Summarizing Alexander Shield’s Work on Scottish Tithe Resistance

So maybe , you followed that link over to Alexander Shields’s “The Sufferings of many, for Refuſing to pay the wicked Exactions of the Ceſs, Locality, Fynes &c. Vindicated” to give it a look. And then, if my guess is right, you pretty quickly found something better to do.

It’s difficult to read, with a complex and sometimes bizarre sentence structure, inconsistent and archaic spelling, references to long-forgotten arguments, and lots and lots of Bible stuff.

So I thought I’d try to take some time and distill some of the more interesting spirit out of the mash.

First, a brief note about the context. The place: Scotland. The time: . The monarchies of the British isles have returned to power after the brief post-civil war Commonwealth period, and among the counterrevolutionary pendulum swings are the return of powerful, hierarchical episcopal churches. Charles converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, and his successor to Scotland’s throne in , James , was an out-and-out Catholic who believed strongly in the divine right of kings and would lecture you on the subject if you gave him half a chance. The Covenants that had defended protestantism in Scotland had been unilaterally renounced and declared treasonous by the government, which, under the pretext of increasing religious freedom, had at the same time rescinded laws against Catholicism. Protestant ministers who refused to submit to the official church hierarchy were reduced to holding their services illegally, under threat of death for all involved, in outdoor “conventicles.” The government combined harsh measures like imprisonment, torture, and “field executions” with attempts to divide the protestants with small compromises and concessions. The repression led to increased militancy among the protestant radicals, which included tax resistance, and which also served to divide the movement. By , the combination of brutality and divide-and-conquer seemed to have worked, as the rebellion had died down, but what do you know, King James ran into a similar sort of religious trouble in England and was overthrown by a protestant and lost the throne of Scotland in the bargain. In , the Presbyterian church was restored and (ironically considering the disestablishmentarian rhetoric of some of the protestant rebels, including one Alexander Shields, who was not pleased by this) made into the official Church of Scotland, which it remains to this day.

Alexander Shields was a nonconformist minister who, in , when he was about 24, was imprisoned for refusing to take an oath of allegiance. He eventually submitted to a compromise declaration of non-hostility to King James as a way of getting out of jail, and then came to regret his weakness in doing so. For expressing this regret in a letter that was intercepted by the authorities, he was reimprisoned. This time he escaped, and joined up with the radical presbyterian wing. Soon after, he penned his book, A Hind let looſe, as a defense of this radical wing and a call to renounce all obedience to the episcopal and royal power structure, and had it published under the pseudonym “a Lover of true Liberty” in Holland. A section of this book is devoted to encouraging tax resistance and refuting the various counter-arguments and excuses people gave against tax resistance.

The phrase “a hind let loose” is a fragment from Genesis 49:21. The remainder of that verse reads “he giveth goodly words.” Boy doeseth he.

He begins by crediting a “Mr. McWard & Mr. Broun” — by whom I believe he means Robert McWard and John Brown — for arguments about the “Cess” of which he plans to “give a short Transumpt & Compend of.” That’s a good thing, because McWard’s & Brown’s arguments have too much “length & prolixitie,” he says. Too long and prolix for Shields; too long and prolix for me, I think. In any case, I haven’t found these sources anywhere, and for all I know they may no longer exist.

Shields intends to expand these original arguments against the form of tax known as the “Cess” to apply also to the various other ways in which subjects are imposed upon to contribute to the finances of the crown: fines for not going along with the establishment church, jailer-fees that you had to pay up for the privilege of being imprisoned, militia-money and something called “locality.” Some of these taxes were fund-raising measures specifically for conducting anti-presbyterian repression, and were therefore particularly hated. But by this point of his book, Shields hopes he has established that the government as a whole is anti-christian and deserving of outright opposition on that ground, regardless of particular policies or the purpose of particular taxes.

These anti-christian aims are all ones, he says, that the government could not accomplish “without the subsidiary Contribution of the peoples help,” and the language of the legislation with which it enacted the Cess proves it. But Shields finds that among his presbyterian peers, many recommended paying the tax, and many others who knew better than to pay it decided to keep their resistance quiet, and thereby encouraged other people to pay who assumed that if there were anything wrong with paying more folks would speak up about it.

That being the case, he commits to setting forth a rigorous argument for tax resistance, first conceding some points (with caveats), then asking some pointed questions, and then setting forth his arguments in favor of tax resistance.

