The “Assessed Taxes,” otherwise known as the “Window Tax” or “House and Window Tax,” were the subject of a tax resistance campaign in Britain in , and continuing protests that led to the replacement of the taxes in .
Today I’ll summarize and excerpt a sample of newspaper articles from that period that concern the tax resistance campaign.
The earliest article I stumbled on concerning this struggle comes from the Morning Post. It concerns a “meeting, composed of the constituencies of the metropolitan boroughs,” held “for the purpose of Petitioning for a total repeal of the house and window tax.” More than a dozen members of Parliament attended the meeting at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, and apologetic letters of regret for not attending from were read from more than a dozen more.
The chairman complained of hard economic times, and a program of tax relief that largely benefitted the rich and big business rather than struggling small businessmen and workers. “The house and window tax was most oppressive in its operation upon the middle and poorer classes of tradesmen, and the time had arrived when they should press with energy for their repeal.”
D.W. Harvey then moved the first resolution, after first complaining at length of the enormous military expenditures, questionable government pensions, and other wasteful items in the national budget — including government salaries: “He would contend that the salary of every Officer of State, from the King on the throne… to the doorkeeper of the House of Commons, must not only undergo revision, but a substantial and searching reduction. — (Loud cheers.) — If that was not done, whatever might be the consequences, he for one would not contribute one farthing to the support of the State. — (Loud cheers, lasting for several minutes.)”
The resolution he read, though preceded with lots of talk about how bold and daring it was, merely expressed the meeting’s feelings of “utmost disappointment and regret” and predicted that the “tyrannical and undefined system” of tax assessment “may lead to the afflicting circumstance of resistance to the assessors and collectors for the Crown, altogether repugnant to the natural disposition and feelings of the English people.” Perhaps this was a nod-and-wink way of threatening resistance without risking legal repercussions.
W. Williams seconded the resolution, and it was passed by a show of hands. A second resolution doubled down on the implied threat theme:
[N]othing short of the entire and immediate repeal of the house and window taxes can ensure peace to the disappointed hope and excited feeling of that numerous and important class of society upon whom these and other oppressive burdens, comparatively unfelt by other portions of the people, have long been placed…
Daniel O’Connell addressed the assembly next, and, as might be expected from the great Irish independence agitator, turned things up a notch:
The people wanted to get off the assessed taxes, but the Ministers had a double reason for keeping them on; they wanted them to fill the Treasury, and they wanted to prevent the people from having the amount of those taxes in their own pockets, lest it might be applied to the purchase of their own liberty. — (Cheers.) — He wanted the army to be reduced. Why should seven or eight millions be applied to pay a military force? Were not Englishmen brave enough to defend themselves and loyal enough to defend their Constitution? — Cheers — What had the present wretched Ministry done for the people. Had they reduced any of the establishments? — (Cries of “No; but we’ll make them by refusing the taxes.”)… They had to support a police too in addition to the standing army. — (Hear, hear.) — But what was the use of a police to protect their property by night when it was open to the attacks of every Excise officer and Custom-House officer by day? — (Hear, hear.) — Englishmen had protection from private pillage; they wanted protection from public pillage. (Loud cheers.)
Then O’Connell reminded them of the popular victory of the Reform Act 1832, which was pushed through an intransigent House of Lords thanks in large part to a mass people power movement that featured tax resistance:
The history of England during was not so old as to be forgotten already. How did they get Reform? Was it by asking Parliament? No. It was by standing shoulder to shoulder, pressing on their ranks upon their enemies, uniting from one end of the country to the other, calling upon every man who valued liberty, and wished to put an end to the plunder of the people, to stand by them firmly, and not merely in appearance. — (Loud and continued cheering.) — Let every man tell his Representative, “You must vote for the abolition of the Assessed Taxes.” — (Cries of “We will,” and “Do you hear that, Sir Francis?”) If the Administration said they could not afford it your answer must be, “Then we cannot afford to pay it.” — (Cheers.) — If they be told then at once they must do it, they would soon find out in the future tense, as the Irish had it, “will do it.”
