Thoreau and “Civil Disobedience”

Henry David Thoreau, graduated from Harvard in 1837 and worked for a short time as a schoolmaster before he began writing poetry. Later, he joined Transcendentalism, a religious, philosophical and literary movement. The movement was led by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a writer and lecturer.

Thoreau agreed with Emerson’s teaching that social reforms begins with the individual. In 1845, he built a hut at Walden Pond on property owned by Emerson, he lived simply off the land, meditated and wrote about nature.

In 1846, the U.S declared war against Mexico. Thoreau and other northern critics of war viewed it as a plot by southerners to expand slavery into the Southwest. Thoreau had already stopped paying his taxes in protest against slavery. The tax collector had ignored his tax evasion but acted when Henry publicly condemned the US invasion and occupation of Mexico.

In July 1846, Thoreau was arrested for his tax delinquency. He spent one night in jail and someone paid for his tax. This prompted him to write his famous essay, “Civil Disobedience.”

He realized that it was not enough to be simply against slavery and the war. A person of conscience had to act. He argued that the government needed to end its unjust actions to earn the rights to collect taxes from its citizens.

By not paying his taxes, he was refusing his allegiance to the government. Unlike some later advocates of civil disobedience like Martin Luther King, Thoreau did not rule out using violence against an unjust government. In 1859, Thoreau defended John Brown’s bloody attack on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, during his failed attempt to spark a slave revolt.

Source: Thoreau and “Civil Disobedience”
© 2017 WWW.CRF-USA

Back to top