Henry David Thoreau was an American poet, author, advocate, and transcendentalist. He wrote many famous essays like Walden and Civil Disobedience. Like other followers of the transcendentalist movement, Thoreau stressed the importance of religion, philosophy, and ideology in one’s life.
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He felt that a person lived a good life by following his conscience and instincts. Thoreau also believed that materialism distracted people from living a good and moral life. In Walden, he says Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. Thoreau wrote about living a simple life and advocated against materialistic things that marked status in our society like wearing expensive things, earning high pay and owning land. Thoreau also proposed that the government should have little interference in one’s life and he believed that too much government control can make your life more complicated.
In Civil Disobedience, Thoreau states that when civil laws conflict with one’s morals, one should follow his conscience. He writes, “That government is best which governs not at all.” Like other transcendentalists, Thoreau believed that less government involvement was best. In his famous Civil Disobedience and A plea for Captain John Brown, Thoreau writes about. In “Civil Disobedience” first titled “Resistance to Civil Government”, Thoreau responded to why he had gone to jail. As an abolitionist, he was against the Massachusetts poll tax and refused to pay it as a protest for slavery. He also protested against the Mexican American war that broke out in 1846 because he viewed it an aggressive war that aimed to add new slave territory in the United States. The authorities had ignored Thoreau’s non-payment for months but in July of 1846, Concord constable Sam Staples ordered Thoreau to pay up. When Thoreau still failed to pay, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Middlesex County jail. However, He was released the next morning after an anonymous person paid his fine.
Both slavery and the Mexican American war had played a prominent role in Thoreau’s essay. In the time Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience (the late 1840s), the country had become more polarized due to the growing number of northerners expressing anti-slavery opinions and the introduction of slavery friendly laws like the Fugitive Slave Law. In his essay Civil Disobedience, Thoreau argues that laws are human-made and are not always right. He states that there is a higher divine law and when those human-made laws fail, one should obey the higher law. Consequently, slavery no matter how legal it was then, it still violets the integrity and soul of the enslaved. Thoreau said, one cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slaves government also.
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