Comparing Thoreau's Resistance To Civil Government

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Both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau discuss the role of the individual in great lengths. In Emerson’s Self Reliance he expresses his frustration with the general population’s unwillingness to fulfill the duties of the individual. Emerson believes that everyone has innovative thoughts and ideas, but only true revolutionaries have the courage to share them with the world. In Thoreau’s Resistance to Civil Government he focuses on the rights of the individual as part of the State, or government. He believes that it is the people’s duty to disobey the laws if they are unjust.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s view of the individual was greatly affected by his life experiences. He grew up and even became a pastor in a Unitarian church, but was skeptical
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Thoreau’s essay focuses on his belief that the individual has the right and the duty to protest unjust laws or an unjust government. He even spent the night in jail because he refused to pay the poll tax in order to protest the Mexican American War. Thoreau’s night in jail was the inspiration for his reasoning that “There will never be a really free and enlightened State, until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are deviated, and treats him accordingly.” (Thoreau 1872). He believed in the power of the individual as an essential part of the State and that “a single man can bend [the government] to his will.” but was frustrated with his impact as a single person on the actions of the government in the Mexican American War (Thoreau 1857). He even goes as far to “declare war with the State…” because “[he does] not care the course of [his] dollar... till it buys a man, or a musket to shoot one with.” (Thoreau 1869). When he was bailed out of jail he “saw to what extent the people among whom [he] lived could be trusted as good neighbors and friends” (Thoreau 1868) and was disappointed that they did not endeavor to cause political change. He asks the public to consider whether they “shall be content to obey them, or shall endeavor to amend them, and obey them until they have succeeded, or shall they transgress them at once” because “unjust laws exist” and it is the individuals duty to protest them (Thoreau
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