Henry david thoreau on the duty of civil disobedience essay

SparkNotes: Civil Disobedience

This movement was eventually centered in Thoreau's hometown, Concord, Massachusetts. Transcendentalists preached individualism and had a strong belief in natural law over civil law, they also believed in social improvement. Other notable transcendentalist writers included; Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emersion, and Convers Francis, all were very influential writers at the time. Thoreau used outlets such as magazines and newspapers to discuss his opinions on these issues.

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He was opposed to a lot of the current political issues going on during the 19th century, particularly the Mexican- American war. Many Americans opposed this war for multiple reasons; Thoreau opposed the war because he was opposed to connection it had with the support of slavery. The war became a series of gruesome battles fought between the two armies. The US army, led by Zachary Taylor, was outnumbered and yet still emerged victorious in a series of shocking battles.

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The annexation of Texas, one of the causes of the war, supported the institute of slavery. This affected Thoreau's sense of human rights and justice.

Henry David Thoreau on When Civil Disobedience and Resistance Are Justified () | Open Culture

To protest the war, he refused to pay taxes, which he claimed was being used to pay for the war. In his essay Thoreau argued that not all laws are just, but as human beings it is more important to obey natural law over civil law. Natural law is a set of laws that are not written down, but are inscribed in the back of ones mind. These are the laws that steer a person's morality. He believed that obeying these laws was more important then obeying any civil law.

He urged others to fight unjust laws. Thoreau once said, "if the machine of the government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Gandhi wrote "To American friends, you have given me a teacher in Thoreau, who furnished me through his essay on the 'Duty of Civil Disobedience' scientific confirmation of what I was doing in South Africa.

Thoreau's words and acts have inspired civil rights leaders around the globe and have proofed that violence is not the only way to accomplish a goal. Even today people practice civil disobedience in order to protest unjust laws. In , while Thoreau was a student at Harvard, the leading Transcendentalist moved into a substantial house at the outskirts of Concord, thus converting the village into the heart of this influential movement.

Analysis Of Henry David Thoreau 's Civil Disobedience Essay

That man was Emerson. There has never been rigorous agreement on the definition of Transcendentalism, partly because Emerson refused to be systematic; but there are broad areas of agreement among Transcendentalists. As a philosophy, it emphasizes idealism rather than materialism; that is, it views the world as an expression of spirit and every individual as an expression of a common humanity. To be human is to be born with moral imperatives that are not learned from experience but which are discovered through introspection.

Therefore, everyone must be free to act according to his conscience in order to find the truth buried within. Thoreau wanted to incorporate principles into daily life; he wanted to taste and feel principles in the air around him. He wrote in Walden,. I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.

I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true account of it. Despite their differences, Thoreau was deeply influenced by Emerson, whom he met in through a mutual friend.

As Transcendentalists migrated to Concord, one by one, Thoreau was exposed to all facets of the movement and took his place in its inner circle. But Thoreau still longed for a life both concrete and spiritual. He wanted to translate his thoughts into action. While Transcendentalists praised nature, Thoreau walked through it. Imprisoned for a night. Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator?

Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced.

I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. Prior to his arrest, Thoreau had lived a quiet, solitary life at Walden, an isolated pond in the woods about a mile and a half from Concord. He now returned to Walden to mull over two questions: 1 Why do some men obey laws without asking if the laws are just or unjust; and, 2 why do others obey laws they think are wrong? It was that view, after all, which led him to prison in the first place.

Thoreau and Civil Disobedience

Judging by the rather dry, journalistic account of being in jail, his emotional reaction did not seem to alter significantly; he was not embittered by the experience. Toward the men who were his jailers, Thoreau seems to have felt more disdain than anger, stating,. They plainly did not know how to treat me, but behaved like persons who are under-bred.