The Women’s Tax Resistance League

The Vote

From the issue of The Vote:

The Tax Resistance Movement in Great Britain

(from W.F.L. Literature Department, 1s.; post free, 1s. 1d.)

Not long ago, at the final meeting of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, it was decided to present the famous John Hampden Banner (which did such magnificent service at so many women’s protest meetings against the Government’s unconstitutional practice of taxation without representation), to the Women’s Freedom League. We treasure this standard of former days, and now we are the grateful recipients of an edition of “The Tax Resistance Movement in Great Britain,” written by our old friend, Mrs. [Margaret] Kineton Parkes, with an introduction by another of our friends, Mr. Laurence Housman.

This little book is charmingly produced, and on its outside cover appear a figure of Britannia and the colours of the Women’s Tax Resistance League. Every reader of The Vote knows that it was the Women’s Freedom League which first organised tax resistance in as a protest against women’s political disenfranchisement, and all our readers should be in possession of a copy of this book, which gives a history of the movement, tracing it back to , when two sisters, the Misses [Anna Maria & Mary] Priestman, had their dining-room chairs taken to the sale-room, because, being voteless, they objected to taxes being levied upon them. Dr. Octavia Lewin is mentioned as the first woman to resist the payment of licenses. It is refreshing to renew our recollections of the tax resistance protests made by Mrs. [Charlotte] Despard, Mr. [Mark] Wilks (who was imprisoned in Brixton Gaol for a fortnight), Miss [Clemence] Housman (who was kept in Holloway Prison for a week), Mrs. [Isabella] Darent Harrison, Mrs. [Kate] Harvey (who had a term of imprisonment), Miss [Kate] Raliegh, Mrs. [Anne] Cobden Saunderson, Dr. [Winifred] Patch, Miss [Bertha] Brewster, Dr. [Elizabeth] Knight (who was also imprisoned), Mrs. [Mary] Sargent Florence, Miss Gertrude Eaton, and a host of others too numerous to mention, and last, but not least, Miss Evelyn Sharp, who, as Mrs. Parkes says, “has the distinction of being the last tax resister to suffer persecution at the hands of unrepresentative government in the women’s long struggle for citizenship.” The full list of tax-resisters appearing at the end of this pamphlet will be found to be of special interest to all suffragists.

I haven’t yet found a copy of this book on-line or available via interlibrary loan. I might be able to order photocopies of a microfilm version held by a library in Australia, but I’m too cheap and so I’m holding out for a better option. Any ideas?

Another source I’ve had trouble tracking down is Laurence Housman’s The Duty of Tax Resistance, which comes from the same campaign. The Vote printed excerpts from it in their issue:

The Duty of Tax Resistance

By Laurence Housman.

Two years ago Members of Parliament determined to place the payment of themselves in front of the enfranchisement of women; and now women of enfranchised spirit are more determined than ever to place their refusal to pay taxes before Members of Parliament. To withdraw so moral an object-lesson in the face of so shabby an act of political opportunism would be not merely a sign of weakness, but a dereliction of duty.

Nothing can be worse for the moral well-being of the State than for unjust conditions to secure to themselves an appearance of agreement and submission which are only due to a Government which makes justice its first duty. It is bad for the State that the Government should be able to collect with ease taxes unconstitutionally levied; it is bad for the men of this country who hold political power, and in whose hands it lies to advance or delay measures of reform, that they should see women yielding an easy consent to taxation so unjustly conditioned. If women do so, they give a certain colour to the contention that they have not yet reached that stage of political education which made our forefathers resist, even to the point of revolt, any system of taxation which was accompanied by a denial of representation. It was inflexible determination on this point which secured for the people of this country their constitutional liberties; and in the furtherance of great causes, history has a way of repeating itself. Our surest stand-by to-day is still that which made the advance of liberty sure in the past.

In this country representative government has superseded all earlier forms of feudal service, or Divine right, or the claim of the few to govern the many; and its great strength lies in the fact that by granting to so large a part of the community a voice in the affairs of government, it secures from people of all sorts and conditions the maximum of consent to the laws and to administration; and, as a consequence, it is enabled to carry on its work of administration in all departments more economically and efficiently than would be possible under a more arbitrary form of Government.

But though it has thus acquired strength, it has, by so basing itself, entirely changed the ground upon which a Government makes its moral claim to obedience. Representative government is a contract which requires for its fulfilment the grant of representation in return for the right to tax. No principle for the claim to obedience can be laid down where a Government, claiming to be representative, is denying a persistent and active demand for representation. People of a certain temperament may regard submission to unjust Government as preferable to revolt, and “peaceful penetration” as the more comfortable policy; but they cannot state it as a principle which will bear examination; they can give it no higher standing than mere opportunism.

It may be said that the general welfare of the State over-rides all private claims. That is true. But under representative government it is impossible to secure the general welfare or a clean bill of health where, to any large body of the community which asks for it, full citizenship is being denied. You cannot produce the instinct for self-government among a community and then deny it expression, without causing blood-poisoning to the body politic. It is against nature for those who are fit for self-government to offer a submission which comes suitably only from the unfit; nor must you expect those who are pressing for freedom to put on the livery of slaves, and accept that ill-fitting and ready-made costume as though it were a thing of their own choice and made to their own order and taste.

Representative Government man, without much hurt to itself, acquiesce in the exclusion from full citizenship of a sleeping, but not of an awakened section of the community. And if it so acts toward the latter, it is the bounden duty of those who are awake to the State’s interests to prevent an unrepresentative Government from treating them, even for one single day, as though they were asleep. They must, in some form or another, force the Government to see that by its denial of this fundamental claim to representation its own moral claim to obedience has disappeared.

That is where the great distinction lies between the unenfranchised condition of certain men in the community who have still not got the vote and the disenfranchised position of women. It is all the vast difference between the conditional and the absolute. To no man is the vote denied; it is open to him under certain conditions which, with a modicum of industry and sobriety, practically every man in this country can fulfil. To woman the vote is denied under all conditions whatsoever. The bar has been raised against her by statute, and by statute and legal decision is still maintained. There is the woman’s direct and logical answer to those who say that, after all, she is only upon the same footing as the man who, without a vote, has still to pay the tax upon his beer and his tobacco. The man is always a potential voter; and it is mainly through his own indifference that he does not qualify; but the woman is by definite laws placed outside the Constitution of those three estates of the realm from which the sanction of Government is derived. If it asks no sanction of her, why should she give it? From what principle in its Constitution does it deduce this right at once to exclude and to compel? We see clearly enough that it derives its right of rule over men from the consent they give it as citizens — a consent on which its legislative existence is made to depend. But just as expressly as the man’s consent is included in our Constitution, the woman’s is excluded.

From that exclusion the State suffers injury every day; and submission to that exclusion perpetuates injury, not to the State alone, but to the minds of the men and of the women who together should form its consenting voice as one whole. This submission is, therefore, an evil; and we need in every town and village of this country some conspicuous sign that among women submission has ceased. What more definite, what more logical sign can be given than for unrepresented women to refuse to pay taxes?

If Women Suffragists are fully awake to their responsibilities for the enforcement of right citizenship, they will not hesitate to bring into disrepute an evil and usurping form of Government which does not make the recognition of woman’s claim its first duty. The Cæsar to whom in this country we owe tribute is representative government. Unrepresentative government is but a forgery on Cæsar’s name. For Suffragists to honour such a Government, so lacking to them in moral sanction, is to do dishonour to themselves; and to offer it any appearance of willing service is to do that which in their hearts they know to be false.

From pamphlet published by The Women’s Tax Resistance League. 1d.