Sometimes tax resisters can learn their creed best from the criticisms of those who oppose them.
At many stages, it’s been difficult to determine who have been the innovators of tax resistance — its proponents, or those critics whose reductio ad absurdum arguments have been eventually embraced by their opponents.
In the case of American pacifists, it went something like this:
Christians note that Jesus taught that we should turn the other cheek and love our enemies, and determined that this meant we should not participate in murder or war. Then some wiseacre pointed out that there’s no moral difference really between going to war and hiring a substitute to go for you.
So they decided to stop hiring substitutes. Then some wiseacre pointed out that there’s no moral difference really between hiring a substitute and paying a bounty or fine to the army in lieu of enlisting.
So they stopped paying their bounties and fines. Then some wiseacre pointed out that there’s no moral difference really between paying a bounty or fine and paying war taxes to a government that’s making war.
So they stopped paying their war taxes. Then some wiseacre pointed out that there’s not much difference, really, between “war” taxes and any other taxes that the warring government inhales.
So they stopped paying all their taxes.
But who is this wiseacre? Half of the time it’s some visionary from within the ranks, but the other half of the time it’s a critic who points out the logical conclusions of the crazy creed and thus either proves it ridiculous, or, madly, extends it and stakes out new turf for it.
This is the case for Edward Swaine’s careful and deliberate argument in Law and Conscience (). He attempts to disprove the argument for conscientious tax resistance by proving it to be an argument for anarchism, but I can’t help but feel that the force of his argument was more likely to turn conscientious tax resisters into anarchists than to turn them into compliant tax payers.
Ⅰ. The Law is to go right on, never swerving from its course. In its progress it may find conscience in its way. It is not however to be turned aside, but must overbear the conscience, or what is its value? It may find a conscience at every step; and if, for every conscience, it is to step aside, it ceases to be a law. Considered simply as law, it is right in overbearing all who resist it.
Ⅱ. As law is to go right on, permitting nothing to hinder it, so conscience is to stand fast, permitting nothing to remove it. When law comes, it must dare the shock and abide the issue. It is not to yield, however it may be compelled and overborne. If conscience act otherwise, it ceases to be conscience. Considered simply as conscience, it is right in refusing concession to anything that would command it.
But now two things are to be considered.
1st. One in relation to law — is the law a right law? If not, the fault of the collision between law and conscience may be in the law.
2nd. One in relation to conscience — is it rightly informed? If not, the fault of the collision is with the conscience. To teach legislators, the writer does not presume: — to suggest safe guidance for subjects who wish to learn and do what is right, is the particular object of the following pages. The object of a legislator should be to assure himself that his law will offend no rightly informed conscience; for if it do so offend, it must of necessity be a bad law. The desire of a good subject will be to know for a certainty when conscience must be in error if opposed to the law.
To quote from himself almost verbatim, in a former work… “The question of church taxes is one of temporary moment. So much is said about them, because a principle is involved of wider bearing. The question concerning them is, the question of what is Cæsar’s and what God’s; the question of conscience; the question of the legislator’s province and the subject’s duty, and the answer to which is independent of the supposed wisdom or folly of the legislator in his duty. It is a question that lies at the basis of civil government, and therefore possessing the interest that belongs to what is permanent; to what is immutable; to what will be true, and of practical consequence, so long as man is man.”
“The Eclectic Review” is the first in rank amongst the various periodicals of the English Protestant Dissenters. Its high standing is deserved; and although the present writer is about to remark on what he conceives to be pernicious doctrine offered in its pages, he is happy to subscribe to the opinion extensively, but not sufficiently entertained of its strong claims, in general, to public support. He has always endeavoured to promote its circulation, not only on the ground of its literary value, but as an able and unswerving exponent of liberal politics in the fullest Christian sense of the phrase. But because of its high and well-deserved repute, he takes the deeper interest in the views it propounds, and is the more jealous of what he supposes to be its mistakes. In proportion, as it is regarded as an oracle, it is important that those for whom it more particularly speaks should watch lest it inadvertently betray their cause. In the article “Sir Robert Peel,” , the Reviewer thus quotes from a parliamentary speech of Sir Robert, on the case of John Thorogood, :—
If a demand be made in pursuance of the laws of the land, and there is a refusal to pay that demand, it will be impossible to determine whether that refusal arises from conscientious feeling or from contumacy; whilst the law remains the same, authorizing the imposition, I see no alternative but to obey the law; and if parties refuse that obedience, they must take the consequence, otherwise there will be a dissolution of society.
