The United States was founded on dissent -- which means that most of the most enduring works of American literature deal with questions that were politically controversial at the time. This seminar will examine how specific works fit into their historical period, asking what significance they hold for a larger discussion of dissent in the United States. We'll begin with the debates over the American Revolution and the Constitution as a way to set the stage for the United States as a country committed to a certain set of values. Thereafter we will proceed along two different paths. First, we will explore the controversy over slavery in the 1850s, which produced enduringly popular works like Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, as well as lesser-known works like William Wells Brown's Clotel. Then, we will consider the labor movement and anti-capitalist activism -- including Edward Bellamy's utopian Looking Backward and the Autobiography of Mother Jones. Such texts attack American social and political institutions while remaining quintessentially American. While they contain sentiments that seemed radical at the time, their authors maintained literary traditions and framed their protest within boundaries that made sense to their readers.