As society faced great inequities in the 19th and 20th centuries, activists and philosophers sought to inform the general public. At the turn of the 19th century, Thoreau presented his writing of a "Civil Disobedience" as an argument of the injustices of the tyrannical government after spending a night in jail. Likewise, Martin Luther King Jr. presented his argument to society as he was jailed in 1963. In his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," King perceives the injustice of the African American community as a primary goal as to the need for the advocation of the whole population. Whereas in Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience," it addresses the injustices in broader terms and stresses the despotic government.
In both essays, personal involvement plays a key role in showing credibility to the audience. Personal connection offers the audience more to believe thus following the act of defying the law. Thoreau didn’t really offer this as he was merely a spectator of Polk’s actions. He protested on his own ground without a following.His essay didn’t achieve publicity until 1863, after Thoreau’s death. Thoreau’s target of slavery was defining the very institution of the south.
Near the beginning of his renowned essay, "Civil Disobedience," Henry David Thoreau appeals to his fellow citizens when he says, "...I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government." This request serves as a starting point from which the rest of "Civil Disobedience" emerges. Thoreau 's essay is particularly compelling because of its incorporation of rhetorical strategies, including the use of logos, ethos, pathos, purposive discourse, rhetorical competence and identification. I will demonstrate how each of these rhetorical techniques benefit Thoreau 's persuasive argument. Thoreau uses logos throughout his essay to strengthen his argument with reasoning.
What Thoreau means by the Civil Disobedience is that every person should be govern more by his own moral compass that gives him much clearer answer to his deeds, rather than some laws of a government. “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think we should be men first, and subjects afterward.” (1) On the first reading of such statement, one can easily agree, but it is unimaginable that it could really work in reality. It would count on every citizen being moral and righteous.
This view required all subjugated people to obey their king without argument. Thoreau, however, contended that one should follow only the laws that one’s conscience believed correct. In the “Declaration of Independence”, written by Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson disregarded the ideas of Bossuet and eloquently lists the reason for the colonies separates from their king and country. The tension between submitting
Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” advocates for societal change. A common misconception of the essay is that it is strictly about peaceful protest. In addition to resisting civil government, Thoreau supported John Brown’s raid and movements of naturalism not for the purpose of political activism but because he truly believed in little government. As he states in his opening line, a “government is best which governs not at all”, Thoreau’s stance on small government arose from the divisive issues of the Mexican-American War and slavery (Thoreau 1). Even though this may seem to grab the attention of the public today, Thoreau’s unorthodox beliefs expressed in “Civil Disobedience” were largely ignored in most of the 19th century.
Thoreau identifies that ultimately if citizens want change from injustice, citizens must disobey. The active pursuit of injustice and constant disobedience affects change within the government. Likewise, the Declaration of Independence claims that disobedience becomes a part of a citizen’s duty. The Declaration of Independence starts with a similar call to action: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another … a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation”
In a summary written in the article “The Perils of Obedience” (Milgram 1974), states: “The legal aspects of obedience are of enormous import, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations.” The experiment set up at Yale University was to measure how much pain an ordinary citizen would mete out onto another person just because an authoritative direction or instruction to do so was given. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.” Agency theory says that people “will obey an authority when they believe that the authority will take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.” This idea is reinforced by some characteristics of Milgram’s evidence in his
Henry Thoreau stated “I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government.” This means that the power should be to the people and government should represent the people. Civil Disobedience is found worldwide where people express how they feel and challenge government due to their freedom being on the line. A guideline one can use is Henry Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience
Liberty is a standard addressed in both Emerson and Thoreau’s writings that is alike in both mens’ perspectives. In Self Reliance, Emerson writes “It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs,” explaining that through his eyes, society cares not about an individual’s ego and prosperity but instead the individual himself. Society is focused on names and customs alike as they are all unique to each person. The similarities are evident in Thoreau’s Walden as well. Thoreau views liberty as all animals roaming the forest and while all the animals are different, they are all treated the same in the eyes of nature.