Essay Civil Disobedience and Change

Essay Civil Disobedience and Change

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How has civil disobedience been used to engender change?

The human race has a long history of disobedience, beginning in the early biblical texts with the story of Adam and Eve. There are also many examples of civil disobedience the permeate known human history that include various forms of civil disobedience, including mass exodus, boycott, strike, non-cooperation and conscientious objection. Henry David Thoreau was a pioneer of modern civil disobedience when he refused to pay a poll tax because he believed the money would be used to fund the Mexican War. As a result he was arrested and spent a night in jail and was released when a relative paid his tax. His night in jail resulted in his penning of the seminal literary work, Resistance to a Civil Government (Library of Congress, 2011). In it, he famously argued, "Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison (Thoreau, 1849). Thoreau seemed to be more of a conscientious objector rather than attempting to create any lasting political or legal change by his refusal to pay the poll tax.

Civil disobedience is an effort to reform the law by using channels outside the existing legal system. It assumes that the existing system is worthy of improving, rather than a revolutionary concept which assumes the need for a new system entirely (Tella, 2004).

Therefore, the need for civil disobedience arises when there exists a moral imperative to change, change cannot be had within the existing system and a sense of urgency exists where inaction creates a moral dilemma. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke eloquently of the "fierce urgency of now" in the immortal speech, I Have A Dream.

The key element of the question is how. How ha...

... middle of paper ...

...highest cost. As a result nonviolent civil disobedience is most effective.

Therefore, the question should not be how effective is a non-violent approach, but rather, how can we make a non-violent approach more effective, to bring about needed reforms faster and at a lower human cost.

Works Cited

Library of Congress. (2011). American Memory from the Library of Congress - Today in History: July 12. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from

Moss, G., & Thomas, E. (2010). Moving on: the American people since 1945 (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Thoreau, H. D. (1849). On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from

Tella, M. J. (2004). Civil disobedience . Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers

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