Dissent in Wars

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Dissent in Wars

Russell F. Weigley, and

David S. Patterson

"These men are not being supported as we were supported in World War I." So the Vietnam War appeared in contrast to the crusade of 19171918 to a speaker addressing a reunion of the First Infantry Division in 1969 and reported by the military journalist Ward Just. American military men who fought in Vietnam widely believed that wartime dissent of unprecedented intensity uniquely denied them the support of their compatriots at home. Wartime dissent might never have become a lengthy subject had not the Vietnam War raised the issue to unaccustomed prominence and created a wider debate, ranging well beyond disgruntled military men, over the extent to which the threat of dissent against subsequent use of force might cripple American foreign policy. General Maxwell D. Taylor, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ambassador to South Vietnam, wrote in Swords and Plowshares (1972): "As I see the lesson, it is that our leaders of the future are faced with a dilemma which raises questions as to the continued feasibility of a limited war option for future presidents faced with a compelling need to use military force in support of a national interest."

Yet the intensity of dissent during the Vietnam War was not so unprecedented as many critics of homefront attitudes thought. An exceptionally perspicacious military man of an earlier generation, General George C. Marshall, the army chief of staff during World War II, said that the strategic planning for that supposedly popular war had to seek success in short order, because "a democracy cannot fight a Seven Years' War." More than those who saw uniqueness in the dissent that marked the Vietnam War, Marshall probably approached the heart of the issue of dissent in any democratic, and particularly American, war: because democratic public opinion is impatient, popular support of a war depends on the war not dragging on indefinitely. If not simply a short war, to minimize dissent a war should be distinguished by continuous visible progress toward achieving popularly understood and approved goals.

In a 1973 study of dissent during the Korean and Vietnam wars, as reflected in public opinion polls, John E. Mueller similarly concluded in more precise fashion that dissent against war tends to increase with the duration of the war, or more specifically, that it can be expressed by the logarithm of the duration of the war and the casualties of the war. Thus, Mueller found that despite the apparent evidence afforded by the uncommon noisiness of dissent against the Vietnam War, the Korean War received less public support than the Vietnam Waruntil the latter conflict surpassed it both in duration and in its toll of American casualties.

To be sure, Mueller did not have available to him public opinion polls concerning earlier prolonged wars, and both the Korean and the Vietnam wars differed from many earlier American wars in that they failed to produce results generally recognizable as victory for the American armed forces and the defeat of the enemy. The historian may suspect that if polls such as those cited by Mueller had been taken during the American Civil War, they would show that the war was more popular in the North in November 1864, at the time of Abraham Lincoln's second election to the presidency, than earlier in the same year, in May 1864, when Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant was just beginning his slugging campaign in the Wilderness and at Spotsylvaniadespite the accumulation of weary months and horrifying casualties in the interval. The intervening months brought morale-building military victories, and especially the triumphs of Mobile Bay, Atlanta, and Cedar Creek not long before the presidential election. Korea and Vietnam never afforded any such satisfying battlefield successes. The historian therefore would suggest that the effects of time and casualties on the popularity of a war might be at least partially offset by military victories, and especially by military progress toward some readily comprehended goalfor example, the destruction of the enemy armed forces pursued by Grant and his lieutenants in 1864.

Still, while in the end dissent in the North during the American Civil War was largely drowned out by a tide of military victories, until nearly the end the prosecution of the Civil War was nevertheless plagued by more internal opposition than was the later waging of World War II. It was easier to rally public support for retaliation against the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor and for suppression of Adolf Hitler than to bind domestic political dissidents to the Union with the bayonet. The roots of opposition to a war can be found in the duration of the war, its casualties, and its measure of military success. But one cannot ignore the commonsense view that the war's political aims and circumstances have much to do with its popularity. Of course, the generation and expression of dissent even in wars of politically controversial origin are handicapped, because wars tend to appear as national crises so dramatically overpowering that they inherently require the whole nation to rally around the national standard.

Nevertheless, Mueller's analyses of recent wars and national emergencies tend to indicate and the longer historical view would seem to confirmthat such a rally-round-the-flag phenomenon is fleeting. Even in the midst of wars, "politics as usual" soon tends to resume. The resumption of habitual political battles can then readily fuel dissent, especially because in the development of American partisan politics it has required a considerable accumulation of experience, and a considerable sophistication for partisan rivals of wartime administrations and congresses to learn to disentangle opposition to the incumbent political party from opposition to the war, and the process of disentanglement has never been complete. And as common sense would have it, the more politically controversial the origins of the war, the greater is likely to be the intensity of wartime dissent, especially if the political controversy involves conscientious opposition to the morality of the war, as in the Mexican and Vietnam wars.

Moreover, once initial patriotic enthusiasm subsides, the dissent fueled by partisan rivalries and the circumstances of the origins of a war can draw upon a still more fundamental source of restiveness, the traditional American hostility toward the armed forces and a traditional ambivalence, at the least, toward the very institution of war.

Once these persistent sources of dissent against war interact in wartime with the hardships, inconveniences, and simple nuisances inevitably attendant upon any war, and with the more or less severe political controversies of any war, the rise and expression of dissent become so likely, and in most wars have become troublesome enough, that wartime administrations have been perennially tempted to suppress dissent by the use of law and armed force, diluting the constitutional guarantees of free expression of dissent on the plea that the national crisis demands it. Supporters of wars have also been tempted to use informal extralegal means to eliminate dissent. Thus the record of such temptation and of consequent actions against dissent forms part of the history of dissent in American wars, although on the whole the ability of administrations and populace to resist these temptations is fairly heartening to believers in the American constitutional system.


Despite the quotation from General Marshall, the United States did manage to fight and survive a "Seven Years' War" at the very outset of national existence, the revolutionary war. It is possible that the revolutionary war was exceptional because it was so directly and unequivocally a war for national survival, with independence itself at stake. Modern nationalism is such a strong force that its survival may transcend ordinary rules concerning the depth of democratic support for war. It is at least as likely, however, that the safe emergence of the United States from the Revolution was largely a matter of fortunate historical accident.

Among British and Loyalist leaders there had developed a widespread impression by 1780, which lasted until October 1781, that for them the War of the American Revolution was almost won. In the southern colonies, 1780 witnessed the virtual completion of the reconquest of Georgia and South Carolina, and the following year Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis pursued the remnant of the revolutionary forces in the area all the way northward across North Carolina and planted the royal standard in that province. The remaining resistance south of Virginia, although highly and perplexingly troublesome, was mainly of the irregular sort that later generations would call guerrilla warfare. Farther north, at British headquarters in New York, General Henry Clinton received consistently optimistic reports from his agents throughout the Middle Colonies. Typical was the conclusion of the prominent New Yorker William Smith that "the Rebels were a minority who governed by the army and that this [the revolutionary army] reduced, the Loyalists would overturn the usurpation." If it was the sole remaining prop supporting rebellion, the rebel army itself appeared well on the way to collapse. There had been a mutiny in the Massachusetts line as early as the beginning of 1780; in the Connecticut line in May 1780; in the large and critical Pennsylvania line at the beginning of 1781; and in the New Jersey line in response to the Pennsylvania mutiny. During this period General George Washington, the commander of the Continental army, repeatedly warned Congress that his army was on the verge of dissolutionfrom loss of supplies, pay, popular support, and internal morale. If Washington felt obliged to put on a show of pessimism in order to try to wring maximum assistance from a frugal Congress, accounts from other sources inside his army agreed with those of Clinton's informers that his exaggerations were small and that his army might collapse under the slightest British pressure, or simply expire. "Why need I run into the detail," Washington wrote John Laurens on 9 April 1781, "when it may be declared in a word that we are at the end of our tether, and that now or never our deliverance must come."

Deliverance, of course, came. Clinton did not muster the energy or the self-confidence to pursue his opportunities with even the slightest vigor; he was thinking instead of how to woo back to British allegiance the faltering revolutionaries without in the process antagonizing Loyalists who were crying for condign punishment of the rebels as a reward for their own loyaltythat is, the very flagging of the Revolution paradoxically contributed to Clinton's perplexities and thus to his irresolution. Meanwhile, Lord Cornwallis, the other principal British military commander in America and Clinton's nominal subordinate in the South, lapsed into the opposite kind of bad generalshiprecklessness. Cornwallis presented the revolutionary army with the opportunity to join forces with the French navy in a manner that entrapped him at Yorktown in October 1781. Although Cornwallis's blunders were egregious, Washington and his French allies were able to capitalize upon them on account of a most remarkable run of good fortune in weather and timing, to say nothing of what was to prove the only major French naval success against a British fleet in the whole second Hundred Years' War. The surrender of Cornwallis has no suggestion of inevitability about it but appears rather as historical accident. The United Kingdom in 1781 was no democracy, but the British government was far enough from a despotism and representative enough that it was having its own troubles in sustaining the war. The setback at Yorktown proved sufficient to push Britain into the hands of the peacemakers. Until Yorktown the American revolutionary cause had been in a much more perilous condition than the British cause, and except for the supreme good fortune of Yorktown it was the American cause that had been more likely to founder.

Dissent in the revolutionary war is otherwise difficult to measure on any scale similar to those applicable to later wars, when there was an established American government from which to dissent and more or less established channels of dissent. During the Revolution the prosecutors of the war on the side of the United States were themselves the dissenters from the accustomed American order of politics. The war was more confusedly an American civil war than the later war of 18611865, in which the antagonists were more clearly marked off from each other by geographical lines. Just as the revolutionary war was both a war for independence from Great Britain and a revolution seeking social change at home, so both thrusts of the war provoked their own sets of dissenters, with some who otherwise supported independence, for example, dropping out when the struggle set a course toward social revolution. In Pennsylvania, where the revolutionary movement most drastically changed the previous political order with the radically democratic Constitution of 1776, the sense of the revolutionaries that they must use the force of their new system of laws to compel the laggard to fall into their procession became most desperate, and it precipitated the most troublesome controversy in any province over test oaths of loyalty to the new regime. But everywhere, the revolutionary governments felt obliged to curb dissent with legal penalties of confiscation of property and political ostracism. Furthermore, the patterns of dissent were not easily predictable; loyalty oaths excited most controversy in Pennsylvania, where the Revolution became most radical, but dissent against the Revolution took its most ambitious military formand apart from the incursions of the British army required the nearest approximation of full-blown military campaigns to repress itin the Carolinas, where the movement toward independence changed little in the previous social and political order. The sources of dissent and its manifestations were at least as varied as the motives that separately guided each colony into statehood.


After the American Revolution, dissent in the next war presents a special case; the war did not last long enough, or amount to enough as a military operation accompanied by casualties, for the effects of duration to have much play, but in its origins the war was perhaps the most politically controversial in the history of the country. It was the Quasi-War with France of 17971800. With the American political system still in process of formation, and partisan political opposition still widely regarded as illegitimate, it was hardly more a war against France, however, than a war conducted by the Federalists, who controlled the executive branch and Congress, against the Jeffersonian Republican opposition. French depredations against American maritime commerce and the XYZ Affair precipitated naval conflict with the French. Yet the causes of the war never ran deep enough to generate even a brief initial enthusiasmdespite the XYZ Affairin more than a few localities. Moreover, the Federalists used the war to push through Congress authorizations of substantial increases in the army, although President John Adams remarked that as for an enemy army for this force to fight, "At present there is no more prospect of seeing a French army here than there is in Heaven." Stephen G. Kurtz's conclusion is that the new army, whose officers were carefully screened to assure their Federalist partisanship, was to be the tangible instrument for suppressing Jeffersonianisma political army to cow the opposition. Against this threat to the antimilitary tradition and against the Quasi-War that nourished the threat, dissent became so sharp that Kurtz also concludes that fear and resentment of the political army ranked with the notorious Alien and Sedition Acts as a cause of disaffection from the Federalists and thus of the Republican "revolution" in the election of 1800.

Historians can perceive a deeper stream of causation leading to the War of 1812 than to the Quasi-War. In 1812 there was a fuller, more widespread patriotic spirit generated by the conviction that longstanding British refusal to grant the United States the rights of independent nationhood at sea represented a threat to the very independence of the Republic. Nevertheless, to the Federalists, now reduced to the role of opposition, the War of 1812 appeared as much a partisan war conceived for the political benefit of the rival party and for the ruination of themselves as the Quasi-War had seemed to the Republicans. By 1812 the Federalist Party had become a sectional party; except for enclaves of strength in the Carolinas, Philadelphia, and New York City, it was a New England party, and its interests and those of New England had come to seem indistinguishable. For commercial New England, the War of 1812 was the hideous culmination of a perverse Republican policy of countering British and French depredations against maritime commerce by terminating American overseas commerce altogether. For New England, no cause of the old revolution had loomed larger than the Boston Port Act; now the Republican strangulation, not just of Boston's but of all New England's commerce, naturally suggested a Boston Port Act much magnified. Thus, if the Boston Port Act had offered just cause for withdrawing from the British Empire despite all the benefits and ties of loyalty that the empire represented, then some New England Federalists saw Republican restrictions upon commerce as cause for seceding from the American Union. Republican trade restrictions and the ensuing war seemed all the more perverse to the Federalists because unlike the Republicans, the Federalists saw Great Britain as the defender of all people's rights against a revolutionary France whose excesses had descended into Napoleonic tyranny, while the Republicans responded to both French and British maritime depredations with an increasingly anti-British policy leading at last to a war whose only beneficiary was likely to be Napoleon.

The vote of the New England members of the House of Representatives, except for frontier Vermont, on the war resolution of 4 June 1812, was nineteen against war, nine for, and three not votingsurely a clear alignment against the war, although not nearly so one-sided as some accounts might suggest. Connecticut and Massachusetts soon rejected federal calls for their militia, and Rhode Island and New Hampshire supplied only a handful of militiamen for federal service in 1812. Federalist Governor Caleb Strong of Massachusetts proclaimed a fast day to mourn a war "against the nation from which we are descended," and New England Federalist leaders generally made no secret of their displeasure with the war. Nevertheless, New England's passive dissent threatened to turn into active resistance to the Republican administration only when the badly conceived war proved to be badly fought as well. Then twenty-six New England Federalists met in late 1814 at the Hartford Convention, "to protest," in the words of James M. Banner, Jr., "against the inept Republican management of the war with Great Britain and the whole system of Republican administration since Jefferson's election to force the federal government to provide defensive help."

