow him to do so; he might suffer loss or be fined, and he must consult his law-books.” I saw this might unsettle the conclusion he had almost arrived at, and so increase the difficulty, and feeling more strength than when I entered his office, — for I went in weakness, — I said, if he should sustain any personal loss in the matter through being adjudged to have failed in his duty, I would be accountable to him for such loss. This seemed to be assuming a serious responsibility. I may have been in error therein, and have been censured in this particular by some Friends; but I felt satisfied at the time, and have so continued. A faithful testimony, however, subject to all that it may involve or incur, is a question of obedience rather than of dollars and cents. The Treasurer took my word in the matter, and I paid him the full year’s tax, thinking it best not to avail myself of the legal privilege of paying one-half six months later. It was entered on the receipt that I had paid all my tax for , except 8½ per cent., which was the part expressly named in the tax-list as for the war at that time.
A few days since a neighbor, who frequently comes to my store, asked me to loan him a sum of money for a few days. I gave him the amount he asked for, and he then said what he wanted it for was to pay my war tax; that the delinquent tax-list had been sent to him for collection. I had not expected the unpaid tax would be collected before the expiration of the year, or till after the time fixed by law for the last payment; neither did I suppose that a man in such a position — a farmer of considerable property — would engage in such a collection, so that I was taken by surprise. I immediately told him he could not have the money for that purpose. He appeared unwilling to give me any offence or to take my property, and said he thought I would surely be willing to let him do as he intended, as he had borrowed the money. I told him I would rather have paid the Treasurer myself than have it done in this way, and that he must return the money to me. He did return it, but seemed perplexed, and to regret having undertaken to collect the tax. He said he would have to take property, and when he afterwards came for that purpose, he wished me to show him such things as I would rather he should take. I told him I would not take any part in the matter, either to help or hinder; he must take his own course. He was very respectful, and went away manifesting disappointment and uneasiness with the business he had taken in hand. I felt to rejoice that I had escaped the snare laid in borrowing the money, and had not submitted to compromise my testimony. Weak and unworthy I am, and unfit I feel myself to be, to put forth a hand to support the ark of the testimony, fearing I may not be able to stand through all, though I am in measure sensible of having been sustained and helped with a portion of that strength which is made “perfect in weakness.” Earnest are my desires that I may be enabled to stand through all the trials and provings of this uncommon time, and be preserved consistently with His holy will unto whom alone the cause belongeth, so that honour, praise, and thanksgiving may be rendered unto Him.
the taxgatherer came for property to pay my war tax. He seemed embarrassed, and wished to talk with me on the subject. I felt free to converse with him, and explained the nature and ground of my declining to pay, and the view held by Friends in regard to all war. He admitted it was correct, and he believed I was acting from conscientious motives: He said “he thought it was easier for me than him.” He took several pieces of goods, some of which he afterwards returned. And so what appeared at the first like a mountain of difficulty has passed comfortably away, and renewed cause remains to trust in Him who careth for all who fear and obey Him.
He later tells of his worry about some of his fellow Friends who were a little wobbly on the subject:
. While at Flushing attending our quarterly meeting, Isaac Mitchell informed me that Asa Branson and Joseph Hobson, with himself and some other Friends who had paid half of the tax, were fully decided they could not pay the war tax, but that they would leave it unpaid when they made the last payment. I was glad to hear they had so decided, though I feared they had missed the right time, in making the first payment without then maintaining the testimony against the war tax; as they must have paid half of it when paying the other; and I knew that delays in such important matters were often dangerous.
. Our friends Isaac and Mary Mitchell being at my house, I inquired how Friends of Flushing had fared in regard to the war tax. Isaac replied “that they had paid the whole tax without reserve.” On my expressing surprise, he said “they had conferred together and reconsidered the matter after his informing me that they were decided that they could not pay it.” “They had consulted Friends’ writings, &c., and come to the conclusion that as this was a mixed tax, and as Friends had always paid taxes, part of which had gone to support a military establishment, it was better to pay this tax, and make no trouble about it.” I had feared this result when first informed that they had paid the one-half without reserve. It was a sorrowful consideration to me that leaders of the people had let fall this Christian testimony, on the first trial of their faith, when a pecuniary sacrifice was required, had forsaken the vital principles of their profession. After acknowledging a clear view as to right and wrong, they had rejected the light and its leadings, and so missed the reward that might have been extended to them, and, through their example, to many others.
