Butter rebellion

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The Great Butter Rebellion, which took place at Harvard University in 1766, was the first recorded student protest in what is now the United States. As colonists were gearing up for the American Revolution, the spirit of the Sons of Liberty trickled down to their sons, many of whom were in college at the time, whereupon they formed the group "The Sons of Harvard."

Since the opening of Harvard's gates in 1636, food service had been an issue. Despite periodic attempts at improving the service, the quality of the butter remained exceptionally poor. One meal with particularly rancid butter led Asa Dunbar (the grandfather of Henry David Thoreau) to jump upon his chair and proclaim: "Behold, our butter stinketh!— give us therefore, butter that stinketh not." The cry was adopted by fully half the student body as they rose together and exited the Commons in protest.[1]

In reaction to this incident, the university president acted as parliament and demanded a confession. As no student stepped forward, he suspended half the student body until the guilty party stepped forward. None of the students would out the instigator, and instead insisted that they be readmitted without penalty. Their defense: "That the Butter was bad and unwholesome no one can deny: had it been the first time, or had it happened rarely, we should have been content. This, however, was not the case." Eventually, the students won.


  1. ^ Samuel Elliot Morrison, Three Centuries of Harvard (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1936), 117-118.


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