A Defense of Tax-Paying Quaker Outcast Timothy Davis

Remember Timothy Davis? He wrote A Letter from a Friend to some of his intimate Friends on the subject of paying Taxes, etc. (see The Picket Line, ) in . He thought that Quakers ought to be paying their taxes willingly to the Continental Congress, while the orthodox opinion in his Meeting said no.

He 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.

But between those events, his splinter group published a defense of Davis and an attack on the way his meeting disowned him — An address to the people called Quakers, concerning the manner in which they treated Timothy Davis, for writing and publishing a piece on taxation (). I recently tracked down a copy on microfilm.

Here are some excerpts from the pamphlet that discuss the tax resistance argument:

[The Friends] have a rule that requires their members, when any of them propose to publish anything, by means of the press, that they lay it before the Meeting for Sufferings, which Timothy [Davis] not only neglected to do, but proceeded to publish a piece when he had received their advice to the contrary, they having by some means got intelligence of the piece he had wrote. This is thought to be a very great transgression; but there are some circumstances attending this matter, that are a very great alleviation, viz. when he first received the advice from them respecting the not publishing his piece, he expected that the leading part of the Society were that quiet, peaceable people which they have ever professed themselves to be, and that as a body they would not, at least, interest themselves in the dispute between Great Britain and the Colonies, but when he, afterward, met with several of their publications, especially from Philadelphia, he was obliged, to his great grief, to change his sentiments concerning them in that respect; from those publications it appeared very clear that they interested themselves very deeply in the said public dispute, which was also farther manifested by many of them refusing to pay taxes to the American Government; all which he considered as inconsistent with their former principles and practice, and might involve them in much unnecessary sufferings; to prevent which he was induced to publish the aforesaid piece on taxation, not expecting, under these circumstances, to meet with any encouragement from the Meeting for Sufferings: But however, when he came fully to consider the circumstances of publishing his piece without first laying it before the Meeting for Sufferings, for their approbation, he could do no less than consider it as a misstep; for let the Society be as much out of the way as they might, he considered that it did not license him to commit one error to mend another, and therefore told them that he was sorry he had not paid more attention to the before-mentioned rule, and laid his piece before them, before he published it, or words to that purpose, which they were so far satisfied with, that they gave him no more trouble about transgressing the aforesaid rule, but then took in hand the matter contained in the piece, and because he would not condemn that, they disowned him; although it does not appear that it contains any matter inconsistent with the ancient, and approved practice of the Society, from their first appearance as such until very lately.

There appeared at that time, very different sentiments, both with respect to paying taxes, and the present revolution; but many that were in favor of the revolution, when they began to feel the weight of increasing taxes, began to exclaim against it, and continue to find much fault with the present government. There remains, however, a very considerable, as well as respectable number who continue to justify their ancient and approved practice of paying general mixed taxes under every change of government, who are apprehensive that they, on the other hand, by disclaiming the practice of paying such taxes, are… laboring to undermine and lay waste Friends’ testimony in that case, which must involve them in much suffering, that, to considerate people, appears very unnecessary, to the grief and sorrow of many of their most sensible experienced members, who were desirous of continuing and supporting a practice that so nearly concerned the peace of society, both civil and religious.

When this matter was first taken under consideration by the Monthly Meeting, it appeared that the refusing to pay taxes was making its way into Society with too much success, by such who embraced that sentiment of refusing to pay taxes, etc. who soon became very active and assuming, and according to what has been observed, labored to bear down everything that appeared in favor of Timothy Davis’s cause; and took the freedom to complain of intrusion, though without cause, yet, with as much assurance as if their novel opinions had been received as articles of faith from their first appearance as a religious Society.

We do not blame them for the sentiment of refusing to pay taxes, merely because it is new, but because we think it an error; but suppose it were true, it is very imprudent to press it so hard, feeling it is new, as to disown anyone for publicly opposing of it. It would be much more Christian-like to exercise a little patience until it is more generally received and established. A sentiment’s being either new or old, ought never to be a reason for either receiving or rejecting it; but its being old, and generally received, demands a very close examination and clear conviction before we part with it. A thing’s being true or false, ought to be the only reasons for which we either receive or reject it, but we doubt it is an unhappiness with many, that they believe, or reject, according to the sentiments of those with whom they wish to continue in favor, whether it be the Church or particular persons.

It remains a dispute with some, whether Timothy was disowned for the matter contained in the piece in dispute, or for some circumstances attending the publication; it has generally been thought that he was disowned for both, until we received the testimony they gave forth against him, which puts the matter out of dispute, by which it appears he was disowned for the matter contained in the piece only, which is as follows, viz.