His concessions are a set of acknowledgments of conditions under which Christians and citizens ought to pay taxes:

  1. Like it says in Romans 13, Christians should pay tribute and custom to those to whom they are due. This includes salaries to ministers, fines for law-breaking, and jailer-fees, which should be paid like any legitimate debts. But it certainly does not include “Tyrants Exactions, enacted & exacted for promoving their wicked designs against Religion & Liberty; Hirelings Salaries, for encouraging them in their intrusions upon the Church of God; Arbitrary Impositions of pecuniary punishments for clear Duties; And extorted hirings, of the subordinate instruments of Persecuters oppressions.”
  2. You should pay what is assessed “by Law or Contract” even if the recipient of the money later uses the money for “pernicious ends.” But if the tax is being raised for specific and express “wicked ends,” that’s another thing entirely from taxes designed for the public good but then misused. For this reason, it’s not a good argument to say that we always used to pay our taxes before, even though we knew that much of the money was misused. Things are different now that abuse is the very purpose the money is being raised for.
  3. Even an originally illegal tax can become legitimized by a “dedition or voluntary engagement legally submitted unto by the true Representatives” after the fact. But until that happens, it’s not lawful to pay the tax. He compares the condition of the presbyterians to those of the Israelites under conquerers, in contrast to the condition of subjects of a representative government. But here he feels the need to answer critics who would say that the early Christians paid their taxes cheerfully to the Tyrant in Rome based on their understanding of Jesus’s teachings, the answer to which he gives in four parts:
    1. When Jesus gave the “Render unto Caesar” koan, “He left the Title unstated, and the Claim unresolved, whether it belonged to Cesar or not, and taught them in the general to give nothing to Cesar with prejudice to what was Gods; which condemns all the Payments we speak of, which are all for carrying on the War against God.”
    2. At that time, Caesar was not a tyrant or usurper, because “they” had already accepted the caesarian governments as legitimate.
    3. When Jesus paid the tribute money, he did so “lest He should offend,” but today “the offense & scandal lyeth upon the other hand, of paying the Exaction.”
    4. It’s blasphemous to think that Christ would have paid or permitted to be paid a tax that was “professedly imposed for levying a War against Him, or banishing Him and His Disciples out of the Land; Or to fill the mouths of the greedy Pharisees, devouring widowes houses, for their pretense of long Prayers; Or that He would have payed or suffered to pay their Extortions, if any had been exacted of Him, or His Disciples, for His Preaching, or working Miracles; Or if help or hire had been demanded, for encouraging those that rose to stone Him for His good deeds.”
  4. It’s okay to pay some money to government extortioners if that’s the cost of preserving more of your property, “when it is extorted only by force & threatenings, and not exacted by Law; when it is a yeelding only to a lesser suffering, and not a consenting to a Sin to shift suffering.” He resists the idea that we can analogize taxation and highway robbery in this way. Although he agrees with the assumption behind the analogy, “that instead of righteous Rulers, we are under the power, and fallen into the hand of Robbers,” he says that for the analogy to hold true, the highway robber would have to not just demand money from you but demand it for the express purpose of using the money to murder your family and worse. “Whether then shall I, by giving the Robber that part which he seeks, enable him to do all these mischiefs? Or by refusing, expose myself to the hazard of being robbed or slain? Let the Conscience of any man answer this…”
  5. It’s okay “passively by forcible constraint to submit to” “wicked Sentences, as impose these burdens” so long as you’re not doing so as a form of obedience. He uses the analogy of a condemned prisoner choosing to walk to the gallows rather than be dragged there kicking and screaming. But then he notes that every presbyterian who attended an illegal conventicle is under sentence of death, and nobody is suggesting they go turn themselves in: shall they “fall under the reproach, that being sentenced to die, they scrupled forsooth, yea refused to go on their oun legs to the Gibbet”? If it comes down to a walk-to-the-gallows or be-dragged-kicking-and-screaming situation, “its wholly the Suffering of a Captive” in either case and doesn’t have much moral import. Shields grants that it’s fine for a person to “suffer patiently the spoiling of his goods” if that’s the penalty for tax resistance.
  6. It’s okay if you are on the horns of a dilemma where you have no choice but to choose between two evils to choose the lesser one. But be careful, and don’t try to use this as an excuse to avoid suffering by participating in evil. If you were to use this logic to pay your taxes, saying that’s better than the consequences, you would be shunning the lesser evil of suffering, “but the evil done to shun this, is real and active Concurrence, in manner, measure, & method, enjoyned by Law, in strengthening the hands of those who have displayed a banner against all the Lovers of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Be wary, for “the flesh is not only ready to inculcate that Doctrine, spare thy self, but is… witty of invention to plead for what will affourd ease.” Indeed, it’s safer to err on the side of suffering.