Early in the conflict, New England profited from it. Hoping to encourage New England's disaffection, Great Britain at first did not apply its naval blockade of the United States to New England. In the spring of 1814, however, with Napoleon defeated and Great Britain free to devote major military attentions to the American war, the British decided that making New England bear some of the brunt of the conflict would be a more productive encouragement to dissent. On 31 May 1814 the blockade was extended to the whole United States coast. Worse, British invasion of New England followed. In July an expedition from Halifax, Nova Scotia, took Eastport in the District of Maine; by early September, Lieutenant General John Sherbrooke had entered the Penobscot, taken possession of the whole Maine coast east of that river, and claimed the coast as far as New Brunswick. Towns around Cape Cod were raided, and under British guns Nantucket declared its neutrality. What brought the Hartford Convention movement to a head, according to established scholarship, was the inability of the government in Washington to provide respectable defense against these British attacks. The Federalist state governments and the Republican federal government still quarreled over who was to control the militia, the New England states insisting that in the crisis they must retain command of their militia for their own defense but that the federal government should pay the costs of defense. When early in 1815 Congress authorized compensation of state forces by the federal government, it met what Banner calls the Federalists' "central demand"; Harrison Gray Otis, perhaps the most influential Massachusetts Federalist, thought that passage of such an act earlier would have forestalled the Hartford Convention altogether.

This issue of defense was certainly more central to the Hartford Convention than the plots of secession that have sometimes been charged against the convention. The convention was engineered by the moderate leadership of the New England Federalist Party, of whom Otis was one example and George Cabot, the president of the convention, another, in order to press for effective action for defense and against Republican mismanagement. At the same time New England Federalists kept the political initiative in their section in their own handsthose of pragmatic politiciansand out of the hands of moralists, often led by the clergy, who increasingly couched their opposition to the Republicans in absolutist moral terms and were in fact likely to move toward extreme action, even including disruption of the Union. A convention of party leaders was an affair the pragmatists could control, and they did, confining the Hartford Convention to resolutions on behalf of federal support for state self-defense and proposals for constitutional amendments to pare the power of the Republican dynasty in Washington. This outcome fulfilled George Cabot's prediction that he could tell exactly what the convention would produce, namely, "a great pamphlet."

A delegation including Otis carried the Hartford resolutions to Washington, leaving Boston just after they learned of Andrew Jackson's victory at the Battle of New Orleans and arriving in the capital just in time for the celebrations of the Treaty of Ghent that ended the war in February 1815. Holding the convention and passing its resolutions were probably necessary to divert the New England extremists and maintain, for the time being, a viable Federalist Party in New England. But enough secessionist overtones were imputed to the Hartford Convention that Federalism was forever damned elsewhere for disloyalty in time of war.


The conventional wisdom surrounding what happened at the Hartford Convention consequently came to be that failure to support a war effort is likely to mean the death of a political party. Thus, in 18461848, when the Whig Party found itself opposed to the Mexican War, the party pragmatists argued that although they might challenge the policy of going to war, they must not fail to vote for funds and supplies to support the army that was fighting it. A rival faction of Conscience Whigs nevertheless took the logical and principled position that if the war was wrong, supporting the fighting of it was also wrong, and that therefore opposition must be thoroughgoing at whatever risk to party fortunes. The resulting divisions within the Whig Party very nearly produced the fatal effect that the pragmatists hoped to avoid.

During the Mexican War the sources of Whig dissent were partially the same as those of Federalist dissent during the War of 1812. In both instances, New England was the stronghold of dissent, although opposition spread more widely from 1846 to 1848. In both instances, the grievances of New England against the administration in Washington included the administration's policies of westward territorial expansion, which implied a permanent diminution of New England's political power. In the Mexican War, of course, westward territorial expansion was immediately at issue. In both instances, fear of the diminution of New England's power sprang not only from direct political interests but from distaste for the whole southern and western economic and cultural system that the dissidents saw represented in the administration in Washington and in the administration's war. During the Mexican War such distaste for southern and western values was reinforced by the rise to prominence of the slavery issue, which had been merely a cloud on the horizonalthough already perceptibleduring the War of 1812. In August 1846 the Wilmot Proviso tied the slavery issue inextricably to the issues of the Mexican War by proposing to forbid slavery in any territory to be acquired from Mexico. In both instances, opposition to the war could draw upon and be reinforced by the self-conscious Christianity of New England tradition. New England dissent from the War of 1812 had in fact led to the founding of peace societies, which later helped mobilize opposition to the Mexican War.

In the 1840s the Christian antiwar tradition was readily mobilized against a conflict even more iniquitous than the War of 1812, in that the Mexican War could well be regardedand is still regarded by some historiansas an act of aggression by the strong United States against weak Mexico. The mobilization of this Christian antiwar tradition in its New England centers, at a time when New England happened also to be experiencing its first great literary renaissance, gave an unprecedented literary aspect to dissent against the Mexican War, as illustrated by James Russell Lowell's The Bigelow Papers (1848) and Henry David Thoreau's essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849).

For all that, organized dissent against the Mexican War never attained a climax as notable, albeit ambiguous, as the Hartford Convention. The military campaigns of the war proved to be short and unvaryingly successful, which in turn proved an insurmountable handicap to effective dissent. Military success in fact diverted the pragmatic, political Whigs from the issue of whether to vote supplies to the more expedient issue of how to capitalize on the military fame of the victorious generals, Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, who chanced also to be Whigs.

Nevertheless, opposition to the Mexican War tended to grow more intense the longer the war lasted. When the conflict began in May 1846, only two members of the Senate and fourteen members of the House of Representatives voted against the bill, declaring that war existed "by the act of the Republic of Mexico." Congress authorized the president to call volunteers and appropriated $10 million for the conduct of the war. By the time the Thirtieth Congress assembled for its first session in December 1847, however, to be greeted by President James K. Polk's message that no peace had yet been obtained and there was no immediate prospect of one, Congress appeared much less ready to vote for more men and money, and certainly the Whigs were more determined to pin upon Polk and the Democrats responsibility for a war begun, as they interpreted it, not by Mexico but by American aggression. Furthermore, the Whigs had captured at least nominal control of the House, although their own divisions made their election of Robert C. Winthrop of Massachusetts as Speaker a very near thing, because the most dedicated Conscience Whigs refused to support Winthrop as too willing to sustain the war. The House then defeated a resolution declaring the war just and necessary. Opposition to slavery inevitably still influenced much of the opposition to the war, but even a southern Whig, Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, could say, "The principle of waging war against a neighboring people to compel them to sell their country is not only dishonorable, but disgraceful and infamous." Playing upon the fact that hostilities had begun when Mexican troops attacked Taylor's forces after they had crossed south of the Nueces River, which Mexico claimed as the southern boundary of Texas, Representative Abraham Lincoln of Illinois introduced his "spot" resolutions calling on the president to say candidly whether the spot where the war began was Mexican or American soil.