A Mr. Gough later gave a more full-throated endorsement of tax resistance:
[H]e had that morning formed one of a Deputation from the parish of Shoreditch, the inhabitants of which were literally starving, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That Deputation had stated boldly that they would pay taxes no longer until the assessed taxes were repealed. — (Cheers.) — And they would not pay taxes, and he hoped all London would follow their example. — (Cries of “We will not.”) … The Deputation then told the Chancellor that the inhabitants would meet from day to day till these taxes were abolished, and that they would not pay any taxes until the standing army was reduced.
A Mr. Murphy moved a final set of resolutions, and in so doing “argued strongly on the imperative necessity of taking some decisive measures in relieving [our]selves from the burdens of the assessed taxes. Ireland had given a good example of what could be gained by passive resistance, and he recommended the people of England to follow their example. — (Loud cheers.)”
The London Evening Standard reported on a meeting held at St. Mary, Newington, . A Mr. Chessman, or Cheesman perhaps, began by saying:
He hoped… to see the people join together, and, by passive resistance, convince the ministers they had taken a wrong course when they sought to deceive the people who had confided in them. He hoped the people would do the best for themselves; this would be done by the means he proposed, passive resistance. Passive resistance alone could preserve their rights, and place them in that relative degree which free-born Englishment deserved.
Several other gentlemen addressed the meeting, supporting the principle of passive resistance; and Mr. Sewell, who represented seven fellow-parishioners of his own calling, said that appraisers and auctioneers would abide by their resolution not to assist in recovering the obnoxious taxes.
That paper also quoted from the Liverpool Standard, which characterized this movement as the radicals of the Reform Act campaign coming home to roost on the parliament that campaign had swept into power:
Lord Milton, now Lord Fitzwilliam, declared he would pay no taxes unless the Reform Bill were permitted to pass. Mr. W. Brougham made a similar declaration in Southwark. Mr. Thomas Duncombe sang the same song at a meeting of revolutionary shoebacks at St. John’s Wood; and various other persons, equally respectable, entered upon the journals of tap-rooms and smoking-clubs equally illegal and seditious protestations.
But where is Lord Fitzwilliam now? If a refusal to pay taxes in were justifiable, it must be as defensible in .
An editorial in the Leeds times suggested tax resistance was inevitable if the assessed taxes were not removed:
The present Earl Fitzwilliam a short time ago set an example of resistance to the payment of taxes, and that example will be followed with a vengeance in every part of the British empire. An immense number of the householders of the metropolis have placed themselves [in] the van of determined and inflexible opposition; they have positively declared their calm and settled resolution peacefully to resist the demand of the tax-gatherer, and to submit to the consequences of seizure; and the brokers and auctioneers have announced that they will not assist in selling the goods of their fellow-parishioners taken at the suit of the king for the non-payment of the assessed extortions. “This,” says the leviathan leading journal, “is a black page torn from the Irish farmer; this is passive resistance.”
In things heated up. The following comes from The Freeman’s Journal out of Dublin, dated :
English Taxation — Passive Resistance.
The people of England are borrowing a second leaf from the history of Irish agitation, and seem determined to take the business of redressing popular grievances into their own hands. …the abolition of the “assessed taxes” is sought to be effected on the principle of passive resistance, which has been already found, in the case of tithes, in this country, to have been so triumphantly successful. In both instances, England, by adopting the tactique of Irish warfare, both offensive and defensive, has paid a just compliment to the national shrewedness and energy of our people, and cemented a moral union which, if vigorously acted on, will crush the power of any set of ministers, and enforce the necessity of good government.
Already have the most populous and influential parishes in the English metropolis expressed their determination to coerce the government through the medium of passive resistance. The great towns of the North have recorded a similar resolution; and men of all classes and districts are now impressed with the important truth, that governments are made for the people, not the people for them.
