Comparing Civil Disobedience By Henry David Thoreau And Martin Luther King's Letter From Birmingham Jail

727 words - 3 pages

"...A little rebellion now and then is a good thing...It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government." Thomas JeffersonThoreau, a transcendentalist from the mid 19th century and Martin Luther King Jr., the Civil Rights movement leader of a century later both believed the necessity of medicine for government. Although they showed disagreement of opinion on issues regarding voting, both writers agreed on the necessity to reform the government and the means of accomplishing it. In King's Letter from Birmingham Jail and Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, both agreed on injustice of majority to rule over minority, both resisted the government passively, and both wanted a better government immediately.The majority is not necessarily right, but they have always been the ones in power because they are the strongest and the most influential. Therefore, all the laws are written by the majority, almost all are in favor of the majority, and all are enforced by the majority. According to King, a law drafted by the majority is only just when the minority are willing to follow it. He wrote "An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself" (2:475).

In other words, if a law denies the right of the minority or is inflicted upon the minority by force, then it is not a just law. Similar opinions are shared by Thoreau, when he writes "But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice..."(1:1425). Both agreed that if a law is unjust, it is the duty of the opposition to break the law, and do what they believe to be right. Once a law is broken, the person must be willing to accept the consequences, which may be the penalty of imprisonment.Although laws may be unjust, but it must be respected regardless. King fears that anarchy will result if laws are not respected; Thoreau describes that rebellion will be the consequence if laws are not given respect. Consequently, both chooses to passively resist the laws they believed that are against their morals, and are prepared to accept imprisonment .

The exercise of passive resistance is the basis of the title of Thoreau's work,...

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