A History of War Resistance in America

A History of War Resistance in America

A History of War Resistance in America

A History of War Resistance in America


There is a misguided notion that war resistance is a product of the late 20th and early 21st century-a reaction to misguided war policy over the past 50 years. That is far from the truth. Every American war has had its opponents. Indeed, peace activism peaked in the years between World War I and World War II, attracting an estimated 12 million Americans from all walks of life.


Battles over history—dry, old history—and whose history gets to be told can become
heated and emotional because the ways we behaved then say so much about the kind
of people, society, or nation we have become.

—Colin G. Calloway, historian

Farewell to treaties, now war must be our judge.

—Marcus Lucanus, on Caesar crossing the Rubicon, 49 B.C.

The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but the God of Israel is He that
giveth strength and power unto his people.

—Abigail Adams, 1775

The continued series of wars and the threats of war that form the background to much of American history have inevitably divided society in the United States into prowar and antiwar factions. Few subjects in U.S. history—with perhaps independence, slavery, and abortion excepted—have proven to be as polarizing of U.S. public opinion or as long-lasting as a nexus of public discourse. Religious pacifists, peace proponents, conscientious objectors, war resisters, anti-imperial isolationists, disarmament proponents, and global supernationalists have all expressed some form of antiwar sentiment at one time or another over the last two and a half centuries of American history.

Although most people alive in the early 21st century regard the Vietnam antiwar movement of the 1960s and 1970s as the pinnacle of war resistance in the United States, pacifists and war resisters have been present throughout the history of the nation. Among these have been religious pacifists during the French and Indian War (1754–1763); political moderates during the American Revolution (1775–1783); Francophile Republicans in the quasi-war with revolutionary France (1798–1800); Anglophile Federalists during the War of 1812; Transcendentalist . . .

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