Some powerful Democrats, too, had grown outspokenly criticalthe elderly Albert Gallatin, who called it a war of subjugation; Thomas Hart Benton; even John C. Calhoun, who feared the war was becoming one for the conquest of central Mexico, which would bring into the Union a racially inferior people incapable of free government. Fortunately for the president, in the midst of congressional debate there arrived the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), negotiated in Mexico by Nicholas P. Trist, which ended the war with the annexation of Texas confirmed and California and New Mexico added to the United States, in exchange for a payment of $15 million and the assumption by the United States of American claims against Mexico. Although Polk had earlier repudiated Trist as his negotiator, and although some Democrats thought Trist's terms too generous toward Mexico, Polk submitted the treaty for ratification lest the increasingly noisy dissent prove able to paralyze him and make a good treaty henceforth impossible. Under public pressure to end the war as swiftly as could be done, the Senate ratified the treaty.

The opposition Whigs became the immediate political beneficiaries of discontent with the war. Some Conscience Whigs split off from the party to join with various northern Democratic factions disgruntled over the pro-Southern tendencies of all Polk's policies and to form the Free-Soil Party for the election of 1848; but this third party hurt the Democrats more than the Whigs. Choosing Zachary Taylor as their presidential nominee, the Whigs carried the White House. The expedient course of the party pragmatists in supporting war measures if not the war itself apparently had accomplished far more than merely warding off the fate of the Federalists. But the Whig success of 1848 was deceptive. Wartime strains upon the relations between Conscience Whigs and pragmatists had so weakened the party that it could not survive another bout with the slavery issue. The slavery crisis of 1850 broke open the cracks imposed on the party structure by the war and destroyed the party.


The foregoing events obviously threw into question the conventional wisdom derived from the War of 1812 about what opposition to both war measures and war alike would do to an opposition party. Discarding the expediential course of the Whigs in the Mexican War, then, most of the Democratic Party leadership in the role of opposition to the new Republican Party during the Civil War chose to revert to a relatively uncomplicated kind of dissent. In general, its opposition to the Republican administration of Lincoln and to the Republican Congress in their conduct of the war was not disentangled from opposition to the war itself.

Democratic policy might have been different if the great Democratic paladin of the Middle West, Stephen A. Douglas, had not died almost at the outset, on 3 June 1861. Douglas had said that "The shortest way to peace is the most stupendous and unanimous preparation for war." But it would have been difficult for Douglas to hold his party to such a policy. The style of American politics at mid-nineteenth century was one of rough-and-tumble conflict, with the business of the opposition regarded as straightforward opposition to virtually everything the party in power stood for. In this context the maneuverings of the Whigs during the Mexican War could more readily be perceived as having been too subtle and devious by far. Furthermore, the war at hand was a civil war, and the Democratic Party and politicians of the North had long been the comrades and allies of the leaders of the Confederacy, against which the federal government was now contending. It was too much to expect a prompt, wholehearted embrace of old political enemies in common cause against old friends. This matter was especially crucial; historical studies of the Copperhead dissent that was to develop have attempted to tie it to various economic and social interestsassuming, for example, that poor agriculturalists might have objected to the business alliances of the Republicans. But the one consistent gauge of any district's tendency toward Copperheadism seems to have been the Southern ties of segments of its population.

Aggravating the latter dissent, and displeasing others who initially supported the war, as hostilities continued Republican policy came to include emancipation of the slaves. Therefore the issues of race and slavery again became intermingled with dissent in war, and the Democrats became the voice for all of white America's deep fears of racial equality, toward which Republican war policies could be interpreted as tending.

Finally, American parties, although diverse coalitions, were by no means without ideology. The ideology of the Democratic Party was well summed up in its favorite wartime watchword, "The Union as it was, the Constitution as it is." This maxim rightly implied that the methods taken by the Lincoln administration to prosecute the warcentralizing methods threatening to transform the old loose federation of states into a consolidated nationseemed to many Democrats so subversive of a proper Union and the true Constitution that a victory for Lincoln's Union would be scarcely more appetizing than the independence of the Confederacy.

The Democratic position was so close to a plague-on-both-your-houses attitude that it is not surprising that under the tensions of civil war, Republicans were likely to suspect nearly the whole Democratic leadership of Copperheadism. Furthermore, after Douglas's death the core of the Democratic membership in the House, thirty-six Representatives, subscribed to a pact of party unity conceived and drawn by Representative Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio, who was candidly an obstructionist. After the summer of 1861, the Democratic congressional delegations offered much more nagging of the administration and parliamentary foot-dragging than willingness to sustain the war. Most Democratic leaders would have protested sincerely that they were not disloyal to the Unionthe old Union. Much recent scholarship has been at pains to deny that even the leaders of the Copperhead faction among the Democrats were disloyal to the Union. But the insistence of these Peace Democrats that the only Union worth preserving was the old noncentralized Union makes this a distinction of limited practical application.

By the fall elections of 1862, the prolonged war and the disappointingly few victoriesnone in the crucial eastern theaterwere reflected in the Democratic gains in the congressional and state elections. By that time too, the Emancipation Proclamation added abolition to the Union war aims and aggravated discontent with Lincoln's leadership. In the State of New York the Democrats elected Horatio Seymour to the governorship. During his campaign Seymour had called emancipation "a proposal for the butchery of women and children, scenes of lust and rapine, and of arson and murder." As governor he employed a states' rights rhetoric reminiscent of Jefferson Davis, and his scornful opposition to conscription contributed to the New York City draft riots of July 1863. In the Midwest the Republican governors of Indiana and Illinois believed that the newly elected Democratic majorities in their legislatures were in league with an empire of secret societies planning a coup d'état to ensure the victory of the Confederacy. The governors collected evidence that Indiana alone had 125,000 members enrolled in antiwar secret societies and that in Illinois 300 secret lodges met every Tuesday night. The Confederate government believed these and similar reports and sent agents to cooperate with the secret societies. Thus can a fratricidal war generate hysteria, because the threat of the secret societies was a chimera. No substantial danger ever emerged from their alleged plotting. The Confederate agents who made contact with them found the Copperhead malcontents unwilling to take risks or action, and no coup d'état ever had a chance of success because the overwhelming bulk of Northern sentimentincluding that of the rank-and-file Democrats who continued to serve in or send their sons and brothers into the Union armies remained determined to restore the Union by war, war-weariness notwithstanding.

This fact proved fatal to the Democratic Party's immediate antiwar policies and highly injurious to the party for many years to come. By the presidential election of 1864, the Democratic Party formed its ranks for the campaign around the principles that while the Union ought to be restored, Lincoln's centralizing war was the wrong way to restore it, and that in addition to being wrong the war was a practical failure. The Democratic platform of 1864 called for a cessation of hostilities "to the end that at the earliest possible moment peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States." The assumption that peace could come first and be followed by restoration of the Union was one that was not supported in any of the attitudes of the Confederate leaders. Furthermore, to adopt the assumption would imply that all the sacrifices accepted thus far to seek reunion through war had been needless. Northern voters were not willing to concede that they had sustained so large an error so long, and at so high a price. In late August, Lincoln himself believed that war-weariness would defeat his bid for reelection, but the best remedy for war-weariness, a succession of military victories, intervened. On 5 November the electorate chose Lincoln for a second term by a margin of 55 percent, a respectable victory by the standards of American politics.

