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Example research essay topic: Salem Witch Trials Three Hundred Years - 2,468 words

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A political cartoon shows a massive stone wall surrounding tall office buildings which bear labels of " Department of Energy, " " Defense Department, " " National Security Agency, " " CIA, " and " FBI. " Outside the wall, which is tagged " Government Secrecy, " a couple huddles in a roofless hut called " Personal Non-Privacy. " At the top of the cartoon is printed " Somehow I feel this is not the way the founders planned it. " Indeed, Americas founding fathers most likely did not plan for the United States to be governed in such a manner that the people of its democracy would feel debunked. How, then, did the United States since its founding in 1776 come to this feeling of exposure? Such an expansive question does not possess only one answer, of course. Multiple factors have caused United States citizens to feel the " personal non-privacy" Washington Post cartoonist Herblock depicts.

Throughout American history the government has taken advantage of its ability to control; and, often led by an incendiary, people have been brought forth and laid bare in front of turbulent crowds. One of the first instances of this public inquest occurred in 1692 during the Salem witch trials, and then the probing happened again in the 1950 s during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) trials. Hysteria gripped the small colony of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 as adolescent girls cried out that they saw Satan talking to some of the colonists. These accused were then put on trial and made to either confess and name others who were associating with the Devil, or the accused who did not confess to working with the Devil were convicted, imprisoned and, not infrequently, killed. Ultimately, the governor of Massachusetts intervened and put an end to the witch trials, but not before fourteen women and five men hung as witches in Salem (" Witch Hunt Hysteria" ). A similar excitement occurred again in the 1950 s.

Throughout the decade the United States faced the Red Scare, which included a hunt for Communists led by Republican Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. The long, bloody battles of World War II were finally in the past, but a new war had begun (Chun). The Cold War between the United States and the United Soviet Social Republic commenced because of land rivalry, then continued with the United States claiming that the U.

S. S. R. had communist groups working in other countries with an plan for world control (Chun). President Truman released his doctrine stating the United States intentions of battling communism throughout the world, and in 1947 he authorized a program to investigate the loyalty of federal employees. Senator McCarthy then decided to lead his own anti-communist group to ensure privacy in the State Department and other offices.

What began as moderate concern developed into frenzied excitement as Congress restricted the civil rights of communists, and many suspected communists were questioned and later blacklisted. During the Red Scare, Constitutional rights were often compromised, and the government turned secretive. Journalist Athan G. Theoharis said of the increasing governmental concealment and censorship, " Recently released FBI files revealed a more serious threat to political liberties-the freedom of authors to publish dangerous thoughts-stemmed from the often covert, behind-the-scenes efforts of conservative academics, members of Congress, and FBI and Justice Department officials. " The maintenance of personal privacy and public government began fracturing before the United States government was even ratified, and continues even today to cause debate and dissent. While there have been numerous episodes of governmental concealment and public exposure, the Salem witch trials and the HUAC trials are two of the more predominant. In the heat of the Red Scare and rampant McCarthyism of 1953, playwright Arthur Miller-who in 1956 appeared before the HUAC and was later held in contempt of Congress-published his play The Crucible.

A work centering on the effects of the Salem witch trials in 1692, the play is often associated with the HUAC trials of the 1950 s. While Miller somewhat denies these correlations, he speaks of the lack of " plays that reflect the soul-racking, deeply unseating questions that are being inwardly asked on the street, in the living room, and on the subways" in a New York Times article published just months before The Crucible appeared. In the same article Miller says, " Is the knuckle headedness of McCarthyism behind it all? The Congressional investigations of political unorthodoxy?

Yes. " The Crucible, whether meant to incite public support against McCarthyism or simply portray the events of the Salem witch trials, indeed shows undertones of the events surrounding Miller and other suspected communists in the 1950 s. However, the play does more than just reiterate the current events of the time it was published. The political cartoon aforementioned was not published during the Red Scare. It appeared in the November 29, 1999 edition of the University of South Carolinas student newspaper, The Gamecock. The secrecy of government and its removal of individual privacy spawned from events not only in Millers 1950 s, but also from incidents that occurred three hundred years ago. Arthur Millers The Crucible reflects the development of a feeling of anti-privacy by depicting the intense drama of the Salem Witch Trials in a context of the McCarthyism of his own time.

