Edinburgh Annuity Tax Resistance Escalates

In the resistance campaign against the Edinburgh Annuity Tax escalated. This campaign was notable for its variety of tactics and for the rhetoric and apologetics deployed to defend it. Today I’ll reproduce some excerpts from newspaper articles from this period.

The first comes from the Leterborough, Longsutton, Downham Market, Swaffham, Mildenhall, Saffrom Walden, Baldock, Hitchin, Huntingford, and Bishop Stortford Advertiser of (though the events described took place in the House of Commons on ):

The Clergy and the Inhabitants of Edinburgh.

Mr. Abercrombie presented a Petition from Edinburgh, signed by 9,000 persons, praying for an entire abolition of the annuity and impost taxes. Those taxes were the source of great discontent and bickerings between the clergy of Edinburgh and the inhabitants, and occasioned nearly as much ill feeling as existed in Ireland.

Mr. A. Johnstone said that in Edinburgh, at present, there was nearly the same deliberate system acted on as in Ireland. It was a system of passive resistance, and not less than 11,000l. was now due to the clergy of Edinburgh, not a shilling of which could be collected. The good citizens of Edinburgh were standing out against the clergy, merely because certain parties were exempted from the tax, and they thought themselves entitled to be exempted also. The consequence was, that the clergy were unprovided for.

Next, from the Dublin Morning Register of :

“Passive Resistance” in Scotland!!

The exactions of the clergy are producing opposition in all quarters of the empire. In Ireland, where those exactions have been most grievous and exorbitant, the system of passive resistance commenced. England soon followed the example; and now we find that Scotland, which is exempted from the affliction of tithes, is about to become the arena of a contention between the people and the clergy, regarding the payment of a church-rate called an “Annuity Tax.” The name given to the evil may be different in various countries, but in all the effects of a compulsory provision for the clergy of any particular sect must be found the same. “Disquise thyself as thou wilt, still, slavery, thou art a bitter draught.”

The Scotsman of , received at our office , informs us that Mr. Tait, the bookseller, who is proprietor of the able magazine which bears his name, was arrested by order of the Edinburgh magistrates, and incarcerated in the Calton prison, for refusing to pay this obnoxious Annuity Tax. From the tone of the Scotch papers, it is manifest that this impost, although not large in amount, is exceedingly unpopular, so that it is probable many weeks will not elapse when we shall hear of a vigorous anti-annuity agitation amongst the Presbyterians of Scotland.

Next, from the Caledonian Mercury of :

Anti-Annuity Tax Procession.

A most extraordinary scene was exhibited in our streets on . It would be seen by our last paper, that Mr Wm. Tait, bookseller, had allowed himself to be put in prison on , rather than submit to pay the Annuity Tax (or Ministers’ Stipend Tax), but that, at the earnest solicitation of his friends of the “Inhabitants’ Committee,” he had consented to be liberated from jail on . As a public meeting was called by the Committee, for the purpose of conveying Mr Tait in triumph to his home, the idea was immediately caught by the Trades; and in consequence of printed placards, a number of them mustered on the Earthen Mound, half an hour before the “hour of cause,” and joined the Inhabitants’ Committee in Waterloo Place about , some of them accompanied by bands of music, some by flags and banners painted for the occasion, and most of them by the flags and banners which they had displayed during the Reform Jubilee Procession in .

Attracted by the previous notes of preparation, a vast concourse of the inhabitants, of almost all ranks, assembled on the Calton Hill, fronting the jail, and on the adjoining streets, which, so far as we recollect, have never been so densely crowded since the advent of George the Fourth in Auld Reekie. Among the nw flags and banners displayed on this extraordinary occasion, there was a large black one bearing the inscription — “Witness the tyranny of the Clergy.” A black banner, inscribed “No compromise;” another, exhibiting on one side “No tax on conscience,” and on the other “Religious liberty;” another, “Edinburgh shall be free;” and another, “We shall knock off the iron fetters by the hammer of liberty.” On one flag was painted a tree of eighteen branches, exhibiting portraits of the City clergymen, and a picture of a strong fellow, who appeared to be applying a huge axe to the root of the tree, which was nearly cut through.

A few minutes before , Mr Tait issued from the little wicket in the great jail door, where a carriage and four, containing the leading members of the “Inhabitants’ Committee” were in waiting to receive him. His appearance drew forth a cheer from the assembled multitude, which, despite the damping influence of a heavy shower, made the very welkin ring again. He was then conveyed to the carriage, from which the brute animals were immediately abstracted, and a number of the crowd rushed in to supply the necessary horse power; and in this manner the hero of the night with his friends, who included Mr F. Howden, Mr R. Millar, Mr R. Deuchar, Mr Chambers, &c. &c., were drawn in procession, through a dense mass of the inhabitants, along Waterloo Place, Prince’s Street, Maitland Street, Coates Crescent, and into Walker Street, the crowd frequently cheering as they went along.

In a few minutes, Mr Tait appeared on a balcony, along with a number of his friends, and addressed the assembled multitude, in a speech of some length, in which he thanked them for the demonstration of approval of his conduct which they had just given him, and stated his reasons for resisting the tax in nearly similar terms to those used in his letter published in the Mercury of . He assured them that his captivity had sat lightly upon him, and his sufferings were more than recompensed by the thought that his conduct had been approved of by his fellow citizens. In conclusion, he entreated them to avoid all appearance of disorder, or of irritation against the clergy.

