Henry David Thoreau was born on the 12th of July in 1817. He had many titles under his name; a historian, an American author, a poet, an abolitionists and a great philosopher. He wrote many literal works, but he is famous his essay known as Civil Disobedience. The essay touches on the importance of individual resistance to oppressing, civil governments (Harding, 1965).
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Henry David Thoreau was jailed for not paying his taxes in July 1846. Before all these, he was leading a quite life in Massachusetts. However, he was released the next day after his taxes were paid by someone else. In 1848, he gave a public lecture at the Concord Lyceum giving his reasons for refusing to pay taxes. The text of the lecture was published in 1849, and came to be known as Civil Disobedience. The essay has become instrumental in advocating resistance movements that are peaceful by nature. It became an inspiration to the likes of Gandhi, and Martin Luther King (Harding, 1965).
In the essay Civil Disobedience, Thoreau begins by saying that he accepts the motto which states that the government is when it least governs. Thoreau evaluates the federal government in a critical manner. He contends that it is artificial and created by the powerful. Moreover, he acknowledges that the government is believed to be serving a purpose and would probably remain part of the American life. It is then that Thoreau uses civil disobedience as a strategy for the articulation of one's belief. This is the thesis statement for civil disobedience. He defines civil disobedience by explaining both emotions and thoughts that should act as a guide, which includes having a sense of moral conscience and a sense of rightness.
I believe that a number of historical conditions did provoke Thoreau's thought for him to write an essay on civil obedience. He considered civil disobedience to be a method of resistance when he saw how Mexicans were being mistreated by the United States (Lee, 2005). Moreover, in Civil Disobedience he is disturbed by the failure by the United States in taking care of the vulnerable, in addition to, pretending to be embracing Christian ideals but thinking of Washington, Luther and the likes as rebels.
He also looks into the state of slavery in the South. He is most hypocritical about the slavery issue by the United States government. Thoreau considers civil obedience to be a social and moral duty of all Americans. In fact, he defines civil disobedience as an act of willful resistance that can achieved by not obeying hypocritical laws. Examples of such acts include not paying taxes and not playing an active role in the government.
One important thing that stands out in civil disobedience is that it is peaceful. It does not entail taking up arms or other means of violence so as to achieve results. It is also quite clear that Thoreau's Civil Disobedience has been influential in a number of political and social movements so far. An example is the civil rights movement in 1960s; they were marked by civil disobedience. Martin Luther King, Jr. was also categorical in advocating in using resistance as defined by Thoreau. King aimed at implementing numerous resistance that avoided violence at any means possible.
Thoreau appears to be more individualistic in his essay Civil Disobedience than King (Lee, 2005). He called upon everyone to determine and implement their own acts of resistance, which was not necessarily coordinated by someone. However, King was different in that he created a mass of individuals to show solidarity.
On a personal level, I would advocate for the kind of civil disobedience that is not on an individual level, but communal. I believe civil disobedience should be able to attract attention and give insight to social problems that are serious and can cause a huge debate. However, in this current society, I wonder if civil disobedience can be an effective tool for political or social change. Although there are recent actions that could be inspiring, I do not see a widespread support for civil disobedience.
Thoreau believed in finding his identity by differentiating himself from the common humanity. He saw the rest of humanity as cowardly, lazy and mediocre. As mentioned earlier, he was an individualist in that; he believed that everyone has a responsibility of following the highest leadings of the individual conscience. The ultimate and moral authority comes from an individualistic judgment. The power associated with the democratic majority and civil law only come second.
If the civil government is in conflict with personal conscience, Thoreau recommends that all support towards the government should be withdrawn with an immediate effect (Lee, 2005). Furthermore, if there is punishment accompanying the withdrawal of support, Thoreau recommends that one accepts the punishment. He claims that bodily confinement is nothing compared to the confinement of conscience by following the government. Individual who follow the law that oppresses them end up losing their identities; they are equated to machines.
In conclusion, the subject in Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau is the unjust nature of the government of the United States. He held a belief that, each one should follow and do what they think is morally right, and not blindly follow the majority. His arguments are organized effectively; he uses commentary and poetry throughout. I believe the main aim of the essay was to change the views held by the masses over the government. Moreover, Thoreau criticizes the American-Mexican war and institutions such as slavery. The main, important question being answered in Civil Disobedience is whether an individual is all alone or exists as part of a society. What are the responsibilities that come with being part of the society?
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