David Thoreau and the Doctrine of Disobedience - Essay Example

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This research explores the issue of Thoreau and the Doctrine of Disobedience. Published in 1849, “Civil Disobedience” is Thoreau’s reaction to an America that he believed had failed to live up to the constitutional promise of equality and justice. …
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David Thoreau and the Doctrine of Disobedience
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Download file to see previous pages The paper tells that the questions that emerged from Thoreau’s famous night in jail resulted in an essay originally entitled “Resistance to Civil Government,” which probably more accurately describes his position and the course of action he adopted in response to what he considered the depredations of the U.S. government. Thoreau expressly refused to pay taxes to the state of Massachusetts as a form of resistance to the federal government’s tacit support of slavery and its expansionist war against Mexico. However, it is generally forgotten that Thoreau specifically consented to the right of Massachusetts to assess and collect taxes, provided that those monies were to be used for just and moral ends. In his article “Thoreau: A Civil Disobedient?,” W.A. Herr contends that the term “civil disobedience” has been used to describe a broad range of socio-political activities, ranging from revolutions to hunger strikes, an expansive perspective on what was for Thoreau a simple matter of refusing to comply with immoral government policies. As the concept exists today, civil disobedience evokes images of widespread, organized initiatives aimed at forcing profound political change. Herr notes that there is no available evidence that Thoreau ever actually used the term “civil disobedience”, at least not in his writings. In his famous essay, Thoreau ponders a matter of individual conscience; he is not a “call to arms,” nor is it a manifesto, as some have claimed. ... Published in 1849, “Civil Disobedience” is Thoreau’s reaction to an America that he believed had failed to live up to the constitutional promise of equality and justice. The burden of labor in the South was shouldered by enslaved human beings; in the North, wealthy industrialists and factory owners held exploited workers in a state of thralldom that approximated slavery. America was brutally enforcing the doctrine of manifest destiny in the West while using its military power to wrest vast territories from Mexico. Thoreau wrote that this ran counter to the true business of government, which is to uphold civil rights, to protect the populace and provide opportunities for people to live the good life. Citizens of conscience should counter the policies of governments, which do more harm than good. His key point is that the individual is every bit as justified to act as a government, that the only true obligation of the citizen is to follow the dictates of his conscience. Thoreau could not countenance obeying a government that supported the institution of slavery. As such, the government could have “no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it”. The evolution of government to a more enlightened version, such as democracy, is profoundly a matter of preserving individual rights, he argues. As such, the citizen is compelled to exercise one’s rights by refusing to support the betrayal of the natural contract between the individual and government. Much of what one reads in “Civil Disobedience” sounds quite familiar, particularly to a native American. ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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