The question as to paying this tax came before our quarterly meeting, and there was a serious concern on the minds of some that Friends should stand faithful to our testimony against war. But this feeling was, for the most part, among those less forward in the meeting. Those who had the management of affairs had no encouragement to hold forth for any to maintain this testimony; it was far otherwise with them. They represented that the writings of early Friends justified the payment of such taxes; and while the meeting was engaged with the subject, Asa Branson declared, boldly and with an evident sense as well as tone of authority, being clerk of the meeting and a recorded minister: “We can pay the tax, but we cannot fight!” And with dark and subtle reasoning he laboured to destroy the conscientious scruples of others. Their voices were silenced, and darkness and death, spiritually, were, in my apprehension, brought over the meeting, which seemed to acquiesce in the decision of the clerk that we were at liberty to pay the hire of others engaged in war, though we could not fight ourselves. I have no doubt the sin was less with many who, without proper consideration and ignorant of the precepts and commands of Truth, went into the field of battle, than with those whose eyes had been enlightened to see the peaceable nature of the Redeemer’s kingdom and were professing to uphold it, and who yet voluntarily paid the wages of the warrior, in a war that imbrued the nation in blood.
The arguments and conclusions of the clerk and others in authority appeared to convince, or to suit the feelings of, most in the meeting: by pursuing the course indicated they could save their property and avoid suffering, though plainly transgressing the letter of the discipline. This was much kept out of view, and other things were brought forward which are not named in the book of discipline, and were represented as being of like character with the war tax in its respective bearings, such as the use of government money, &c., — a mode of reasoning well calculated to lead to evasion of our testimony and to confuse and bewilder the honest-hearted. There seemed to be no concern with these leaders to commend a regard to our excellent discipline and to stand faithful to the Truth, — no recommendation to a course in accordance with the words of George Fox: “I was glad I was commanded to turn people to that inward light, spirit, and grace, by which all might know their salvation and their way to God.” Nothing of this nature was introduced. The war and the bounty tax was paid by all this class of Friends; the blighting assertion being often heard from them “that the tax demanded was a mixed tax, and they could not avoid paying it.”
The members of the quarterly meeting were not all drawn into this apostasy from first principles. Some of them adhered to the law and the testimony, trusting in the arm of Divine Power for help and preservation.
I extract as follows from the writings of Thomas Story:
Though the discipline now in use in the Church is of God through the openings of His wisdom and dictates of His Spirit, yet it may be said now of discipline, as Paul, personating that state, said of the Law: “The law is spiritual, holy, righteous, just, and good; but I am carnal, sold under sin.” The discipline is settled to great and glorious ends; but as Satan regards not what be the law, if he can be judge to pervert it, so even in this age the mystery of iniquity hath so wrought as that ungodly men in some places have advanced themselves into the seat of judgment, whose spirits and ways are for judgment and condemnation; who by that means, being unseen of some and awing others, turn the edge of judgment backwards, and pervert right, put truth for error, and error for truth; which being the highest abomination and indignity to the Lord, He will shortly arise to the discovery and overthrow of all such, with their evil work, throughout the world.
The writings of early Friends were often at this time spoken of and referred to in general terms, both in our meetings for discipline and in private discussion, for the purpose of depreciating the testimony then involved; and the assertion was advanced that such taxes as the present were paid by early Friends; but in no case, I believe, was any definite expression of theirs ever shown, or actually adduced, to sustain the assertion.
Having, from my youth, been an interested reader of the history, the journals, and other approved writings of Friends, I have not found, either in their early or more modern standard writings, anything to support an argument in favour of paying a war and bounty tax, such as is now demanded; so that, as I apprehend, to assert that faithful Friends have ever paid, or advocated the payment of, such a tax, is to misrepresent them.
