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Transcendentalism In Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience

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Henry David Thoreau was a mid-nineteenth century transcendentalist philosopher and writer. Thoreau is best remembered for his book “Walden”, detailing his simple life living by Walden Pond. His other most well-known work is “Civil Disobedience”, a philosophical, political piece concerning his views on 19th century America. A fervent pacifist, humanitarian and abolitionist, Thoreau stopped paying his poll taxes (a tax levied on all adults in a community) as a form of protest towards the government for the Mexican American War and slavery. After being imprisoned in July 1846 for not paying his taxes, Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience in response. The two main things that Thoreau argues for in “Civil Disobedience” are the idea of a limited government…show more content…
In the 1840’s, the American people believed in an idea called “Manifest Destiny”: in other words, they felt it was their divine right to claim and settle western America. By following their “Manifest Destiny”, American settlers were ignoring the rights of the land’s original owners and inhabitants. This can be observed in the bloody conflict between America and Mexico, the Mexican-American War, which ended in the annexation of Texas and Mexico losing a lot of its American territory. The war was even more offensive in Thoreau’s eyes because it allowed Texas to be a slave state. Thoreau simply could not support a government that permitted events like slavery and the Mexican American War. “When a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize.” In his essay, Thoreau expresses the sentiment that only individuals are capable of having a conscience and that the collective government doesn’t care for the well-being of the people and will take any actions necessary to get what they want. “If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay…show more content…
Many throughout history shared Thoreau’s opinion, especially those who were on the receiving end of the government’s unjust practices. Thoreau felt that a better government was needed and I would argue, that his words are still relevant today. There is always room for the government to improve. Thoreau wanted a government that didn’t just look to the interests of the powerful majority, one in which individuals with consciences lead, instead of a collective power making decisions for the individuals. The people have the right to resist a government that isn’t serving them properly or is treating them unjustly, or is using their funding for immoral causes; in fact, it is the people’s duty to do so, for only through civil disobedience can the people simulate change. Only through a changed government, a better government, will the American people experience true
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