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Resistance To Civil Government: Henry David Thoreau

1659 words - 7 pages

In his essay, “Resistance to Civil Government,” often times dubbed, “Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) argues against abiding to one’s State, in protest to the unjust laws within its government. Among many things, Thoreau was an American author, poet, and philosopher. He was a firm believer in the idea of civil disobedience, the act of refusing to obey certain laws of a government that are felt to be unjust. He opposed the laws regarding slavery, and did not support the Mexican-American war, believing it to be a tactic by the Southerners to spread slavery to the Southwest. To show his lack of support for the American government, he refused to pay his taxes. After spending ...view middle of the document...

He expresses the issue of the people blindly following their leaders, without any signs of progression, exemplifying the problems with voting leaving people to only care enough to cast a vote but never press the issues any further. He states, “They take too much time, and a man’s life will be gone,” when referring to the State taking crucial action, right after declaring, “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn” (Civil). Thoreau feels that he would rather pull himself from the State than aid in its corruption. He urges the people to do the same, taking the extra step that is required to make an impression on the State. He criticizes the people who blindly follow the State, declaring, “Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs” and even accuses them of unintentionally serving the devil, as God (Civil). He continues to press the need for change.
Later in the essay, he shares his experience in prison. He describes prison as the appropriate place for him, stating, “The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less despondent spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles” (Civil). As a self-proclaimed outsider to the state, Thoreau accepts his imprisonment, where the State recognizes him as an outsider as well. Prison is the appropriate place for a man who does not abide by the laws that he does not find lawfully just. For example, his tax evasion, the reason for his imprisonment in the first place. Because of this reason, Thoreau does not find his imprisonment a punishment he should dread; rather, he accepts and even welcomes it.
In 1888, Gandhi went to England to study and become a lawyer. His first job required him to move to South Africa. During his travels to South Africa, Gandhi experienced discrimination first hand. Gandhi was thrown off a train after refusing to move from the first-class to third-class coach, even though he had a valid first class ticket (Gandhi). This event drastically impacted his views on social injustice and led him to challenge discrimination in South Africa. The approval of a new law that required Indians to register with the police and be fingerprinted led Gandhi to protest by not submitting to these unreasonable laws. Because of his refusal, he was arrested and put in jail. It was during his time in jail that he became influenced by Thoreau’s ideas after reading his works (Gandhi). From this he adopted the term “civil disobedience” to describe his method of non-violently disobeying the laws he felt to be unjust.
After his release from jail, Gandhi continued to protest the registration laws. He did this through support of the labor strikes and organizing massive non-violent marches....

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