Thomas Story, being at in New England on a religious visit, thus writes:
I think proper to observe here that this being , the government of New England was preparing to invade Canada, and there being many Friends at that time within that government who could not bear arms on any account, as being contrary to our conscience and sentiments of the end and nature of the Christian religion, which teacheth not to destroy, but “to love our enemies,” the people of New England made a law “that such of the inhabitants of the government as, being qualified or able to bear arms and regularly summoned, should refuse, should be fined, and refusing to pay the fine, should be imprisoned and sold, or bound to some of the Queen’s subjects within that colony for so long a time as by their work they might pay their fine and charges.”
On we went to an appointed meeting at Bristol on the main, where two of our young men, namely, John Smith and Thomas Macomber, were prisoners, being impressed, by virtue of this law, to fight against the French and Indians. The prisoners being brought into court, Thomas Cornwell and I, and many other Friends, went in with them, and though we had our hats on, the judge was so far indulgent as to order us seats, but that our hats should be taken off in a civil way by an officer. I replied we did not do that with any disrespect to him or the court, but our hats being part of our clothing we knew not any harm nor intended any affront to the court by keeping them on. And though religion be not in the hat, yet where it is fully in the heart the honour of the hat will not be demanded, or willingly given or received by the true disciples of Him who said: “I receive not honour from men. But I know you that ye have not the love of God in you. How can ye believe which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?”
The prisoners being at the bar, the judge asked them the reason of their obstinacy, as he called it, running again into several high charges against us as a people. The young men modestly replied: “It was not obstinacy, but duty to God according to their consciences and religious persuasions, which prevailed with them to refuse to bear arms or learn war.” But the judge would not by any means seem to admit there was any conscience in it, but ignorance and a perverse nature; accounting it very irreligious in any who were personally able to refuse their help in time of war, with repeated false charges against us as a people, saying “since we could pay public taxes which we knew were to be applied to the uses of war, why could we not pay those which were by law required of us instead of our personal service?” I desired leave of the court to speak, which was granted, and said: “If the judge would please to keep to the business of the court concerning the prisoners I would, with leave, speak to the point of law in the case; but if he thought fit to continue to charge us, as a people, with errors in matters of religion, not properly before him, I should think it mine to answer him in the face of the court,” adding “that I could give the court a full distinction and reason why we could pay the one tax and yet not the other,” which the whole court, except the judge, was desirous to hear, and he, too, was silent. I began with the example of Christ Himself for the payment of a tax, though applied by Cæsar to the uses of war and other exigencies of his government, and was going on to show a difference between a law that directly and principally affects the person in war, requiring personal service, and a law which only requires a general tax, to be applied by rulers as they see cause, and affects not the person. “For though we, as a people, readily pay such taxes, impartially assessed, yet, as the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, His servants will not fight, though they may, and ought to, pay taxes according to the example of Christ, their head.”
The judge interrupted me, saying, “I would preach them a sermon two hours long, if they had time to hear me.” Then Thomas Cornwell desired them to be careful what precedent they made upon this law, since neither he nor any of us knew what might be the effects of it, or how soon it might be any of our cases; and that it would be very hard upon us to be sold for servants. He then demanded a precedent, where, at any time, any of the Queen’s subjects ever sold others of them for the payment of taxes, where conscience and duty towards God and Christ the Lord were the only cause of refusal; adding “that he could never pay any of those taxes, though he should be sold for the payment of them.”
Here, Maule adds some excerpts from John Woolman’s journals, which I have reproduced at this page.
John Woolman’s journal and writings fully and clearly set forth his views and feelings on the subject of war taxes: they are well worthy the attention of those who are seriously disposed to follow the requirings of Truth in this important matter.
John Churchman, also in , being in Philadelphia at the time when the Assembly of Pennsylvania was sitting, says:
We understood that a committee of the House was appointed to prepare a bill for granting a sum of money for the King’s use, to be issued in paper bills of credit to be called in and sunk at a stated time by a tax on the inhabitants; on which account several Friends were under a close exercise of mind, some of whom, being providentially together and conferring on the subject, were of opinion that an address to the Assembly would be proper and necessary, and one was prepared accordingly, presented, and read.
