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Civil Disobedience

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Civil Disobedience

During the time of slavery in the United States many opposed the government’s persistence in slavery. Only a few stepped forward and presented this opposition. Henry David Thoreau was one of the individuals who presented his argument through a letter he wrote in jail. His refusal to pay a local poll tax was his way in protesting against the Mexican War and slavery. “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau argues for individual resistance to civil government and opposition to an unjust state. He argues it is each individual’s duty to practice civil disobedience, the refusal to obey civil laws to bring change in government policy by not using violence. He criticizes American social institutions and policies as well as slavery and the Mexican American war. Thoreau’s deepest argument throughout his writing is individualism. He rejects the view that a person must sacrifice their values out of loyalty to the government.

Thoreau argues that individualism has an effect on government. Individuals are responsible for injustices that they participate in. For example he states, “There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them, who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hand in their pockets and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing”. Simply, by not acting upon an unjust law, he argues, we are giving in and supporting the government. In order to demonstrate disapproval, man must take action, and contradict those laws that are unjust. Any law that that degrades human personality is unjust. He also states, “If one honest man in the state of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from his copartnership and be locked up in the county jail, therefore, it would be the abolition of slavery in America.” In his argument he gives hope and confidence that it’s on hold by someone persistent enough to stand up for the minorities. Change will be done only by a strong person or persons who will stop depending on the majority to induce change and begin making a change on their own. Thoreau believed it was the duty for an individual to disobey to stand up for what was right, for personal freedom, and that the only thing government can do was to force people to obey higher law. He also argues that people are the cause of what a country becomes, not the government. He states, “It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people was done all that has been accomplished and it would have done some what more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.” The power



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