On this the Eclectic says —
If the doctrine of Sir R. Peel is deserving of even a transient thought, the inspired Apostles were wrong; they were guilty of a seditious violation of the law, and set the example of impious insubordination to all their successors in the Christian faith. We may say, without irreverence, that the position of the inspired Apostles was precisely similar to that of conscientious Dissenters of the present day. The pagan forms of hostility to the Christian religion stood in their way: — before us stands a system of spurious Christianity. The question is now what it was then, — will you support by your contribution, your subscription, or any form of adhesion, what you regard as directly opposed to the revealed will of God? Sir Robert Peel says, at all hazards obey the law of the land; we say, “whether it is right to obey God or men, judge ye.”
It is submitted that the Reviewer misrepresents here, (of course unintentionally), in two ways. The position of the Apostles and that of Dissenters, it is submitted, are not parallel — and Sir Robert Peel, it is submitted, does not say “obey the law of the land at all hazards.” He merely says there is no “alternative” against “the consequence” but “to obey” — that is, he says what any consistent ruler would say of any law of his land, good or bad, whether to impale or burn Protestant recusants, or against housebreaking. He affirms nothing beyond the undeniable truth, that laws must be maintained or the ruler is condemned. Further, Sir Robert spoke in relation to “demand.” This does not affect the question of the soundness or the fallacy of his doctrine, that there is no alternative in relation to law but obedience or penalty. But it greatly affects the question of parallelism between the position of the Apostles and the Dissenters. If the Apostles had obeyed the rulers’ command not to preach, they would have disobeyed Christ’s command to preach. But, when Dissenters pay Church-rates, (being legally demanded of them,) where is the divine command not to pay them, although, as Dissenters think, the ruler violates the law of Christ in imposing them? To prove the alleged parallel it must be shewn that payment of a legal tax for a known bad object is the same thing, morally, as doing the deed, to accomplish which the tax is levied. But it is impossible to shew this, except by shewing that we must pay no tax for any object that we think a bad one; for whatever is unwise or wicked, though in the least degree, is against the will of God. Further, must it not be proved also that we must obey no law, (corn laws, game laws, turnpike laws, property laws, police laws,) by obeying which we imagine we may promote evil, and that we must, in fact, do nothing by which we think any one will be more potent for evil? Accordingly, even if, then, we should pay our debts when the money is likely to be mis-spent, every tax must be refused by every one who does not approve of all that government intends to do with it — no law need be obeyed, and nothing must be bought or sold when the law, or the money, or the article will in our opinion be in danger of ministering in any way to evil. Here, truly, is “a dissolution of the bonds of society!” Yet the Reviewer has no escape, as is believed, from this dilemma, and from a more startling consequence, to be noticed by and by, except in giving up his parallel and his argument. The Apostles were under obligation to preach, by the command of God to do so. Dissenters are under no obligation to refuse payment of a wicked tax, for God has not commanded them to do so, either expressly or by implication that has yet been shewn. Dissenters therefore should pay legal church rates if they would act by the New Testament, and by the inevitable comment of immutable reason on the oft-quoted dictate, “Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” What is or can that comment be, but that “the things of God are those which He (not his creatures for him) claims to be so, whatever they are, secular or sacred, and that the things which are Cæsar’s, ‘are those which he claims, so far as they may be rendered without disobeying God as having commanded us not to render them? What is any looser or wider comment than this, but a license to anarchy — a license to weak or wicked men to set aside government, ‘the ordinance’ of God? If Cæsar say ‘Give me money,’ we must give it; for God has nowhere said ‘Do not give Cæsar money,’ or ‘Do not give Cæsar money without satisfaction that he will properly apply it.’ If Cæsar say ‘Do not preach,’ Paul must refuse obedience, for Christ has said to him ‘preach!’ If Cæsar say to us, ‘Go to the North Pole’ — or ‘wear a cocked hat’ — we must do so; for God has not claimed our obedience to the contrary. He has not said, ‘Do not go to the North Pole’ or ‘go only where you please.’ He has not said, ‘Do not wear a cocked hat,’ or ‘wear only what you like,’ Those things, then, concerning which God has claimed nothing of us, we must render unto Cæsar. God says to us in effect in that notable but much-abused rule — ‘Caesar may be foolish or wicked, but what I have not said is mine is his;’ and if you think he regulates what is his unwisely or unjustly, enlighten him, if you can, or entreat him and procure a change of law, if you are able to do so consistently with the obedience which I claim. But, foolish or wicked as his law may be, you must obey him in every thing where some contrary law of mine for your conduct (not his) does not forbid. If he should say to you, therefore, ‘I resolve to establish the worship of Baal for the good of the Empire,’ and to levy a tax for that purpose, the resources of the State are his, and you are bound to render the tax. But, if he should say I hold it to be for the good of the land, that every one acknowledge Baal to be God, and therefore require the payment of the tax to be accompanied by a recognition by the payers of the godhead of Baal, you are bound, while you pay the tax, to refuse the recognition, though impaling or burning be the penalty. Or, if the tax be collected under an enactment that every one who pays shall be considered as offering to Baal, you are bound to refuse the payment, for to pay in such case would be equivalent to worship, and a rendering to Cæsar of that which is God’s. But I do not justify your refusal of taxes, because they may be levied for a purpose that my law condemns. He who violates my law must answer, and that is not you who pay the tax, but he who levies it if a bad one. It is he who misapplies the National Funds, not you who had no rightful command over them to apply or misapply.”
If this is not a just comment upon the text in question, it seems inevitable that “the powers that be” would be no “powers” at all, and government would have no certain “sinews” for the discharge of its essential duties. What national property the legislature devotes to national objects, it stands possessed of by the act of legislation which so devotes; and when the tax-gatherer comes for it, he comes, not for a contribution, or subscription, or aid, but for property no longer the subject’s to give or to withhold, and no longer under his rightful control to do with otherwise than as the law directs. To deny this, it is respectfully submitted, is to justify the despot in enacting any law, and to furnish the anarchist with a pretence for resisting all law. To set up our private judgment so as to neutralize the act of the ruler in his function as steward of the national funds, is the same offence against truth and liberty which he himself commits when he employs those funds for the enforcement of his own private views of moral duty or religious obligation. In both cases, private judgment of fitness or propriety is made the standard for public law. When this is done by the few it is despotism; when done by the many it is anarchy. In both cases it is tyranny, and in either is the affirmation of the principle of Church Establishments — the right of man to bond public laws to the fashion of his own particular creed, without respect to the mind of others.