From this address I take an extract, as follows:
The consideration of the measures which have lately been pursued and are now proposed having been weighily impressed on our minds, we apprehend that we should fall short of our duty to you, to ourselves, and to our brethren in religious fellowship, if we did not in this manner inform you that, although we shall at all times heartily and freely contribute according to our circumstances, either by the payment of taxes or in such other manner as may be judged necessary, towards the exigencies of government, and sincerely desire that due care may be taken and proper funds provided for raising money to cultivate our friendship with our Indian neighbors, and to support such of our fellow-subjects who are or may be in distress, and for such other like benevolent purposes, yet, as the raising sums of money and putting them into the hands of committees who may apply them to purposes inconsistent with the peaceable testimony we profess and have borne to the world appears to us in its consequences to be destructive to our religious liberties, — we apprehend many among us will be under the necessity of suffering rather than consenting thereto by the payment of taxes for such purposes.” “We sincerely assure you we have no temporal motives for thus addressing you; and could we have preserved peace in our own minds and with each other we should have declined it, being unwilling to give you any unnecessary trouble, and deeply sensible of your difficulty in discharging the trust committed to you, irreproachable in these perilous times.
John Churchman further says: “Many Friends thought they could not be clear as faithful watchmen without communicating to their brethren their mind and judgment concerning the payment of such a tax; for which purpose an epistle was prepared, considered, agreed to, and signed by twenty-one Friends. Copies thereof were concluded to be communicated to the monthly meetings, as follows:
Here, Maule reproduces the text of that epistle, which I included in a Picket Line entry .
The following is taken from the “journal of Job Scott:”
At our yearly meeting this year, , the subject of Friends paying taxes for war came under solid consideration. Friends were unanimous that the testimony of Truth and of our Society was clearly against our paying such taxes as were wholly for war; and many solid Friends manifested a lively testimony against the payment of those in the mixture, which testimony appeared evidently to me to be on substantial grounds, arising and spreading in the authority of Truth. It was a time of refreshment to an exercised number, whose spirits, I trust, were feelingly relieved in a joyful sense of the light which then sprung up among us.
It does not appear from anything that I have met with, and I believe there is no evidence, that at the rise or in the very early days of the Society there was any tax demanded expressly for the support of war. But the pure doctrines of the Gospel of life and salvation being clearly against all “wars and fightings,” and teaching “peace and good-will to men,” Friends, as they were steadily concerned to be faithful to the True Teacher “who teacheth as never man taught,” were shown from time to time their religious duty in this important matter; and many of them, at an early period, became satisfied that the Spirit of Truth required them to refrain from contributing in any way to the support of war. The taxes being so levied that they could not distinguish in regard to them, when the nation was engaged in war they believed it was more consistent with the Divine will and safer for them to suffer distraint and loss of property than to pay the mixed taxes. As their testimony was faithfully maintained, and defined to their understanding, they became unanimous in their belief, as Job Scott informs us, that it must be clearly against paying taxes which are specially for war; and this principle became incorporated in the discipline of the Society. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting makes record accordingly, at different times , and offenders were considered disownable. Ohio Yearly Meeting, afterwards established, has similarly recorded its judgment and decision.
This subject of taxes occupied much time in our monthly meetings. The reasonings and arguments of those who controlled the action of the meeting being so different from those above quoted from the writings of early Friends, who were so careful to advise and encourage a faithful testimony, I now propose to rehearse some of them; and for that purpose I refer to a letter received from my friend Nathan Hall, an elder of much influence: it embraces several subjects which agitated the Society. I extract the part relating to taxes:
Dear Friend, — I have for some time thought of writing to thee. The tax question being a prominent one, I will first allude to it. In paying the bounty tax that I did, though it was not known or intended to be as it turned out, I never have stood, and trust never shall stand, in defence of it. I was very sorry and sorely distressed on account thereof, more so than of any other act of my life, and am willing to condemn it in any way the Truth requires. If my friends think, as thee and some others do, that nothing short of a course of disciplinary treatment will do, let it be so; however humiliating such a course woudl be, I hope I may be willing to bear it if it is for the clearing of the Truth.
