"No Taxation without Representation" in the American Woman Suffrage Movement
Tutt, Juliana, Stanford Law Review
INTRODUCTION I. ACTION AND COMPLIANCE A. Calls to Action B. Action C. Compliance 1. Reluctance 2. Alternatives 3. Discouragement II. DEBATE A. Premise 1: Taxation Without Representation Is Tyranny B. Premise 2: Women Are Taxed C. Premise 3: Women Are Not Represented D. Conclusion and Corollary III. META-DEBATE A. Antis Against Taxpayer Suffrage B. Suffragists for Taxpayer Suffrage C. Antis for Taxpayer Suffrage D. Suffragists Against Taxpayer Suffrage IV. THE FEDERAL INCOME TAX CONCLUSION
A recent resurgence of "no taxation without representation" rhetoric has brought the motto to the forefront of American consciousness. The debate over voting rights continues for residents of Washington, D.C., where license plates bear the phrase "Taxation Without Representation." (1) Recent tax day protests employed Boston Tea Party symbolism, predictably sparking debate over the applicability of the "no taxation without representation" argument. (2) In a similar vein, a "Tea Party" was recently registered in Florida to compete against the more traditional political parties. (3)
These modern applications of the "no taxation without representation" argument inspire curiosity about past applications. How much impact has the argument historically had on broad social and political movements? This Note examines one such movement--American woman suffrage.
Given the continuing popularity of the "no taxation without representation" catchphrase, one might expect American woman suffragists to have pounced on every opportunity to deploy it. But although many suffragists occasionally mentioned taxation, it was certainly not a focal point of the movement as a whole. Extended discussion of taxation was relatively rare. Most "no taxation without representation" arguments were buried within laundry lists or reduced to simply those four words (or some simple variation) with no further explanation. And only a handful of suffragists leveraged "no taxation without representation" into tax resistance.
On the other hand, American suffragists had a long time to discuss and debate every aspect of their campaign--it was seventy-two years from the 1848 Seneca Falls convention to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Suffragists produced such a massive amount of printed material during this time that even a secondary argument resulted in a huge array of source material. Taxation was a minor aspect of the suffrage movement only relative to other arguments.
Consequently, it is somewhat surprising that taxation in the American woman suffrage movement has been treated at length in the literature only twice before: in Carolyn C. Jones's article Dollars and Selves: Women's Tax Criticism and Resistance in the 1870s, (4) and in a chapter of Linda K. Kerber's book No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship. (5) The former concentrates on the ways suffragists reformulated "dollars" arguments into "selves" arguments by metaphorically referring to pay inequity and household work, to take two examples, as "taxation." The latter is an insightful descriptive history of the taxation argument in the suffrage movement, using as its main example the Smith sisters' tax resistance. (6)
In this Note, I expand on this prior literature, focusing on why the taxation argument, which at first blush seems so promising, played such a (relatively) minor role in the American suffrage debate. (7) In addition to exploring this question, my research is important for several other reasons. First, the American woman suffrage movement provides a rich historical case study in the use of this rhetoric. The stories and arguments arising at the intersection of tax and woman suffrage are intelligent and entertaining, well worth study in their own right. These stories also provide a unique lens through which to view other important issues of the time, such as class, race, federalism, and, of course, tax and gender.
Finally, although I do not pretend to consider the entire corpus of woman suffrage primary material, I bring to light (in both the main text and the footnotes) numerous primary sources not discussed in prior scholarship. One major contribution of this Note is, in fact, the culling through of massive amounts of primary source material for taxation-based arguments and ideas. This Note, at its heart, organizes and analyzes the results of this effort. I therefore continue to fill the gap in the literature recognized by Jones and Kerber. (8)
The Note proceeds in four parts. In Part I, I examine real incidents of tax resistance. By exploring the limitations of the tax resistance strategy, I explain the scarcity of such incidents.