The Chelmsford Chronicle of reprints a story from the Spectator. Excerpts:
Considerable bodies of men in the Metropolis — principally composed of shopkeepers, brokers, and mechanics — are forming themselves into associations for procuring by legal means the repeal of the Assessed Taxes. This is the avowed object of the parties; but, from the style of the speeches delivered, and of the resolutions passed at their meetings, it is seen that their real intent is to organize of passive resistance to the payment of these taxes at the present time. Unquestionably, the proceedings we speak of may give the Government some trouble; but passive resistance, in order to be effectual, must be very general; and we perceive no ground for believing that tax-payers generaly will united in this virtual opposition to the law. But then, the Government must take effectual means for compelling payment from the recusants, or the resistance will become general.
The London Evening Standard of quotes from the Morning Chronicle which in turn quotes from the London Times, saving me the trouble of having to hunt up that less-accessible archive:
[T]he Times… has, after long deliberation, and anxious inquiry no doubt, at last proclaimed the cause of the tax resisters victorious. “The opinion of [the taxes’] partiality,” says our contemporary, “is so deeply rooted, and the hardship of their exaction is so severely felt by the middle classes and the retail interest in towns, and particularly in the metropolis, that their collection cannot be any longer enforced (so as to render them as productive as formerly), without bringing the government into a dangerous collision with the people — without incurring the charge of fiscal persecution — and perhaps encountering the risk of civil disturbance.” After some observations on the injustice and impolicy of the taxes in question, in the justice of which we fully concur, our contemporary proceeds to show, that the spread of the associations and the example of Ireland ought to satisfy us that there are no means of enforcing the collection of the tax; and, moreover, that there is not a little danger that the people may, emboldened by success, attempt to rid themselves by similar means of other taxes. But we will allow our contemporary to speak for himself:–
Certainly it is a fatal vice in the assessed taxes, to which we are adverting — that when they become so unpopular as the latter are at present, they cannot be levied with success. The public must have observed the spread of the associations for a passive resistance to the house duty in the metropolis; and they know the result of such a resistance to tithes in Ireland. They have seen numbers of brokers coming forward to declare that they would not sell goods distrained for these duties; and, upon proper explanation, it would probably be difficult to find purchasers, where the purchaser would be sure to be denounced by the by-standers as a robber in league with the tax-gatherer. We therefore regard the assessed taxes imposed upon houses and windows as already repealed.…
The Worcester Journal brought this news:
In the metropolis, the resistance to the payment of the House and Window Taxes is daily becoming more formidable:– On a general meeting of the various associations for the repeal of the house and window duties took place at the Yorkshire Stingo, New-road. The large room of the tavern, capable of holding 2,000 persons, was filled. The gardens were crowded, and hundreds went away from not being able to come within hearing of the speakers. A Mr. Bush moved the following resolution, which was carried unanimously:–
That this association having had recourse to every measure consistent with their duty as good citizens to obtain relief without effect, are now compelled to declare that they can no longer pay in money those iniquitous imposts, the house and window taxes; and that they will neither buy nor sell goods that may be taken from those already borne down by the non-fulfilment of a former minister’s pledge to the nation, that the entire repeal of these taxes should take place two years after the ratification of peace.
The London Evening Standard reprinted an editorial from the Cambridge Chronicle that characterized the resisters as a natural outgrowth of the popular insurrection that had forced the Reform Act through:
Their scheme has succeeded. The government will give up the assessed taxes, — not because they think them impolitic, unjust, and partial — not because they think their abolition is a measure likely to benefit the country — not because they have devised some more equitable plan of meeting the expenditure of the country: for then they would have repealed these taxes long ago — but because they are foiled at their own weapons: because they have conferred a degree of importance upon popular assemblages which they never before possessed, and taught them the use of means which were never before avowed.
The assessed taxes will be repealed. But let us hear nothing about economy and retrenchment of the government in the repeal. They have kept us these taxes, and exacted them most rigorously as long as they could. They will give them up now, when they can no longer collect them.
Perhaps, however, the most serious part of this business is the plain intimation which it gives, that we are rapidly approaching the condition of France, in which the metropolis, and even an inconsiderable part of it gives law to the whole kingtom. We have heard of no public meetings, of no general petitions, of no stir in the country for the abolition of assessed taxes. Yet a few shopkeepers and brokers in London have proved that, in this point, it is they who govern the country. What effect may be produced upon the payers of other taxes, now they see what a formidable weapon “passive resistance” is, may give rise to very grave considerations. It is plain, at all events, that, thanks to the policy of the Whigs, we are now in such a state that any reasonable number of men, with or without any reasonable cause, may compel the government to repeal any tax whatever.