As for the other or mixed tax, as I conceive it to be, we have viewed it differently and, I believe, honestly. So while condemnation has been passed upon me for endeavouring to ascertain the true position of the trouble, that I might abandon my former views if I found they were wrong, I have thought that if some others had been willing to have given the subject the investigation its importance demands, they could hardly have failed to discover they were paying the very description of tax they are objecting to, and spared the censure of their friends. However any may endeavour to quiet their apprehensions or press their views upon others, it cannot change the fact plainly expressed and carried out by the law, — that whether we pay less or more of that tax, a certain proportion of it goes for military or war purposes; and it avails nothing to say: “We did not pay it for that purpose, and if wicked and bad men so apply it, it is their lookout, not ours.” We can say that of all the tax as well as a part.
If the law had said so many dollars to be raised for war purposes, instead of such a portion of each and every dollar, it would have been plain and not a mixed tax. Such is not the case; it is all collected together and thrown into one general treasury, where it remains till it is apportioned out for the different purposes designated by the law. There might be as many different classes of objectors or withholders of tax as there are purposes for which it is appropriated, and the officers of government know nothing of the nature or cause of any of them; they would only know there was a deficiency, and apply that on hand in due proportions for their different purposes, and the deficiency, when collected, in like manner. To illustrate it more fully I will suppose a case which I believe is strictly parallel, thus: We both have a testimony against the use of ardent spirits, but are, being very thirsty, placed in a situation where we can get no water except some that has a small portion of whiskey in it. Being under the necessity of taking something, thee may, by inquiry and calculation, find what proportion of the objectionable article is contained in it, and leave just that much in thy bowl; while my understanding will be that in partaking I partake of both good and bad, and in refusing refuse both. So that with me the question is and has been, not what portion I should pay so much as whether any at all. I know thy argument is that it is a direct war tax, for it plainly says so much is to be applied for that purpose: so it is with the liquor; we know it is there, but can we separate either of them? If we can I would be willing to do it.
I have not yet felt at liberty to withhold the just dues of government on account of a portion being woven in with it that I do not approve of; nor can I call in question the decision of different high authorities where I believe they were similarly tried. Though I have thus expressed myself, it is by no means intended to apply to or influence those holding different views; I would encourage every one to attend strictly to his or her feelings in the case, — ”To him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean;” nor, as before expressed, do I want to foreclose labour one with another; if it is done under a right feeling or authority, it will have a tendency to bring us nearer together in the right thing. In thus labouring we will have to extend charity one toward another, — more than is sometimes done, — and in our zeal for the testimony examine well its different bearings. In so doing suffer me to call attention to one part that some are tried with that may have escaped thy notice, or, having noticed, been passed over. Thee is very positive that thee is right in thy view of the subject, while there are others as much so that thee is pursuing a course more objectionable than the one complained of. They say thee pays a tax as exclusively to carry on war as any other, — for liberty to sell goods; and thee pays another in the purchase of those goods, and then charges sufficient in the sale of them to amply cover the two former; that thee is not only paying such a tax, but employed in collecting it off of others; and for what? — for the love of gain, as a competency has already been obtained. There is another feature that has not passed unnoticed: that thy suffering for the testimony is very different from what it would be with many others; the cash sale of a few goods at auction, probably for their full value, bears no comparison to selling a farm at perhaps less than one-five-hundredth part of its value where there is no possible means of ever having any redress or restitution. This is not an imaginary event that may never happen, but something that doubtless often happens.
There are persons — and, it may be, many — who own real estate in other counties than the one in which they live, with no personal property on them, when the land would have to be sold. No collector, under any circumstances, can go out of his own county to collect. I don’t advance this as an argument to evade suffering: if it is right, we should passively bear it, be the sacrifice what it may; but I do think it should be a caution how we press matters of doubtful expediency.
The positions taken in this letter and its arguments, with other similar ones, were set forth and pressed upon Friends who were not easy to pay the war tax; and Nathan Hall rehearsed them quite fully in our monthly meeting, endeavouring to show by the same reasoning as to the position and action of the officers of the law that it would be in vain to undertake to maintain a clear testimony. Other Friends turned their influence in the same direction in the meeting, with various modes of reasoning. Louis Tabor said “we ought to withstand the tax as long as we could, and testify against it before we paid it.”
Ann Branson was at our meeting at one time when this matter was under discussion, and, the shutters being opened at her request, she directed her communication very much towards it. She compared those who were paying and encouraging others to pay the war money to the man with an unclean spirit, “who came out of the tombs;” and said it was a “swinish spirit” that promoted this evil work, declaring that the covering would be stripped off them; and, suiting the action to the word, she stripped her shawl from her shoulders.