The Eclectic is, consequently (unwittingly) the advocate of Church Establishments, by the argument which it opposes to them. The error lies in the ‘doctrine of the right of private judgment. Every man has an indefeasible right of private judgment, but he has not the right to exercise it contradictorily, to exercise it in any relation he may sustain, so as to annul any other relation he may sustain, or any relation that others may sustain. He has no such right of private judgment on the fitness of a tax as a taxee, as belongs to him as a taxer — a legislator; and he may not plead the right of private judgment on the fitness of a given tax that belongs to him as a man simply, to annul his necessary exclusion from the right to judge of its fitness as a man who is a taxee. As a person legally taxed, he has no right of private judgment on the subject other than a man has on the subject of paying his just debts. If he decide that he is at liberty not to pay, however conscientious his decision, he is under mistake, and must have rogue’s fare. The right of judgment here belongs solely to the legislature, or a legislature would be a nonentity. It is only apart from this public relation of taxee, and without annulling it, that he is at liberty to exercise his indefeasible right as a man simply to judge of the moral rightness of the tax, and to use his influence as such for its support or repeal. There are only things immoral and things illegal. There is no tertium quid — no third thing — nothing, which beside or distinct from the immoral and the illegal, is “extra-magisterial,” as some have said. If the legislature, the constituted stewards of the national funds, determine that a certain application of those funds is desirable for the public good, and we refuse then to grant those funds, because we do not like the object, we commit the same wrong in thus interfering with what is solely their duty to determine, as they commit when they interfere with what is solely a man’s own private duty to determine. Their conduct says, “Paul shall not have the same liberty of judgment that we take.” Our conduct says the same, for it would justify the refusal by bigots, of a police tax levied for Paul’s protection. They say — “a fig for other people’s notions of duty! Away with the doctrine that all should be consulted! We will impose our own — our own shall be law — our’s are the right, and those only will we suffer.” We say — what do we say, if not exactly the same? Is it not true, that the Eclectic, in its zeal, has fought against its friends?
Taxes for bad objects are to be paid, not because we can be excused for helping evil by any voluntary act, that we are morally free to forbear, nor because the payment of such taxes will not help evil, for it will help evil, just as much as the payment of a debt to one who is going to misapply the money will help the evil, — but because the tax is not the subject’s any more than the debt is the debtor’s to help with or to withhold. The payment therefore is his duty, for he is not morally free to decline it, although it will help evil. It may seem to some, if not to the Reviewer himself for a moment, an argumenturn ad hominem retort to the position just taken, that no one may so plead his right or relation as to nullify another’s right or relation — that the position refutes itself, for that the refusal to pay a tax for a bad object, or for the imposition upon the people of the ruler’s private judgment, is only an assertion of this very doctrine. But only a little discrimination will suffice to show the feebleness of such retort. If the ruler enacts a bad law, he necessarily invades some right. This is precisely what we say in blame of any legislature that institutes or maintains a system of religion; and so far as he would nullify any indefeasible right or relation that we have or sustain, we say refuse obedience. All that we deny is, that the lawful ruler is to be refused obedience to such bad laws as do not nullify our indefeasible rights or relations; as, for instance, our right to judge of our own moral duty, and our relation to God as morally accountable to Him only. When he bids us do a bad thing, to do his bidding would be to give up our right of private judgment on moral duty; and when he bids us recognize anything as truth, however true, not leaving us wholly free to withhold such recognition, his bidding goes to annul our relation as accountable for our judgment on truth and duty only to God. Then his command is to be set at nought. But when he, the legal steward of the national funds, merely calls upon us to pay a tax for any object he judges it to be his duty as ruler to prosecute, he touches no right or relation at all: — we have no right paramount like his in the property, and he has asked no obedience that our relation as accountable to God forbids. To illustrate: — If an individual is constituted legal controller of his and my joint property for our joint benefit, I may not plead the folly or wickedness of his act in applying the property to some foolish or immoral purpose as an excuse for not yielding the portion of it in my hands, and required for the given end. If I do, I nullify his relation as legal controller of our joint property, and might so nullify it if he were to exercise a sound judgment instead of a bad one. If he set up a molten calf, and pay a priest to do it homage with our joint property, with a view of bringing blessings on us both, his folly is sad; but it is his legal right to apply the money as his judgment, not mine, may dictate to be best. In the appropriation he annuls no relation of mine, and precludes no right of mine. Whatever his act may imply, I maintain my religious relation and civil right in the matter of worship; and, as to the property, I had no relation or right at all which he has touched; the sole right of application, be he fool or wise, is his. The same principles apply to civil rulers and their subjects. The right of private judgment cannot be annulled; the right of property may be; and, being annulled, of course there is no rightful control over it by the person whose right has been annulled. Wherever there is civil government the right of property exists only so far as the law allows. This cannot be denied without assenting to a principle tending to “the dissolution of society.”