In The Crucible, Miller strains to focus on the desperate emotions which engulfed the Salem townspeople and led to the eventual defeat of privacy and as well as common sense. The author of " Hysteria and Ideology in The Crucible, " Richard Hayes, says, " It is imaginative terror Mr. Miller is here invoking: not the solid gallows and the rope appall him, but the closed and suffocating world of the fanatic, against which the intellect and will are powerless. " Millers play depicts the young Abigail Williams as agitator and the trials and decisions of those accused of witchcraft. They were each left with bleak choices-life or death. To live would mean they had to falsely confess to being in league with the Devil, and then name others who did the same. If those accused did not admit guilt, they were hung.

Miller emphasizes the moral decisions of one man, John Proctor, who has himself been accused of witchcraft. Proctor is divided by ambiguity, which Hayes describes as " the dilemma of a man, fallible, subject to pride, but forced to choose between the negative good of truth and morality, and the positive good of human life under any dispensation. " In the end Proctors decision costs him his life, and all for the price of his good name. One of The Crucibles most intense scenes occurs because of Proctors devotion to keep his name unblemished. In Act Four, the anguished man refuses to sign a confession that would save his life.

Proctor, with a cry of his whole soul, says he cannot sign the confession " because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name! " Proctor hangs that very day.

It was in this way also that numerous colonists accused of witchcraft make their own decisions of action. Some confess, others do not. Regardless of the various decisions, though, the government powered by theocracy had undermined both the peoples rights and their privacy. One civilization taken by madness is harrowing enough, but the real-life drama that submerged Salem Village and left its people in a state of hysteria was unfortunately to be repeated in almost parallel form. Indeed, the similarities between the HUAC trials in the 1950 s and the Salem witch trials as portrayed in The Crucible are horrifying. Both trials were initiated by individuals who called out the guiltiness of others in order to somehow better their own positions in society.

Abigail Williams and her friends went against the conformity of their Puritan religion, which allowed them a feeling of incredible power. In the same fashion also, Senator McCarthy gained unexpected authority. On February 9, 1950 he dropped a bombshell of a speech at the Republican Womens Club of West Virginia where he suddenly announced that he had a list of 205 communists in the State Department (Schultz). While no press members actually saw the list, McCarthys shocking proclamation made national news and commenced the Senators powerful hunt for communists (CNN Interactive). While both Abigail and McCarthy accused people of horrendous crimes, neither of them ever proved the guilt of those indicted. When those accused of being witches or communists went to trial, they were questioned in an atmosphere that would put anyone on edge.

The courtroom of Salem was a place few desired to occupy, especially with the dark eyes of Assists John Hathorne and Jonathan Curren glaring at them. Once on the stand, those accused were pounded with questions, many of them repeated until the person testifying would change his answer to please the court and get himself out of the limelight. For example, the actual testimony of Sarah Good, which is very similarly portrayed in The Crucible, transpired as follows: Hathorne: What evil spirit have you familiarity with? Good: None.

Hathorne: Have you made no contract with the devil? Good: (Good answered no. ) Hathorne: Why doe you hurt these children? Good: I doe not hurt them. I scorn it. Hathorne: Who doe you imply then to doe it?

Good: No creature but I am falsely accused. Hathorne: (repeated variously) Have you made no contract with the devil then? Why doe you hurt these children? Who doe you imply to do it? The questions continued, Hathorne becoming more animated and Sarah Good becoming more despairing.