I am not able to distinguish, as Nathan Hall has, between the war tax and the bounty tax, both being for the same purpose, and both being publicly set forth, in print, in their several amounts, clear and distinct from that required for civil purposes, a certain percentage being indicated as for each, — war, bounty, and other war purposes. The distinction appears to me to have no real difference, in fact, to sustain it, and both continued to be paid by those who used the arguments referred to. Those who so far abandoned our vital testimonies and led others in the same path took their own course and made their own record; and while sad and troubled in view of these things and the failing of those who should have been “standard-bearers” amongst us, I made my record also; and though I did not hide my views and feelings as to what was taking place, I endeavoured to keep clear of censuring or condemning others.
The arguments used in reference to what disposition the officers of the law might make of the money collected appeared to me to be valueless. What has any one to do with this kind of reasoning who is concerned to bear a testimony against war? Besides, I am not accountable for the acts of other men: if I owe a just debt, I must pay it; if the person receiving the money uses it for a bad purpose, the accountability is with him; but if he demand money of me avowedly to be used in any way to the plundering of my neighbour, destroying his property, or taking his life, then if I furnish money thus demanded I become an accomplice in the evil work and accountable for the sin. I consider our civil taxes a just debt that should be promptly paid, but I am satisfied that no human authority has either a moral or a religious right to demand of me money or means of any kind to aid in destroying the lives and property of my fellow-men. The teachings of the Saviour of mankind forbid me to comply with such demands if made, and His precepts also require me to submit peacefully to the powers that be, in whatever course they may take in regard to my person or property on such account.
The words of Christ, “Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” have often been brought forward as evidence that He approved of paying all taxes; it being said, in connection, that Cæsar was then engaged in war. The distinction, however, is sufficiently clear: the things that were Cæsar’s were, doubtless, those which appertain to the civil government; the things which belong to God are, surely, a clear and full obedience to His commands and to His laws. We know that all the precepts and commands of Christ which can be applied in reference to this subject are of one tendency, enjoining “peace on earth and good-will to men.” We do not know, after all, however, what was the exact nature and use of the tribute collected in those days, nor what were the situation and circumstances in which Christians or others were then placed in regard to such things.
The Judge of the whole earth has declared by the mouth of His prophet: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” This assuredly applies to the Christian dispensation, — a law of Divine authority which Christians were to be governed in accordance with; and so the early Christians understood it. As history informs us, for the first two centuries of the Christian era the followers of Jesus Christ maintained a faithful testimony against war, and when commanded to enter the army, the answer was such as these: “I am a Christian, and therefore I cannot fight;” “It is not lawful for a Christian to bear arms for any earthly consideration.” For their unyielding integrity and faithfulness many were put to death. They rendered unto God the things that were God’s, but what ground is there for supposing or asserting that they rendered unto Cæsar pecuniary means, in the form of tribute, to carry on war, when it is certain that they yielded their lives rather than do an act to promote it? May we not reasonably conclude that in their understanding the command to render unto Cæsar included nothing more than that which appertained to civil government?
Jonathan Dymond, in his essay on war, says, on recounting some of the expressions of Christians when commanded to take part in war,
These were not the sentiments and this was not the conduct of insulated individuals who might be actuated by individual opinion or by the private interpretations of the duties of Christianity: their principles were the principles of the Body; they were recognized and defended by the Christian writers, their cotemporaries.
The same writer says:
Let it always be borne in mind by those who are advocating war [and, I may add, how can it be more effectually advocated than by furnishing the means by paying taxes to carry it on?] that they are contending for a corruption which their forefathers abhorred, and they are making Jesus Christ the sanctioner of crimes which His purest followers offered up their lives because they would not commit.
The paying of a license is one of the things named as being more objectionable than paying a war tax. I paid license for my business, having no knowledge or intimation that it was for any other use than the general purposes of civil government. Nothing appears in our books of discipline in relation to this subject, though I have no reason to doubt Friends and others have paid business licenses for many years. I apprehend that it was a measure of that light — ”that true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” — which manifested to my mind the sinfulness of paying money for war, and the need there was for me to refrain from doing it; and had I been sensible of any restraint in regard to the license, I believe I would have declined paying that also.
