The political concepts of justice and how a society should be governed have dominated literature through out human history. The concept of peacefully resisting laws set by a governing force can be first be depicted in the world of the Ancient Greeks in the works of Sophocles and actions of Socrates. This popular idea has developed over the centuries and is commonly known today as civil disobedience. Due to the works of Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr. civil disobedience is a well-known political action to Americans; first in the application against slavery and second in the application against segregation. Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience” and King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” are the leading arguments in defining and encouraging the use of civil disobedience to produce justice from the government despite differences in their separate applications.
Thoreau and King saw great injustices that needed to be corrected in the government of their times. Thoreau saw the prominence of slavery and the Mexican-American War as the great injustices of his time. King saw the segregation and blatant inequality in the treatment of African Americans as the great injustice of his. The common thread in how the government treated African Americans unjustly intwines the views of King and Thoreau. Both men responded to the injustices of their government with the same concept of civil disobedience to force concessions from that government to produce justice and equality. Further, both men focused on the action, or inaction, of the common man to produce results from the government itself.
Thoreau regards civil disobedience as duty of his fellow countrymen in order for them to be moral, upstanding Americans. Particularly in the...
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...Albeit Martin Luther King Jr. took several advances beyond Thoreau’s encouragement of civil disobedience, those advances hold up the pivotal theme of continuing strong, and non-violently, against corrupt laws. Both recommend individuals to detach themselves from corrupt social laws in favor of divine laws of truth. The dauntless manner in which both men prevailed against injustice by their action and literature gives a strong definition of civil disobedience. Despite the difference in application of that definition, Thoreau in favor of individualism and King in favor of community, the path is clearly marked for Americans to follow for the pursuit of justice in the law.
Schulke, Flip and McPhee, Penelope. King Remembered. New York: Pocket Books, 1986.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and Civil Disobedience. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003.
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