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Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience: Summary and Analysis

Civil Disobedience Summary

❶Having spent one night in jail in July of for refusal to pay his poll tax in protest against slavery and the Mexican War, Thoreau lectured before the Concord Lyceum in January of on the subject "On the Relation of the Individual to the State.

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He does this by refusing to pay his taxes. Thoreau believes in practicing what he preaches, and writes about how he himself refused to pay his taxes and for this civil disobedience spent a night in the town jail. Of his stay in jail, he has nothing unpleasant to say. His cell and cellmate, he writes, were clean and friendly, respectively. Furthermore, he points out that while the state—the government—has the right to control his body by way of putting him in jail for failure to pay his taxes, it cannot control his mind.

It cannot control his moral sense, which is to say, his sense of justice. A government for the people, according to Thoreau, requires the consent of the people in order to utilize authority. He writes that not only do citizens have the right to withdraw and withhold that consent—by refusing to financially support the government—but they also have the responsibility to do so as active members of society.

He stipulates that financial support in the form of tax should be refused until the government turns its focus first to justice—only then is the call to civil disobedience met. Such protests are given as a right to American citizens by the rights to freedom of assembly, association, and speech. Mahatma Gandhi was an admirer of Thoreau and adopted his policy of nonviolent resistance to oppose racism in Africa and imperialism in India.

American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, the U. King and his followers repeatedly did. Thoreau never advocated the indiscriminate breaking of laws; civil disobedience applies only in cases of fundamental moral principle. Not all individuals are necessarily right in defying the government. Similarly, opponents of abortion rights have argued that a higher law requires them to break laws that prohibit them from harassing those who sanction abortion rights.

One night in July, , while Henry David Thoreau was living a quiet life on the shores of Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts, he was jailed for failing to pay his taxes. He was released the next day because someone, probably his aunt, paid the tax.

He gave a public lecture in at the Concord Lyceum to explain to his community his reasons for refusing to pay the tax. It is known to have been an inspiration to Mohandas Gandhi, who led the passive resistance movement for the liberation of India from British colonial rule. Thoreau did not find his identity in association with other people who shared his background. Rather, he believed his truest identity would be found in differentiating himself from the common herd of humanity, which he saw as mediocre, morally lazy, and cowardly.

Civil law and the power of the democratic majority are secondary to the higher moral law as it is discerned by the individual. In cases in which civil government conflicts with personal conscience, Thoreau advocates withdrawing all support from that government immediately, without waiting to change the law or public opinion. Not only was Thoreau against the war itself but the war was over Texas which was to be used as a slave state. He believed strongly against paying money to a war he did not support, and would rather end up in jail than go against his will.

It was important to Thoreau to get the public informed about the War, and make people think why it was wrong to support it.

His statements were to get people to think and take their own approach to the situation. Behind his words, Emerson means that he should follow his conscience regardless of what side it is on. In making this comment, Emerson urges us to not conform to society and do what is believe to be justice, which in fact can lead to civil disobedience just as Martin Luther king displayed.

MLK did not conform to society and stood up for what he believed. King used peaceful sit-ins and rallies to unite the black community. Blacks were forced to sit on the back of busses, use separate bathrooms, water fountains, spaces in a restaurant, and schools. Segregation made the blacks feel inferior and unequal.

King led many black protesters to use methods such as banning busses, sit ins, and marches. Those who commit civil disobedience do so, not to break the law, however to correct an injustice, and thus accept the consequences for breaking the law.

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Summary Thoreau's Civil Disobedience espouses the need to prioritize one's conscience over the dictates of laws. It criticizes American social institutions and policies, most prominently slavery and the Mexican-American War.

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Civil Disobedience study guide contains a biography of Henry David Thoreau, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

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"Civil Disobedience" was included in the Riverside Edition of (in Miscellanies, the tenth volume), in the Walden and Manuscript Editions of (in Cape Cod and Miscellanies, the fourth volume), and in the Princeton Edition (in Reform Papers, the third volume) in The essay, now known as “Civil Disobedience,” was written to argue the moral necessity of resisting the institution of slavery, which the United States’ war against Mexico sought to extend. “Civil Disobedience” has become one of the ethical cornerstones of nonviolent resistance movements.

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The essay Civil Disobedience or Resistance to Civil Government was a speech delivered by David Thoreau in response to a particular event-the Mexican War, which occurred in May This war was probably expected to result in the expansion of slave territory. Civil Disobedience Summary SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.