Given the limitations of tax resistance, suffragists instead devoted energy towards formulating an airtight taxation-based argument for woman suffrage. Because "antis" carefully fought back against every link in the logical chain of this argument, (9) suffragists were forced to develop complex defenses and responses. Part II analyzes this debate. Ultimately, I arrive at the same conclusion as many of the debaters: the taxation argument leads logically only to taxpayer suffrage, not universal suffrage.
In Part III, I examine the meta-debate in light of this weakness: Should suffragists use the "no taxation without representation" argument? Or does taxpayer suffrage halt progress towards universal suffrage? Neither suffragists nor antis could agree on where they should stand with regard to taxpayer suffrage. This uncertainty necessarily weakened even further the impact of the "no taxation without representation" argument.
Finally, in Part IV, I recognize the potential and actual changes wrought in the taxation debate and meta-debate by the advent of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913, which legitimized the federal income tax. Before this, most references to "taxes" are to state and local property taxes. I show how the emergence of the federal income tax significantly strengthened suffragists' taxation arguments, and posit that taxation therefore became a much more important argument in the last few years before suffrage was obtained. To my knowledge, this wrinkle has not yet been discussed in any other scholarship.
I. ACTION AND COMPLIANCE
Some suffragists took the "no taxation without representation" sentiment at face value: being denied the right to vote, they refused to pay their taxes. I use the term "tax resistance" to refer to such outright refusals to pay taxes owed. Suffrage leaders occasionally called for widespread tax resistance and often praised those who heeded the call. Despite this, tax resistance was a fairly unusual phenomenon. In this Part, I describe tax resistance efforts and explain the many factors that made real tax resistance uncommon.
A. Calls to Action
Based on the simple proposition that there should be no taxation without representation, (10) woman suffragists attempted to inspire women to engage in tax resistance. In 1852, two particularly strong calls to action came from Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone at the third National Woman's Rights Convention. A letter from Stanton emphasized the nobility of tax resistance while recognizing the "suffering" tax resisters were bound to face:
Should not all women, living in States where woman has a right to hold property, refuse to pay taxes, so long as she is unrepresented in the government of that State? Such a movement, if simultaneous, would no doubt produce a great deal of confusion, litigation and suffering, on the part of woman; but shall we fear to suffer for the maintenance of the same glorious principles, for which our fore-fathers fought, and bled, and died. Shall we deny the faith of the old revolutionary heroes ... by declaring in action, that taxation without representation is just? Ah! no; like the English Dissenters, and high-souled Quakers, of our own land, let us suffer our property to be seized and sold--but let us never pay another tax, until our existence as citizens, our civil and political rights, be fully recognized. (11)
Stone also emphasized the need to endure the severe hardships of tax resistance in order to achieve the suffragists' goals:
[I] urge upon woman, the duty of resisting taxation, so long as she is not represented. It may involve the loss of friends, as it surely will that of property. But let them all go: friends, house, garden-spot, all. The principle at issue requires the sacrifice. Resist; let the case be tried in the courts; be your own lawyers; base your cause on the admitted self-evident troth, that "taxation and representation are inseparable." One such resistance, by the agitation that would grow out of it, will do more to set this question right, than all the Conventions in the world.... ... [S]isters, the right of suffrage will be secured to us, when we ourselves are willing to incur the odium and loss of property, which resistance to this outrage on our rights will surely bring with it. (12)
Similar calls to action are scattered throughout the documented history of the movement, (13) although later statements usually did not point out the dangers of tax resistance with the force of these early examples, perhaps because these dangers were already known, or perhaps because of the dampening effect of such reminders.
