Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817. After graduating from Harvard in 1837, he became a schoolmaster for a while before he started poetry writing. Later, he joined the transcendentalism movement which was concerned with philosophical, literary, and religious issues. The leader of the movement (Emerson) taught that social reforms begin with an individual. Henry agreed with these teachings and even settled on the land owned by Emerson in 1845. In the off land; he meditated and wrote about nature for few years.
In 1846 US went to war against Mexico. Henry and other critics viewed this action as a plot of expanding slavery to the southwest. Henry stopped paying taxes as a way of protesting against slavery (Costly). As a result of evading paying taxes as well as the war against Mexico, the local tax collectors started to act against Henry. Later in 1846, Henry was arrested because of evading the payment of taxes and was taken to jail. Luckily, his taxes were paid anonymously leading to his release from the jail where he had spent one night. This action gave Henry the incentive to write the essay and published it in 1849.
The act of henry's defiance against tax made him conclude that being against the war and slavery was not enough; one had to act. He wrote "Civil Disobedience" whereby he proclaimed an activist manifesto. He argued that it was wise for honest men to revolutionize and rebel against slavery and war against Mexico (Costly). Further, he explained that for government to earn its right to tax collection, it must bring to an end its unjust actions. Henry argued that conscientious people will not cease to evade paying taxes until the government stops being unjust.
In the essay, Henry emphasized that conscientious persons will not obey unjust laws or get involved in injustice even if they are imprisoned. In his view, he says that prison has become the right place where just persons are held by the unjust government (Saxby). Henry didn't dismiss the use of violence against a government that was unjust unlike other civil disobedience advocates such as Martin Luther King. His action of not paying taxes is an open declaration of war against the state without fear of the harsh treatment he may receive from the government.
Henry’s Civil Disobedience expounds on the need to follow conscience rather than dictates of laws. The author criticizes slavery and war against Mexico as well as other social policies and institutions in America. Additionally, Henry says that government is given power by the majority and not by the legitimacy of its viewpoint and it hardly shows how useful it is to its people (Saxby). He asserts that the people’s duty is to do what they know is right and not to abide by the unjust laws. Henry puts it that people should keep a distance from unjust government and refrain from following its laws. Additionally, the essay emphasizes that the obligation of people is not to get involved in evils but not to get devoted to removing evils from the world. In his argument, Thoreau urges to support the unjust practices of the government such as slavery and refrain from being part of institutions which are unjust.
However, Henry does not believe in the government's effectiveness towards reform, and he claims that petitioning and voting for change make little achievements. According to Henry, protesting against slavery by failing to pay taxes was preferable in advocating for reform. Henry uses social commentary and poetry as he covers various topics in Civil Disobedience.H e believes that in some time to come there will be a government that will not govern at all, in fact, he agrees that the best government governs least. Ideally, he writes that achievements in education, keeping the nation free and settling the west are not facilitated by the government but by the people. He says that the American people have made the country to make these achievements and if the government were less involved, the country would have been more successful.
Furthermore, Henry complains because of commerce and trade restrictions. He says that as a citizen he is advocating for a better government and not an immediate removal of the existing government. He wonders where a government in which conscience decides wrong and right and not the majority will come from. In his view, it is essential to have respect for what is right instead of respecting the law. He says that respecting the law too much makes people start doing unjust things. For instance, soldiers have been shaped as government machines, and they lack a chance to exercise moral sense. Those who apply moral sense are persecuted as enemies by the government including politicians and legislators.
Additionally, Civil Disobedience essay describes the way individual citizens will respond to injustices from their government. He says that a wise and principled citizen should follow conscience. He adds that a person should get rid of injustice and should wash his hands and never get associated with wrong things (Saxby). He says that most people believe in trying to change the existing unjust laws and obeying them until they are replaced. As a result of this belief, they fear to resist thinking that they would face a revolution which is worse than the injustice itself. Thoreau urges his reader to avoid participating in the wrong and be counter-friction to the machine of government which will wear out smoothly if left out.
Further, the writer says about his encounters with civil disobedience. He adds that he had evaded paying tax for six years and he was jailed once and spent a single night in jail. He continues and says that his spirit was not hurt by being imprisoned. It is clear that Henry doesn't aim at conflicting with the country or any person but wants to follow his conscience and do what is right.
