Civil Disobedience: Henry David Thoreau Essay

Civil Disobedience: Henry David Thoreau Essay

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Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was a philosopher and writer who is well known for his criticism of the American government during the time. During Thoreau’s life, there were two major issues being debated in the United States: slavery and the Mexican-American War. Both issues greatly influenced his essay, as he actually practiced civil disobedience in his own life by refusing to pay taxes in protest of the Mexican War. He states that the government should be based on conscience and that citizens should refuse to follow the law and has the duty not to participate and stay as a member of an unjust institution like the government. I argue that the notion of individualism and skepticism toward government is essential in the basis of many important reform movements in the modern society.


Thoreau espouses that the democratic party listens to and answers the majority, which are the desires of the most powerful group. The problem with this is that the most virtuous or thoughtful group is left aside because the government only pays attention to what the strongest group says. A government functioning on this principle cannot be based on justice, because the ideas of what is right and wrong is decided by the majority, not by conscience. Thoreau writes, "Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think we should be men first, and subjects afterward. (p.178 para. 4)" He claims that it is more important for people to develop a respect for the right, instead of having a respect for the law, for it is people’s duty to do what is right.


The notion of individualism is extremely important in exercising the duty people have to cease from the...


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...ven in these circumstances, such as during the Mexican-American War, these soldiers are considered good citizens who fought for their country. This is similar to how lawmakers and politicians also do not value their moral sense first, because if they base their statecraft on morality, they could be considered traitors for not thinking of the greatest advantage and benefits of their own country first at all times.

In conclusion, the notion of individualism and skepticism toward the government is essential in the basis of many important reform movements in the modern society. This includes the need to prioritize one's conscience over the dictates of laws, based on the that principle by Thoreau that we men should be first, and subjects afterwards. People have tan important duty refuse a government that is corrupt, and distance themselves from these unjust institutions.

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