English Quakers Tell Americans to Think For Themselves on War Tax Question

John Richardson () was an English Quaker who visited America at , he was asked for some advice from American Quakers as to how Friends in the home country handled the question of war taxes. Here’s how he answered them:

When I was in the yearly-meeting upon Rhode Island, there was a query concerning what friends might do, in case there should be a lay or tax — laid upon the inhabitants for building some fortifications, and to provide men and arms for the security of the island — such a thing being then in agitation, he, who was one of the chief friends concerned in church affairs, would have me give an account what we did in the like case in England; for, he said, They in that country looked upon themselves but as the daughter, and friends here in Old England as their mother, and they were willing to act consistent with us as far as they could, and would know how we did there in that matter, whether we could pay to that tax which was for carrying on a vigorous war against France. I was unwilling to meddle with it, as I said; but the meeting waited a considerable time for my answer, (as one told me) and was not willing to go forward without it; at last, when I could not well do otherwise, I signified to that large meeting, That I had heard the matter debated both in superior and inferior meetings, and privately, and the most general result was this: Friends did not see an effectual door opened to avoid the thing, that tax being mixed with the other taxes; although many friends are not so easy as they could desire; neither have we any further sway in the government, than only giving our voices for such as are concerned therein; therefore, as things appear to me, there is a great disparity between our circumstances and yours here; for you have a great interest here, and a great share in the government, and perhaps may put such a thing by in voting, considering the body of friends, and such as are friendly, whom you have an interest in; therefore look not for help from the mother, wherein she is not capable of helping herself, and thereby neglect your own business; but mind your own way in the truth, and look not out, Friends appeared well satisfied with these distinctions, and it gave me some ease, in that I had not hurt any.

That’s an interesting and nuanced take on the question — basically that what works for English Quakers might not work for Americans because Friends here have more say in how they are governed and taxed, and thus more responsibility for what the government does with their tax dollars.

This comes from An Account of the Life of that Ancient Servant of Jesus Christ, John Richardson: Giving a Relation of Many of his Trials and Exercises in his Youth, and his Services in the Work of the Ministry in England, Ireland, America, &c. (), pages 131–132.

The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, in , established a protocol for what a Friend should do if, when he refuses to pay military fines, the government seizes his property, sells it, and then tries to return any surplus beyond the cost of the fine. The Meeting decided that to accept this surplus was too close to cooperating with paying the fine:

When goods have been distrained from any Friends, on account of their refusal to pay fines for non-performance of military services, and the officers, after deducting the fines and costs, propose to return the remainder, it is the sense of this meeting, that Friends should maintain their testimony by suffering, and not accept such overplus, unless the same or a part of it is returned without a change of the species.