That same issue of the London Evening Standard also reproduced this article from the Morning Paper:
The Assessed Taxes.
The Seizures in Marylebone.
there was much excitement in the neighbourhood of Crawford-street and Circus-street, St. Marylebone, relative to the late seizures for assessed taxes; and the question asked by many was, “What will be done — how will this end?” It appears that Mr. Savage’s goods, which were rescued from the Sheriff’s officer, have not been found, notwithstanding great exertions for that purpose have been made by several parties; and no notice has been given as to the time or place when Mr. Brain’s goods will be sold to defray his arrears of taxes. Of course those persons who have refused to pay their taxes are in considerable suspense; and especially as it is confidently stated, that if the Sheriff’s officers and his men had not allowed themselves to be foiled by the mob, there would have been numerous siezures. Mr. Brain exhibited a large placard in front of his shop, to the effect, that he had been a respectable tradesman for twenty-two years; that he had paid his taxes and all claims upon him during that time; that he was unable to pay the assessed taxes any longer, having sustained various losses, and trade being in a distressed state. Under such circumstances it was cruel on the part of the government to endeavour to crush him, by seizing upon his goods. … Mr. Savage’s tavern, the Mechanics’ Institute, was crowded during the whole of , and persons were continually coming in and inquiring, “Well, are the goods found; how do you get on, Savage?” Mr. Savage’s reply was, that he knew nothing about them. All that he could say was, that articles of the value of 50l., as valued by his brokers, had been taken from his house, and he now did not know what had become of them. It is stated that he was from home when the goods were taken from the van and brought into his house. On being sent for, he found his wife in a fit, and the whole place in confusion; but he at once insisted on the goods being taken away from his house, as he would not act contrary to the law. While Mr. Sheriff Harmer, Mr. Stokes, the Under Sheriff, the officer, and Mr. Savage, were going over the house, in order that it might be satisfactorily ascertained that the rescued goods were not on the premises, a considerable mob, inflamed with their previous success, ranged themselves at the entrance of the house. At the conclusion of the search, Mr. Savage led Mr. Sheriff Harmer to another door, and took him by the arm in order to escort him to his carriage. The mob, on seeing this, imagined that Mr. Savage was in custody, and a number of them shook hands with each other, exclaiming, “Don’t let him be taken. We will rescue him; and if we die in so doing, we may as well die here as rot in the workhouse.” They then rushed forward and cried out, “Come, come, you are not going to take Savage away, or if you do, you must take our lives first.” Mr. Savage was pulled away, and it was some time before the mob were convinced of their mistake. Mr. Sheriff Harmer expressed considerable regret and surprise that he had not been informed of the intended seizure; for if he had, he said, he should have endeavoured to make some arrangement with Mr. Savage, with whom he was acquainted, and not have adopted on the instant the summary course that had been pursued. To show the close feeling that prevails among the members of the different associations against the assessed taxes, it may be stated, that in , by which time the news of the riot had spread over the town, several persons belonging to associations at the east end of the metropolis, drove up in cabs to Mr. Savage’s house, and with great anxiety asked him what they could do for him? “Say but the word,” the exclaimed, “and we will do any thing you wish — shut up our shops, and make the resistance to the taxes general.” This statement may be considered somewhat exaggerated, but we are assured of its accuracy. It is generally expected that other seizures will shortly be made, and that effective measures will be taken for preventing a repetition of the scenes of . We have not heard that any of the rioters have been apprehended. Active preparations are making to hold a general meeting on the subject of the seizures.
