Civil Disobedience

Civil Disobedience: An American Tradition

Lewis Perry
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    Civil Disobedience
    Book Description:

    The distinctive American tradition of civil disobedience stretches back to pre-Revolutionary War days and has served the purposes of determined protesters ever since. This stimulating book examines the causes that have inspired civil disobedience, the justifications used to defend it, disagreements among its practitioners, and the controversies it has aroused at every turn.

    Tracing the origins of the notion of civil disobedience to eighteenth-century evangelicalism and republicanism, Lewis Perry discusses how the tradition took shape in the actions of black and white abolitionists and antiwar protesters in the decades leading to the Civil War, then found new expression in post-Civil War campaigns for women's equality, temperance, and labor reform. Gaining new strength and clarity from explorations of Thoreau's essays and Gandhi's teachings, the tradition persisted through World War II, grew stronger during the decades of civil rights protest and antiwar struggles, and has been adopted more recently by anti-abortion groups, advocates of same-sex marriage, opponents of nuclear power, and many others. Perry clarifies some of the central implications of civil disobedience that have become blurred in recent times-nonviolence, respect for law, commitment to democratic processes-and throughout the book highlights the dilemmas faced by those who choose to violate laws in the name of a higher morality.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-20386-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 The Drama of Civil Disobedience
    (pp. 1-24)

    This book examines the practice, justification, and criticism of civil disobedience in the United States from its pre-revolutionary backgrounds to the present. A distinctive American tradition of civil disobedience originated in the eighteenth century, took shape in the antebellum decades, and persisted, and sometimes flourished, from that time forward. Although it has been most clearly discussed in the twentieth century, especially in the early 1970s, changing attitudes toward law and government may have blurred some of its once-central implications, such as nonviolence, respect for law, and commitment to democratic processes. At the same time, awareness of the tradition among activists...

  6. 2 A Heritage of Civilly Disobedient Acts
    (pp. 25-58)

    In a free verse dramatization of his trial for destroying Selective Service records in 1968, Father Philip Berrigan explained to his attorney that he was “in direct line with American democratic tradition …”

    From the Boston Tea Party

    through the abolitionist and anarchist movements

    through World War I and World War II

    and right on

    through the civil rights movement

    we have a rich tradition

    of civil disobedience.¹

    Others have also claimed that the American republic was founded in acts of civil disobedience, which are a fundamental part of our heritage. Such claims were not stated so clearly before the...

  7. 3 Slavery and Disobedience
    (pp. 59-93)

    Historians have only in recent decades begun to emphasize the importance of Indian removal to Jacksonian democracy and the social and economic changes that magnified southern prosperity and led eventually to civil war. Indian removal was broadly popular among supporters of Andrew Jackson, and the dispossession of Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks and Cherokees (and eventually, after costly battles, Seminoles) led to the expansion of plantation agriculture across the cotton South, the repression of lingering antislavery sentiments among whites, and a flourishing internal slave trade as human property was led westward into new fields and markets. One forced migration—one “trail of...

  8. 4 Conflicts of Law in the Age of Reform
    (pp. 94-125)

    These words by Henry David Thoreau, from the essay often called “Civil Disobedience,” is one of his many highly quotable dismissals of the notion that schools should teach and society should expect what Lincoln later called “reverence for the laws.”² Another of the best-known quotations showing Thoreau’s attitude toward law occurred, supposedly, when Ralph Waldo Emerson visited his fellow townsman during his night in jail and asked, as Howard Zinn has related the story, “ ‘What are you doing in there?’ [and] it was reported that Thoreau replied, ‘What are you doing out there?’ ” The awkwardly passive formulation may...

  9. 5 “Wild, Unaccountable Things”: Civil Disobedience and Woman Suffrage
    (pp. 126-156)

    Judge hunt—The Court must insist the prisoner has been tried according to the established forms of law.

    Miss anthony—Yes, your honor, but by forms of law all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, in favor of men, and against women; and hence, your honor’s ordered verdict of guilty, against a United States citizen for the exercise of “that citizen’s right to vote,” simply because that citizen was a woman and not a man. But, yesterday, the same man-made forms of law, declared it a crime punishable with $1,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment, for you,...

  10. 6 Beyond Submissiveness: From Temperance Crusade to Sit-Down Strikes
    (pp. 157-180)

    During the long decades of the struggle for women’s rights and woman suffrage, other movements took the practice of civil disobedience in new directions. Some, like the crusades against intemperance, could be regarded as repressive, though they usually emphasized the release of the human spirit from collective apathy and enslavement to vice. Others sought to liberate individuals by defying laws that restricted free expression and marital and reproductive freedom. Perhaps least familiar today are labor organizations that aimed to achieve and practice the greatest degree of personal liberty in mines, forests, and factories. The epigraphs to the chapter, taken from...

  11. 7 Adapting a Philosophy of Nonviolence
    (pp. 181-211)

    At the 1963 March on Washington, A. Philip Randolph introduced Martin Luther King, Jr., as “the moral leader of our nation, a great dedicated man, a philosopher of a nonviolent system of behavior, in seeking to bring about social change for the advancement of justice and freedom and human dignity.”¹ That reference to a philosophy or nonviolent system of behavior points us toward what might be called America’s Gandhian moment, beginning with the Montgomery bus boycott (1955–56), reaching its high-water mark in the sit-ins and freedom rides, and receiving continued expression in peace movements and agricultural workers’ marches and...

  12. 8 The Civil Rights Revolution
    (pp. 212-246)

    “What we know as ‘the Movement’ had its beginnings in the late 1950s,” wrote Julius Lester in a 1969 essay inLiberationmagazine. Lester, a 1960 Fisk University graduate who went on to a distinguished career as an activist, artist, and scholar in several fields, continued: “In Afroamerica the beginning was the 1956 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama in which a twenty-six-year-old minister, Martin Luther King, Jr. introduced nonviolent direct action as a means of attacking the problem of racial discrimination.” Perhaps it was the use of nonviolent action for that purpose that seemed unprecedented, or at least new, because,...

  13. 9 The Sixties and the Great Tradition of Social Protest
    (pp. 247-283)

    Two themes deserve attention as we broaden our look at civil disobedience in the 1960s. First, the example of the southern protesters and the northerners who joined them was contagious, especially on college campuses and among the clergy, in a culture increasingly criticized for rampant complacency. Second, intellectual concern about conformity and apathy was overshadowed soon enough by burgeoning fear of social disorder, and many public figures tried to set limits to permissible disobedience. These discordant views of civil resistance go to the heart of intellectual debate in that decade.

    Like many other student radicals, Tom Hayden, founder of the...

  14. 10 The Day of the Demonstrations Isn’t Over
    (pp. 284-314)

    Perhaps the most inaccurate generalization about civil disobedience in the late 1960s, and asserted by one of its most intelligent observers, was the political scientist Herbert J. Storing’s prediction that because of its irrelevance to contemporary problems, “the fashion in civil disobedience seems likely to die out as quickly as it burst into flame with the actions of the Montgomery bus boycotters and the words of Martin Luther King.”¹ Most observers today would call that prediction mistaken, though there exists a tendency to forget the bitter and violent conflicts of the era and regard the sit-ins, be-ins, teach-ins, bed-ins, and...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 315-382)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 383-407)