Bring back tax protestsRegular readers who are from East Tennessee have doubtless read and understood my not-so-veiled criticisms of the Knox County wheel tax. My protests in words of that tax and many other taxes at the local, State, and federal level that I believe are either unjust or are at least unjustly applied have recently gotten me to thinking: Modern Americans have lost a key aspect of the American character-the willing tax protestor.
The fires of the American Revolution were first ignited by American opposition to the Stamp Act of 1765. The protest was so widespread-and civil disobedience became so much the norm-that it forced Parliament to repeal the Act. At the height of the protest, an entire convention, the Stamp Act Congress, was called to write a formal protest to the legislation and a Declaration of Rights. The Stamp Act Congress was composed of some of the most prominent businessmen, farmers, tradesmen, lawyers, and community leaders in America at that time. All were united in the sentiment that an unjust tax needed to be undone.
The Townsend Acts of 1767 were similarly protested with nearly equal vigor. Colonists organized boycotts of taxable goods and began to take imports from countries where the tax did not apply, and to organize smuggling rings so that goods could not be taxed at all. This time, it was British merchants angry at the loss of American business that pressed Parliament to repeal the Acts post-haste. When Parliament repealed all the Acts except for the tax on tea (merely to send a message to the colonists that said "we can tax you") Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty reminded the British that "we can just not take your damn tea" by throwing a shipload of it into Boston Harbor in 1774. The colonies thereafter began to import coffee, a substance grown in those days in Indonesia, then under the perview of the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch were not at all interested in losing American trade. Gradually, we would become a people on a great caffiene rush.
Some are saying "but Oatney, the only problem with those taxes is the fact that Americans were not represented in Parliament." Not really true. Yes, "no taxation without representation" was a great rallying cry in pre-Revolutionary America, but Congress made it clear to Benjamin Franklin (colonial legate to England at the time) not to accept any deal for representation at all, since America could still be out-voted and taxed unjustly.
After independence, settlers in Western Pennsylvania protested a federal tax on liquor by openly rebelling. The federal government put the rebellion down and tried to enforce the tax in Western Pennsylvania. They weren't very successful at it. Many Western Pennsylvania distillers still refused to pay the tax, and many more fled to Kentucky and Tennessee where they kept on making that good ol' mountain dew-their decendants still make it. The tax was repealed in 1802.
Most people think that the initial cause of the War Between the States was slavery. Slavery was one of the great catalysts, to be sure, but the first cause was protests by South Carolina and other Southern States over tariffs that were unreasonably high, and remained so until the outbreak of war.
We as a people have a long tradition of tax protests, so much so that politicians still make tax cuts a cornerstone of their campaigns. It is a fair question, then, to ask: What has happened to our will as Americans to protest unjust taxation? We complain about it, we vote against it, but we have lost our intestinal fortitude to protest it. If we as a people protested high taxes by rufusing-in very large numbers-to pay them, I guarantee that this would cause our local, State, and federal governments to begin to rethink their tax policies.
"Oatney, are you advocating not paying taxes?" I could never do such a thing alone, it takes a mass movement to have any effect. Otherwise, I just go to jail, and that is profoundly stupid. I am merely asking the question of my fellow citizens: Rather than just complain about the government taxing you to death, would you be willing to join together to force the end of unjust taxation?