The argument adduced by Nathan Hall and others, in the framing whereof it is asserted that I am employed in collecting war tax of others, is grounded also on my paying customs and duties on the goods I sell. My business is almost exclusively in goods manufactured and produced in this country, though I have sold imported goods on which, no doubt, duty had been paid before they reached me. But in the discipline of Friends there is no adverse mention made of customs and duties; the Society evidently had not seen in the common payment of them any violation of the testimonies of Truth. But members are warned against dealing “in public certificates issued as compensation for expenses accrued or services performed in war.” These certificates were used in the purchase of land, similarly to “land warrants,” and Friends who bought land with them were amenable to the discipline.
While there is nothing in the discipline or in the writings of Friends, that I have met with, disapproving of paying customs and duties, simply as such, I will now bring forward a powerful testimony of a faithful Friend that they ought to be paid. William Edmundson, soon after , was engaged in selling goods in Ireland, which he bought in England, and he writes:
Whilst I was at sea, self reasoned strongly to save the duty on my goods, for I had an opportunity to do it, the troop my brother belonged to quartering at Carrickfergus and Belfast, who would have helped me, night or day. But I durst not do it, my conscience being awakened to plead for truth, justice, and equity; yet there was a great contest between conscience and self, and in this conflict many Scriptures were opened in my understanding that duties and customs ought to be paid; and, though self struggled hard for mastery, yet at last was overthrown, and the judgment of Truth prevailed.
William Edmundson was a bright example of steadfastness and unyielding integrity to the Gospel principles of life and salvation. He was an eminent minister, greatly esteemed and beloved; one that suffered exceedingly, both in person and in property, for his testimony. He knew what the Truth cost him, and that it was of inestimable value through life as well as in the hour of death, saying in the time of his last sickness: “I am now clear of the world and the things of it. Heaven and earth, sea and dry land, and all things, shall be shaken: nothing must stand but what is according to the will of God: so look to it, Friends. I do not see anything left undone which the Lord required of me when I had strength and ability, or that the Lord chargeth me with any neglect or transgression.” His friends could say of him: “Having run the race with patience and kept the faith, he departed this life in sweet peace with the Lord, in unity with his brethren and good-will to all men.”
Another assertion made in reference to our position was to the effect that the use of the national currency involved a paying of money for the support of war, — a position to which I did not feel to assent. The money coined by the government has always been used, without scruple as to propriety, by Friends and others, and I am not aware of any sound reason why paper-money issued by the government should not be used also. I am satisfied that if I do not myself apply any of either in paying taxes for or otherwise supporting or promoting war, I shall be clear of accountability, whatever amount may be applied by the government to war purposes of either specie or paper-money. The bonds used by the government I had no doubt were issued for war purposes; and it appeared to me that buying them was, in effect, loaning, and, so far, voluntarily furnishing means for carrying on the war; and entirely a different thing from using the public money in ordinary business. I never had anything to do with the government bonds.
I have felt a propriety in compiling the foregoing statement of the means used to influence Friends to forsake an essential testimony, and the views and testimonies of accepted teachers of the Truth as regards this and kindred subjects, adding concurrent evidence presented to my own mind. It will have been seen how that many honest-hearted Friends became bewildered, whose judgment at the first was clear that this tax could not be paid without violating a Christian principle, that which was once clear being confounded by the influence of the leaders and their many arguments and sophistries (not advanced for the defining of a reliable position or the uplifting of a standard abandoned by themselves, but, mainly, to stumble, to weaken, and destroy), and, further, by the arraying of matters and questions beyond the mental powers of some, and which the true witness in the heart had not called up or the disciplinary records mentioned.
In the resulting confusion “self” no doubt grew strong, and, as said by William Edmundson, strove in the mind to avoid pecuniary loss and suffering. Many were turned and swept by the current, some of them, as afterwards confessed, sadly to their own hurt.
I’ll continue with some more excerpts from Joshua Maule’s Transactions and Changes in the Society of Friends, and Incidents in the Life and Experience of Joshua Maule .