Turbulent Times: History of the First Amendment and Dissent During American Wars (MSON) (MSON) (History/Social Science Elective; US)

Fall; Grades 11–12
Prerequisite: Accelerated US History or equivalent suggested
Taught by: Prairie School

Benjamin Franklin once said that “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither safety nor liberty.” An oft-cited quotation by champions of American civil liberties protections and anti-war activists, Franklin’s passage illustrates how dilemmas regarding the balance between free speech and national security have tested and often perplexed American politicians, courts, and citizens since the inception of the country. During wars, the government reserves the right to draft men into the armed services, confiscate the property of individual citizens, set prices, ration food and fuel, and drastically increase taxes. Viewing them through the prism of the nation’s existential crisis, most citizens accept these compromises on their liberty. Ben Franklin, however, lived in a premodern world devoid of anthrax, drones, Internet communication, and long-range nuclear weapons. The founding fathers could not have foreseen the awesome power nor puissant pressure of commanders-in-chief who, obligated to protect the lives of millions, regularly criticize dissenters. And thus, lines must be drawn between civil liberties and national security—but where?

Through reading, discussing, and critically analyzing primary and secondary sources from each American war (from the Revolutionary War through the War on Terror), students will emerge with a better understanding of American wars, their dissenters, and the meaning of freedom under its most intense stress tests.


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