Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Justification of Defying Unjust Laws

1828 Words8 Pages
Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Justification of Defying Unjust Laws In his famous essay, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,’’ Martin Luther King, Jr. cites conscience as a guide to obeying just laws and defying unjust laws. In the same way, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his famous essay, “Civil Disobedience,” that people should do what their conscience tells them and not obey unjust laws. The positions of the two writers are very close; they use a common theme of conscience, and they use a similar rhetorical appeal of ethos. In “Civil Disobedience” Thoreau claims that men should act from their conscience. Thoreau believed it was the duty of a person to disobey the law if his conscience says that the law is unjust. He believed this even if the law was made by a democratic process. Thoreau wrote that a law is not just, only because the majority votes for it. He wrote, “Can there not be a government in which the majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?” (Thoreau, P. 4). Thoreau wanted a government in the United States that would make the just laws based on conscience, because the people of the country would not let the elected representatives be unfair. Thoreau did not think people can disobey any law when they want to. He believed that people should obey just laws; however, Thoreau thought that not all laws were right, and he wrote that a man must obey what is right, not what is the law: “It 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” (Thoreau, P. 4). Thoreau believed that when people disobey unjust laws, that will help change the laws to make them just... ... middle of paper ... ...his conscience not the law, “I have paid no poll tax for six years. I was put into a jail once on this account” (Thoreau, P. 26). The rhetorical position of the two writers is close because they both depend on their character to make their arguments more persuasive. On the other hand, Thoreau quoted from important documents like the Bible and the Confucius to make his essay more persuasive and to increase the likelihood that the audience will accept his argument. The ideas of King are very similar to the ideas of Thoreau. Moreover, the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” shows that King, read the writings of many famous people. From these two reasons, King had probably read “Civil Disobedience” as an important document regarding justice and injustice. Therefore, the positions of the two writers are very close, and they cite conscience as a guide to obeying just laws.

    More about Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Justification of Defying Unjust Laws

      Open Document