Although this is an acceptable dictionary definition of the word civil , it is not what is intended here. This misinterpretation is one reason the essay is sometimes considered to be an argument for pacifism or for exclusively nonviolent resistance.
For instance, Mahatma Gandhi used this interpretation to suggest an equivalence between Thoreau's civil disobedience and his own satyagraha. The slavery crisis inflamed New England in the s and s. The environment became especially tense after the Fugitive Slave Act of A lifelong abolitionist , Thoreau delivered an impassioned speech which would later become Civil Disobedience in , just months after leaving Walden Pond.
The speech dealt with slavery, but at the same time excoriated American imperialism , particularly the Mexican—American War. Thoreau asserts that because governments are typically more harmful than helpful, they therefore cannot be justified. Democracy is no cure for this, as majorities simply by virtue of being majorities do not also gain the virtues of wisdom and justice.
The judgment of an individual's conscience is not necessarily inferior to the decisions of a political body or majority, and so "[i]t is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.
The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. The government, according to Thoreau, is not just a little corrupt or unjust in the course of doing its otherwise-important work, but in fact the government is primarily an agent of corruption and injustice. Because of this, it is "not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize".
Political philosophers have counseled caution about revolution because the upheaval of revolution typically causes a lot of expense and suffering. Such a fundamental immorality justifies any difficulty or expense to bring to an end.
Thoreau tells his audience that they cannot blame this problem solely on pro-slavery Southern politicians, but must put the blame on those in, for instance, Massachusetts , "who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, cost what it may There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them.
Thoreau's Slavery in Massachusetts which also advances this argument. He exhorts people not to just wait passively for an opportunity to vote for justice, because voting for justice is as ineffective as wishing for justice; what you need to do is to actually be just.
This is not to say that you have an obligation to devote your life to fighting for justice, but you do have an obligation not to commit injustice and not to give injustice your practical support.
Paying taxes is one way in which otherwise well-meaning people collaborate in injustice. People who proclaim that the war in Mexico is wrong and that it is wrong to enforce slavery contradict themselves if they fund both things by paying taxes.
Thoreau points out that the same people who applaud soldiers for refusing to fight an unjust war are not themselves willing to refuse to fund the government that started the war.
In a constitutional republic like the United States, people often think that the proper response to an unjust law is to try to use the political process to change the law, but to obey and respect the law until it is changed. But if the law is itself clearly unjust, and the lawmaking process is not designed to quickly obliterate such unjust laws, then Thoreau says the law deserves no respect and it should be broken.
In the case of the United States, the Constitution itself enshrines the institution of slavery, and therefore falls under this condemnation. Abolitionists , in Thoreau's opinion, should completely withdraw their support of the government and stop paying taxes , even if this means courting imprisonment. Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.
A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood.
This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. Because the government will retaliate, Thoreau says he prefers living simply because he therefore has less to lose. It costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the State than it would to obey. I should feel as if I were worth less in that case. He was briefly imprisoned for refusing to pay the poll tax , but even in jail felt freer than the people outside.
He considered it an interesting experience and came out of it with a new perspective on his relationship to the government and its citizens. He was released the next day when "someone interfered, and paid that tax". Thoreau said he was willing to pay the highway tax, which went to pay for something of benefit to his neighbors, but that he was opposed to taxes that went to support the government itself—even if he could not tell if his particular contribution would eventually be spent on an unjust project or a beneficial one.
Because government is man-made, not an element of nature or an act of God , Thoreau hoped that its makers could be reasoned with. As governments go, he felt, the U. But he felt we could and should insist on better. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man?
There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. An aphorism often erroneously attributed to Thomas Jefferson ,  "That government is best which governs least I heartily accept the motto,—"That government is best which governs least;" and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically.
Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which I also believe,—"That government is best which governs not at all;" and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi a. Mahatma Gandhi was impressed by Thoreau's arguments.
In , about one year into his first satyagraha campaign in South Africa , he wrote a translated synopsis of Thoreau's argument for Indian Opinion , credited Thoreau's essay with being "the chief cause of the abolition of slavery in America", and wrote that "Both his example and writings are at present exactly applicable to the Indians in the Transvaal.
Thoreau was a great writer, philosopher, poet, and withal a most practical man, that is, he taught nothing he was not prepared to practice in himself. He was one of the greatest and most moral men America has produced. At the time of the abolition of slavery movement, he wrote his famous essay On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. He went to gaol for the sake of his principles and suffering humanity. His essay has, therefore, been sanctified by suffering.
Moreover, it is written for all time. Its incisive logic is unanswerable. There were such cases during the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil disobedience is justified when its goal is to obtain equal rights and service for everyone, without causing physical damage to people and their property, and without breaking the just laws that are already enforced. He recommended passive resistance as a form of tension that could lead to reform of unjust laws practiced by the government.
Thoreau felt that the government had established order that resisted reform and change. Thoreau refused to pay the poll tax because the money was being used to finance the Mexican War. Not only was Thoreau against the war itself but the war was over Texas which was to be used as a slave state. He believed strongly against paying money to a war he did not support, and would rather end up in jail than go against his will.
It was important to Thoreau to get the public informed about the War, and make people think why it was wrong to support it. His statements were to get people to think and take their own approach to the situation.
Behind his words, Emerson means that he should follow his conscience regardless of what side it is on. In making this comment, Emerson urges us to not conform to society and do what is believe to be justice, which in fact can lead to civil disobedience just as Martin Luther king displayed.
MLK did not conform to society and stood up for what he believed. King used peaceful sit-ins and rallies to unite the black community. Blacks were forced to sit on the back of busses, use separate bathrooms, water fountains, spaces in a restaurant, and schools. Segregation made the blacks feel inferior and unequal.
King led many black protesters to use methods such as banning busses, sit ins, and marches. Those who commit civil disobedience do so, not to break the law, however to correct an injustice, and thus accept the consequences for breaking the law. King is establishing that they have a goal to achieve:
The term civil disobedience means “refusal to obey civil laws in an effort to induce change in governmental policy or legislation, characterized by nonviolent means”, theories on this term have been around for a long time.
- Civil Disobedience of Antigone and Mrs. Hale Civil disobedience is the purposeful violation of a law to show that it is unconstitutional or morally defective. In the plays, Antigone and Trifles, the female main characters commit an act of civil disobedience.
When I converse with the freest of my neighbors, I perceive that, whatever they may say about the magnitude and seriousness of the question, and their regard for the public tranquillity, the long and the short of the matter is, that they cannot spare the protection of the existing government, and they dread the consequences to their property and . Unlike most editing & proofreading services, we edit for everything: grammar, spelling, punctuation, idea flow, sentence structure, & more. Get started now!
Free Essay: Civil Disobedience Henry Thoreau wrote an essay about it in the 19th century. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached it in the South. Mahatma Gandhi. Civil Disobedience of Antigone and Mrs. Hale Civil disobedience is the purposeful violation of a law to show that it is unconstitutional or morally defective. In the plays, Antigone and Trifles, the female main characters commit an act of civil disobedience.