"Civil Disobedience" By David Henry Thoreau

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Civil Disobedience

Henry David Thoreau

American author and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Mass, in 1817. Thoreau, a graduate of Harvard in 1837, is considered one of the most influential figures in American thought and literature. Known for being an individualist, Thoreau fought against materialism and social conformity. This individualistic belief is reflected in his numerous writings.

In one of Thoreau's most noted and influential works, the essay "Civil Disobedience," he begins an attack on the philosophy of a strong ruling government by agreeing with the powerful motto "Government is best which governs least." Thoreau further states that he holds the expectation that man will be able to have a government that does not govern at all. He believes that the need for the American government really arises from the requirement of people to have a sort of "machine" to control things and make their decisions for them.

Thoreau eludes that the only time government has helped is when it has stood aside. In fact government does not keep the country free, settle the west, or educate, rather such achievements come from the character of the American people. The question that arose in my mind was, "how do I act toward the government then?" The message I received from reading Thoreau is to avoid associating with government all together, that people should live by their conscience not the laws of an unjust government. When people do this they can explore new ideas and be creative. Thoreau is challenging the average person to live up to their potential.

In the essay, Thoreau goes on to say that most people threaten revolution when they are forced to deal with a tyrannical or unproductive government. He feels that the American people have not only the right, but a duty to...