Re: "Pro democracy" movement

Julia Stein (
Fri, 21 Jun 1996 13:22:38 -0400

Dear Martin,

I apologize for misquoting you.

As Ted Morgan says, the '60s poltical movements had a democratic vision
which I think was directly inspired by the American Revolution. After the
Free Speech Movement sit-in in Dec. 1964, a perceptive reporter for the New
Yorker said that the people in the sit-in were the kids who studied U.S.
government and believed in the Declaration of Independence, the
Constitution, the Amendments etc. We really believed in it all. Twice I
heard the Declaration of Independence read at rallies at Sproul Hall at UC

I base my vision of the American Revolution in part on Merle Curti's The
Growth of American Thought which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1944. In Curti's
chapter, "Advance in Intellectual Democracy," he discusses two groups
active after the American Revolution: the conservatives who "thought
republicanism was fraught with the dangers of anarchy" and those he calls
"cultural democrats." He says that the cultural democrats argued that the
plain folk be given opportunities for education and culture "not only
because an educated public was an indispensable condition for the success
of the republican form of government, but because only through mass
enlightenment could the fruit of revolution be won" (130).

Among those he lists as cultural democrats are: the Universalist minister
the Reverand John Murray who argued that schools "should be put within the
reach of every citizen;" Colonel David Humpreys, Washington's aid-de-camp,
who wrote pro-democratic verses; Dr. Benjamin Rush who was "particularly
outspoken" champion of democratic intellectual life; Thomas Jefferson; the
Reverand Timothy Dwight who in 1783 opened a school for girls as well as
boys; Judith Murray who in 1790 published an essay "On the Equality of the
Sexes;" the Reverand Samuel Hopkins and Anthony Benezet who both argued for
abolition of slavery; William Manning, the Vermont farmer, and others. All
before 1800.

Martin, you say that Manning had little influence in his liftime. Curti
says the American Revolution didn't democratize American life but "did
focus attention on a cultural program" (147) which subsequent generations
tried to implement, particularly the reform generation of the 1840s and

Martin, I agree with you when you say that many groups supported public
education and libraries which got a great boost from "of all things,
greedy, wealthy industralists." But Curtis emphasizes that in the 1840s and
1850s the common people made demands for public education, particulary
labor leaders, the working people's parties and the labor press (348-349).
He quotes Paul Brown, a New York spokesman for the "militant plain people"
that "We want a COMMON and EQUAL education--also PUBLIC because it is of
general concern. It belongs to the public interest. As rational beings,
it's in the INTEREST OF ALL, that All should be equally well educated."
Curti says that "such pronuncements might be multiplied until they become
wearisome. (349) Curti also says that many wealthy people opposed using
public funds to finance education and sent their own children to private
schools. The parallels with today are obvious.

Curti says that working people formed their own libraries. He argues that
heightening class tensions in both U.S. and England provoked some wealthy
people to become philanthropists, giving money to schools and libraries.
They did so out of a variety of reasons--some were well-meaning
humanitarians while some wanted to stabilize the class system and undercut
the radical theorists.

I think the 1960s movements were like the reform movements in the 1840s and
1850s which, as you mention, included the movement for abolition of
slavery and the first women's movement. The democratic vision of the 1960s
movements, I think, has deep roots in American history.

Martin says:>
>The reality is that the sixties weren't all that pro democratic, as many
>conservatives pointed out at the time. When you occupied Sproul Hall in 64,
>that was certainly political, but it would be hard to argue it was "pro
>democratic." You were right, you knew you were right and you were going to
>change the University's response even if your position didn't have broad
>political support.

Martin, about two weeks after I was arrested in Sproul Hall in '64, the UC
Berkeley faculty voted 7-1 in favor of implementing F.S.M's demands. In our
campus community we did have broad political support.

Martin says:
Likewise, those who opposed the Vietnam War certainly
>didn't limit their opposition to "pro democratic" measures. They fought a
>moral battle and refused to quit simply because pro war cantidates kept
>getting elected. Many protests were not designed to gain votes, but to
>express the moral revulsion felt towards the war.

Martin, I argue with you that some protests were not designed to gain
votes, especially the "violent doves" of 1968 and after. The "violent
doves" were having temper tantrums in public and alineated voters. But the
McCarthy people and McGovern people really did try to get votes and get
elected. There were many deep divisions within the anti-war movement.