Revolutionary authors are those whose writings call for political change. The best of these writers’ work is compelling, heartfelt and memorable. American literature is full of examples of men and women who put their reputations and careers on the line to be honest and forthright about the causes they held dear. Two of the following men did more than that. They put their lives at risk to speak out against the political injustice of their respective eras. For that, and the waves of change they left in their wake, they are among the most important authors in American history.
Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
Thomas Paine was not technically American, but neither was any outspoken “rebel” of the American Revolution era. He is the author of “Common Sense,” an everyman’s pamphlet that spoke against British control of the American colonies. The pamphlet, and his fierce opinions, made Thomas Paine a traitor to the British, an act that could have been punished by death. While he was a proponent for colonial freedom, he did not stick around to enjoy it for long. He went from trying to spark a revolution in the colonies to doing the same in Britain and in France, where he spent time in jail for his controversial remarks.
H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
H.L. Mencken was a prominent journalist with some opinions that alarmed some of his countrymen. His commentary regarding religion and politics during the Scopes Trial is famous or infamous, depending on how a person looks at it. F.D.R. and his New Deal was another recipient of Mencken’s biting rhetoric. He loved to attack the politicians of his day and his insight is still influential more than fifty years after his death.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Henry David Thoreau is one of the most celebrated authors in American history. He wrote numerous novels and essays, but his most revolutionary was Civil Disobedience. Civil Disobedience is an essay that argues for righteous government. It is an argument against blind obedience to the demands of government. Thoreau apparently felt that government can destroy the individual conscience and that people would do things they typically would not do if their government pushed for it. Thoreau, having been exposed to war and slavery, wanted people to make up their own minds when it came to moral dilemmas, an issue that is still at the forefront of American politics.
Jack London (1876-1916)
Jack London was a journalist, fiction and non-fiction writer. He is most famous for his man vs. nature fiction novels, but he was also an influential revolutionary writer. He wrote politically and socially charged fiction and non-fiction novels, as well as numerous articles. As a writer, he was extremely successful for his time, gaining fortune and fame during his short lifetime.
William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879)
William Lloyd Garrison was the editor of Boston’s “The Liberator.” It was an antislavery print in very pro-slavery times. Garrison continued his publication even when the animosity of pro-slavery peers grew against him and even after a public attempt to lynch him on the streets of Boston. He wanted change and he did not care what he had to sacrifice to see it happen.
The above men, whether they were right or wrong, cared deeply about their beliefs and about the world around them. It takes a special writer to pen opinions that go against the grain, anger some and inspire others. However, they all had causes worthy of their bravery and skill.