This method of questioning was used again in the HUAC trials. Each person called to testify was asked " Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party? " In both the Salem witch trials and the HUAC trials, those on the stand were virtually harassed until they gave the answer their tormentor desired. The trials were not alike only in the line of questioning; they also both involved " spectral" evidence to prove the guilt of the accused. Abigail and her adolescent girlfriends called out in opposition of those against whom they held grudges or simply did not like. Some of these people were hung because they would not admit to appearing in spirit or trafficking with the Devil. While the spectral evidence in the HUAC trials was slightly subordinately otherworldly, it was nonetheless an indication of guilt through the same sort of " crying out. " For example, Hollywood singer-actor Martin Dies cried out against others, causing the court to conclude " the accused might have been engaged in the silent diffusion of subversive doctrine. " Thus spectral shapes were perceived to be reality in the HUAC trials as well (Marshall 62).

Perhaps the most common characteristic of the two trials is the problem onlookers found. The public did not know whether Abigail or McCarthy were telling the truth, or if others were telling the truth about them (Rovere). Throughout The Crucible, characters were constantly questioning Abigail's honesty. However, only a few were brave enough to speak out against her, including Mary Warren, who changed her dissension after Abigail turned against her, and John Proctor, who eventually hung. There was no glory to be found in going against the preponderance in either trial.

During the Red Scare " it was no longer possible to challenge the basic assumptions of American policy without incurring suspicions of disloyalty, " says author Ellen Schrecker. So it was that both of the trials were traps-those who did not outwardly support Abigail or McCarthy could never be secure in their own status. The Salem witch trials and HUAC trials both resulted in a more secretive government and caused increasing exposure of citizens. Because of the controlling agents, Abigail and McCarthy, anyone was at risk, and so no one fought back. During the Salem witch hunt, nineteen people died-and for what reason? Simply because some of those accused told the truth, they faced a noose.

Three hundred years later, in late 1950, a group of University of Chicago graduate students sent around a petition for a coffee vending machine to be placed outside of the Physics Department for convenience. Their colleagues refused to sign the document, however, because they did not want to be associated with the radical students who had already signed. " This incident, and it is not unique, exemplifies the kind of timidity that came to be seen, even at the time, as the most damaging consequence of the anti-communist furor, " Schrecker says. The same confusion that overwhelmed people in seventeenth-century Salem attacked people during the HUAC trials. Without doubt the loyalty programs, congressional hearings, and numerous blacklists affected the lives of the people caught up in them (Schrecker 92). As a result of these anti-Communist trials, people increasingly began to face non-privacy issues. The drama and delirium that took over Hollywood and the general public during Arthur Millers playwriting in the 1950 s surely laid anti-McCarthyism tones in The Crucible.

Indeed, the development of todays surreptitious government and its need to keep citizens open for inspection is a repercussion of both the Salem witch trials and the more recent hunt for communists infesting the American nation. " Somehow I feel this is not the way the founders planned it, " says Herblock's cartoon. The Crucible shows life before " the founders planned it" in a context of Millers perception of McCarthyism, and the work also resonates the United States increasing feeling of non-privacy that citizens feel even today. 77 e Chun, Debbie. " The Red Scare and the Salem Witch Hunt. " Electric Soup. 11 Nov. 1999. Hayes, Richard. " Hysteria and Ideology in The Crucible. " Commonweal 57. Feb. 1953. 11 Nov. 1999. Herblock. Cartoon.

The Gamecock. 29 Nov. 1999: 6. Marshall, George. " Salem, 1950. " Masses & Mainstream Jul. 1950: 62 - 63. McCarthys State Department Speech. CNN Interactive. 9 Nov. 1999. Miller, Arthur. The Crucible.

New York: Viking, 1953... " Many Writers: Few Plays. " New York Times 10 Aug. 1952: B 1. Rovere, Richard H. Senator Joe McCarthy. 1996. 9 Nov. 1999. Schrecker, Ellen. The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents.

Boston: St. Martins Press, 1994. Schultz, Stanley K. Lecture 23 -The Coils of Cold War.

Ed. Shane Hamilton. 9 Nov. 1999. Theoharis, Athan G. " Authors, Publishers, and the McCarthy Era: A Hidden History. " USA Today. Sept. 1993: 90 - 92. Witch Hunt Hysteria. web 11 Nov. 1999.


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Research essay sample on Salem Witch Trials Three Hundred Years

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