At my request Loren Gatch kindly provided the text and images of his article on "Thoreau Money", which was published in the January/February 2014 issue of Paper Money, the official journal of the Society of Paper Money Collectors (SPMC). Thanks! Here's an excerpt.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Transcendentalist author and poet, spent a night in jail in July 1846 for refusing to pay poll taxes because of his opposition to the Mexican-American War and to the practice of slavery.
Given Thoreau’s teachings it was thus appropriate that, more than a century later, the distribution of “Thoreau Money” became a feature of antiwar protests during the 1960s. Produced by the Committee for Non-Violent Action (CNVA) and the War Resisters’ League (WRL), Thoreau Money served as a handbill that explained the theory and practice of war tax resistance.
While Thoreau’s refusal remains perhaps the most well-known American example, war tax resistance dates back before the founding of the American republic. Traditionally undertaken by historical peace churches such as the Quakers, after World War II such tax resistance spread in response to the expansion of a peacetime military establishment and the growth of nuclear arsenals. Groups like the WRL (founded 1923) and the Peacemakers (1948) gave organized expression to pacifism from a secular perspective, including stratagems for avoiding the taxes that paid for war.
As America’s involvement in Vietnam deepened, tax resistance became more organized. A national 10% charge on telephone bills, passed in 1966 to help fund the Vietnam conflict, became a frequent target of war tax resisters, as was the federal income tax itself, to which was added a 10% surcharge in 1968. Tax resisters were counseled to withhold small amounts of federal tax, so as to force the IRS to spend disproportionate amounts in enforcement and collection.
Another common tactic of tax resisters was the declaration of multiple fictitious dependents on their W-4s to reduce their tax bills. In one extreme case, a Quaker couple in North Carolina, Lyle and Sue Snider, claimed 3 billion dependents—about the population of the world at the time! Other protesters went so far as to minimize their incomes through voluntary poverty so as to deprive the government of income.
Two versions of the “War Tax Protest” Thoreau Money exist, both denominated as “1 Peace Yen”. The first, earlier version, was issued by the CNVA, CNVA-West, and the New England CNVA, and features a crude frontal portrait of Thoreau, with red overtones in the scrollwork. Probably derived from the 1856 daguerreotype by Henry David Maxham, it is an unflattering depiction (as Nathaniel Hawthorne once described Thoreau, "he is ugly as sin, long-nosed, queer-mouthed”).
The second, later version uses a facsimile of Samuel Worcester Rouse’s kinder, 1854 crayon portrait of Thoreau as beardless, younger man. Jointly issued by the CNVA and the WRL, this second note features blue overtones in the scrollwork, and dates from after the 1968 merger of the two organizations. Both notes were designed by Mark Morris, an artist associated with CNVA-West, and printed at Grindstone Press in New London, CT. Grindstone Press produced a variety of anti-war ephemera, ranging from handbills and pamphlets to posters, such as Morris’ “Hang up on War” print promoting the CNVA’s campaign against the 10% telephone tax.
I had bought a pair of the notes on a whim from Bolerium Books in San Francisco, which specializes in left-wing and other radical literature. I looked into their origins, and the story of "Thoreau Money" just fell into place.
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