The Freeman’s Journal also covered this, in its edition:
Seizure for Assessed Taxes — Passive Resistance.
the vicinity of Marylebone was thrown into a state of the greatest excitement, owing to a legal process against Mr. Savage, of the Mechanics’ Institution, in Circus-street, and also Mr. Brain, a dealer in pictures, &c., of Crawford-street. At , Hemp, a sheriff’s officer, attended by several of his men, with an exchequer writ, took possession of the goods of Mr. Brain, consisting of valuable pictures and articles of furniture to the value of 50l., for assessed taxes due, amounting to more than 11l. A van which was at hand, conveyed the property away to Mr. Crook’s, auctioneer to the sheriff, Skinner-street. On the officer making his claim for 35l. on Mr. Savage, he was informed by that gentleman that he might take what he thought proper. Some of the best goods on the premises were at once laid hold of, when, on the van being brought up, Mr. Savage warmly protested against the illegality of the proceedings, and accordingly called in six brokers to value the goods seized. No sooner had this gained the ears of the inhabitants than Circus-street was literally crammed with people, anxious to witness the process, and who were loud and vehement in their expressions of disapprobation of the glaring injustice of so vile and scandalous a mode of supplying the exigencies of the state, drawing from the pockets of the industrious part of the community their hard earnings by taxes, iniquitous and unjust. The police on duty having been aroused by the loud and long continued vociferations of the crowd assembled, hastened to the spot, and succeeded with some difficulty in assuaging their excited feelings, and preventing them from resorting to acts of violence on the instant. When our reporter left, the van continued at the door of Mr. Savage’s residence, in waiting to move off the goods, which there is but little chance of their being able to effect in a quiet manner, as Mr. Savage continues inflexible in his determination to resist the seizure. The crowd, so far from having dispersed, continues to increase, from the deep interest which this highly populous parish has taken in the proceedings.
Destruction of the Van — The Goods Seized by the Populace.
About a large banner, bearing the words, “The People of Marylebone,” was placed in the middle of the street, and the crowd continued to increase, but no violence was attempted. At , the van which had been loaded with the drove off, and it was followed along the New-road by several persons. In a short time a rush was made at the van by the crowd, who gained possession of it, while the officers fled. The van was then taken back to Mr. Savage’s, and the furniture would have been carried back into his premises, had not Mr. Savage peremptorily refused to receive it. It was then deposited in a warehouse opposite his residence. The furniture having been taken away, the owner of the van, who is said to be a person named Pope, residing in St. Andrew’s-hill, Doctors’ Commons, endeavoured to get out of the street with his vehicle; but he had not proceeded more than half way when a female ran into the road, and seizing the reins of the horse, turned the animal and the van round. This was the signal for a general attack by the populace, who broke the sides of the vehicle with large stones. There was great confusion, and the shopkeepers in Circus-street put up their shutters. The horse was next taken away, and the van having been upset, was entirely demolished in the space of a few minutes. A small party of police then arrived, but the scene of destruction was over, and the owner of the van was glad to escape with his horse safe.
Interview Between Mr. Mayne, Commissioner of Police, Mr. Savage, and Mr. Sheriff Harmer.
About Mr. Savage and Mr. Potter went to the station-house in Little Harcourt-street, where they gave Mr. Stokes a pledge that every exertion should be used to obtain the restoration of the property which had been taken from the van. During the conversation, Mr. Sheriff Harmer arrived. He said that he knew nothing of the seizure of the goods until a short time before. He had been sent for by Mr. Lamb, of the Home Office, who supposed that he as sheriff, would have to communicate something respecting the seizure and the subsequent disturbance. He had therefore come to the station-house for information. Mr. Sheriff Harmer was then informed by Messrs. Savage and Potter, that the goods would, no doubt, be restored; but the Under Sheriff expressed an opinion that the goods were secreted in Mr. Savage’s house. On this, Mr. Sheriff Harmer, Mr. Stokes, Hemp the officer, and Messrs. Savage and Potter, proceeded to Mr. Savage’s house, and went over the premises, but without finding any of the property in question. Mr. Stokes then expressed himself satisfied, and the assurance was repeated that the goods should be restored. The sheriffs then took their departure. Mr. Mayne stated to Mr. Potter in the outset, that he was in the station-house in order that he might be ready to act should any fresh disturbance be attempted.
Mr. Savage is one of the persons who took very active steps in getting up the Marylebone Association, which was the forerunner of those now numerous societies.
Meetings of Associations.
