Baillie Stott and Edinburgh Annuity Tax Resistance

Remember the Scottish annuity tax resisters? Here’s something from the edition of The British Friend about them:

Baillie Stott, and the Edinburgh Annuity Tax.

Imprisonment for conscience sake being, in these days, of somewhat rare occurrence, the case of such as become the victims of it, naturally attracts no small share of public attention. To the Society of Friends, especially, whose members, in less tolerant times, were the chief sufferers on this account, such imprisonment cannot but excite much of their sympathy.

Through the usual channels of publicity, most of our readers, doubtless, are already conversant with the case of Baillie Stott, and another inhabitant of Edinburgh, who were recently incarcerated for refusing, on conscientious grounds, to pay the tax imposed in that city, for the maintenance of the State Church clergy. Shortly previous to the imprisonment of the individuals alluded to, as our readers are also aware, very serious disturbance had taken place, in opposing the enforcement of the law, by which the furniture and other effects of Dissenters were seized and attempted to be sold, for the behoof of the priesthood. The effect of these disturbances having been clearly seen to be prejudicial both to the character of the Law-established Church and its ministers, it became advisable not to encounter or excite them again in the same way. Recourse was therefore had to the imprisonment of the persons of Dissenters themselves, instead of seizing upon their furniture; and thus Baillie Stott and James Georgeson became inmates of a prison.

For a magistrate, whose legitimate province is the execution of the law, to be himself imprisoned for breaking the law, even apart from the consideration of the grounds of non-compliance, is obviously calculated to invest his case with more than ordinary interest.

Whether a Dissenter should have accepted office, knowing its objectionable duties, is a question which we need not here discuss, further than to remark, that the rights of conscience are paramount to all merely human requirements, civil or ecclesiastical.

We are principally induced to advert to this matter, on account of the means by which the liberation of the prisoners was effected — that of a public subscription. This, we consider to have been most objectionable. Indeed, it would not greatly surprise us to learn, that the scheme originated and was supported by Churchmen, as they are called, as the most effectual way of extricating their law-established Church and its ministers from that weight of odium, which the operation of the “Annuity tax” had brought upon them.

But if our surmise respecting Churchmen is groundless, we see nothing to commend, but every thing to reprobate, in the conduct of Dissenters in this matter. The movement may bespeak their sympathy for the sufferer, but we contend that it was both injudiciously expressed, and exceedingly ill-timed.

Had the public subscription been deferred till after the prisoners had been liberated, in what we should consider a legitimate manner, and its object of course been different — to testify at once the sympathy of the subscribers, and to compensate for the injury sustained by the prisoners — there would have been no objection to the manifestation.

But if there has not been altogether a mistaken notion on the part of Dissenters, with regard to the upholding of a consistent testimony, for the truth and against error, it seems very obvious to us that little more can be said in favour of this subscription, than that it originated and was carried out most inconsiderately.

Dissenters in general, indeed we may almost say universally, with the exception of Friends, have always heretofore been so much accustomed to yield a tame and implicit compliance with whatever gets the name of law, forgetful of its infringement of the primary rights of conscience, that there is not perhaps much cause to be surprised at the conduct of Edinburgh Dissenters in the case before us. What but this tame compliance has perpetuated the burdens still imposed by the dominant Church party? Whereas, had the course which Friends from their first rise have pursued, been imitated by other and more numerous bodies, the grievances which we have in common to lament and to suffer, had been nearer an end, to say the least, if not indeed long ago abolished.

Did it not occur to the Dissenters of Edinburgh, that it was not from want of pecuniary ability that either of the prisoners allowed himself to be immured in jail? Or again, what was the difference between these individuals paying the tax themselves, and its being paid for them by public subscription? If it was wrong in the one case, it must be equally wrong, and a violation of principle, in the other. It has surprised us, that not one of the Dissenting Journals that we have met with has taken this view of the subject. In their joyfulness at the liberation of the prisoners, they seem to have lost sight entirely of the sacrifice of principle at which it was obtained. Would that our Dissenting brethren everywhere might yet more deeply reflect upon what consistency with principle requires; would cease from weakening their own hands by such inconsiderate proceedings; and for the future, by a more dignified and becoming respect for their own rights, command not only greater regard from their oppressors, but insure what is more valuable still, the consciousness of having suffered for the truth: “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God,” 1 Pet. ⅱ. 20.

