Civil Disobedience (3)

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Civil Disobedience
by
Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau
Background

Born July 12, 1817, in Concord, Massachusetts

Educated at Harvard University


In the late 1830’s and early 1840’s, he
was a schoolteacher in Concord.
He quit teaching to become a writer full-time.
Inspiration

Form 1841 to 1843 he lived with American
essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Emerson introduced Thoreau to the ideas of
transcendentalism.

Transcendentalists encouraged free attitude
towards authority and tradition.

This philosophy would be central in Thoreau’s
thinking and writing.
Major Works

Only two of Thoreau’s books were published in
his life time A Week on the Concord and
Merrimack Rivers (1849) and Walden (1854).

Walden was Thoreau’s most famous works

In 1849 Thoreau wrote his most famous essay
“Civil Disobedience” or “ Resistance to Civil
Government”.
Historical Context

Throughout Thoreau’s life he emphasized the
importance of individuality and self-reliance.

Thoreau practiced civil disobedience in his own
life by not paying his poll tax.

He did this to protest the Mexican-American War,
and because he did not want to support a nation
that supported slavery.
Historical Context (cont.)
He spent one night in jail because he did
not pay his poll tax.
 This night in jail inspired him to write his
most famous essay “Civil Disobedience” or
originally titled “Resistance to Civil
Government”.

Main Points
1. People should think for themselves and not
conform to the majority.
–
–
–
“If I devote myself to other pursuits and
contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do
not pursue them sitting on another man’s
shoulders”
“Men generally, under such a government as this,
think that they ought to wait until they have
persuaded the majority to alter them”
“A minority is powerless when it conforms to the
majority”
Main Points (cont.)
2. People do not have to follow their
government if they feel that the
government is unjust.
– “Let every man make known what kind of
government would command his respect,
and that will be one step toward obtaining
it.”
Main Points (cont.)
3. You should always retain the strength
and freedom to not partake in a wrongful
enterprise that they know is wrong.
– “If a thousand man were not to pay their
tax-bills this year, that would not be a
violent bloody measure…”
– A “ peaceable revolution”
Historical Significance

Gained very little attention at that time.

Sixty years later Mahatma Gandhi credited
the essay for inspiring his theory of
nonresistance.

Later would give force to the American
Civil Rights Movement.