The Confederacy had its own problems of war-weariness and dissent. There were many contributing factors, but above all, Southern support for the war and for the Confederacy crumbled away as the South lost the battles. In contrast, Northern support for the war solidified itself as the North at last won battle after battle. For partisan politics the consequence of this latter fact was that on 25 February 1865 Harper's Weekly could without much exaggeration proclaim: "We are at the end of parties." The Democratic Party had so identified itself with the idea of the war as a failure as well as a wrong that the Union victory left the party appearing impossibly myopic. So much had the Democratic leadership identified itself with opposition to the Civil War that during the war large numbers of War Democrats had felt obliged to join the Republican Party. So much had the Republican Party identified itself with the Union and the war that victory in the war represented such a complete vindication of the party that the memory of the war would go far to assure Republican supremacy in Northern politics for a generation. Heeding the implied warning, in no subsequent war has a major party been willing to risk joining its fortunes with those of dissent.


In the small wars between 1865 and 1917, dissent would not have been likely to assume proportions highly troublesome for the administrations waging the wars even without such an object lesson. The wars with the Indians had become too remote from the interests of most voters, especially because they could be fought by a small professional army with a large enrollment of immigrants. Any given uprising and campaign was too brief to allow dissent to accumulate, with intervals of peace allaying such public concern as it developed. An Indian rights movement did generate growing support among eastern philanthropists, intellectuals, and some religious denominations, but never on a scale to seriously slow down the military conquest of the Plains tribes. The constraints both upon the army and upon the government's Indian policy, causing occasional spasms of congressional or executive peacemaking efforts, were more largely those of fiscal economy than of philanthropic concern.

Similarly, the war with Spain was brief enough and inexpensive enough in casualties that it was over before the customary initial patriotic enthusiasm had dissipated. Criticisms of the war effort came afterward and concerned the conduct of the war more than the war itself. The Filipino insurrection, the name most often applied to the Filipino-American War (18991902), which followed from the consequences of the Spanish-American War, was more unpleasant in every sense. It raised up anew the moral outcry against American expansionism at the expense of weaker peoples, which had agitated the opponents of the Mexican War. Suppressing the insurrection was a process prolonged enough (two and one-half years for the main insurrection on Luzon alone) and costly enough in casualties that it gave play to two of the principal wellsprings of dissent in war. Furthermore, the fighting involved guerrilla warfare in a difficult tropical climate, a type of combat that the European-style American army, attuned to European-style regularized war, has consistently found distasteful since its first major exposure to it in the Seminole Wars of 18161818 and 18351842. This distaste has also been shared by the society that supports the army. The strains imposed upon the army's patience by such irregular warfare in turn provoked acts of terrorism and atrocities against the Filipinos that still further exacerbated the moral dissent at home.

Nevertheless, dissent against the suppression of the Filipino insurrection never became a major political force. The outcry against this war, like the more general anti-imperialist movement of which it was a part, was the Indian rights movement writ somewhat larger. It was a movement centering in the eastern, or at least urban, aristocratic, and upper-middle-class intellectual and literary communities, with only occasional outposts in larger constituencies, such as Samuel Gompers in the labor movement; but it had no mass support. The inclusion of distinguished literary and academic figures gave it a high visibility, disproportionate to its strength. In the later era of public opinion polls, the evidence was to suggestand more impressionistic evidence suggests it was already truethat except during a largescale war touching numerous lives, foreign policy tends to be too remote from the concerns of most citizens and voters (again resembling the later Indian wars) for the "foreign policy public" to be very large. The opponents of imperialism and of the war in the Philippines were in this light the representatives of a schism within the elite segment of the population concerned with foreign policy that had propelled the nation into the Spanish-American War and overseas expansionism in the first place. The misgivings within that elite were severe enough to bring American territorial expansion overseas to an abrupt halt, with the elite foreign policy public in general soon reverting to its more traditional opposition to that kind of expansionism. Meanwhile, although the opposition party (still the Democrats) flirted with anti-imperialism, the party pursued at most an ambivalent course and after its Civil War experience did not again embrace outright dissent against the war. Dissent remained anything but a mass movement. Although it seemed prolonged at the time, the suppression of the major part of the Filipino insurrection within three years made the affair brief by contrast with the later Vietnam War, with the forces involved and the American casualties also much smaller.


The unhappy experience of the Democratic Party during the Civil War was surely not the only cause of the reluctance of major parties to embrace dissent in subsequent wars. The discipline and cohesion that modern industrial societies impose upon their populations, in contrast to less-centralized and more loosely organized agricultural societies, had already helped maintain the united front of the North during the Civil War, and that discipline of industrialism had grown immensely stronger by the time of the great world wars of the twentieth century. In World War I, the unity of the populace of every major power in support of nationalist war and patient endurance of the populace through prolonged war confounded the expectations of numerous prophets who had forecast that modern wars would be so costly that they could last only a few months. By World War II the public discipline of the great powers had become even more impressive. Democratic America certainly was no exception to this pattern; if anything, it was the democracies that displayed the greatest social cohesion. In both world wars, dissent in the United States was confined to minuscule fringe groups, mainly of socialists, radical leftists, and pacifists, and conscription focused far more attention upon the conscientious objector than it had done in the Civil War. This change occurred not only because the government and the public demonstrated increasing sensitivity to the demands of the pacifist conscience, but also because the conscientious objector was much more nearly alone as a dissenter than he had been in 18611865.

Before the entrance of the United States into World War I on 6 April 1917, it is true, there had been significant dissent over the course in foreign policy that proved to be leading to war, most conspicuous among the protesters being the Progressive elements of President Woodrow Wilson's own governing coalition. Although after the war the intractable realities of international politics were to cause among this coalition a speedy disillusionment with support for the war, nevertheless from Wilson's war message onward throughout the war itself, all but a small fraction of this group were enthralled by the president's promise that the fight was for a reformation of the whole world, and they joined ranks behind the war effort. Not surprisingly, however, the considerable dissent that had surrounded Wilson's foreign policy before the war contributed to an expectation that there would be more dissent during the war than actually materialized. This expectation in turn contributed to passage of stringent espionage and sedition acts seeking among other things to suppress any utterances that might discourage recruiting or the united prosecution of the war. These acts were enforced not only by an enlarged body of federal investigative agents but also by the federally sponsored American Protective League of private citizens. Abetted thus by what amounted to vigilantes, attacks upon civil liberties and particularly upon free speech became absurdly disproportionate to a mere trickle of dissent. No cases involving wartime suppression of dissent reached the Supreme Court until after the war. Then Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes's characterization of Abrams v. United States (1919) as involving merely a silly leaflet by an unknown man came close to what is likely to be the historian's view of all the targets of the espionage laws; but in Abrams, Holmes spoke for the minority of the court, and he himself had seen "a clear and present danger" in the earlier and not much different Schenck case (1919).

