Quakers Debate Paying Tax for Crimean War

During the Crimean War the British government hiked the income tax in order to raise funds to carry on the fight. This led to a debate amongst British Quakers over whether this income tax increase was a “war tax” that they should refuse to voluntarily pay.

Income Tax.

To the Editors of The British Friend

Esteemed Friends, — Doubtless many Friends have seen and read the Act of Parliament, passed in the last session, for increasing the Income Tax, yet I should think by far the greater majority have not done so; especially as the act was not passed until the holding of the Yearly Meeting. I have thought if the accompanying extracts were published, a more extensive and correct knowledge of the tenor of the act would be obtained, and might lead Friends to consider whether it be right for them to pay such tax.

If these views coincide with yours, the insertion of the accompanying will be esteemed.

William Wood.
The Retreat, York, .

Extracts from the Act passed in .

We, &c., the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, towards raising the supplies to defray the expenses of the just and necessary war in which your Majesty is engaged, have freely and voluntarily resolved to give and grant unto your Majesty the rate and duty hereinafter mentioned.

6th. This Act shall commence and take effect from and after ; and, together with the duty therein contained, shall continue in force during the present War; and until the 6th day of April next after the ratification of a Definitive Treaty of Peace, and no longer.

At the London Yearly Meeting, in , this war tax was on the agenda, as The British Friend reported:

An attempt was also made to elicit some authoritative opinion in reference to the Income-tax, this having been imposed, as expressly stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for the purpose of enabling this country to carry on the war. The question raised was, whether, as a Society, we could, in consistency with our well known testimony against all war, pay this assessment. Reference was made to the minuteness with which the Society inquired into infractions of our Testimony against tithes, till it seemed impossible to discover, in some instances, whether they had the most remote bearing on our Testimony in this respect. In the Income-tax, however, were we to pay it unhesitatingly, it appeared to be the opinion of the two or three individuals who introduced the question, that we should be decidedly violating one of the most important of our Society’s testimonies; and it was therefore desirable that the Yearly Meeting should pronounce distinctly what was the duty of our members in regard to the payment of this impost. The whole subject was at last referred to the Large Committee; and, to allow of its having time for interchange of sentiment, the meeting adjourned about half-past six, when the said committee came together, and sat till after eight o’clock, having before it the consideration of the returns of tithe distraints, &c., and subsequently the disposal of the question last referred to, when the conclusion arrived at was, to frame a paragraph expressly bearing upon it in the general Epistle.

I found what I think were the “general” epistles for on-line. The last two are vague on the subject of war taxes, which suggests that those meetings were unable to come to a consensus on recommending a particular course of action. The epistle merely noted that the meeting had “been introduced into very solemn and painful feelings” and had issued “an Appeal to our fellow-countrymen on this deeply affecting subject” (of the war, not of war taxes) and recommended that Friends should “so watch over their own spirits that they may be preserved from in any way countenancing the war-spirit either in conduct or conversation,” which could only be interpreted as a call to war tax resistance by those who were already convinced along those lines. The epistle was even weaker: because the Crimean War was over by that time, most of the references to war were thanksgiving for the end of the latest one.

The epistle was more explicit, saying that:

no plea of necessity or of policy, however urgent or peculiar, can avail to release either individuals or nations, from the paramount allegiance which they owe unto Him who hath said, “Love your enemies.” … Let us honestly examine our own hearts, whether we are ourselves so brought under the holy government of the Prince of Peace, as to be willing to suffer wrong and take it patiently, and even, if required, to sacrifice our all for the sake of Him and his precious cause.…

Under existing circumstances, we would entreat our friends everywhere to be on their guard against entering into any engagements in business, which would be likely to involve them in transactions connected more or less directly with the maintenance of war or of a military establishment.

Still not a straightforward advocacy of war tax resistance, but more in harmony with it.