But further — the Reviewer states, that “to plead in excuse, that we are bound to obey existing laws involves the co-operation of those who hold that we are so in a legal effort to extirpate Christianity itself from the world,” and “that those who protest against the principles held by the Established Church as errors, but still contribute to their propagation, because that course is prescribed by law, and excuse themselves under the plea that, while they are bound to obey the law as it exists, they are doing their best to secure its repeal, incur a practical absurdity. They allow the legislature to fix them in this dilemma — ‘you cannot pretend that your conscience forbids you thus to support the hierarchy, because, in defiance of such scruples, you do so every day; while, on the other hand, your objection, if only of a political nature, we must treat as we should a peculiar antipathy to assessed taxes, on an irresistible passion for smuggling.’ It appears to us most evident, that the only ground on which Dissenters can consistently oppose ecclesiastical imposts is the ground of conscience.”
Thus saith the Eelectic; but pray who said “we are bound to obey existing laws?” Who made so loose a declaration? “We are bound to obey existing laws which God does not require us to disobey,” is all that ever was said on the subject, that the writer knows of. All that is denied is, that we are bound to disobey every law which rulers do wrong to enact. But we pass on to the “dilemma;” and here, surely, Dissenters might very fairly reply with a “dilemma” for Sir Robert. They might say, “So, Sir Robert, you really think, because we pay the income-tax, that we like it; that, because we pay the protecting dues and do not smuggle, we approve them, and are enamoured of the corn-laws, and other commercial restrictions; that, because we pay assessed taxes, we exceedingly enjoy your government, and delight in the Irish Church Establishment, which we profess to believe tends to the extirpation of Christianity from Ireland, and are in love with your Irish coercion and other policy; for, if you do not think that we like all these things, and should have no conscientious objection to pursue your course if we had but your power, what right have you to infer that our conscience does not forbid us to support the hierarchy, just simply because we pay you the tax which you levy in order that you may support it? We no more support the hierarchy by paying the collector of the tax, which you apply for its maintenance, than we support the other measures referred to, against which we protest.” How will the Reviewer get Sir Robert to reply? Had not Sir Robert better withdraw? The reasoning which the Reviewer puts into the Premier’s mouth — reasoning which Sir Robert is too keen to offer — is tainted with a sentiment too common in the Church and State argument — common with both the parties to it, and adverse to that first principle of sound moral philosophy that we are bound in all things, great or small, of earth or Heaven, by the will of God, (as far as we know, or think we know, it) as being to creatures the necessary and only ultimate Rule of Truth. I allude to the sentiment, that a man’s course in regard to anything can be “only political or economical,” and can ever be properly pursued independently of his conscience — let the thing be the payment of a turnpike toll, or the worship of God. It is this error which has produced the canting cry of “political Dissenters ” in application to those Dissenters who oppose the political compact of Church and State alliance, although it cannot be known or fairly surmised that they do not conscientiously oppose it on the grounds they take, whatever they may be, and however technically described as political or religious. And it is this error which engenders bitterness in Dissenters against Churchmen, although, for aught than can be known or candidly conjectured, they conscientiously sustain it. If an upright man opposes a corn-law, he does so conscientiously, although his objection is here what would be called political; and if he opposes the legislative connexion between Church and State, he does no more, although his objection here may be in the strict and popular sense religious. A Christian who forgets that he is a citizen, and forbears to interest himself in his country’s secularities of any kind because they are secularities, and this only, is a bigot, and as self-condemning as he is bigoted. He has not imbibed the spirit of the Apostles, who stood upon a citizen’s rights, and who taught, not that Christian men should come out from the world’s secularities, but from its sins; not that they should have no company with the men of this world, for then must they needs go out of it, but that, buying or selling, ruling or serving, teaching or learning, eating or drinking, they should regard the glory of God, deferring in all things to His authority, so that, as instructed by this rule, they may “provide things honest in the sight of all men.” No objection of a good and wise man to any law whatever can be “only political or economical” in any sense that excludes the moral. Being politically or economically wrong, he is as morally bound to oppose it as a conscientious man as he is morally bound to refuse worship to false Gods, or to worship the true God.