A greater sophistication and tolerance marked the government's attitude toward dissent in World War IIalways excepting the relocation of more than 100,000 Japanese from the Pacific Coast. Tolerance could well be afforded. Although American entry into World War II was also preceded by much debate over the nation's course in foreign policy, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor assured that from the beginning of direct American participation there would be still less dissent than there had been in 19171918. Although such a leading Republican spokesman as Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio suspected Franklin D. Roosevelt of exploiting the war emergency to fix the changes of the New Deal permanently upon American institutions, he and most other Republicans permitted themselves only the most cautious criticism of the conduct of the war, which they carefully distinguished from criticism of the war itself. "Every problem," said Taft, "must be approached in a different spirit from that existing in time of peace, and Congress cannot assume to run the war"a far cry from the attitudes even of members of Congress of Lincoln's own party during the Civil War, let alone the opposition. In World War II as in World War I, a certain amount of trouble did develop between the government and the labor movement, over labor's threats to strike to ensure itself a due share of war prosperity; but this friction can hardly be said to have involved dissent over the war. In World War II, national unity survived even though the American participation lasted nearly four years and was by American standards costly in casualties, unlike the American participation in World War I. The most evident explanation for this national unity was the nature of the enemy and of the circumstances with which the war began. But the historian seeking the sources of unity should also keep in mind that once the initial defeats were overcome, it would be hard to find a long war marked by so consistent a record of military success as favored America and surely helped sustain American morale in World War II.


One of the meanings of the worldwide restlessness that marked the 1960s may well be that the notable social discipline characteristic of the populations of industrialized countries in the first century of the Industrial Age was breaking down. If so, a fundamental shift in social organization may underlie the contrast between the unity with which the United States fought the two world wars and the reversion to major dissent and internal conflict in the Korean and Vietnam wars. But more immediate explanations for the contrast readily present themselves. The most frequently voiced explanation is that the world wars fitted much better than the more recent wars the traditional American image of the nature of war. From the colonists' first struggles with the Indians, in which each side fought for the very survival of its culture, this argument goes, Americans came to regard wars as total struggles for absolute victory or defeat. The very aversion to war and the military that was so much a part of American tradition implied that when the nation went to war, it must be under the most extraordinary circumstances, and that so immoral an instrument must be employed only against such moral enormities as demanded absolute destruction. The American Civil War reinforced these preconceptions as the North fought for and achieved complete victory over the Confederacy. The argument concludes that after such a history, Americans could well sustain their unity against the Axis Powers during World War II, but they could not readily accept a limited war such as the Korean War, in which negotiations with the enemy to bargain for objectives far short of his destruction accompanied the very fighting of the war.

Allowing for some oversimplificationnot every American war had been fought for the enemy's destruction, as witness the conflicts of 18461848 and 1898such an explanation captures much of the American attitude toward war and goes far to account for the frustrations of the Korean War. Dissent against the Korean War also was much encouraged by a peculiarly uneasy political atmosphere troubling the United States in 1950 even before the war began. World War II had produced not a satisfactory peace but a Cold War with communism and the Soviet Union, in which the United States government held out the prospect of no more triumphant an outcome than containment. So low an expectation was itself a drastic departure from popular expectations of what America might accomplish in the world. Moreover, from 1945 to 1950 the containment policy did not even produce a satisfactory restriction of communism. China, with all its historic attractions to the American imagination, fell to the communists. Then there broke out the prolonged, costly, and militarily stalemated war in remote Korea, a war which itself could be perceived as springing from the mistakes of Harry S. Truman, whose Democratic administration had allowed China to be "lost" and had then supposedly invited communist attack on South Korea by excluding that country from America's publicly proclaimed Pacific defense perimeter.

During the Korean War the opposition party, the Republicans, did not revert to the risks of outright partisan opposition, although they came close to that in such statements as Senator Taft's denunciation of the war as "an unnecessary war begun by President Truman without the slightest authority from Congress or the people." Here Taft touched also on another source of public dissatisfaction in the post-1945 limited wars, the unwillingness of presidents for various reasons to ask Congress to declare war. In such puzzling circumstances of undeclared war for limited but not clearly defined objects, it was not surprising that Republican objections came to focus on the theme that the war should either be fought to win or be terminated. This theme linked the Republicans with General Douglas MacArthur, the Far East commander whom President Truman felt obliged to relieve because of his insubordinate public calls for extension of the war in pursuit of "War's very object victory."

The upshot of MacArthur's activities was the dramatic Truman-MacArthur crisis; but given the anomalies of the Korean War in terms of the American tradition of war, Korea would have provoked much the same partisan and popular discontent even if there had been nothing like that particular eruption. The concept of limited war was difficult for the sponsoring administration itself to master. The theorizing that was to make limited war a familiar conception at least to foreign policy and strategy intellectuals during the next decade still lay in the future. The Truman administration kept the Korean War limited not out of a sophisticated understanding of the conception but largely because of a misapprehension, namely that the war was a communist feint to divert American attention in preparation for a major Soviet offensive in Europe, and that, accordingly, American military resources must remain as much as possible concentrated in Europe and the United States. After China entered the war and destroyed the possibility of using the war to reunite all of Korea, the Truman administration lost its own enthusiasm for prosecuting the war, such as it had been able to summon up, and the administration became so eager for peace that it spared the enemy most military pressure as soon as it announced a disposition to negotiate. In these circumstances the negotiations dragged on inconclusively until the inauguration of a new government in Washington. With the very sponsors of the war so vague about its nature and objectives, so unskillful in its management, and so lacking in conviction that it was worth fighting, it is little wonder that public discontent with the prolonged bloodletting and the absence of clear military success made the Democrats extremely vulnerable in the elections of 1952. The electorate responded to Republican criticism of every aspect of the conduct of the war, and especially to the Republican candidate General Dwight D. Eisenhower's promise that somehow he would end it. With the help of the East-West thaw that followed the fortuitous death of Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, President Eisenhower did end the war.

Dissent in the Vietnam War seemed to be still deeper and more widespread. Dissent certainly became a more conspicuous feature of the public scene, expressing itself in mass protest marches, demonstrations, and displays of civil disobedience. Public opinion polls indicate, however, that opposition to the Vietnam War grew stronger than opposition to the Korean War only after the Vietnam War had surpassed the Korean War in duration and in American casualties. The conspicuous public displays of dissent reflected not so much a greater opposition to the war in Vietnam than the war in Korea, but rather a shift in liberal opinion. Except for the extreme left wing, liberals had usually supported the Korean War as part of the staunch anticommunism that tended to mark their reaction to Stalinist Russia. By the 1960s, a less intransigent Soviet Union, the disruption of virtually all appearances of a monolithic international communism, and a rethinking of Cold War postulates in a more relaxed international atmosphere than that of the Truman years made liberals much less willing to support another war against a small Asian communist state than they had been in 19501953, especially when the Asian regime being supported by the United States was a distasteful blend of dictatorship and chaos. The conspicuousness of dissent against the Vietnam War was largely a product of the defection of many of the liberals from the foreign policy coalition of the establishment, because this group was an especially articulate one, in direct line of descent from the literary and academic dissenters against suppression of the Filipino insurrection. The conspicuousness of dissent against the Vietnam War was also much enhanced by employment of the methods of dramatizing dissent that liberals had learned from association with the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Measured against the apparent volume and the new tactics of dissent, the tolerance of the government for controversy displayed an advance over World War I, despite conspiracy trials directed against dissenters and the illegal methods of attempting to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the so-called Pentagon Papers to the press.

