While people seem to associate peace movements with the flower children of the 1960s and the anti-Vietnam protests, peace movements have been an a part of history for much longer than the 20th century.
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Quakers are more than just the guy on the oatmeal container with a funny hat. Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, were part of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Quakers were known for their activism of pacifism, condemning violence of all forms and sticking to pacifist Christianity. As time moved on, Quakers were adamant about not joining any military or support war of any kind. George Fox, widely considered the father of Quakerism, was offered an army commission in 1651, to which he responded “I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars…I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were.” That is considered to be the first statement of peace.
In 1660, the Quaker Peace Testimony was penned to King Charles II, stating “We are a people that follow after those things that make for peace, love, and unity; it is our desire that others’ feet may walk in the same, and do deny and bear our testimony against all strife, and wars.”
The peace movements that the Quakers took part in were founded on an evangelical religious rival and ultimately lead to the Quakers being a big part of the abolition of slavery.
During the Napoleonic Wars
While no formal peace movement was actually established until the violence had pretty much ended, there was a significant peace movement that was created due to Britain’s involvement in the Napoleonic Wars. Because Britain had acted in a reactionary role to the impact of war, the country had begun to suffer high casualty rates as well as higher taxes. There were a total of sixteen peace petitions that were sent to the English Parliament that were signed from members of the public and anti-war demonstrations. The protesters also published peace literature.
In the United States
The first peace movements in the United States, beyond the Quakers who already lived here, happened around 1815 when the New York Peace Society was founded. The group was started by theologian David Low Dodge and held regular meetings to produce literature to be distributed promoting their peaceful ideals. Their literature contained descriptions of the horrors of war and promoting pacifism, especially on Christian territory.
Around the same time that the New York Peace Society was founded, the London Peace Society was also being formed. Started by philanthropist William Allen, the group worked in advocated permanent and universal peace. In the mid-19th century, Olive Leaf Circles was formed by a group of women to also promote pacifist ideals. Also during the mid-19th century, the peace movement actually began to grow in influence, convening the first International Peace Congress in London in 1843. The hope was to create peaceful arbitration for international issues by creating an institution that would oversee the possibility of it.
While Europe was the in the midst of waves of turmoil, the first peace conference was held in Brussels in 1848 and Paris 1849. The first victory of the peace movement was securing a commitment from the Great Powers with the Treaty of Paris at the end of the Crimean War. And with the resulting recession due to the American Civil War and the Crimean War, the movement began to gain traction across Europe and move through the working class.
Perhaps one of the most famous peace movements came from Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was the leader of the Indian independence movement and a huge advocate of nonviolence resistance. Unlike Quakerism and other peaceful movements, Gandhi’s movement was not based on a religious creed, but rather a moral and political outlook, providing a humanitarian world view instead of one based strictly on religion. Gandhi did believe as well that not everyone could be brave enough to have absolute nonviolence and, he was highly criticized for his pacifism when World War II broke out.