1965 October 15

David Miller First to Publicly Burn His Draft Card in Vietnam War Protest


David Miller, a Catholic pacifist, on this day became the first person to publicly burn his draft card to protest the Vietnam War (although in truth it may well have been simply the first draft card-burning incident to be widely publicized). Anti-war demonstrations were held in 40 cities, with a combined attendance of 100,000 people. Congress responded by passing a law making burning a draft card a crime, which President Lyndon Johnson signed on August 30, 1965. The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment did not protect the act of burning a draft card, in O’Brien v. United States, on May 27, 1968. The decision was out of step with the generally strong pro-free speech posture of the Warren Court in the 1960s.

In addition to outlawing the burning of draft cards, the Vietnam War created a number of civil liberties crises. They include (1) the lack of a Congressional Declaration of War as required by the Constitution (June 3, 1970); (2) threats to freedom of the press in the Pentagon Papers case (June 30, 1971); (3) spying on the anti-war movement by the CIA (August 15, 1967); (4) threats to freedom of expression, for example high school student protests (February 24, 1969); censorship of television programs (February 25, 1968); and directly and indirectly some of the events that led to the Watergate Scandal (May 9, 1969; January 27, 1972).

Watch anti-Vietnam War draft card burning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2d4yyqeheA

Learn more: Michael S. Foley, Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War (2003)

Read about the Anti-Vietnam War Movement: Thomas Powers, The War at Home: Vietnam and the American people, 1964–1968 (1973)

Read first-hand accounts of 1960s-1970s radicals: Clara Bingham, Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost its Mind and Found its Soul (2016)

Find a Day

Abortion Rights ACLU african-americans Alice Paul anti-communism Anti-Communist Hysteria Birth Control Brown v. Board of Education Censorship CIA Civil Rights Civil Rights Act of 1964 Cold War Espionage Act FBI First Amendment Fourteenth Amendment freedom of speech Free Speech Gay Rights Hate Speech homosexuality Hoover, J. Edgar HUAC Japanese American Internment King, Dr. Martin Luther Ku Klux Klan Labor Unions Lesbian and Gay Rights Loyalty Oaths McCarthy, Sen. Joe New York Times Obscenity Police Misconduct Same-Sex Marriage Separation of Church and State Sex Discrimination Smith Act Spying Spying on Americans Vietnam War Voting Rights Voting Rights Act of 1965 War on Terror Watergate White House Women's Rights Women's Suffrage World War I World War II Relocation Camps


Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear your comments, criticisms and suggestions!