The liberal defection during the Vietnam War from the coalition that had supported the Truman administration during the Korean War also reinforced the moralistic quality that dissent from the Vietnam War shared with dissent during the Mexican War and the Filipino insurrection. The liberal protest against the Vietnam War was another moral protest against an allegedly aggressive onslaught by the great and powerful United States against a weak and ill-armed adversary that was said to be seeking only the self-determination that America's own Declaration of Independence championed. Like dissenters during the Mexican War and the Filipino insurrection, liberal protesters against the Vietnam War charged that the war was betraying the highest ideals of the United States itself. Some of the more horrifying military expressions of modern technology, such as defoliation techniques and napalm, combined with an indiscriminate use of aerial and artillery bombardment by the American forces in Vietnam, gave special intensity to this moral protest.

Yet public dissent against the Vietnam War was not primarily moralistic. The conspicuous character of left-wing protest demonstrations against the war gave a misleading impression of the degree and the nature of the unpopularity of the war as compared with the Korean War. The left-wing protesters, especially the young among them, through the very tactics that made their protests conspicuous, antagonized moderate and conservative citizens. At any rate, the larger public discontentincluding that discontent that most directly contributed to the electoral defeat of the original Democratic sponsors of the war and the triumph of their Republican opponents in 1968, much on the model of 1952was not a moralistic dissent. It was again an expediential discontent that the issues of the war were puzzling in contrast to the great crusades of the world wars and that the Vietnam War was not being won.


A major consequence of the U.S. military failure in the Indochina wars was the Vietnam syndromethe anti-interventionist consensus in Congress and among the American public against sustained U.S. troop commitments in foreign crises. Unpleasant memories of the Vietnam debacle seemed to constrain American political leaders in the final quarter of the twentieth century from embarking on wars far away that might result in large numbers of U.S. casualties and still not bring quick victory.

The first two U.S. military undertakings in this period were short and occurred closer to the continental United States. Combined U.S.Caribbean military forces landed on the island of Grenada in late October 1983 to protect lives and end the political chaos following a violent leftist takeover of the country. The "rescue mission," as President Ronald Reagan called it, quickly restored order and had mostly withdrawn by the end of the year. In December 1989 the U.S. Army decisively intervened in Panama to oust a dictator, curtail the drug traffic, and restore stability. Because both military actions were brief and successful, dissent was minimal.

Then dramatic political changes in the Soviet Union (including the collapse of the Soviet Union itself in 1991) and its European satellite states brought the end of the Cold War. The anticommunist rationale that had helped to justify U.S. military involvement in Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere disappeared. Conflict nonetheless persisted in the international system, and the United States, now the lone superpower, found itself confronted in the last decade of the twentieth century with a series of regional, religious, and ethnic controversies abroad. Although seemingly remote from immediate U.S. interests, America's leaders felt strong responsibility to play a prominent role in these conflicts, including the prospect of military intervention.

Of the several U.S. military interventions in the 1990s, dissent against U.S. involvement in the Gulf War was the strongest. Following the invasion and takeover of neighboring Kuwait by the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his forces in the summer of 1990, George H. W. Bush's administration and the United Nations condemned the annexation and imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. When the strategy of economic strangulation failed to dislodge Hussein from Kuwait, the Bush administration mobilized a broad multinational coalition in the United Nations, which authorized military action to expel Iraq from Kuwait if its forces had not withdrawn from that country by mid-January 1991. The well-orchestrated gradual escalation of diplomatic and economic pressure on Hussein allowed time for extensive debate in the United States over the merits of prospective military involvement.

Public divisions on the Gulf War were mainly ideological, with opponents, many of whom were already committed to liberal and antiwar causes, forming coalitions composed mainly of student, religious, labor, African-American, and human rights groups. On college campuses, for example, students claimed that young people were being asked to risk their lives in a crisis for which there were no vital U.S. interests, and the war could result in the reimposition of the military draft. Referring to the U.S. interest in regaining ready access to the rich Kuwaiti oil fields, a popular slogan, especially among more radical opponents, was "No blood for oil." A smaller, but articulate opposition from the conservative right argued that the Gulf War did not directly involve U.S. interests and, objecting to the international coalition, believed the United States should pursue its national objectives unilaterally. Proponents of U.S. action meanwhile emphasized Hussein's naked aggression in Kuwait and stories of Iraqi atrocities to counter antiwar advocates' moral protest.

Following President Bush's request in early January 1991 for congressional authorization to use U.S. armed forces to force Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, Congress openly debated and then approved resolutions endorsing U.S. military action against Iraq. The votes were fairly close, 5247 in the Senate and 250183 in the House, with divisions along party, ideological, and regional lines. Even without a decisive mandate for military action, however, the war effort, once begun, received strong popular American support, ranging between 70 and 80 percent in various polls, even after the allies began heavy bombardments of Iraqi military targets, which resulted in many civilian casualties. Opinion polls also indicated that U.S. women on the whole were inclined to have somewhat stronger reservations than men about the need for bombing and a military solution. When the air strikes failed to dislodge Hussein from Kuwaiti territory, a U.S.-led coalition of ground forces launched a military assault, which took only four days to drive the disorganized and demoralized Iraqi forces from Kuwait and obtain Iraq's surrender.

The swiftness of the U.S. military successes along with the often lighter-than-anticipated U.S. casualties sustained American public support for the Gulf War. Subsequent U.S. military operations abroadin Somalia (19921994), Haiti (19941995), Bosnia (1995), and Kosovo (1999)were likewise short-lived and without heavy casualties. The political anarchy and famine in Somalia prompted UN intervention, including thousands of U.S. forces, to bring humanitarian aid, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and nation-building to the African state. Poorly conceived and executed, the UN effort failed to restore political order, and ambushes and raids on the occupying contingents by Somali warlords resulted in the deaths of many American troops. U.S. public opinion, previously apathetic, directed its anger at the disastrous UN policies. President William Jefferson Clinton decided to cut the nation's losses, and dissent dissipated with the withdrawal of U.S. and UN forces from Somalia by early 1994.

In Haiti, an army junta's overthrow of a constitutionally elected government headed by Jean Baptiste Aristide in 1991 resulted three years later in a UN Security Council resolution authorizing a U.S.-led multinational force to invade and restore Aristide to power. Drawing on the War Powers Act of 1973, the U.S. Senate passed a nonbinding resolution requiring congressional approval before invading Haiti, but Clinton, like previous recent presidents, denied the right of Congress to restrict the commander in chief. The intervention quickly achieved its short-term political objective of restoring Aristide and political order, although a U.S.UN peacekeeping presence continued in Haiti until 1997.

