Henry David Thoreau And Letter From Birmingham Jail

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10/27/15 Henry David Thoreau is known as one of the most influential writers of all time. His ideology is idolized by many writers including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In civil disobedience, Thoreau expresses his strong dislike for the United States government and his opposition to slavery and the Mexican War. Thoreau believes everyone has the responsibility to fight against unjust laws. He spent a night in jail because he refused to pay taxes to support the Mexican war. About a century later, Dr. King, inspired by Thoreau exercised civil disobedience to fight for justice for African Americans. After reading Dr. King’s “letter from Birmingham Jail, one can conclude that he has been strongly inspired by Thoreau. Although both authors believe …show more content…

Thoreau uses an aggressive and assertive tone to call his readers to action. He starts his essay by attacking the government and criticizing many of its policies. He declares, “That government is best which governs not at all” (WOI, 305). He goes on to write, “yet this government never of itself furthered… has not sometimes got in its way” (WOI, 306). Thoreau perceives the government as being useless. He gets the reader’s attention by aggressively attacking the government. Dr. King, on the other hand, is much calmer and patient. Unlike Thoreau, Dr. King urges the reader to obey just laws. He writes, “one has not only a legal but moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws” (WOI, 382). Dr. King is calling for civil disobedience for unjust laws only, unlike Thoreau who tells the readers to distance themselves from the government if they find some of its laws or policies to be unjust. Thoreau’s essay is more like a call to action speech. His aggressive tone works because by showing that the government is useless he is able to convince the readers to distance themselves from the government. He gives the readers reasons to disassociate themselves from the government. Even though Dr. King thinks that Justice for African Americans has been “too long delayed”, he is still very patient in “letter from …show more content…

They believed that every human being has the responsibility to disobey unjust laws and be willing to accept the punishment for their civil disobedience. Thoreau writes “the only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right” (WOI, 206). Later on Thoreau mentions a time when he spent a night in jail because he refused to pay his taxes. He states, “I saw that there was a stone… of all my townsmen had paid my taxes” (WOI, 316). He believes he has performed his civil duty because he did what he thinks is right. Thoreau refused to pay his taxes because he opposed the Mexican War; even though the Mexican war is not unjust to him personally, he refused to pay taxes to support it knowing that he could go to jail for it. Similarly, Dr. King fought for justice in Birmingham even though he does not live there. He thinks that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere” (WOI, 378). The injustice in Birmingham does not affect him directly, but he feels he has the responsibility to fight for justice in Birmingham because it is a threat to justice everywhere else. Dr. King ended up getting arrested doing so. He explains, “one who breaks an unjust law… is in reality expressing the highest respect for law” (WOI, 384). Dr. King believes he is exercising his civil duty by fighting for justice in Birmingham. Like Thoreau,

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