Whereas Timothy Davis, a member of our religious Society, has published a piece on the subject of Taxation, etc. which contained matter altogether dissatisfactory to Friends, and inconsistent with our religious testimony, for which much labor has been bestowed without its desired effect.

We are therefore constrained to give forth our testimony against him, the said Timothy Davis, and deny him of remaining any longer a member of our Society, until he be convinced of his misconduct, and finds a place of repentance, which will enable him to return and make suitable satisfaction for his outgoings, which is our sincere desire.

Given forth from our Monthly Meeting held at Sandwich .

Signed in and by order of our said Monthly Meeting, by Ebenezer Allen, Clerk.

That his piece contained matter altogether dissatisfactory to such who were unwilling to pay taxes to the American government, is not hard to believe; but that it contained matter inconsistent with their ancient testimony concerning paying general mixed taxes, is not quite so clear. What their testimony had got to be, at the time he wrote, was a subject of his inquiry for no other reason, than to labor to convince such of their error who refused to pay such taxes; and more especially as there was too much reason to fear that such refusal, with many, originated in political disaffection.

Our letter writer [described earlier as “a member of another Yearly Meeting” who wrote to Davis, objecting to his lack of repentance over his pro-taxpaying views] tells us of scruples of that kind some had about twenty five years ago. We are something acquainted with the history of that matter; from which it appears that they were far from meeting the general approbation of the Society, especially in Great Britain, which appears by a letter from a Meeting for Sufferings in London to John Hunt and Christopher Wilson, not far distant from the time he mentions. They in that letter very clearly show their disapprobation of their singularity in being scrupulous about paying such taxes. This letter was afterwards published in a piece entitled, a serious Address, etc. to the People called Quakers — , by a Native of Pennsylvania, from which we have extracted what follows, viz.

I believe this refers to Isaac Grey’s A Serious Address to Such of the People called Quakers, on the Continent of North-America, as profess Scruples relative to the Present Government: Exhibiting the ancient real Testimony of that People, concerning Obedience to Civil Authority. Written before the Departure of the British Army from Philadelphia, , by a Native of Pennsylvania. I’ve read elsewhere that the Society of Friends bought up the first edition of this pamphlet in order to suppress it, whereupon a second edition was brought out.

I’m hoping to get my first look at this pamphlet today — it’s just come in via interlibrary loan to the main branch downtown.

See The Picket Line, for excerpts from Grey’s pamphlet.

As you well know that very disadvantageous impressions have been made here by the advice of some Friends against the payment of a tax lately laid by the Provincial Assembly, it is recommended in a particular manner, that you endeavor to remove all occasions of misunderstanding on this account, and to explain and enforce our known principles and practice, respecting the payment of taxes for the support of civil government, agreeable to the several advices of the Yearly Meeting, founded on the precept and example of our Savior. May that wisdom which is from above, attend you in this weighty undertaking, and render your labors effectual for the purpose intended, that you may be the happy instruments of averting the dangers that threaten the liberties and privileges of the people in general, and restore and strengthen that union and harmony which ought to subsist in every part of our Christian Society.

We are your Friends and Brethren;

Signed in an on behalf, and by order of the Meeting for Sufferings in London, the .

By Benj. Bourne.

We wish not, however, to bear hard upon any who are tenderly scrupulous about paying such taxes under any government whatever, whose scruples do not originate in political disaffection, but cannot be of their sentiment in this respect, but are apprehensive that their scruples arise from a want of a well-informed judgment. The chief that we fault them in, is, that they press this new sentiment too hard upon such of their brethren as are differently minded from themselves in that case, and generally treat them with shyness and disrespect; but have not been able to establish a rule in the Society that forbids paying such taxes.

What their ancient, and long approved, testimony was with respect to the paying taxes may be seen in the before-mentioned address, and also in their ancient and most approved authors, many of whom are quoted in the said address, particularly George Fox, whose authority with them, in general, has been as great, at least, as any one of their authors. See his Book of Epistles, p. 137:

All Friends everywhere, who are dead to all carnal weapons, and have beaten them to pieces, stand in that which takes away the occasion of wars, which saves men’s lives and destroys none, nor would have others; — and as for the rulers that are to keep peace for peace sake and for the advantage of truth, give them their tribute, but to bear and carry weapons to fight with the men of peace (who live in that which takes away the occasion of wars) they cannot act in such things under the several powers, but have paid their tribute, which they may do still for peace sake, and not hold back the earth, but go over it, and in so doing Friends may better claim their liberty.

