The history of the United States is full of examples depicting a cyclic pattern of dissent against authority. The U. S. is a revolutionary nation; in fact her very existence is founded on a revolution. More often than not, a revolution or change is followed by a counter revolution as the American people strive to create a balance between the prevailing socio-political and economic environment and the values that are entrenched in the definition of this nation.
In this essay, I analyze the American Revolution, the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement as examples of recurring dissent against authority in U. S. history. The American Revolution, also commonly referred to as the American war, remains one of the most significant events in the history of the United States since the nation may not be existent had it not taken place. The revolution began in the year 1763. At the time, the thirteen earliest members of the union were still colonies of the British Empire.
Mounting statesmanship saw dissent rising against the authority of the Parliament of Great Britain to govern them from England; and colonists began to perceive their lack of representation as a violation of their rights. Central to the uprising was the imposition of direct taxes to cover costs accrued as a result of the colonies being under British rule. By 1772, colonists began to form Committees of Correspondence to build momentum against British authority. As dissent increased, these committees became provincial congresses.
Royal officials were expelled prompting Britain to sent troops to enforce dissolution of local governments and enforce direct rule by royal officials. To counter this move, the colonies organized themselves into militias leading to the outbreak of full war in 1776. As the war progressed in favor of the colonies, representatives from each met in the Second Continental Congress and unanimously voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence which effectively rejected the monarch’s authority over its American colonies and established the United States of America.
The Declaration of Independence reserved unalienable rights and liberties for every American citizen, and it was in the quest for these rights that dissent to authority has become a recurrent theme in American history. On the backdrop of a history of slavery, racial diversity in the American society bore racial segregation. Laws discriminating African Americans were passed in many American states in contravention to the constitutional provision that all men were created equal.
African Americans could not vote or intermarry, live in the same neighborhoods or learn with whites, and this grew the dissent that culminated in the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement was predominantly led by African Americans and occurred between 1955 and 1968 with the objectives of opposing racial segregation, disenfranchisement, economic exploitation of minority groups and racially motivated violence. Laws allowing the above had been passed after white democrats had ascended to power; and African Americans alongside other minority groups like the Latinos and Asians not only dissented but rejected this regime.
Law courts including the Supreme Court upheld the so-called Jim Crow rules, and early attempts to achieve equality were met by massive resistance by groups which supported racial segregation and voter suppression. Leaders of the movement however soldiered on, replacing the ineffective litigation with mass action. African Americans and their sympathizers combined both direct action and non-violent resistance to form a strategy known as civil disobedience.
Forms o civil disobedience included boycotts, one of the most notable being the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama between 1955 and 1956, sit-ins and peaceful street marches, the Selma to Montgomery marches being some of the most influential. Dissent against racial inequality was not going down, and the government bowed down. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, outlawing any discrimination based on race, skin color, religion or origin in America. A year later in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed to restore voting rights and so was the Immigration and National Service Act.
The other major achievement was the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968which banned inequity in access to housing facilities. At the time the Civil Rights movement was coming to a conclusion, the cold war was peaking. In the endeavor to eliminate communist influence in world politics, the U. S. had, between 1965 and 1973, gotten itself in the longest war it had ever engaged in: the Vietnam War. Public dissent arose since a majority of the public did not see why the nation was in such a war. There was no indication that it would be won, and American troops were dying in the jungles of Vietnam.
Because of this dissent, the largest antiwar movement in the history of the United States was born. The government was essentially fighting a war fighting the war in Vietnam as well as war in the streets of America as millions of American citizens took to the streets in protest of their country’s involvement in a war that seemed to have no relevant to the well-being of the nation. Commentators have argued that the antiwar movement sprouted from the Free Speech Movement that inspired university student radicalism and later developed to represent the opinion of the public.
Even though the government under President Nixon refused to give up on Vietnam, the antiwar movement led to the formulation of a policy of de-escalation that saw a gradual withdrawal of U. S. troops from Vietnam. As history progresses, dissent against authority continues to be a dominant theme in America, even perceivable in voting patterns. History repeats itself; and it remains to be seen when the next cycle begins. References Carroll, B. E. (2003). American Masculinities: a Historical Encyclopedia. California: Sage.