At a meeting was held in the large room on the ground floor of the Mechanics’ Institution upon the subject. The place was crammed almost to suffocation by persons of various classes, all of whom seemed to take the most lively interest in the proceedings. Several gentlemen immediately mounted the platform, when Mr. Birch was unanimously called to the chair. Loud and long continued acclamation followed, and as soon as the deafening shouts had in some measure subsided, the business of the day was proceeded with.
Blah blah blah “the crisis was at hand when Englishmen would be found to do their duty” blah blah blah “[t]hey were engaged in a praiseworthy warfare, their object being to endeavour peaceably to rid themselves of the oppressive burthen of the assessed taxes, and to prevent, by every means in their power, the hardworking industrious man from being stripped of his all by the ruthless hands of the agents of government.”
The Chairman then went on to state, that with respect to the demolition of the van, after it was cleared of its contents, it would be borne in mind that neither the principals of the Mechanics’ Institution, nor any of its members, sanctioned or assisted in any way in the proceedings; their object was to attain what they wished to accomplish by resolution and firmness, but not by riot and disorder; let them not, however, forget that the other sex could feel as deeply and as strongly as they the oppression of hard-hearted and cruel legislators, who, by a continuance of the abominable assessed taxes, were grinding the poor to the earth. He entreated them to remember that it was a woman — aye, a woman, who arrested the progress of the van, who led the way, and called on the countless multitude around her to show, by following her example, their detestation and revenge: fired at the courage of her, and wondering at their own supineness, they obeyed the call, and in triumph conveyed the goods just before destined for sale to the dwelling-place of the industrious and rightful owner, whose conduct on the occasion was beyond all praise. Mr. Birch concluded a long speech by exhorting all around him to orderly and peaceable conduct, and sat down amidst the most deafening applause.
The paper also covered a meeting of householders in the Pimlico neighborhood at which, among other things:
A resolution “thanking the auctioneers and brokers of Manchester for their manly and independent conduct in refusing to sell the goods of a poor man who was seized upon the assessed taxes,” was then moved and carried.
One broker said that he had been involved in government seizures in the past but vowed “that he would neither buy, sell, or condemn goods distrained upon the house and window duties.” People signed up to a new “Association” at the meeting, paying dues for the privilege.
The paper reported on similar meetings at Lambeth and in St. Giles at which more or less insurrectionary words were spoken.
An editorial from the Leeds Intelligencer was quoted in the London Evening Standard:
Government is now in actual conflict with its own disciples — the tax-resisting Hampdens of Westminster, Marylebone, and St. Pancras; and London, during several days of the past week, has been in a ferment.
Seeing that a shilly-shally policy added strength to the evil, ministers determined to take what their journalists call “a stand.” The agents of the law were despatched to make the first example of a Mr. Savage, and caption of his goods to an amount sufficient to cover his arrears of assessed taxes was effected with no more than passive resistance; the household-stuff was put into a van, and borne away for the behoof of my Lord Althorp. But the fates were inimical to the inroad upon Lord Fitzwilliam’s sacred principle. A mob collected; the “beaks” were hooted and pelted; and a valiant Trulla rushed into the thick of the fray, seized the van-horse with Amazonian arm, and led it back in triumph, amidst loud shouts of congratulation, to Mr. Savage, who, however, had too much prudence to meddle with the goods. The van was ultimately broken in pieces. As to the officers, though a body of police had been stationed hard by under cover, they sought their safety in flight. In all likelihood they are themselves members of “passive resistance” clubs.
A similar transaction had previously taken place in Manchester. There a table had been seized for arrears of assessed taxes; the people kept watch and prevented a sale; and at the end of five days, the table was taken out of limbo, carried round the town as a token of victory, and then restored to the wife of the owner as “the gift of the people.”
Now, although there was in these movements a mixture of the petty and the ludicrous, they indicated a feeling which could not safely be trifled with. Ministers met in solemn conclave. Expresses were sent to Lord Grey; the Lord Chancellor hastened from the north; the First Lord of the Admiralty gave over his sailing-excursions and repaired to council; and it was solemnly resolved to enforce the laws. Better late than never. The levelling Whig journals have chopped round with their masters, the ministers, and the highest Toryism is not a whit more Conservative than they all are. Resist the laws, indeed! monstrous! shocking! and so forth. The sheriffs of Middlesex were called in; the horse and foot guards put under arms; and an “imposing force” was sent round from one recusant to another, most of whom paid, and some were distrained upon, but there was no active resistance, “passive” being the motto of the Fitzwilliam disciples.
