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Over the centuries, one of the most important tools available to protesting groups was literature. Some of the most famous protest literature in the world has its roots in American history. For example, some great American authors of protest literature include Thomas Paine, Thomas Nast, John C. Calhoun, and Martin Luther King. Through eloquent, sometimes subtle means, these authors became the spokesmen for their particular protest movements.
Thomas Paine was an English-born man who seemed to stir controversy wherever he traveled. Paines forceful yet eloquent prose made him a hero for the three great causes to which he devoted his life; the American Revolution, religious reform, and the natural rights of man. At the age of 37, Paine strove for the fabled shores of America, determined to forget his past. He made the acquaintance of Benjamin Franklin, and settled in Philadelphia. There, Paine was eventually hired into the profession of editor for the Pennsylvania Magazine. He published a series of minor essays, but his first important work was an essay written for the Pennsylvania Journal in which Paine openly denounced slavery. This was Paines first foray into the world of protest literature, and it clearly whet his appetite. Paine soon became fascinated with the ongoing hostility in Anglo-American relations, and, much to the dismay of his publisher, could not seem to think of anything but. Therefore, in late 1775, Paine had begun what was to become a 50-page Pamphlet known as Common Sense. In this work, Paine stated that:
Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a Government, which we might expect in a country without Government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise (Fast 6).
This very biting and controversial stance is what characterized Paines writing. He went on to dismiss the King as a fool, and stated that natural ability is not necessarily related to heredity. Paine argued that the colonies existed only for British profit, and that the colonies must unite quickly if they were ever to form a single nation. This latter argument was more than likely influenced by Franklins famous "Join or Die" cartoon. Finally, Paine argued that the only way to gain the rights desired by the colonists and help from outside powers was to claim total independence. In Paines own words, "Until an independence is declared, the continent will feel itself like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business...and is continually haunted with the thoughts of its necessity" (Coolidge 31).
While Paine was working on Common Sense, the war had changed theatres into New York. Paine felt it his duty to fight in the cause he wrote so valiantly for, and thus enlisted in a Pennsylvanian unit in August of 1776. After fighting at Fort Lee, New Jersey, Paines unit joined with General George Washingtons army in its retreat. Here, Paine gained a quiet respect for Washington, and began the first of thirteen papers that would become known as The American Crisis. Again, Paines eloquent prose struck the hearts of patriots and laymen alike, and earned him a large following. It is in the first of these Crisis papers that one of the most stunning lines in protest literature is written: "These are the times that try mens souls." (Coolidge 38). Paine signed the pamphlet "Common Sense", and this furthered his reputation. Washington was so impressed by this work that he ordered it read to the men to bolster morale just before the first major offensive of the war. Reinforced by the dramatic coup which Washington scored at Trenton, the first of the Crisis papers helped to inspire many thousands of men into joining the war effort.
The second Crisis paper was a great chance for Paine to launch a personal attack of George III, whom he deemed incompetent and unintelligent. His third paper was directed against the American Tories, and particularly the ... more
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Antiwar Movement In US
The antiwar movement against Vietnam in the US from 1965-1971 was the most
significant movement of its kind in the nation's history. The United States
first became directly involved in Vietnam in 1950 when President Harry Truman
started to underwrite the costs of France's war against the Viet Minh. Later,
the presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy increased the US's
political, economic, and military commitments steadily throughout the fifties
and early sixties in the Indochina region. Prominent senators had already begun
criticizing American involvement in Vietnam during the summer of1964, which led
to the mass antiwar movement that was to appear in the summer of 1965. This
antiwar movement had a great impact on policy and practically forced the US out
of Vietnam. Starting with teach-ins during the spring of 1965, the massive
antiwar efforts centered on the colleges, with the students playingleading
roles. These teach-ins were mass public demonstrations, usually held in the
spring and fall seasons. By 1968, protestersnumbered almost seven million with
more than half being white youths in the college. The teach-in movement was at
first, a gentle approach to the antiwar activity. Although, it faded when the
college students went home during the summer of 1965, other types of protest
that grew through 1971 soon replaced it. All of these movements captured the
attention of the White House, especially when 25,000 people marched on
Washington Avenue. And at times these movements attracted the interestof all the
big decision-makers and their advisors. The teach-ins began at the University of
Michigan on March 24, 1965, and spread to other campuses, including Wisconsin on
April 1. These protests at some of America's finest universities captured public
attention. The Demonstrations were one form of attempting to go beyond mere
words and research and reason, and to put direct pressure on those who were
conducting policy in apparent disdain for the will expressed by the voters.
Within the US government, some saw these teach-ins as an important development
that might slow down on further escalation in Vietnam. Although several hundred
colleges experienced teach-ins, most campuses were untouched by this
circumstance. Nevertheless, the teach-ins did concern the administration and
contributed to President Johnson's decision to present a major Vietnam address
at Johns Hopkins University on April 7, 1965. The address tried to respond to
the teach-ins campus protest activity. The Johns Hopkins speech was the first
major example of the impact of antiwar. Johnson was trying to stabilize public
opinion while the campuses were bothering the government. In 1965, the US
started strategically bombing parts of Northern Vietnam, catalyzing the antiwar
movement public opinion ofwhat was going on in Indochina. These bombings spawned
the antiwar movement and sustained it, especially as the North Vietnamese leader
Ho Chi Minh refused to listen to American demands. The antiwar movement would
have emerged alone by the bombings, and the growing cost of American lives
coming home in body bags only intensified public opposition to the war. This
movement against the Northern bombings, and domestic critics in general, played
a role in the decision to announce a bombing pause from May 12 to the 17, of
1965. Antiwar activists carried on through the pause with their own programs,
and the scattered teach-ins had become more of a problem for President Johnson
when their organizers joined in an unofficial group, the Inter-University
Committee for a Public Hearing on Vietnam. This new committee began planning a
nationwide teach-in to be conducted on television and radio, of which would be a
debate between protesters and administrators of the government. The antiwar
movement, through the national teach-in, contributed to the resignations of many
government officials, including the resignation of McGeorge Bundy inearly 1966.
This well-publicized debate made the antiwar effort more respectable. As
supporters of the war found themselves more popular, they were driven
increasingly to rely on equating their position with"support for our boys
in Vietnam.". The antiwar movement spread directly among the combat troops
in Vietnam, who began to wear peace symbols and flash peace signs and movement
salutes. Some units even organized their own demonstrations to link up with the
movement at home. For example, to join the November 1969 antiwarMobilization, a
unit boycotted its Thanksgiving Day dinner. One problem of the antiwar movement
was the difficulty of finding ways to move beyond protest and symbolic acts to
deeds that would actually impede the war. Unlike college students and other
civilians, the troops in Vietnam had no such problem. Individual acts of
rebellion, raging from desertion to killing officers who ordered
search-and-destroy missions, merged into ... more
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