He here gives two very powerful reasons for the paying of tribute. The first is, that it be done for the preservation of peace, for peace sake; the second is, that in so doing Friends may better claim their liberty. We cannot see with what confidence any can expect their liberty preserved, who will not pay their taxes to enable the magistrate to defend it from the hands of violence. These are reasons, one would think, that none would be weak enough to oppose: Reasons no doubt, that Christ and his apostles had in view when they encouraged, and enjoined, the paying of tribute or taxes, and also because it was Cesar’s due, but for no other reason than for his service done, or to be done, to his subjects; the same reasons for which tribute or taxes becomes due to the government we live under, or any other civil government.

If Friends will grant that it is the duty of the magistrate to preserve peace for peace sake, they must also necessarily grant that it is his duty to suppress violence, otherwise peace will not be likely to take place. — How far the magistrate may act in the suppression of violence for peace sake, perhaps is the matter in dispute. George Fox, and many other Friends who have wrote since, have thought that they might go so far in the suppressing of violence, as to pay their taxes for the peace sake, and leave it with the magistrate to preserve it in any lawful way that he should think proper and most for the benefit of the subject — The magistrates have thought that to answer so good and salutary a purpose as the preserving peace for peace sake, they ought to do all that is reasonably in their power to suppress all kind of violence and intrusion on the persons, property, and liberties of the subjects, whether committed by any of them, or by foreigners that should intrude themselves.

There is, perhaps, not any of their writers more clear in this point than Isaac Pennington; nor was there scarcely ever an author better approved among them in general, who, in answer to what he calls a weighty question, as indeed it was, concerning the magistrate’s protection of the innocent; in the collection of his Writings expresses himself thus, Vol. Ⅰ, p. 444:

Whether the magistrate in righteousness and equity is engaged to defend such who (by the peaceableness and love which God has wrought in their spirits and by that of life, mercy, good will, and forgiveness which God, by his own finger has written in their hearts) and taken off from fighting, and cannot use a weapon destructive to any creature?

Here follows his answer:

Magistracy was intended by God for the defense of the people; not only of those who have ability and can fight for them, but of such also who cannot, or are forbid by the love and law of God written in their hearts so to do. Thus women, children, sick persons, aged persons, and also priests in nations (who have ability to fight, but are exempt by their function, which is not equal to the exemption which God makes by the law of his spirit in the heart) have benefit of the law, and of the magistrate’s protection, without fighting for the defence of either.

Here follows a few very pertinent observations by the author of the before-mentioned address, viz. “Now, if magistrates be appointed by God, and it be the magistrates duty to defend such, who either are not able, or cannot for conscience sake defend themselves, is it possible any can be right who lay waste this ordinance, or speak of such defense as sinful? If any man be appointed by God to defend my life, is it possible that God can authorize me to call him a sinner for doing his duty? Or is it possible that I can, consistent with my duty, refuse him that tribute which is absolutely necessary to enable him thus to defend me? But had I much greater abilities to speak to this subject than I am conscious of, no reasoning of mine could be of equal authority with the author above quoted; hear him therefore again, p. 448, where treating on this peaceable principle professed by the Society, he says:

“I speak not this against any magistrate or people defending themselves against foreign invasions, or making use of the sword to suppress the violent and evil doers within their own borders; for the present state of things may and does require and a great blessing will attend the sword when it is uprightly borne to that end, and its use will be honorable; and while there is need of a sword, the Lord will not suffer the government, or those governors, to want fighting instruments under them, for the management thereof, who wait on him in his fear, to have the edge of it rightly directed; but yet there is a better state, which the Lord has already brought some into, and which Nations are to expect and to travel towards.”

That this quotation contained the general sentiment of the Society at the time of its publication cannot with reason be disputed, for if it had not, it is not likely they would have published it with a collection of his Works after his death. A further evidence of its general approbations, is the large number of testimonies of some of the most approved Friends in the Society printed at the beginning of the collection in favor, not only of the author, but of the piece. And it appears with no less certainty that it has continued to be the received sentiment of the Society of Friends in America, by their causing of it to be reprinted a few years ago by subscription, from almost every part of the country where there are any Friends. And therefore it does not appear to be either his or our particular sentiment, but that of the Society in general, both in Europe and America. — How those who encouraged that publication by their subscriptions, could encourage the disowning Timothy Davis is very unaccountable, as there is nothing in his piece that can, with any color of justice, be construed to be any ways equally in favor of war with that quotation, and Timothy, as well as we, think ourselves to be as much called from the destructive use of the sword as they: But we have quoted that passage from Isaac Pennington, that they may, if possible, be convinced of their partiality — What we mean to encourage is mutual charity and forbearance to all Societies.