“But shunning prolixity,” says Shields, he moves on to a set of suppositions and questions:

  1. Remember that episode when Jesus and his disciples were out on a boat and they all freaked out because it got stormy, and he was like, “chill,” and calmed the waters, and they were like “whoa”? Well, imagine if Herod or Pilate had been there and said “let’s sink that boat!” And they raised a tax to pay off the soldiers who were engineering the boat-sinking, and to pay off the Pharisees who were telling everyone it was the right thing to do, and to pay the jailers who captured any survivors or tax refusers, and issued fines to people who wouldn’t help… “In this Case would, or durst any of the Lovers of Jesus comply with any of these demands?” Well, gosh darn it, Jesus is in a leaky boat right here in Scotland, and the government is doing its best to sink that boat, so what are you going to do about it?
  2. Would Israel have put up with paying a tax to Saul for the express purpose of paying off Doeg or the Ziphims to hunt down David and the Lord’s priests? What about you, as a dissenter? What if the government came to you and demanded money or supplies so that it could go out and murder some presbyterian minister and his flock? What would you do? Choose sin rather than affliction? Do evil that some good may come of it?
  3. Would the godly have paid taxes to support pagan human sacrifice? The current regime of Scotland is doing nothing worse.
  4. What if Nebuchadnezzar commanded that all Jews submit a handful of kindling to stoke the fire to burn Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago — would the faithful have done it? What if a faithful ambassador of Christ was condemned and the law commanded everyone in the nation to send a thread with which to make a noose to hang him and a farthing to pay the executioner: “Can any man, without horrour, think of complying so far as to contribute what is commanded? Or would not a Gracious man, frighted into an abhorrence at the attrociousness of the wickedness, or fired into a flame of zeal for God, say without demur, as not daunted, with fear of what flesh could do unto him, I will rather venture my All to keep them alive, or be hanged with them, than by doing what is demanded be brought forth & classed in the cursed & cruel Company of those who shall be dragged before the Tribunal of Christ, with their fingers dyed & dropping with the blood of those who are peculiarly dear to Him?”

The gist of these evocative examples is that in cases like these, you need to look at three things:

  1. The preciousness of what is to be destroyed by what the government is funding
  2. The extent to which it is our consent and support that makes it possible to accomplish these evil designs
  3. The obligations that we are under not only to withhold this support, but to preserve and maintain ourselves in opposition to Satan and his helpers, to the death if necessary, in order to keep some remnant of good alive for posterity

With that out of the way, we can finally get to Shields’s arguments in favor of tax resistance:

  1. If you were to pay your taxes, you would be disrespecting the contendings and sufferings of those who have refused to pay them, both recently and at similar times throughout Christian history. He cites a number of authorities and examples on this point. He also cites Calvin on the question of whether a subsequent property owner can have a just claim to property that had been previously seized and transferred by the government unjustly, determining that not only can no such claim be legitimate but that the new property owner participates in the injustice to the extent that his pretense of ownership “shall carry the narrative” that the forfeiture was legitimate.
  2. “[T]o pay is all the consent & Concurrence required of us to entail slaverie on the posterity.”

    If those Exactions be wicked, then Complyance with them must be iniquity: For it justifies the Court that enacts & exacts them, a pacqued Juncto of a prevalent faction, made up of perjured Traitors, in a Course of enmity against God, and the Country, who to prosecute the War against the Almighty, and root out all His people out of the Land, condescend upon these Cesses, Fynes, &c. as a fit & adapted Medium thereunto. Wherefore, of necessity all that would not oune that Conclusion, as their oun deed, in these Representatives, and oune them as their Representatives in that deed, must bear witness against the same, by a Refusal, to oune the debt, or pay the same.