The Chairman of the Committee then stood forward and congratulated the multitude upon their peaceable and orderly conduct, and recommended them to retire to their various places of abode with the same order and regularity which they had already manifested. This advice, we are happy to say, was scrupulously acted upon. The multitude quietly dispersed; and so far as we have learned, not the slightest accident occurred, nor was a single breach of the peace committed.

Another Imprisonment for the Annuity-Tax.

, another recusant, Mr Thomas Johnston, Hanover Street, was apprehended on a caption for non-payment of annuity-tax, and taken to jail, accompanied by some brother recusants, and also by a crowd having flags, &c. hearing sundry inscriptions, expressive of the popular feeling against the tax. A considerable number of persons had collected in front of Mr Johnston’s premises before he was brought out in custody of the messenger, who, we understand, was in no small state of trepidation; but, in point of fact, there was no cause whatever for his alarm, if he really felt any, as not the slightest opposition or obstruction was offered by the crowd, who contented themselves with merely hooting at a pale-faced person whom they probably took for an emissary of the collector, as he was heard giving instructions of some kind. At the same time, we cannot help expressing our astonishment at the time and place selected for putting the caption in execution. Mr Johnston, we believe, resides at or near Abbey-hill, and surely an opportunity might have been found for apprehending him, without choosing the precise time and place most likely to collect a crowd and lead to disturbance.

The Leeds Times of also covered the Tait arrest:

Imprisonment of Mr. Tait — Non-payment of Taxes.

Mr. Tait, the director of that most excellent Edinburgh Magazine which bears his name, has been thrown into prison for his refusal to pay the Annuity Tax, or the Stipend of the Clergy, in Edinburgh. This tax was originally imposed for the support of a certain number of the Edinburgh clergy, but it has latterly been applied to the benefit of all of them, and to other purposes which are not specified. The collection of the tax we are further informed “was illegal up to , and then only ‘legalized’ by a clause ‘fraudulently and surreptitiously obtained by the clergy’ in an Act of Parliament. The sum levied is not only too large, but it is unequally levied and absurdly applied; the inequality being further aggravated by the exemption of the College of Justice, and by the tax being laid upon shops as well as dwelling-houses. For these and other reasons many of the inhabitants have refused payment; the clergy then seized, but could find no purchasers for the distrained goods,” and because no individuals could be found sufficiently infamous to buy these confiscated articles, the clergy have determined to resort to the extremity of imprisonment. First of all a Mr. Wilson was arrested; since, however, the state of his health precluded the possibility of his enduring the confinement of incarceration — he paid the obnoxious impost. But when Mr. Tait was seized by the myrmidons of Scotch ecclesiastical tyranny, he determined to abide by the consequences, and is now in “durance vile” in the gaol upon the Calton Hill. And here we beg our readers to perceive, how uniformly all established churches are imbued with the spirit of persecution, and how certainly they curse both the religious and civil welfare of the countries in which they are permitted to exist. The Church of Scotland, as well as the Church of England, is identified with the state, and on this very account it exemplifies, to a certain extent, the usual corruption, arrogance, and violence, which never fail to characterize all legalized ecclesiastical incorporations. Mr. Tait has avowed his resolution never to pay this tax — this church rate. He says, “Let no man tell me that I ought to petition parliament for an alteration of the law, instead of opposing this passive resistance to the law. Petitioning has been tried, once and again; and what has been the result? Why, that the Lord Advocate of Scotland, one of the representatives of our city, and a minister of the crown, has attempted to sanction the hideous injustice of which we complained, by a new act of parliament, fixing down the odious annuity tax upon us more firmly than ever, with no amelioration of the injustice except the doing away with the exemption of the College of Justice!”

The Northern Whig of quotes from a Scotsman article about the Tait case as follows:

On , at the hour fixed for Mr. Tait’s quitting prison, the Calton Hill was thronged with a crowd greater, the Scotsman states, than any that had been assembled there, since the visit of George the Fourth, in . “In every group,” says the same paper, “the Annuity Tax and the Clergy formed the subject of conversation; and, while some pitied the Ministers as being the involuntary instruments of a bad system, others denounced both the system, and those that tacitly submitted to be its instruments; and expressed their determination to oppose, to the uttermost, the continuance of the impost.” Mr. Tait was placed in an open carriage, and was conducted to his house. “In the procession, alone,” says the same paper, “there were not fewer than 8,000 individuals; and we are sure, that the spectators were more than thrice as numerous. Mr. Tait was frequently cheered, as he passed along; and never, but on the occasion of the Reform Bill, was a more unanimous feeling witnessed, than on that which brought the people together.” … [T]hey subsequently proceeded to pass resolutions, to the effect, “that the meeting conceive the connexion of the Established Church with the State, to be injurious to the cause of religion, opposed to the true principles of Christianity, and to the best interests of the community; that they, feeling deeply impressed with the impolicy of this connexion, would earnestly recommend to the Legislature their immediate separation; and that a petition, founded on these resolutions, should be transmitted to Mr. Abercromby, to be presented by him to Parliament, at his earliest convenience.”