Now, for such who are called from the use of the sword it would no doubt be a very great sin for them to make a destructive use of it; who are, no doubt, designed to be lights in the world, and to hold out the olive branch to the nations until it shall please infinite wisdom to call the rest of mankind in like manner from the use of the sword, when every one shall sit quietly “under their own vine, and under their own fig-tree, and none shall make them afraid. Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim;” for these will have fully entered into peace and righteousness, the glory and perfection of the gospel dispensation: But till then it has pleased God to provide for the peace and safety of mankind by instituting magistracy for the punishment of evil-doers, while violence and oppression remain in the earth, and the keeping peace for peace sake is so absolutely necessary.

And here it comes… with inevitable plodding step… The Anarchy Boogie-Man:

However shocking some circumstances which may attend the suppression of violence and injustice may appear to tender minds, yet they ought to consider, that they are wisely ordered by the disposer of all events to prevent much more alarming and dreadful consequences that await a state of anarchy: We therefore can hardly think that any are so imprudent as to wish the world to be without law or government, if it is not at all times, and at all places, quite as they would have it, however zealously they may contend against the use of the sword in the suppressing of violence.

And here’s a novel argument for why Quakers should be content to support Cæsar in his use of violence while they don’t permit themselves to draw blood even in self-defense. You see, God has different sorts of rules for different sorts of people:

If they are in favor of continuing magistracy for the suppressing of violence, would they not be willing to give so much assistance toward it, as to pay their taxes, without with magistracy cannot be supposed to be upheld, whose business it is to hold up the sword only a terror to evil-doers; when it becomes a terror to others, it is time to take it out of their hands, and place it where it may answer the design of its institution, viz. that the magistrate may not only be a terror to evil-doers but a praise to them that do well.

But some can hardly reconcile it with infinite wisdom and justice, to prohibit that in one, which he approves in the other. This objection will easily be removed if we properly advert to the reasons there are for diversity and variety in the divine economy. It appears perhaps nowhere more convincing than in the diversity of gifts mentioned by the apostle Paul, and his recommendation to everyone to attend to their own proper gifts, otherwise they might prejudice the cause they were engaged in, and the same reasons hold good still, and even in temporal matters: And although some may not be qualified or gifted to bear rule in the church, yet they may be well qualified for magistrates to rule the world, if they are moral men: And it is evident from the same apostle that we ought to be subject, and that for conscience sake, not only to those magistrates of our own Society, but to those who do not even profess themselves to be Christians; and these too he calls the ministers of God to the subject for good; for they were then under the Roman government, who did not profess Christianity: Not that we would encourage the introducing such into authority, where it can be avoided, who do not at least profess the Christian name.

But with respect to diversity: Our Savior says, “in my Father’s house are many mansions” — But why? Because doubtless there are many kinds of service, whether we consider those mansions to respect his church militant on earth, or triumphant in heaven, and it is therefore necessary that there should be many rooms, or mansions, that these various services or employments may be properly attended to, that they might not interfere to the prejudice of each other. Would it not be ridiculous to ask why he refused one the use of one of these rooms, while he granted it to another, and even compelled him to labor in it, and required the other to return to his own manion, where his proper business was. — As there are diversities of gifts, so there are diversity of employments, and therefore every one ought to attend to his own proper business to prevent distraction; and also for this one incontestable reason, that God is a God of order and not of confusion.

The consistency of this we should think could hardly be mistaken. The like reasoning, we think, may very well be admitted with respect to the power of the civil magistrate, especially if he be considered as a minister of God whom we ought to obey in every thing lawful for conscience sake. The reasonableness of this diversity and the different departments will further, very clearly, appear, if we wisely consider the different degrees of growth there are in religion: We are told not only of fathers and mothers in Israel, but of young men and new born babes; and as that of not defending one-self is considered by Robert Barclay, and no doubt by others, as one of the highest Christian attainments, it can hardly be expected from a new born babe, and therefore if they will have none in their church but such who have arrived to that degree of christian experience as not to defend themselves, they must not admit any new born babes who desire the sincere milk of the word that they may grow up thereby, but all must be born into the church in the full grown stature of men and women: Whereas it is absolutely necessary that the members of Christ’s church should be regenerated and born again as infants; that it appears to us, there should be somewhere in the church or house of God, in which light the church is sometimes considered, such an apartment as a nursery: And would it then consist very well with the tender character of a nursing mother, or church, to turn her infant into the world to shift for itself, because it was not born into the church a perfect man or woman, i.e. that could not see it to be unlawful to defend itself? We hope that such thoughts as these may awaken such christian tender feelings in some, as they, either have not indulged, or have not known.