The Spectator mentioned Baillie Stott’s annuity tax resistance in an edition:

The Annuity-tax war continues in Edinburgh. Baillie Stott and another citizen were sent to gaol on Monday for nonpayment of the tax. A regular agitation of meetings is to commence immediately.

At a special meeting on Tuesday, the Lord Provost, Magistrates, and Sheriff of Edinburgh, decided on issuing proclamations to prevent open-air meetings in the city.

A great meeting, said to be one of “Chartists,” assembled on Glasgow Green on Monday, without any notice: it was at once dispersed by the police.

And here’s another article from The British Friend dated :

Edinburgh Annuity-tax — Another Victim.

Abhorrent to every Christian feeling as such instances of clerical rapacity have ever been, they are yet, it must be admitted, but the natural result of the system of church and state connection; and there is little reason to hope for their discontinuance, until public opinion shall bring about the abolition of the unholy alliance itself. We quote as under from the Edinburgh News:—

Amid all the outrages against Christianity that have been from time to time committed by the Established clergy of Edinburgh, in attempting to enforce their infamous annuity-tax, there is not one so atrocious as the case of Widow Pringle, at present shut up in the Calton Jail, for refusing, or being unable to pay the claim of £1, 8s. 9d., which the ministers of Canongate have legally, but inhumanly and unjustly, preferred against her. On former occasions, when we had to condemn the clergy for dragging some of our most respectable citizens to jail, the parties were men. Tait, Russell, Chapman, Stott, and Tod, were known to be conscientious and determined opponents of the tax, and the proceedings, however unrighteous, had the aspect of a bold contest between the injustice of a clerical law on the one side, and the conscientious repugnance of men in some degree able to bear the assault on the other. In this instance, however, they have selected a victim rather than an opponent, and a weak woman — that woman the widow of a colour-sergeant, who served for twenty-nine years in the gallant 78th Highlanders, and that widow sixty years of age — has been made to bear the brunt of the unholy persecution. It is, of course, to be regretted that men can be found who, for the sake of position or emolument, submit to be the means of enforcing this unjust, and detested, because unjust law; but the recent history of Edinburgh demonstrates that it is to the clergy alone that we owe its continuance. Only four years ago 40,000 citizens of Edinburgh petitioned the House of Commons for its abolition. The town council, the magistrates of Canongate, the Merchant Company, the Anti-state-church and the Anti-annuity-tax Associations, all exerted themselves with the legislature and the government to procure its repeal, but all their influence was thwarted and set at nought, by the preposterous demands and unjust claims of the clergy.

Mrs. Pringle is a Dissenter, a member of Mr. Wright’s congregation, and, like most other Dissenters, she cannot see the justice of paying for the services of clergymen from which she derives no advantage.… But the case of Widow Pringle is not the only case that is forcing itself upon the outraged sympathies of the public. A crusade has been begun against the poor inhabitants of whole districts in the Canongate. It has come to our knowledge that nearly all the residents of one of the narrow closes in that locality, called Dunbar’s Close, have been summoned to appear on Monday next in the County Buildings, at the instance of John Gouldie, collector of Canongate annuity-tax, to answer to charges varying from 3s. 7d. upwards, alleged to be due to these earth-born but heaven-directing ministers. The parties are all in poor circumstances, struggling to maintain their families with small means, and under the pressure of high prices. Fourteen of these summonses have fallen into this narrow close, and produced the greatest anxiety and consternation. Unable to pay the money, they are in terror that they will be dragged from their children and lodged in jail, or have their little stock of furniture sold. In these circumstances some of them have gone to the resident bailies, and promised to pay sixpence a-week to relieve them from the prosecution. One of the persons is a widow, who earns a scanty subsistence for her four children by washing; another is a decent man, a porter in a warehouse, earning 13s. a-week, and having his wife and six children to support. He is a member of a Dissenting church, and told us, with much emotion, that he tried to pay his poor-rates, but he could not bear the thought of depriving his children of common necessaries in order to pay clergymen whom he had never seen, and whose services he could not accept. Can acts like these be acceptable to that great Being who is the Husband of the widow and the Friend of the poor?