Ministers, however, are not at ease. They see around them signs which are calculated to alarm wiser and more courageous men, and they are greatly increasing the numerical amount of the troops stationed in and near the metropolis.
A Westminster “Central Committee” met in to agitate for repeal of the house and window tax, and exposed some divisions between a cautious, petition-oriented wing, and a more radical, direct-action-oriented wing of the movement. The following is taken from the London Evening Standard:
The chairman urged on the meeting the necessity (now that parliament was on the point of re-assembling) of adopting every legal and constitutional means for the repeal of those obnoxious duties. Measures had been resorted to in opposition to them which did not meet the sanction of the committee; but upon that subject he did not wish to dwell. It was the desire of the committee to appeal to reason, and not to violence, which was indeed, unnecessary in the present instance, because when public opinion was once fairly and decidedely expressed upon the subject, it became impossible for any set of men to resist it, or withhold what was unanimously demanded…
Mr. Crouch objected to the implied censure which was cast on persons who withstood the payment of those obnoxious taxes, and expressed his opinion that the individuals who had thus boldly resisted them were entitled to the praise of having effected more good than the committee. (Hear.)
Deputations from the parishes of St. James, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and St. Anne’s then presented certain resolutions agreed to at meeting of the rate-payers and householders of those parishes, which were received and ordered to be entered on the minutes.
Mr. York, in presenting the resolution from St. James’s, observed that the inhabitants were of opinion the committee had been too lukewarm in its proceedings hitherto, and they now called upon that body to stand forward boldly and labour strenuously for the repeal of the obnoxious taxes. The committee must use more decided language to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and tell him plainly that if the taxes were allowed to remain longer unrepealed there would be a confirmed resistance, not merely on the part of individuals, but by streets upon streets, to pay those imposts in money. (Hear, hear.) People were determined that all the Chancellor of the Exchequer should get was their goods. (Hear.) In fact, matters were well nigh arrived at this pitch — that ministers must either relinquish the present seat of government or repeal these unjust and unequal taxes. (Hear.) [The resolution of the St. James ratepayers, which embodied most of the foregoing sentiments, was then read.]
Mr. Lawford (a deputy from St. James’s) spoke in favour of every kind of passive resistance to the obnoxious taxes.
Mr. Kemp (another delegate) supported the resolution and censured the committee for want of vigour.
Mr. Brown defended the conduct of the committee; they had told the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the most explicit manner that the time was approaching when those taxes could no longer be collected, because they would not be paid. (Hear.)
The resolution of members of the Society of Householders of Saint Martin’s in the Fields was then read. It censured the apathy of the parochial deputies in not forcing upon ministers a conviction of the necessity of repealing the house and window duties; and declared that by such apathy the deputies from Saint Martin’s had forfeited the confidence of their constituents. The resolution urged upon the delegates and the central committee the duty of conveying to the government the determination of the people no longer to pay those taxes in money, or of at once resigning the power entrusted to them.
Several members strongly denied the truth of the imputations cast upon the St. Martin’s delegates and the Central Committee by the resolution.
Mr. Pouncey (who had quitted the chair on this resolution being brought forward) defended his conduct and that of the other delegates from St. Martin’s. He did not wish to underrate the value of the resolution, but must observe that it by no means represented the feeling of all the inhabitants of the parish, a circumstance fully evinced by his brother delegates and himself having received the approbation of a parochial meeting convened upon the subject. He had addressed Lord Althorp in the most decided and unqualified manner on the impolicy of those taxes, and the impossibility of much longer collecting them. (Hear, hear.)
Several gentlemen bore testimony to the zeal and determination evinced by Mr. Pouncey, who then resumed the chair.
