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Citizens engage in the act of self-government at the annual March for Life
Tea Party activists march on the Capital Building

A Protest is a non-violent gathering of citizens meeting together and expressing themselves in a legitimate show of self-government. Protesting is mentioned in the Constitution as "the right of the people peaceably to assemble", and as such, protesting is a constitutional responsibility driven by moral imperatives. The Founding Fathers recognized the importance of protesting and promoted and participated in the practice often, most notably at "Tea Party" events such as the Boston Tea Party. Protests were also frequent around Boston's famous Liberty Tree.[1]

The media typically blur the distinctions between a protest and a mob riot.


Protest movements have had a long history in the United States. When a group of people feels they are being marginalized, sometimes they will gather in a show of numbers. Parades, rallies, and speeches are the usual forum, but sometimes protests transform into violent riots and hooliganism. One of the earliest and most famous protests in American history was the Boston Tea Party, a protest against British-imposed tax laws known as the Townshend Acts. After the colonists learned of Parliament's plan to impose a tea tax, signers of the Declaration of Independence Samuel Adams and Benjamin Rush promoted the gathering of like-minded citizens in protest against the landing of the tea. Rush wrote:

By the last accounts from Britain we are informed that vessels were freighted to bring over a quantity of tea taxed with a duty to raise a revenue from America. Should it be landed, it is to be feared it will find its way amongst us. Then farewell American Liberty! We are undone forever. All the images we can borrow from everything terrible in nature are too faint to describe the horror of our situation. But I rely too much upon that virtue which has hitherto distinguished my countrymen to cherish a thought that this will be the case. Let us with one heart and hand oppose the landing of it.[2]

Rush would then say that the tea represented something worse than death, "the seeds of Slavery".[3] After the American Revolution, protesting became enshrined in 1789 as one of five protections enumerated in the First Amendment. The full text is as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

After the conclusion of the American Revolution, protests did not cease to be distinctly American. Protesting wasn't just an act against the king. After the passage of the highly unpopular Alien and Sedition Acts, protests occurred across the country,[4] with some of the largest being seen in Kentucky, where the crowds were so large they filled the streets and the entire town square.[5]

In more recent American and world history, protests have become a favorite tactic of liberals and revolutionaries, which are usually riots and not protests. A frequent pattern is to announce a "peaceful" protest and then provoke the authorities into using a degree of force which appears excessive. This tactic worked well at Kent State, where after student rioting and an alleged sniper attack, members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed students, killing four and wounding nine others. In several cases, liberals and revolutionaries often used the term "protest" to refer to what would be better described as riots, and during at least the 1960s also mistook that for "free speech" and a demonstration of unpopularity for something, to the extent that several anti-war protestors assumed that North Vietnam having no protests meant that the North Vietnamese government was actually "popular" among the people of North Vietnam (when in reality, if the people attempted to speak out against the North Vietnam Communist regime, they would have been killed).

Since 1974, Pro-life activists have gathered every year at the National Mall to protest the unconstitutional "passage" of the "abortion law" Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, which is not a legislature. Every year the March for Life grows bigger.

In the early years of the Presidency of Barack Obama, conservative activists showed up in huge numbers to shut down D.C. for protests during the Tea Party Movement

See also

Further reading

  • Cummins, Joseph. Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests That History Forgot (2012)