Notable acts of tax resistance throughout history
As long as governments have been imposing taxes people have been conducting acts demonstrating their oppositions against them. The acts of resistance have ranged from century to century, from country to country, and from small, personal conflicts to the beginnings of revolutions.
Some tax protests saw success by defeating tax proposals or repealing tax laws, while others have drawn more violence and resistance from both citizens and law enforcement. Either way, taking a powerful stance against taxes still happens today.
Here are 19 notable expressions of resistance ranging from 1791–2017. We compiled our list of acts of tax resistance by consulting government websites and newspapers, and other media which chronicled the battles between taxpayers and government officials.
1791: Whiskey Rebellion
The Whiskey Rebellion started in 1791 during George Washington’s presidency. Farmers who used whiskey to barter goods and services were angered by the federal tax placed on distilled spirits. In 1802, after years of violent conflicts, the tax was repealed by Thomas Jefferson’s administration.
1773: Boston Tea Party
In 1173, the Sons of Liberty threw shipments of tea into the Boston Harbor because the British government wanted them to purchase tea from the East India Company. The British responded by closing the port of Boston and restricting the local government which led to further resistance that would become the American Revolution.
1846: Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau, the American philosopher, essayist, and abolitionist, wound up in prison for failing to pay taxes as a protest against the Mexican-American War in 1846. This imprisonment inspired his famous essay “On Civil Disobedience,” as well as The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, a play written by Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence in 1969.
1848: Karl Marx
Karl Marx, a German philosopher and economist famous for developing the theory of Communism, published an article in Cologne, France encouraging readers to resist paying taxes. He was accused of incitement to revolt, but eventually acquitted of the crime.
1850: Foreign Miners Tax
The Foreign Miners Tax of 1850, which stated that all miners working in California must pay a tax of $20 monthly, targeted Mexican and Chinese workers. The foreign miners protested and the tax was repealed in 1851. However, it was reenacted in 1852, and then updated to require a lower fee of $4 per month in 1853.
1898: Dog Tax War
In 1898, then British colony New Zealand, required all Māori natives to register their dogs and pay a yearly tax on those pets inciting conflict in the country. This ruling, along with other taxes and restrictions on pigeon hunting, were seen as discriminatory against the Māori, and inspired a rebel faction in Hokianga led by trader Hone Riiwi Toia to threaten war against the British settlers. But, when British troops were sent to stop the rebellion the Māori surrendered and the so-called Dog Tax War was over without a single casualty.
1898: The Hut Tax War in Sierra Leone
In 1898, the British government instituted a Hut Tax on individual property for the Temne and Mende chiefs in Sierra Leone who were growing tired of British interference in their territory. For the Mende chiefs this was the straw that broke the camel's back. Their protest resulted in the deaths of British officials involved in the tax.
1903: Americans in the Isle of Pines
A new U.S. tax bill enforcing tariffs on imports from foreign countries led to the seizure of a shipment of cigars from the Isle of Pines -- an island off the coast of Cuba. At the time, it was unclear whether the Isle of Pines fell under the jurisdiction of Cuba or the U.S. Despite the protests of hundreds of U.S. citizens and businesses residing on the Isle of Pines, the Supreme Court ruled that Cuba owned the island, and Americans had to pay.
1904: Income tax resistance in Tasmania
In the early 20th century, an income tax bill introduced in Tasmania was so egregious it completely ousted the local government and a new government formed in its place. However, to the anger of many Tasmanians, the new government proceeded to keep the tax bill in place and continued to demand its collection. Inevitably leading to further resistance at public meetings and protests.
1905: Sugar manufacturers in the Dominican Republic
Tensions arose on the island of Santo Domingo in December of 1905 when the local government declared that sugar plantation owners would not be allowed to ship out their sugar cane until they paid a tax on those shipments. The plantation owners, who had been promised that they would face no taxes for twenty years, protested the tax by halting production on their estates.2018 All rights reserved.