Dissenters should not be anxious to clear themselves from the charge of being political. Let us only state the matter properly. We have no political warfare let us say, against the Church of England, the church which is established, but only with its maintenance by force of law. We have no contest with its many pious and honored members about its ecclesiastical arrangements, its hierarchy, its doctrines, its liturgy, its rubric, except that contest which they are fully justified in our opinion (with their views) in waging with us, and which, indeed, every sect is bound in consistency to wage with every other sect more or less — the contest of argument without force of law. But as to its political establishment, let us frankly own we are bent upon its discontinuance, conscientiously objecting to the political establishment of any sect; and can never be satisfied until by force of law it is dis-established, and the principle of a political church establishment be effaced for ever from the public statutes.
It is of the greatest importance that Dissenters avoid bad reasoning, and keep clear of untenable ground in their contest against the political institution — a State Church. If the Reviewer’s doctrine were to be extensively followed by Dissenters, a far greater injury would be inflicted on political truth than any result in favor of Dissenters could compensate. They would set an example justifying anarchy, and supplying all seditionists thereafter with an apology for “confusion and every evil work.” Their dissent would be in danger of becoming identified with fanaticism, and its principle with the principle that the inward light is a safer guide than the written law of God. They would be the derision and the torment of all practical statesmen of whatever shade of politics, in proportion to the prevalence of their refusal, and moral philosophy (on the assumed dictates of which their refusal would proceed) would be set wrong in that degree. It is of the first importance, that the Reviewer’s doctrine on this subject be rejected as most injurious to the course and credit of the voluntary principle — a principle which the Eclectic sincerely enforces, and, generally, most ably sustains, but of which it will be unfortunate, in the present writer’s opinion, for the cause of truth, if it do not cease to be the ill-advising advocate which the article that has occasioned these remarks, he thinks, exhibits.
But some will say, “It is of no use telling us we must pay Church-rates. The ‘must’ is only in our will. If all Dissenters resolve not pay them, government will be compelled to give up the contest, and otherwise provide for church expenses.” It is never wise to do what is not right; but, apart from the question — is it right so to resolve? — the policy for Dissenting interests of such a resolve is more than doubtful. There was a period when church expenses and the poor were provided for out of funds entirely or almost entirely under church control, and under that system was it that the worst corruptions in Church and State prevailed, and grew from generation to generation. It was only as another element, (the popular) was introduced, that priestly arrogance was checked, and the poor were withdrawn in measure from their wretched dependence upon the Church — a dependence that made them the uninquiring victims of its superstitions, and the tools of its bigotry, avarice and ambition. It may be questioned therefore whether it is desirable that those opportunities that now occur for discussing the claims of the Church, and limiting its resources to its legal wants should be willingly, resigned. These opportunities have tended greatly, if not chiefly, to diffuse the light now shed upon “church principles” which promises, if taken due advantage of, to be their most effectual check. But, be the aspect of a right course what it may, it is deeply to be lamented if any among us are unconvinced that what is not right cannot be wise. If we do not know that those parishes where Church-rates have ceased, have lost or harmed nothing either in the minds of the parishioners or in those of others — nothing for the cause now, nothing for the cause in future — by the wrong-doing mingled with their right, it is not the less certain that Truth, in the long run, is better served by strict adherence to sound principle in all things than it can be by the proudest triumph gained by deviation from it in anything. The wrath of man may be made to praise God; but God had been in all cases more honored and His cause more advanced without it.
