Peaceful Protest In Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience

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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. It was not until the 1900s where Thoreau’s idea of civil disobedience and its normative applications of peaceful protest came alive, most notably by Gandhi and Martin Luther Kin. Today, we can see the widespread influence of Thoreau’s ideas on wide-ranging groups from the Black Lives Matter…show more content…
Thoreau specifically justifies his non-payment of taxes because of his opposition of the Mexican-American War and slavery. Interestingly, though, as pointed out by Lawrence Rosenwald, Professor of English at Wellesley College in the article The Theory, Practice & Influence of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, the time in which Thoreau failed to pay his taxes and was jailed, was four years before the Mexican-American War. This exhibits Thoreau’s suspicion of the likelihood of war most likely arising from his belief of an overexpansion due to the nation’s mentality of Manifest Destiny and, furthermore, his critique on the means of which states were decided if they should have slaves (Rosenwald 51). Instead of considering the issues of the dignity and rights of African Americans, advocates of Manifest Destiny were more considered with gaining territory, a concept Thoreau and thousands of other New England residents
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