After UN forces and the major European nations failed to bring peace and stability to the ongoing political turmoil and fighting in the former Yugoslavia, President Clinton began to assume leadership of a U.S.European coalition in response to the escalating conflict in Bosnia. Beginning in 1994, NATO planes made sporadic air strikes on the Bosnian Serbs who had violated no-fly zones and attacked "safe-haven" cities and towns for UN forces and Muslim civilians. Further reports of ethnic cleansing by Serbs and their intransigence resulted in more intensive NATO air assaults on Serb positions, and Clinton officials urged Congress to approve the deployment of several thousand U.S. troops to the beleaguered region. Polls suggested an almost even split in American opinion on military intervention in Bosnia. The House of Representatives first narrowly rejected the proposal. Following the Dayton Peace Accords in November 1995, which offered a framework for peacekeeping in Bosnia, Congress approved the deployment of 60,000 U.S. troops to implement the accords, although only by a very narrow margin in the House. Because large proportions of the American public and Congress were ignorant of or confused by the complex ethnic rivalries and conflicts in the Balkans, they wavered during the 19941995 crisis. While they seemed opposed to foreign military intervention, they also wanted the president to respond to Serbian atrocities. Dissenters did not question the humanitarian needs to relieve the suffering in Bosnia, but argued that the nation's interests were not involved. In the end, the allied forces implementing the Dayton Accords in Bosnia had no U.S. combat casualties, and Clinton ultimately succeeded in announcing that U.S. troops would remain there indefinitely.

The public's deep ambivalence about involvement in the Balkans reemerged following Serbian forces' massacres of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo (1999). Although many Republicans and Democrats in Congress held principled positions in supporting or opposing Clinton's authorization of U.S. and NATO bombing of Yugoslav positions, the partisan bitterness resulting from the recent impeachment and trial of President Clinton made more Democrats inclined to back the president. The Republicans by contrast were more unified in opposition. The failure of an antiwar House resolution as well as another one, by a tie vote, endorsing the air war suggested the hesitation. Meanwhile, the Senate approved the air strikes but rejected consideration of sending ground troops to Kosovo. Finally, after repeated NATO air strikes, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic capitulated and withdrew Serbian forces from Kosovo, and Congress agreed to fund NATO troops to maintain peace and order in the area. Because the air war lasted only seventy-nine days and occurred without a single U.S. casualty, dissent in the war never escalated.

In summary, dissent in war is not a new phenomenon in American history, born during the Vietnam War. All American wars have provoked dissent. Dissent is implicit in historic American attitudes toward war itself and is nourished when war becomes prolonged, costly in casualties, and indecisive. Because the American electorate has always shown only a limited patience for war, those troubled by dissent are mistaken when they interpret it as a new constraint upon the use of military force in American foreign policy. The constraint has been present from the beginning of American history.


Alexander, Thomas B., and Richard E. Baringer. The Anatomy of the Confederate Congress: A Study of the Influences of Member Characteristics on Legislative Voting Behavior, 18611865. Nashville, 1972. Approaches the subject indirectly but provides as satisfactory an index to dissent in the Confederacy as can be found.

Banner, James M., Jr. To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 17891815. New York, 1970. Despite its very local emphasis, the best study of New England dissent in the War of 1812.

Bauer, K. Jack. The Mexican War, 18461848. New York, 1974. This full-scale study of the Mexican War is based on primary sources, and includes a good brief treatment of partisanship and dissent.

Bennis, Phyllis, and Michel Moushabeck, eds. Beyond the Storm: A Gulf Crisis Reader. Brooklyn, N.Y., 1991. A collection of articles by area specialists and journalists on the Gulf War, several of which are critical of and document opposition to U.S. policies in the region.

Blum, John Morton. V Was for Victory: Politics and American Culture During World War II. New York, 1976. The best survey of the American home front in World War II.

Brune, Lester H. America and the Iraqi Crisis, 19901992: Origins and Aftermath. Claremont, Calif., 1993.

. The United States and Post-Cold War Interventions: Bush and Clinton in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia, 19921998. Claremont, Calif., 1998. Both this and the previous entry provide useful surveys and contemporary analyses of U.S. foreign policy crises in the 1990s. They also contain extensive bibliographies of the monographs, articles, and memoirs dealing with these foreign policy issues of that decade.

Buzzanco, Robert. Masters of War: Military Dissent and Politics in the Vietnam Era. New York, 1996. A comprehensive work on opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War.

Calhoon, Robert McCluer. The Loyalists in Revolutionary America, 17601781. New York, 1973. Examines the Loyalists less in isolation and more in the whole context of the Revolution than do other works, therefore comes closest to treating the problem of Loyalism as a problem of dissent in war.

Curry, Richard O. "The Union As It Was: A Critique of Recent Interpretations of the 'Copperheads.'" Civil War History 13 (1967). An introduction to Civil War dissent by way of a survey of the relevant literature.

DeBenedetti, Charles, and Charles Chatfield. An American Ordeal: The Anti-War Movement of the Vietnam Era. Syracuse, N.Y., 1990. A comprehensive work on opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War.

DeConde, Alexander. The Quasi-War: The Politics and Diplomacy of the Undeclared War With France, 17971801. New York, 1966. Concerns a small war, but a formative one in shaping the limits and acceptability of dissent.

Jensen, Joan M. The Price of Vigilance. Chicago, 1968. A history of the American Protective League of World War I.

Just, Ward. Military Men. New York, 1970. Includes profiles of American soldiers during the Vietnam War and is useful for its portrayal of how the military perceived dissent.

Kurtz, Stephen G. The Presidency of John Adams: The Collapse of Federalism, 17951800. Philadelphia, 1957. Another study of the Quasi-War, with grim implications that the legitimacy of dissent in war might have failed to become an American tradition.

Kurtz, Stephen G., and James H. Hutson, eds. Essays on the American Revolution. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1973. Includes a number of the essays that touch on dissent. (John Shy's essay on the conflict as a "revolutionary war" especially has pertinent passages.)

Morison, Samuel Eliot, Frederick Merk, and Frank Freidel. Dissent in Three American Wars. Cambridge, Mass., 1970. In the perspective of the Vietnam War, Morison examines the War of 1812, Merk the Mexican War, and Freidel the Spanish-American War and imperialism.

Mueller, John E. War, Presidents and Public Opinion. New York, 1973. The most valuable effort to use public opinion polls to analyze the extent and nature of dissent in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Peterson, H. C., and Gilbert C. Fite. Opponents of War, 19171918. Madison, Wis., 1957. A standard work.

Polenberg, Richard. War and Society: The United States, 19411945. Philadelphia, 1972. Offers a good introduction to issues of dissent and personal liberty.

Rees, David. Korea: The Limited War. New York, 1964. Written from the perspective of a British journalist applied to dissent in what Americans saw as a new kind of war.

Schirmer, Daniel B. Republic or Empire: American Resistance to the Philippine War. Cambridge, 1972. The fullest study of dissent during the Filipino insurrection, despite a perhaps inordinate focus on Massachusetts.

Schroeder, John H. Mr. Polk's War: American Opposition and Dissent, 18461848. Madison, Wisc., 1973. Offers the most comprehensive study of Mexican War dissent.

Small, Melvin, and William D. Hoover, eds. Give Peace a Chance: Exploring the Vietnam Antiwar Movement. Essays from the Charles DeBenedetti Memorial Conference. Syracuse, N.Y., 1992. A comprehensive work on opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War.

See also Anti-Imperialism; Bipartisanship; Congressional Power; Elitism; Imperialism; Isolationism; Judiciary Power and Practice; Pacifism; Peace Movements; Presidential Power; Public Opinion; The Vietnam War .