In writing thus, the writer has virtually condemned the conduct of the “Friends” or Quakers. He meant to do so. He believes that their long sustained protest against Church Establishments in the form of pecuniary “sufferings” has been of no service to religious liberty. He sincerely respects the motives that have actuated that estimable body of Christians. No doubt they have shewn a laudable conscientiousness in suffering the spoiling of their goods in denial of Cæsar’s authority in Christ’s kingdom; and, so far, their testimony has served Truth — but this testimony they would have borne had they conscientiously stabbed Cæsar to the heart in like denial. As designing Rome’s deliverance from tyranny, and as a witness for just principle, even in his act of blood, Brutus is commendable. But the foul deed itself was a foul deed still. Had the “sufferings” of the Friends been forborne and the amount expended in efforts to awaken and enlighten the public on the subject of their testimony, the Truth would have been no less honored by a righteous testimony; needless sufferings, more annoying to the sufferers than the mulct, escaped; a political error and a bad political example, through a lengthened period, would have been avoided, and the questions between Churchmen and Dissenters nearer (as the writer unfeignedly believes) to a right conclusion than they now are. Passive resistance is as much disobedience as open force; and, where it is not called for by moral obligation, as really tends to social injury. If reform may arise from passive resistance, so it may from revolution. But if reform has ever risen from revolution, the blood and the flame have not advanced it. They may have failed to suppress it, but their tendency was to do so. The bark of freedom may have ridden out the storm, but its present and future safety is so much the less as the tempest has strained its timbers, or created shoals to bar its progress. Law cannot be disobeyed at any time with social benefit, except when to disobey is the law of the Supreme.
See Ireland. Whatever opinion may be entertained of the Repeal movement, there is one feature in its aspect that must strike every one capable of understanding what is morally sublime. Say the Irish are mistaken — yet, conceding that they believe themselves to be oppressed, is it not grand to see them standing erect and bold in conscious homage of the law that wrongs them? They condemn it, but obey it. They front the legislature with open breast, challenging its search for secret treachery, and asking with one accord for all they mean. Suppose that people crouching, cringing, yet conjectured to be secretly conspiring, or banded in avowal that, if law will not bow, its majesty shall be contemned. — Would they then engage the sympathy that now attends them, right or wrong? Would those who now favor them be undivided as at present? Let the Irish break the law, and their moral power is gone. Now their attitude constrains respect, and we ask, what is it that they want? They ask for justice, and they do not wrong it by insult, or resistance of its ministers; and so attention is arrested and their ranks are swelled. Let them break the law and thousands would eschew them who now feel safe in their connexion. Our case is similar. Let us keep the law and we are potent; let us break it, and we are weak. Obedient to its dictates, the public will listen when we respectfully affirm that, notwithstanding our obedience, in our judgment, it violates reason and tramples upon justice, and ought to be revoked. Let our reclamation assume no form that is unchristian or suspicious, and the voice of reason and justice will prevail in proportion to the energy and union that mark its utterance. Let it be otherwise and our union will be our disgrace, our energy, our loss.
“Rightly to be great, Is not to stir without great argument.”
While urging the impolicy of refusing to pay church taxes, there is one other consideration which the writer would suggest. There is no position of public affairs more favorable for the speedy removal of a great legislative evil than that when the people are writhing under some attendant minor burdens or vexation constantly tormenting, and found to be inseparable from it. It is then that they are better prepared than under other circumstances, to unite for its overthrow; for it is then that they are scourged to thought, and stimulated to inquire, examining the foe from head to foot, and challenging his claims to further tolerance, if, maybe, they can destroy him. Take an instance. It is rumoured that the government intends to salary the Irish Roman Catholic priests. Of course public funds must be charged with the expense. Is there a Protestant Dissenter in the land that does not quiver with emotion strong as life, or strong as death, at the very thought? Is there one that doubts that such a measure would arouse an opposition, of which the stir on the late Factories’ Education Bill was a mere sign rather than a specimen? Is he not pursuaded from the tellings of his own inner soul, that such a measure would be the knell of Church Establishments throughout the British Empire? But why does he feel himself thus knitting with inexpressible and all-promising energy? Because he has awoke! He sees that the question between Churchmen and Dissenters is one of life or death for liberty and truth, and that they must yield or the principle of a State Church be blotted from the laws. The monstrous progeny has revealed the parent, and he sees, at length, that nothing can shut its prolific womb but death. And now the purpose is matured within him that, God helping, if it be not blotted out, it shall not be for want of his life and strength devoted to that end. To obtain relief from the less we must destroy the greater. To be secure from the teasing irruptions of the streams, we must dry the spring, viz. — the legislative bond between Church and State. This, in the opinion of the writer, is the kind of feeling which it is the true policy of Dissenters to promote. The issue is so certain in the case of Irish legislation just supposed, that if it were not that folly and wickedness in legislators, as in others, are always to be lamented, Protestant Dissenters might exult in the perpetration of a legislative contradiction so treacherous to all sound principle.