The 1873 centennial of the Boston Tea Party provided a particularly meaningful opportunity to urge real tax resistance. At the New York Woman's Suffrage Society's celebration of the occasion, Lillie Devereux Blake urged women to refuse to pay their taxes, expressing a desire for an "anti-tax association in [New York] City which would guide them to this issue." (14) Indeed, local antitax leagues were springing up across the country, from San Francisco (15) to Chicago. (16)
These cries for action did not go entirely unheeded. There were several women who decided to flatly refuse their tax collectors' demands. Stone took her own advice in 1858, returning her unpaid tax bill to the tax collector of Orange, New Jersey. (17)
The most famous tax resisters were arguably the elderly Smith sisters from Glastonbury, Connecticut. Beginning in 1873 and continuing until Abby's death in 1878,(18) Julia and Abby Smith obstinately refused to pay their property taxes. Their age, (19) their intelligence, (20) and their relatively large tax debt made them particularly sympathetic characters. The official reaction to their resistance--a sale of their cows by public auction--made for a good story and added to their fame. The pair also had time to spare for self-promotion. They regularly entertained reporters, (21) and Julia gathered newspaper accounts of their saga in a "scrap book" that she published in 1877. (22) These numerous newspaper stories resulted in a constant stream of mail addressed to the sisters, (23) and their story even inspired the occasional poem. (24) Often compared to Revolutionary heroes, Julia and Abby were also likened to religious martyrs. (25)
Stephen and Abby Kelley Foster, Sarah E. Wall, and Dr. Anna Howard Shaw rounded out the ranks of famous tax resisters. The Fosters' resistance, also in the 1870s, resulted in the auction of their home. (26) Perhaps they were inspired by Sarah E. Wall, who, like the Fosters, was from Worcester, Massachusetts. Her tax resistance lasted for more than twenty-five years, (27) beginning in 1858. (28) In 1863, her efforts gave rise to the most direct judicial decision on the matter of women's tax resistance: the Massachusetts Supreme Court case Wheeler v. Wall. This decision squarely and succinctly denied that suffragist tax resisters had any legitimate legal claim to relief from taxation. (29) This decision did not dissuade Wall from continuing in her refusals to pay.
In 1915, at the age of 70, Dr. Anna Howard Shaw made the news with a tax resistance incident. Her "little yellow suffrage car" was taken for sale to cover her unpaid tax debts. (30) It is a striking reminder of the passage of time and progress of technology that the cows of the Smith sisters had become the automobile of Dr. Shaw. (31)
Only a handful of other tax resisters appear in the records of the movement: for example, Marietta Flagg, another suffragist from Worcester, Massachusetts; (32) Mrs. J.S. Weeden of Wisconsin; (33) Ellen Van Valkenburg of California; (34) Mary Harrington of New Hampshire; (35) Lou J.C. Daniels of Vermont; (36) "Mrs." Belle Squire of Illinois; (37) and an unnamed woman "in the habit of barricading herself in her house whenever the tax collector made his appearance." (38) Undoubtedly there were others. (39)
Despite these role models, tax resistance never blossomed into the large-scale, coordinated movement that Stanton and Stone originally envisioned. In this Subpart, I identify and analyze a number of factors that weakened the tax resistance strategy and made true tax resistance a rarity.
Contrary to other accounts of their efforts, the tax resisters discussed above were often unwilling to fully commit to the "suffering" and "sacrifices" predicted by Stanton and Stone. Figures like the Smith sisters and Dr. Shaw provided positive publicity for the suffrage movement, but a more committed effort might have resulted in even greater media impact. Furthermore, the failure of ordinary women to engage in tax resistance is unsurprising given the reluetanee of even the most celebrated American tax resisters to fully dedicate themselves to the strategy. (40)
The Smith sisters, despite their fame and their label as martyrs, were particularly hesitant to accept the full consequences of tax resistance. For example, they admitted that they were willing to pay twelve percent interest on their tax debt indefinitely, an arrangement that came to an end only when the Glastonbury tax collector insisted that they make good on the entire debt. (41) Being willing to pay the interest on taxes owed demonstrates a certain compliance and a partial recognition of the legitimacy of the underlying tax. This could have come across as taking advantage of a technical distinction rather than standing fully for a principle. One of the many remarkable things about the sisters, however, was how cleverly they could spin a story: they turned their earlier interest-paying arrangement into yet another grievance against the Glastonbury officials, asserting that they had not been properly warned of the change in policy. (42) Still, it is not clear what they would have done differently had they been warned; the incident is much better explained as an example of the sisters' reluctance to fully act on their principles.
