Henry David Thoreau 's Civil Disobedience Essay

Henry David Thoreau 's Civil Disobedience Essay

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Henry David Thoreau starts Civil Disobedience with “I heartily accept the motto— “That government is best which governs the least,” and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically” (para. 1). The impression that I got when I read this first sentence is that he had some issues with how the government works. His statement, “That government is best which governs not at all,” somehow sent me an impression that he does not want a government when in fact he just does not want how the government is structured so he calls for its reformation. He explained how a few individuals get to use a standing government as a tool to grab land from Mexico during the Mexican War. I think what he is trying to convey about the government is that it does not really represent what the people, who actually have the right to decide what the government does, wants to be done. Thoreau also presented this idea when he used a sentence that confused me because two contradicting statements were used. “It has not the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will.” The statement that followed after the semicolon contradicted the statement before it. It took me a while to realize that it is some sort of irony to emphasize his point: that only a few are controlling the government for their own benefit. While I agree that there might only be a few individuals behind using the government as a tool to harassing a weaker nation, I cannot avoid asking if the people were actually ignorant of this. What if during that time, the citizens were actually rooting for the government to oppress Mexico, and there were only a few, like Thoreau, that were not in favor of this? Having no broad knowledge about the US histor...


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...as Thoreau calls them— finally take the courage to discontinue it.
It is apparent that Thoreau’s target audience when he wrote this is the more literate people of the society. Maybe he thought that doing so would help him spread what he wants to communicate easier because the more educated class will understand his arguments better than those who belonged to the lower classes. Thoreau’s use of long sentences and deep words regarding politics is a con for me because it was not easy to make sense out of them. Some did not even make sense at all. I think further reading about the US history will help me to understand some of Thoreau’s explanation regarding his arguments. Does Thoreau’s work need improvements? It certainly does. But given the events occurring during his time, I think his essay is a relevant eye-opener to put people’s rights first before the government’s.

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