Let the political and religious wrong, involved in the existence of the Church Establishment as a bad political institution, an unjust assumption of man over his fellow, and an assumption of divine authority, be urged with all the power that righteous indignation can command. Let the petty grievance to Dissenters, of the legal and moral obligation to pay the taxes levied for the hierarchy, be viewed as irremoveable in justice to the people at large, so long as the master grievance, the political establishment itself exists; and the call and need for exertion, in order to its removal, will appear to be the more powerful and just in the degree of its inseparableness from the lesser torments as well as from the dread spiritual consequences by which, as we think, every State-Church, as such, is, ever has been, and ever must be, attended.
To conclude — the writer will fairly meet a fair question. — Does the writer counsel slavish submission? Are taxes to be paid at the will of a despot, the people generally disapproving of the levy? — The right end of rulership is public freedom. The more perfectly this is secured, the better is the right end of government attained. Laws, therefore, that assume for the ruler any right of judgment incompatible with equal regard for the judgment of all, are laws contrary to the end of government, for they are laws to serve the ruler more than the people. They should respect equally the will of all, rulers and ruled. Consequently taxes are inequitably raised, that do not suppose the ruler and the people to be equally entitled to judge each one for himself what is best for himself. To disallow this involves injustice either to one party or the other, and is either to make the rulers gods, and the people slaves, or the people rulers and the rulers subjects. Allow it, and each party not only keeps his right place, but only right is done. The ruler levies no tax that does not equally regard the liberty of each, and all the people pay whatever tax he levies without suffering any wrong. But — and now comes the point — it is quite consistent to say that the ruler should equally respect the will of each, and yet that his law should be obeyed, although the subject may think it unwise or unjust. So long as the ruler, constitutional or despot, is permitted by the people to occupy the throne he is the “power ordained by God.” They are at liberty to depose him (if he will not abdicate) as soon as they are in a condition to do so without convulsing the nation and involving it in a war. If he is a constitutional monarch, the constitution will afford them the necessary power, without resort to violence and blood, as soon as it would be for their benefit to use it. If he is a despot, they are under no obligation, legal or moral, to permit his continuance in power a moment longer than may be essential to the maintenance of public order, and the substitution of a more approved authority. But — and this is the answer to the question — so long as he is ruler, they are bound to obey in all matters wherein they are not forbidden so to do by the Supreme. The writer has endeavoured to sum his doctrine on the duties both of rulers and subjects, on all points, at all times, and everywhere, in the following lines: —
The Lord of all bids all — submit to Me!
Hence, bound by duty, each from each is free;
Sum total this of native Rights below;
All further Rights from this, the fountain, flow.
All Rights beyond by grant or yielding came,
Nor Right beyond may prince or peasant claim,
Nor Right to govern or disturb pretend,
Oppos’d to equal law and common end.
So far as rule is right, by Heaven’s decree,
Its end and aim are equal liberty;
Yet, be it wrong, who fealty would withdraw,
Must shew excuse from God or from the law.
Where laws are bad, and subjects are opprest,
Complain aloud till wrong shall be redrest,
But, by all order, reason, word of Heaven,
Resist not, save command from God be given!
Say’st when his bidding? — the high Heavens command
When speaks the public, let who may withstand,
Or kings were gods, and ruling kingly play,
This only mark! — Tis not the public speaks
When sword aggressive public quiet breaks.
And nations only made for tyrants’ sway.
The public many — the dissentients few —
What army battles with a village crew?
When laws must stand, or blood of brethren fall,
Be sure ’tis yet too soon to burst the bondman’s thrall!