Born September 7, 1928 in Taunton, Massachusetts, David R. Bassett has been active in pacifist movements, particularly conscientious objection to military taxation, for most of his life. After earning a bachelor's degree in social relations from Harvard College in 1949, Bassett pursued medical training at Tufts University, which he completed in 1953. A registered conscientious objector, Bassett participated in the Alternative Service program, providing health care in rural India from 1955 to 1957. Bassett's experiences in India fostered an interest in preventive medicine. Bassett returned to the United States to complete residency and fellowship training in Philadelphia, where he became a specialist in preventive cardiovascular disease. Bassett served as co-director and director of the Hawaii Cardiovascular Study at Queens Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, from 1963 to 1968, when he joined the Division of Hypertension at the University of Michigan Medical Center. Bassett retired from his position there as chief of the hyperlipidemia program in 1994.
Bassett, who was brought up in the Congregational Church, first began attending meetings of the Society of Friends while a student at Harvard. In 1950, after graduating, Bassett served with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Mexico. During his years in medical school, Bassett often worked with the AFSC weekend work camps in Boston, and later completed his alternative service in India under the auspices of the AFSC. In 1960, along with his wife, Miyoko Inouye, Bassett formally joined the strongly pacifist faith.
Bassett's convictions led him to become active in the anti-Vietnam War effort during his time in Hawaii. After moving to Ann Arbor, Bassett became increasingly involved in peace-related activities through the Ann Arbor Friends. The U.S. Peace Tax Fund Bill (originally the World Peace Tax Fund Bill), grew out of concern that registration with the government as a conscientious objector did not prevent Bassett's taxes from supporting an ever-growing defense budget. Bassett had already begun working for change on an individual level by deciding to withhold war taxes, but felt that the cause would be more effectively advanced through a legislative route. With the help of University of Michigan Law School Professor Joseph Sax and law student Michael Hall, Bassett drafted the peace tax fund bill. Another University of Michigan professor, Robert Lind of the School of Social Work, assisted by making contacts in the U.S. Congress, particularly members of the Black Caucus and other followers of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Representative Ronald Dellums, of California agreed to sponsor the bill, which was first introduced on tax day April 15, 1972. The bill was not introduced in the Senate until 1977, when Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon agreed to sponsor the initiative.
The National Council for a World Peace Tax Fund (NCWPTF), which began as a small group of supporters in the Ann Arbor area, became, by 1975, an organized campaign on a national level, with a full-time paid staff and offices in Washington D.C. Bassett, after serving for a year as the organization's first chairperson, was named honorary national chairperson in 1976. While other organizations protesting military taxation concentrated on tax resistance and other forms of civil disobedience, Bassett's group focused on a legislative solution to the problem. As stated in the Peace Tax Fund Bill that share of taxes which would ordinarily go to the defense budget could be diverted instead to a special fund if the taxpayer was a registered conscientious objector. Congress would use the fund to foster peace-related activities. In 1985, as part of changes made to the bill in an effort to improve its prospects, the name was changed to the U.S. Peace Tax Fund Bill, and the NCWPTF became the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund (NCPTF). Efforts to pass the legislation continue to the present time.