Wars were not even lawful under the Mosaical constitution, but when they acted in them according to the counsel of God, and if the same counsel has now made the sword necessary to assist magistracy which he has instituted, it cannot be unlawful for such magistrates to make use of it who are to serve him in that department until he shall call them to some other.

This the aforesaid apostle seems to have been very sensible of, notwithstanding he was under the gospel dispensation and influence, when he said, “for this cause pay you tribute: For they are God’s ministers attending continually on this very thing.” — To use the words of the aforesaid letter-writer, “truly such must have a very high opinion of their own judgment,” that would set them over the judgment and example of Christ and his apostles, as well as their brethren in general, from their first appearance as a religious society until the late revolution. This we think has a tendency to undermine and lay waste the ancient testimony of Friends in that case, founded on the example and experience as above, and is very afflicting to the sensible, considerate part of the Society: To prevent which was the desire, we make no doubt, of the author of the piece in dispute.

There is one thing in the piece in dispute that has been objected to by some, which if not mentioned, may be thought to be too great an omission, which is as follows, viz. “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, legally assessed, except the priests rates.”

This is thought to be a very great blunder: Whether it is or not, may be easily seen, by even a moderate attention to the manner of his treating the subject. It may be observed that he does not positively assert they had paid all such taxes, but makes this reserve, viz., by all that he had been able to discover. Now, suppose there had been two or three taxes, that he had not discovered, in the first century after they appeared as a separate Society, that were calculated merely to defray the charges of war, and we question where more instances can be produced, that Friends refused to pay; is it not very disingenuous and unfriendly to labor that to his disadvantage — The subject he was upon was general mixed taxes, and could not well have been understood otherwise, if proper attention had been paid to the scope of his arguments, notwithstanding the word, general and mixed were omitted; that, it cannot reasonably be thought he had any design to impose on his reader; therefore we cannot see what purpose the above objection was intended to serve, unless to supply the want of something more to their purpose — It is indeed matter of some consolation that they could find nothing greater to lay to his charge: If they ever have, they have concealed it, both from him and us. In their testimony against him, they appear very cautious of mentioning particulars, and only say that his piece contained matter altogether dissatisfactory to Friends; not a word to let us know what that matter is. The reason of this reservedness perhaps they did not think for their reputation to disclose.

…[H]ow high an opinion they have of their Church, so high, that they insinuate that by being separated from it, we are rendered incapable of seeking, either our own, or the church’s peace, until we return to her again. In this we must take the liberty to dissent from them, and think that all such who truly seek the peace of that universal church which Christ has gathered by his holy spirit, necessarily seek their own peace; which we hope is at least the case with some of us. What examples they may be able to exhibit of any returns to them that is worthy of imitation we do not pretend to say; but think that such a partial fondness for, and attachment to, their particular church, is much more to be lamented than imitated. — What solid satisfaction anyone who is truly humble can expect to have from a people so full of themselves, we must leave, and that can so easily lay aside or overlook the example of our Savior and the apostles, as well as their predecessors, in the instance of paying taxes, a thing so necessary for the upholding of civil government, divinely instituted by the Author of our being and well-being: To which examples we shall take the liberty to give the preference, however we may be censured by our former Friends or those who have returned to them; and therefore can, by no means, with peace and safety to our own minds, give so much encouragement to a contrary practice and sentiment as to disapprove that public encouragement any of us have heretofore given to the paying taxes. Had it only been the example of their predecessors that they had disregarded, or misconstrued, much might have been said in excuse for them; but that they should neglect the example of Christ and his apostles, and recommend, with so much earnestness, the example of such, who not paying a suitable attention to the before-mentioned example, have returned to them again, who were laboring to propagate a contrary practice, and to lay waste the before-mentioned example, is very extraordinary, and what we would wish them carefully consider. What renders the matter still peculiarly discouraging is, that those who refuse to pay such taxes are generally the most active and distinguished in the Society, which, when they become differently minded, we shall, it is probably, look towards with a much more encouraging prospect.