Henry David Thoreau harbored many anarchist thoughts toward the American government of the decades before the Civil War, which he collected and wrote about in the essay, Civil Disobedience, which, in fact was originally called Resistance to Civil Government, giving the essay a powerful message that would not only reflect Thoreau’s own views toward the Mexican war, but also give the essay a powerful anti-slavery message, as well as affect the whole idea of Civil Rights, as well as shape the leaders of Civil Rights. In examining the essay, Civil Disobedience, we must also immerse ourselves into the reasoning of the essay.
Henry David Thoreau lived a quiet life in a small cabin he had built in Walden. Thoreau thought paying his taxes was wrong in principal, Thoreau declares that he cannot associate with the American government, because it is a slave’s government (BECK Index). Thoreau jails himself after being asked about taxes by the Constable of Concord, Sam Staples, a friend of Thoreau. Thoreau refuses to pay the tax, and is only released after some family member pays the tax for him. Thoreau is infuriated that someone would pay his tax for him after he would not (About. com). Thoreau refuses to pay taxes due to their use in the
Mexican War. As Thoreau declares Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool. Thoreau, gives ‘civil Disobedience’ its urgency… as a result of the leadership of imperialists like President James Polk and Southern planters who were determined to add new land to their cotton culture, was making war on Mexico and would take away half its’ territory (Smith, 60). The action of the government is more like that of a monarchy to Thoreau. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively few individuals, (Thoreau, 1). Thoreau speaks by the basic
Transcendentalist though of self-reliance. Thoreau also, questions the personal morality involved in the Mexican war (Hildebidle, 69). In Civil Disobedience, we can see the stark contrasts between the attitude of the state and Toreau’s own views. Thoreau explains why slavery is a moral evil. Thoreau only disagreed with the principle behind slavery, he knew no Negroes, had never experienced the slightest social oppression, but was a radical individualist (Smith, 62). Thoreau was a staunch supporter of John Brown, and went as far as to honor his death at Harper’s Ferry. Thoreau influenced many eaders of later Civil Rights movements.
Thoreau’s essay is a noble ringing reiteration of the highest religious individualism as a self-evident social principle (Emerson, 5) The essay also had a power with great minds who were looking to break free of oppressive governments. It has been well documented that King and Gandhi were both affected by the essay in threir quest for civil equality, for Gandhi, as a young leader of the oppressed Indians in South Africa, was looking for a political strategy by which to resist a totally oppressive government. (Hildebidle, 74) Civil Disobedience gives each reader a essage about speaking out about what you believe in.
For Thoreau, the problem is simply of putting the highest possible value on the individual rather than on the state, (Salt, 174). Again, Thoreau light s the fire in the reader, to think of what is good for himself or herself. John F. Kennedy said in his inauguration speech, Ask not what you country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. This thought expresses many values a person may have towards an action, taking place. Thoreau has this to say about the government, It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate.