Robert Pleasants: “Friends Can No More Pay Tax Than Swear Oaths”

Here’s a good artifact of American Quaker war tax resistance that I discovered too late to add to my book on the subject. This is a letter from Robert Pleasants to Thomas Nicholson as found in Pleasants’s “Letterbook” as preserved at Haverford College Special Collections:

Esteemed Friend

Being fully persuaded, that a general conformity of conduct to the sense & Judgment of the Body of friends, tends to the mutual strength & encouragement of each member, as the contrary does to weaken & divide; I am induced to offer a few hints to thy consideration respecting the part I have been told our Friends of the Quarterly Meeting of Perquimans hath, or are likely to act. If thou should not see the matter in the same light which I do, I hope thou will at least excuse my Freedom to an Elder, of far more experience than I pretend to; which however may sometimes be more necessary than pleasant; especially when I tell thee, it is what hath given me some uneasiness, as well on thy account, as others, who I love, and much desire the establishment of, on that rock which is proof against every storm. The matter I alude to is, the voluntary payment of Taxes; which it is said, most or all our Friends of that Quarter, are likely to pay; and being imposed for the support of War, (which for some time past hath prevailed, to the destruction of the lives, the property, and just liberty of thousands) and [the payment thereof?] contrary to the judgment & practice of those of the Western Quarter in your Province, as well as most other friends on the Continent of America; I propose in as few words as I can to express my sense of the matter; and first observe that altho many did the last year submit to the payment of a single Tax, levied as the act declared for sinking or preserving the credit of the paper Currency; which (altho emitted for the purpose of carrying on the War) Friends had made use of as well as others, as a medium of Trade; they were from that consideration induced to contribute towards the support of its Credit; yet seeing that instead of the money so raised being applied to that purpose, it hath been again thrown back into circulation, and moreover very large sums have since been Emitted for the express purpose of continuing the War; It appears clear to my judgment, that friends, consistent with their peaceable principles, can no more pay the Tax, than take the [loyalty oath] Test, for they appear to be both calculated to promote the same ends, and make us parties in the destruction, the violence, and the confusion, consequent to such intestine commotions. And would it not be repugnant to reason, to contribute by Taxes, to the support of either party, who may happen to prevail, that we could not under the present unsettled state of affairs be free to acknowledge? I apprehend too, that each deviation of conduct & sentiment, must also tend to weaken & discourage those, who conceive if it be their duty to, suffer in life, liberty, or property, rather than violate the testimony of a good conscience; and also to strengthen the hands of their persecutor: for does it not seem natural for such to conclude, when the same line of conduct is not generally observed by the society (especially those under the same government) that their refusal proceeds from obstinacy, and of course be induced to inflict the more severe punishments, in order to promote their design; the tendency whereof hath been severely mark’d in many places, with devastation, Cruelty, & injustice; together with a depravity of morals, exceeding any Era heretofore known in these parts of America. I wish therefore we may all be careful, to seek for that wisdom which is able to direct in all things, and endeavour so to walk in the just mans path, as that our lights may shine, and in all things be preserved from giving just occasion of offence to Jew, Gentile, or the Household of Faith. I am very sincerely,

Thy affectionate Friend