Mr. Cripps, in presenting the resolution from St. Anne’s parish, took occasion to censure the committee for the timidity of their proceedings. It had been said that they told Sir J. Hobhouse that the repeal of the house duty would do for the present. (Cries of No, no.) They asked for a repeal of the entire house tax, and Lord Althorp only took off half of it. This was the result of the undecided and wavering conduct of the committee. The resolution complained that some of the parochial delegates had not discharged their duty by enforcing the repeal of the whole house and window taxes. It stated that the public was determined to accept nothing short of a total repeal, and called upon the committee to impress upon Lord Althorp that the time was at hand when the people would pay no more till their request for the remission of those taxes was complied with. (Hear.)
The Chairman said he thought the result of this meeting would prove highly beneficial, inasmuch as it must convince the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the House of Commons that the committee, so far from having made representations of too strong a nature on this subject, had been rather behind their constituents in expressing their opinions upon it; and when it was ascertained that the public sentiment was so unanimous, a speedy and total repeal of the obnoxious taxes must follow. (Hear.)
Fast forward to for the next article in my sample, published a bit after the events it describes, in the Liverpool Mercury. It’s a letter to the editor from someone who, failing to pay his window tax, had two tables seized and sold at auction. In the course of the letter, the writer (a Thomas Robertson) shows how the tax and costs were itemized in the course of the distraint and sale: to 18 shillings, 1½ pence of original tax, enough expenses were added for “Levy,” “Possession,” “Bills and posting,” and “Brokage” to bring the total up to £2, 6 shillings, 4½ pence.
The writer also noted that the tax per window varied in an irrational way depending on how many windows one had, so that houses with many windows were charged less per window than those with few, but with some buildings with an amount of windows in-between the two being charged considerably more. He concluded:
I hope my countrymen will bestir themselves about this odious tax, and endeavour by all the means they possess, to get it repealed. This tax was a war tax; and yet after a peace of twenty-two years, we are saddled with it. I hope this question will be brought on again this year, and that the representatives of the country will show some concern for the pockets of their constituents, by at once repealing it. As for myself, my resolve is taken, — I will never pay it again.
So evidently the tax was still galling at that point, but the organized resistance had dissolved into sporadic individual resistance. The final article in my sample comes from the London Daily News and indicates that organized resistance was again brewing:
the delegates selected by the various parishes in London, in which meetings have been held for the purpose of promoting the repeal of the window tax, assembled at the Marylebone Court-house, previous to waiting, according to appointment, as a deputation, on the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Mr. Wyld, M.P., said he understood it was to be communicated to the Chancellor that if this tax were not repealed they should stop the supplies. (Hear.)
It is ambiguous from the context whether he meant that he and his fellow legislators would obstruct the passing of a budget (the usual use of the phrase “stop the supplies”) or whether he and his fellow agitators would refuse to continue paying the tax.
Several other parliamentarians were in the delegation which wended its way through town to Downing-street in fifty or sixty vehicles placarded with signs reading “Unconditional Repeal of the Window Tax.” Many speeches were given there to a somewhat exasperated Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a few threatened tax resistance or related tactics.
Mr. Freeth, one of the Marylebone delegates, spoke… At a meeting at which he was present a resolution was carried that if the tax were not repealed their members be instructed to stop the supplies. (Loud cheers.)
Mr. George, churchwarden of St. Ann’s, said he represented a large parish in Westminster… He should be the last man in the world to resort to threats, but he was bound to tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the parish he represented would not pay this tax any longer. They should take no active steps, but they should offer a passive resistance to it; and other metropolitan parishes, he believed, were prepared to do the same.
[Mr. Wakeley, M.P.] had received those instructions [from his constituents, to stop the supplies if the tax were not repealed] unequivocally, and he was bound to state, not in the shape of a threat, but as a conscientious duty, the he should act up to those instructions when the time arrived. He looked upon this tax as of so foul a character, that he considered it a duty, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer was determined to have this tax, to do what he could to prevent him having any other.
Mr. Wyld, M.P., remarked… There was at this moment an organisation going on which, if this tax were not repealed, would cause great inconvenience to government, and impede its operations.
This time the agitators were successful. The tax was repealed in .