On the other hand, Gandhi was born in India and received education from England. Later in 1893, he went to practice law in South Africa under a contract lasting for one year. While in South Africa, he encountered racism and faced laws that that enhanced a restriction to Indian laborers rights. He began his journey of fighting against injustice and for the rights of Indian people after an occasion where he threw out of the first-class compartment of a train. He was angered by this action, and from then onwards he vowed to do everything possible to ensure that Indians are no longer denied their rights (Gandhi 37). When his contract expired, he remained in South Africa to that Indians are given their right to vote. He organized his first mass civil disobedience in 1906 after the government had restricted to give Indians their rights. He continued conducting protests and civil disobedience for seven years before going back to India in 1914 after great success in his efforts.
While in India Gandhi initiated protests against Britain’s soldiers in 1919. As a result of these protests, many people around him and made their leader. As the leader, he preached the ethics of religion and urged people to live in unity under one God (Gandhi 18). However, Gandhi was arrested many times, but the multitude behind him always facilitated his release. Eventually, his efforts were not in vain because India received its independence from the British authorities1n 1947. His actions of persuasive civil disobedience influenced Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of civil right movements.
Martin Luther King Jr. was an advocate for social change by use of nonviolent means. In 1955, he was arrested together with other civil rights activists because of leading a boycott of Alabama, Montgomery Transportation Company. The company wanted the blacks to surrender their seats to whites and sit at the back or stand. For over a decade, Martin Luther King Jr. demanded civil rights legislation towards the African-Americans through speaking, writing and nonviolent mass demonstrations and protests. King made many demonstrations, but one that generated headlines throughout the world took place in 1963 in Birmingham. The demonstration was countered by white police who had fire hoses and police dogs. King made a famous speech "I have a dream" and emphasized the need of not dividing people by their race. He inspired a strong movement in 1964 that led to the Civil Rights Act to be enacted.
Ideally, I am for the use of civil disobedience in ensuring that the government gives its citizens their rights no matter their race, background or religion. One of the groups that support my views is the Black Lives Matter social movement. The movement’s goal was to stop violence and racism that African-Americans experienced in America from the state and police (Carney 182). The movement organized peaceful protests in the efforts to ensure that the government stops racial discrimination to the African-Americans.
Also, Malcolm X actions reflect issues that made me stand for civil disobedience and fight for civil rights. Malcolm was an influential civil rights activist who advocated for cultural pride, self-defense, and self-reliance in an encounter with racial violence. The Malcolm X approach received the name Black Power and gained a lot of adherents after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. Although Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, his efforts were not in vain thy must have had made a difference somewhere.
Other movements that go hand on hand with this point of view is the American Indian Movement (AIM) that was aimed at helping the Native Americans who lived in urban ghettos from experiencing displacement by programs from the government. Also, the movement demanded traditional culture revitalization, economic independence, legal rights protection, tribal areas autonomy and restoration of the illegally seized lands. In its efforts to achieve its goals; the movement was highly involved in public protests.
In conclusion, Civil Disobedience is crucial in any case individuals or citizens of a country are denied their rights. Notably, Thoreau, Gandhi, Luther King, and all other individuals, as well as movements mentioned in this paper, played an essential role in their efforts of achieving a social change in matters pertaining civil rights. In fact, some of them didn't mind what they could face as a result of involving themselves in civil disobedience. For instance, Thoreau refrained from paying taxes and didn't fear what the government could do to him as long as he was following his conscience and not the unjust laws.
Carney, Nikita. "All lives matter, but so does race: Black lives matter and the evolving role of social media." Humanity & Society 40.2 (2016): 180-199.
Costly, Andrew. “Thoreau and ‘Civil Disobedience.’” (n.d) Constitutional Rights Foundation, www.crf-usa.org/black-history-month/thoreau-and-civil-disobedience. Accessed 20 May 2018.
Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. Non-violent resistance. Courier Corporation, 2012:3-40
Saxby, Morgan. “Civil Disobedience.” Babe Ruth: Constructing a legend, 2003, xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper2/thoreau/civil.html. Accessed 20 May 2018.