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It is a known fact that Mahatma Gandhi launched a non-violent movement which freed the Indian subcontinent from the British rule on 15th August 1947. But was this the first instance that a freedom movement or a revolutionary protest succeeded by adopting non-violence? Had it been attempted anywhere before? If so, was it successful?

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The question in the text is different from the question in the title. One is about successful non-violent independence movements, and the other is about all non-violent independence movements. –  ymar Aug 28 '12 at 8:23
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Independence movements are a sub-class of a political opposition. I think broadening the scope to include other forms of political opposition may bring out some more answers --independence movements are very recent (past 80 years or so barring a handful that are older). Mr. Gandhi's own struggle in South Africa will then be a candidate. –  Monster Truck Aug 28 '12 at 15:57
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Honestly, it is not a known fact that Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent movement caused India's independence. Many historians (especially in India) continue to believe that it was the activities of the Indian National Army and the navy mutiny that caused India's independence. –  Arani Aug 28 '12 at 15:58
    
Well although Gandhi was famous for his non-violent struggle for freedom, There are a lot of other movements which most of them believe to have caused Independence –  Jayaram Aug 28 '12 at 20:47
    
Does walking away count? Seems like the first migrations out of Africa and, later, into the Americas could be the epitomes of non-violent independence seeking. –  Brock Adams Sep 24 '12 at 11:56
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3 Answers

Probably the more appropriate answer is strike actions in general, as also Gandhi did a long hunger strikes himself. Labour strikes date back at least to the strikes of Deir el-Medina:

In about the 25th year the reign of Ramses III (c. 1170 BCE) the laborers were so exasperated by delays in supplies they threw down their tools and walked off the job in what may have been the first sit-down strike in recorded history. They wrote a letter to the Vizier complaining about lack of wheat rations. Village leaders attempted to reason with them but they refused to return to work until their grievances were addressed. They responded to the elders with "great oaths". "We are hungry", the crews claimed; "eighteen days have passed this month" and they still had not received their rations. They were forced to buy their own wheat. They told them to send to the Pharaoh or Vizier to address their concerns. After the authorities had heard their complaints they addressed them and the workers went back to work the next day. There were several strikes that followed. After one of them, when the strike leader asked the workers to follow him they told them they had had enough and returned to work. This was not the last strike but they soon restored the regular wheat supplies and the strikes came to an end for the remaining years of Ramesses III.


I am not sure that it is the first case, but an ancient example is the Boston Tea Party protest:

On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor.

It followed with 8 long years of war and ended with the declaration of independence of the USA.

But I am almost sure that it is possible to find more ancient examples.


As nonviolence of the Tea Party has been challanged, I am adding another answer.

In Johannebourg, South Africa, September 11, 1908 Gandhi lead a non-violent protest of indians against Asiatic Registration Act.

This plan was adopted, leading to a seven-year struggle in which thousands of Indians were jailed (including Gandhi himself on many occasions), flogged, or even shot, for striking, refusing to register, burning their registration cards, or engaging in other forms of non-violent resistance. While the government was successful in repressing the Indian protesters, the public outcry stemming from the harsh methods employed by the South African government in the face of peaceful Indian protesters finally forced South African General Jan Christiaan Smuts to negotiate a compromise with Gandhi. He did eventually release him.

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I'm not wholly convinced that destruction of property falls under the umbrella of "non-violence," and it was not for nothing the Sons of Liberty were labeled "Sons of Anarchy" and "Sons of Violence" by loyalists. –  choster Aug 28 '12 at 22:10
    
@choster Ok, I have added another, I hope more convincing, answer. –  Vitalij Zadneprovskij Aug 28 '12 at 22:22
    
I guess technically you could term your second half, "the exception that proves the rule", as that was led by Ghandi as well. –  T.E.D. Aug 29 '12 at 15:48
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@T.E.D. well, Gandhi is the first person that comes to mind when you speak about nonviolence –  Vitalij Zadneprovskij Aug 29 '12 at 16:00
    
The Boston Tea party was something similar to Gandhi's salt Sathyagraha or the Dhandi march. But these were just acts of non-violence, not movements. –  Max Aug 29 '12 at 16:12
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Going out on a limb here, and feel free to disagree, but what about the growth of the early Church?

The growth of the Church in early centuries was a form of independence movement, inasmuch as early Christians simply wanted to practice their faith without fear of persecution. Also, the growth of the church (emphasis on the small "c"), meaning the local communities, is by its very nature non-violent. One could make a very strong case that the activities of the Church (the Vatican) does not fit in that category because of the Crusades, among other reasons, but I'd say that the church as a community of believers is rather closely aligned with a non-violent independence movement.

Again, just a thought.

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I like this answer, but IMHO it doesn't go nearly far enough. Roman polytheisim was a tool of cultural absorption. Any newly conquered people had their entire pantheon equated to Roman gods. Judisim's insistence that all those gods were invalid and must not be worshiped was a direct affront to Romanization efforts. The Christian sect's evangelisim exported this to the provinces, and turned it into an attack on Roman culture itself. –  T.E.D. Aug 29 '12 at 15:42
    
@GregSpev, yes, in stating that Jesus was kurious (Lord) they were challenging the authority of the Emperor, who claimed that title, and many died for refusing to say otherwise. However, the focus of the movement was not exactly independence or freedom in a political sense. –  sventechie Jul 5 '13 at 16:38
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How about Canada? Now, it wasn't exactly an independence movement, but here goes.

After the American War of Independence Britain's empire was diminished substantially, leaving Canada as England's chief North American possession. Yet, there were still many French settlers in Canada, and they did not get along very well with the British. In 1791, British prime minister William Pitt the Younger divided Canada into two sections (the British section and the French section) to ease tensions. But by the 1830s, Canada was again in turmoil.

Queen Victoria sent Lord Durham to investigate conditions in The Canadas, and he made these suggestions:

  1. Reunite the two sections of Canada into one country.
  2. Give the Canadians a representative government.
  3. Follow a plan for settlement of unoccupied territories.

His plan was gradually enacted, and in 1867, the British North America Act made Canada a self-governing commonwealth.

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But how is this relevant? Was there a significant non-violent movement in Canada? –  Felix Goldberg Dec 26 '12 at 0:40
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