After going through about 200 pages and realizing I've only just scratched the surface of two full microfilm reels, I've come to the conclusion that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana was, quite possibly, a hoarder.
I only wish I could thank him.
It's to history's benefit that he saved so much of his correspondence. My initial findings included several points of interest, but the first thing that struck me was a letter (see below).
"Obedience to law, to the utmost limit of conscience, is the basis of good citizenship [...]
We therefore urge all conscientious objectors to register without fail [...]"
An English pastor named Norman M. Thomas sent Dana a statement to sign on May 11th, 1917, just before the Selective Service Act of 1917 was to go into effect (on May 18th). I'm in awe of the compelling simplicity of a single letter from almost a century ago, and how it can so directly embody a distinct moment in history.
The "respectability politics" of pacifism appear to be a contested topic. I'd argue that our modern collective mindset most often associates anti-war ideologies with eras of distinct social change and radicalism — namely the 60s and 70s. Campaigns for massive social change — like protests against the Vietnam War and the use of nuclear weapons, as well as the Civil Rights Movement — engaged with civil disobedience as a primary tool of nonviolent action. What changed between Dana's time to the mid-twentieth century?
Wasn't it the very war that Dana and others like himself protested that led to the fall of rigid social norms and traditions that, along with the second World War, gradually gave way to a new world order? Dana and the numerous pacifist organizations to which he belonged seem, at least to me, like "proto-activists" — people who critically engaged with their social, political, and economic environments but didn't militantly oppose or protest things the way people do now. They made their opinions known, but did so in an orderly (and perhaps even scholarly) manner. Are white male elites typically armchair theorists, while people of color, women, and the working class are activists and protesters? — I'm thinking Karl Marx versus the generations of people his philosophizing inspired to act. It seems that thought and action are oftentimes relegated to separate spheres within social justice. That's not to say the two things are mutually exclusive — white male elites typically have more cultural capital and political wherewithal to effect the change they want to see. I got the vague impression from some of Dana's papers that he favored political meetings and legal machinations more than he did standing outside seats of power, waving a placard.
Box 1 [Reel 71.1] Folder 1, Pages 21-22: Correspondence from Norman M. Thomas of The American Parish,
in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana Papers (DG 011), Swarthmore College Peace Collection.