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Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau Essay

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"That government is best which governs least." Or is it? Should the American people be free to rebel against laws they consider unjust? Henry David Thoreau addresses these issues in his essay, Civil Disobedience. Thoreau wholeheartedly accepts the declaration that the government is best which governs least, and would like to see it acted upon. One day, he hopes, we will be able to carry it out to the point where men can have a government that does not govern at all. Government "never of itself furthered any enterprise". He claims that the character of the American people, rather than the government, has kept the country free, settled the west and educated the people. If the government had not interfered, the people would have accomplished even more. Thoreau goes on to claim that we should not decide what is 'right' by majority, but rather by individual conscience. If an individual believes a law to be unjust, he should not obey the law. Thoreau had some good, high-sounding ideas, but it appears he did not understand the reasoning behind some of what the government does. His views do not match up to the views found in the Constitution and the Bible.
Thoreau claims that we should not decide right by majority, but by conscience. The majority are not necessarily right; they are only in power because they are the strongest group of people. Any government in which the majority rules in all cases cannot be based on justice. Thoreau asks why there cannot be "a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? ... Must the citizen... resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterwards." One should cultivate a res...


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... what is right and wrong morally will have complete power, which can easily lead to a tyrannical ruler.
Thoreau says we should not obey unjust laws - yet, if everyone did this, people would begin to call 'unjust' laws that they did not particularly like or that were hard to follow. In addition, this exhortation is completely against Biblical teaching. We are to obey governing authorities unless their laws go against God's law. Minorities can influence the government, but not in the way that Thoreau advises. We should instead be an influence as Peter counsels us to be an influence,

"For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king."



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