Civil Disobedience. By: Alan May, Victoria Jones, and Laura Dunnagan. Thoreau’s Definition of Civil Disobedience. Excerpts from his essay “Civil Disobedience” Henry David Thoreau By: Alan May. Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”.
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By: Alan May, Victoria Jones, and Laura Dunnagan
Excerpts from his essay “Civil Disobedience”
Henry David Thoreau
By: Alan May
“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth—certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”
(see next slide for explanation)
Thoreau says here, basically: If you can, within reason, do not support an unjust law. Thoreau appeals to his audience, telling them they should not support a government that acts unjustly, even if they have to act outside the legally acceptable range to make their disapproval clear.
“I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name—-if ten honest men only—ay, if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this co-partnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in America.”
If one man, opposing slavery, were to act on his beliefs, it would be hugely effective. Thoreau is saying here that having a conscience is not enough; one must also act on it.
“If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood.”
Again, Thoreau is saying: ACT. You must “walk the walk” in addition to “talking the talk.”
By: Laura Dunnagan
Involvement with ‘Civil Disobedience’
On December1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Mrs. Rosa Louise Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. In this time, it was required for all African American people to willingly give up their seats in the bus to any white person who needed one, and in not giving up her seat, Mrs. Parks was willfully disobeying the government. After Mrs. Parks’s rebellion, the African American population in Montgomery planned a boycott of all city buses that lasted for 381 days.
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