  3. The express reasons why the government is raising these taxes is to conduct its war against the true Christianity and its practitioners. If you comply with the means, you comply with the ends. What of the argument that some of the taxes may be necessary for other, more beneficial, expenses, like guarding the nation against foreign invasion? Bah. The government is as bad as if we had already been conquered by a foreign invasion, so that excuse won’t do.
  4. The actual nature of tax payments is that they are deliberate compliances with evil. The argument that they are merely helpless submissions to force fails — in effect, they are acknowledgments that the existing power is a legitimate one. Obedience to such unjust laws can no more be justified than the laws themselves. (Here he tosses out a number of old testament examples.)
  5. When in fact the government does extort money “only as badges of bondage” without any pretense of seeking acknowledgment as having legal right to obedience and legitimacy, then such a case is “more suitable for lamentation than Censure.” But my answer to people who say that in the present case “that they are constrained to it, and they do it against their will” is this:
    1. Don’t try to have it both ways: if you acknowledge the taxing government as your government, by voluntarily paying up, don’t then claim that you aren’t responsible because you were forced.
    2. The only voluntariness the law requires is obedience, and the only involuntariness it recognizes is disobedience. By the law’s own standard, tax payment is voluntary.
    3. The decision of whether or not to pay involves deliberation and election, two sufficient components of voluntary action. Try this analogy on for size: the law in Deuteronomy regarding rape took pains to distinguish a real rape from the case of a woman who was falsely claiming rape so as not to get her ass stoned to death for adultery. So, to prove rape, the woman “must not only be supposed to strugle & resist the attempt made upon her chastitie & honour by the villain; but she must cry for assistence in that resistence, without which she is held in Law willingly to consent to the committing of that wickedness.” Furthermore, she should afterwards “complain & cry, and crave Justice against” her attacker “and be wanting in nothing, that may bring him to condign punishment.” Shields says the analogy holds. If you really believe that you have been forced against your will to give up your property purely because of the threat of violence, then you should act like someone who has been violated and who is hungry for justice. If you just go about your business, it looks a lot like you were consenting all along.
  6. Not only is taxpaying effectively consent, but worse, it is also “a Concurrence to assist them, and a strengthening their hands in” wickedness. Taxpayers who contribute to this government are like the Israelites who gathered their earrings together to melt down to make a golden calf. “For as they cannot accomplish their cursed ends without these Exactions, so the payment of them, is all the present, personal, & publick Concurrence in wageing this war with Heaven, that is required of the Nation.”
  7. Not only is taxpaying consent, not only is it concurrence, but it is “a hire & reward for their wicked service.” The “hire” distinction was lost on me, but seems to have been an important hook on which to hang a new set of Old Testament episodes and injunctions. The consent, concurrence, hire progression is making taxpaying seem ever more like an offensive sin of commission, and less like a simple failure to recognize and accomplish some difficult act of righteousness.
  8. Not only do we, as I have demonstrated, have a duty not to commit evil by paying these taxes, but we also have an active duty to do good by resisting these taxes. We have an obligation to rescue our brethren, to relieve the oppressed, to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. Resisting these taxes is part of fulfilling this duty.
  9. The Covenant that previously governed the nation had a clause that invited the Curse of God down upon us in case of a breach of the Covenant. That breach having happened, anyone who concurs with the government that is currently operating in violation of the Covenant is putting themselves in terrible danger. If you’re giving your material support to the usurpers, rather than showing yourself to be willing to sacrifice life and property to defend the Covenant and the Interest of Christ it represents, then you’re on the losing team, loser. If on the day you agreed to the Covenant you had been asked whether you would have been willing to pay a Cess or other tax to powers determined to destroy it, what would you have said?
  10. In order not to be guilty of assisting in this evil all around us, I must give a testimony — not just words, but “at least a plain & positive Refusing to yeeld obedience to that Law… for I must either obey and be guilty, or refuse and be innocent.” What about this testimony?
    1. Can anything less free me of the guilt?
    2. When God gets around to rooting out this wickedness, He’ll ask you if you’ve got your testimony handy before deciding which pile to put you in.
    3. There’s no time like the present, as “Christ is openly opposed, and every one is called either to concur or testifie”.
    4. Shouldn’t such testimony be open and public? “[F]or my Testimony must make it evident that the Law is not obeyed by me, else it is no Testimony.”
    5. Shouldn’t it be, in “plainness & boldness” proportionate to “the prodigiousness of that wickedness testified against?”
    6. It isn’t enough just to state your opposition once, but you must persist in it so as not to weaken the opposition by a later acquiescence.
    7. The righteous Judge will pass sentence according to such Testimony. You should give Testimony now as if you were standing before the Judge in the hour of judgment.
  11. The only way to Testify against the current wicked order of things is to refuse to comply. This is a clear duty, and has many advantages to counteract the supposed disadvantages. It’s a “shameful subterfuge” to say that by resisting taxes, you’ll end up actually giving more money to the government in the end (since they’ll seize more to penalize the refusal). In such a case, you contribute only your suffering, not your sin, to the cause of wickedness, and in doing so you hurt their cause:
    1. As much as I can, I counteract their design. Besides the great value of being at peace with my conscience, I enlist myself on the side of good and assist in good’s eventual triumph.
    2. By my example, I encourage others to stand fast and resist.
    3. “I hereby transmit to Posterity a Pattern for imitation, and so propagate an opposition to this Course to succeeding generations.”
    4. I encourage God to come to us to plead his cause and take vengeance against our foes.
    5. If I comply, it wounds my faith and weakens my confidence and makes me weaker at other times when I have to wrestle with temptation or take a strong stand.
    6. If you act for God’s sake, or suffer for God’s sake, even if you die trying, you’ve struck a powerful blow.
  12. By paying these taxes, you contribute to laying down obstacles that get in the way of other people who are trying to be righteous. Potential backsliders among us are looking to our example. Faithful resisters need to be comforted and strengthened and given confidence by people who believe they are doing the right thing. Those who come after us will also look to our examples, and we’d like to be remembered as a righteous generation worth being used as role models, rather than forcing them to reach into misty myths to find their heroes. Pity us if God decides we’d be most useful as an example of what not to do.