Another unique example of half-hearted tax resistance comes from Lou J.C. Daniels. Beginning her resistance upon learning that "the Representative of her district had voted against the suffrage bill in the Legislature," she naturally ended it "[w]hen the town elected a Representative who supported woman suffrage." (43)
A more frequent indication of reluctance among tax resisters was their practice of buying back their own property when it was sold at auction. The Smith sisters arranged for their tenant to buy back their cows, and they used their own money when the cows were auctioned a second time. Again, they spun this in their favor, describing the disappointment of the men who had come to the auction with the unneighborly desire to buy the cows for less than a fair price. (44) Stephen Foster would routinely buy back the home he shared with Abby Kelley Foster, and the city, no doubt anticipating this, never evicted them. This frustrated the dramatic effect of newspaper headlines such as "Abby Kelley is Homeless" by proving them inaccurate. (45) Dr. Shaw's car, too, was purchased by friends and returned to her. (46) Like paying interest on tax debts, this meant that the suffragists' money was still funding their tyrannical government. The symbolism of their tax resistance remained largely intact, (47) but they lost much of their claim to martyrdom.
The Smith sisters further demonstrated their unwillingness to step into the role of martyrs after they were unable to carry out their plan to buy back a tract of land that was sold cheap for taxes. (48) Suddenly the game was not so fun--they realized that their protest might result in a large, irretrievable loss. Although they had never brought suit against the city for any of the other less tangible wrongs they had endured, the sisters launched a full-blown legal assault to get their land back. Again, this shows that even the most renowned American tax resisters were only willing to suffer so much--when the dust settled, they wanted the status quo, more or less. And the Smiths were, in the end, successful in this regard, winning their case (49) not on principle but on technicality. (50) They chose not to use the lawsuit as a platform to fight for their vote as well as for their land. Indeed, the report of the case that Julia Smith chose to publish in her book contains commentary that berates the opposing side for bringing up the suffrage question at all. (51)
This was not the only time that tax resisters resorted to legal intricacies to protect their private interests--Anna Howard Shaw did, too. She did not set out to be a tax resister, but rather tried to be, instead, a tax avoider. Upon closer inspection, her automobile ordeal was simply the victory of a determined Pennsylvania tax assessor. Only when she was forced to admit defeat did she accept her role as a tax resister.
Shaw was initially prepared to resist only the act of "mak[ing] out a detailed statement of all her 'personal property, mortgages, stocks, and bonds with minute details.'" (52) In refusing to fill out the form, she was following her own earlier suggestion that women "make their passive protest and decline to aid the Government in levying upon them by refusing to render an account of their property." (53) The tax assessor's response to Shaw's "passive protest" was to "assess her for $30,000"--an absurdly large amount, according to Shaw. (54) The tax assessor was calling her bluff. Would she fold by ending her protest as planned and pay the excessive property tax? Or would she go all in, and resist? Reluctant to take either approach, Shaw tried to concoct a third: walk away from the table and avoid the tax.
First she tried to lower the assessment, obviously more willing, at this point, to "aid the Government ... [by] render[ing] an account of [her] property." When this failed, she immediately tried to avoid paying personal property taxes in Pennsylvania altogether by "chang[ing] her legal address to New York." (55) Shaw was trying to take advantage of the fact that the property tax laws of the time "permit[ted] personal property to follow the taxpayer's legal residence." (56) This oft-exploited rule, cited by contemporaneous experts as one of the major problems with the tax system of the time, (57) provided an easy way to avoid personal property taxes in a particular locale. (58) Notice that a change in legal residence for tax purposes to a state that had already granted woman suffrage could have been a clever way for women to live by the "no taxation without representation" principle. (59) Shaw did not have this in mind, however; New York did not grant woman …
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Publication information: Article title: "No Taxation without Representation" in the American Woman Suffrage Movement. Contributors: Tutt, Juliana - Author. Journal title: Stanford Law Review. Volume: 62. Issue: 5 Publication date: May 2010. Page number: 1473+. © 1999 Stanford Law School. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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