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.