Thoreau's Civil Disobedience

Essay by Braves44High School, 10th gradeA+, April 2003

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1. Does Henry Thoreau want a revolution? Would his new government, based on his ideas set forth in "Civil Disobedience," be compatible with democracy?

In Civil Disobedience and Other Essays, Thoreau declared that the American government is "a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves; and, if ever they should use it in earnest as a real one against each other, it will surely split." (1), causing him to conclude that the best government is the government that governs the least because government rarely proves useful or expedient. While Thoreau realized that the American government is necessary, the only time in which it has been useful is when the government has stood aside, knowing that the government is often abused so that it no longer represents the will of the people. In addition, the decision-making process incensed Thoreau. He saw that there was a "majority rule" system in place, and that when "a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice..."

(2) Thoreau avowed every man's right of revolution and refusal of allegiance to the government. He exercised this right when the State commanded him to pay a duty for the clergyman. When Thoreau refused, he was incarcerated. Later, in a poem he wrote, Thoreau said that if thousands of people were to stop paying their taxes, they would bring about a revolution. Thoreau feels that by paying taxes, he is giving the government an affectation that he pledges his allegiance to them. However, In "Civil Disobedience," Thoreau discerned that some friction (an unjust law) is necessary for the machine (the government) to function properly and that people must allow some unjust laws. Nevertheless, once the unjust law proliferates to the size that slavery was at, it was time to jettison the...