Civil Disobedience Philosopher Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau argues that citizens must disobey the rule of law if those laws prove to be unjust. He recalled his experiences and thought it was only right to withhold his taxes from payment. Thoreau etched his legacy for civil disobedience. Ironically for years, the United States government chooses to ignore Thoreaus failure to pay taxes (I wish they would have done the same for me 4 years ago). Hes then arrested and tossed into jail, where he continues to refuse to pay back his taxes. Someone pays the taxes for him, who is set free the next morning. According to legend, fellow philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson visited him in jail and asked him why is he in there. Sarcastically, Thoreau swiftly responded, why are you out there? He continues by simplifying that there are two laws: the laws of men, and the higher laws of God and humanity. Thoreaus thesis was that If the laws of men are unjust, then one has every right to disobey them. A society with double standards would eventually divide and seek out unique justice.

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Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience first titled Resistance to Civil Government when it was published in the periodical Aesthetic Papers, in response to questions about why he went to jail. As a crusader for justice, he had challenged the Massachusetts poll tax and declined to pay it as a legitimate protest against slavery. The Mexican War encouraged his protests, therefore labeling it as an aggressive war of takeover with a hidden agenda of adding new slave territories to the States, and to passively protest, he snubbed to pay the tax like I would for uncouth customer service. Thoreau proceeds to attack those in his native state of Massachusetts who profess to be against slavery in the South while participating in the commerce and agricultural trade that supports it. Thoreau encourages his readers to action from principle but underlies the significance of the solution to the immoral. Thoreau calls on his fellow voters to withdraw their support from the State of Massachusetts and risk treason and confinement. Thoreau makes a strong plea for involvement from his fellow countrymen, when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. (page 180).

If a country has people who value human life than revolution would soon be in the horizon during the times of tribulation. From his perspective, slavery outweighs all other causes for revolution both in magnitude and moral gravity. Thoreau takes issue with William Paley, an English theologian, and philosopher, who argues that any movement of resistance to the government must balance the enormity of the grievance to be redressed and the probability and expense of redressing it. Thoreau believed that the real obstacle to reform lies with those who disapprove of the measures of government while tacitly lending it their practical allegiance. At the very least, if an unjust government is not to be directly resisted, a man of true conviction should cease to lend it his indirect support in the form of taxes. His reasoning was unique for his time, he thought perpendicular to the average man with this concept, A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority (182). There is a better future for man, and action is what accomplishes this future.

Man must be an individual and create greatness on his own instead of following the steps of people who do not wish to do the same as he. Change must not only be made with the government, but with the people who follow their said government and view themselves as part of the democracy. Carrying to extreme the logic of the Declaration of Independence, Thoreau argues, in effect, that each individual should declare independence from unjust laws, that citizens must never surrender their conscience to the legislators, and that it is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. Most people, he feared, served the state as soldiers do, like unquestioning cyborgs.

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Civil Disobedience philosopher Henry David Thoreau. (2019, May 14). Retrieved December 4, 2022 , from
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