Civil Disobedience Essay

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Civil Disobedience Essay
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  • University/College:
    University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Words: 1236

  • Pages: 5

Civil Disobedience

Based on the writings of Henry David Thoreau it is very relevant that he is very opposed to government involvement of any kind. He doesn’t believe that the government should be involved in everyday life. Thoreau doesn’t understand the point of having a government system that will be useful to everyone and not just a select few. Thoreau proceeds to explain his many reasons as to why the “government is best [when it] governs [the] least.” He thought people should stand up to the very ones that made society so corrupt and weak. Thoreau believes the government puts personal selfish interests on a pedestal.

Thoreau’s opening statement set the tone for his entire essay. He begins his essay by saying that the government, so far, has rarely proven to be useful. He believes that the power the government has derived from the majority rather than the few. This is mainly because the majority is the strongest group not because their viewpoint is right but because they have many in numbers. He then continues to express the fact that many people do what they believe is right and not to just follow the law created by the majority. He insists that people should do away with the law all together when the legal system becomes unjust. Thoreau then states that the United States is a perfect example of an unjust government.

He believes that is because of the fact that they have shown support of slavery and they have participated in the practice of aggressive war. In regards to a man following his first obligation, Thoreau believes that a man isn’t obligated to get rid of the evils of the world, but he is obligated not to take part in these evils. This means that no man should feel the need to participate in an unruly government if he does not choose to do so. Thoreau asks, “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.” He is basically stating that it is far more important to develop respect for what is right, rather than a respect for law. Thoreau sets a very powerful and aggressive tone by choosing to open his essay this way.

Thoreau doesn’t see the effectiveness of reform within the US government. Thus, he wants his readers to feel the same way. He then says that he is convinced that petitioning and voting for change achieves very little. Thoreau uses a wide variety of examples, some personal, that depict the unjust system that he discusses. By using his own personal experiences, he is allowing the reader to fully understand everything he is trying to depict. He speaks on the fact that during a protest against slavery, he refused to pay the taxes that were issued to him. Because of his refusal to pay the taxes, he spent the night in jail. But, overall his thoughts and opinions dissociated him from the government because he chose not to participate in its institutions.

He then states that one can’t see the government for what it really is because one is still working within it. And, in this way they believe that everything is justified because they are a part of the strong majority. He feels that having too much respect for law causes people to do wild things. For example, he believes that the government has turned soldiers into machines for their own personal use making them a shadow of what is real. Thoreau is very passionate and honest about everything that he says. He wants the reader to know exactly where in his heart these words are coming from. He never uses a harsh syntax or diction when writing because he doesn’t want to sound angry.

Throughout his essay, Thoreau uses an intense appeal to pathos. He mostly uses pathos when he describes a conversation with his cell mate. Thoreau asks his fellow prisoner what he got put in jail for and the man replied saying, “they accuse me of burning a barn; but I never done it.” Thoreau does this to appeal to the emotion of his readers by showing them that what the government does isn’t fair. He also shows this when he says that he has been waiting 3 months for his trial, and he will probably have to wait another 3 months before he actually gets his trial. Thoreau describes the conversation to paint a picture in the minds of his readers, of an innocent man that had to wait a half a year to attempt to prove innocence. The fact that this innocent man was spending his waiting time in jail, draws a lot of sympathy from his readers.

Thoreau also uses a great deal of imagery in this essay. When describing his jail cell, he used “the rooms were white…washed once a month…” He was doing this to show his audience that his punishment really wasn’t as bad as most people thought it would be. Thoreau even said that he viewed his cell almost as if it were an apartment, and the jail house, a city. This supports his idea that jail technically isn’t a punishment for those in it. Thoreau, here, is trying to persuade the readers to stand together and revolt against the government because it is their duty to do so. He then goes on to say that neither him, nor his cell mate pose any real threat to society. This makes the reader question his place in jail. If he really wasn’t a threat, then why was he locked up?

Thoreau is very opinionated about his very broad views of the government. He believes that the government has only lasted this long because people refuse to execute their own will. And, until this happens, no changes will ever be made. Thoreau wishes for a society in which man makes decisions of his own mind and not the mind of those that are trying to suppress the truth. In some aspects Thoreau is right. Some current laws are not honorable. Overall, Thoreau just wants to conform to the laws set in place, but he feels that that phenomenon won’t happen.

In his essay, Thoreau makes it very clear of his idea that “government is best [when it] governs [the] least.” He uses many rhetorical strategies such as imagery, symbolism and pathos as an effort to persuade the readers that the best kind of government is one of laissez-faire. His main ideas were present in his writing. He wanted to show people that a hands-off government is not the best thing for everyone. Because if he was thrown in jail for one night due to the fact he didn’t pay poll tax for six years, then why don’t people step up and revolt against the government? He wanted the reader to feel empowered by his words so that there could truly be a change in government policies.

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Civil Disobedience Essay

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Civil Disobedience Essay
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  • University/College:
    University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Words: 380

  • Pages: 2

Civil Disobedience

Historically, in your opinion, has civil disobedience been effective in changing the law? Explain why or why not. What laws do you disagree with or would you consider violating to change? Explain The act of knowingly breaking a law that one feels is morally or ethically unjust is termed Civil Disobedience. While we all have a perception of right and wrong, the guideline for this thinking is our moral compass. While many individuals may see inequalities or injustices in our society, only a few make a physical stand for what they perceive to be right. Some discourage the use of civil disobedience as a tool that should be used for change, the logic being that it directly contradicts our nation’s democratic system. Others support the peaceful act of protesting or challenging laws that are unjust. It is my opinion that while technically breaking the law, it is necessary as it brings immediate attention to an unjust law.

As Martin Luther King Jr. stated and I quote “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.” Perfect examples of civil disobedience used to change laws are the Ms. Rosa Parks incident, as well as the prolonged civil rights movement initiated by Dr. King. While the above mentioned incidents of civil disobedience assisted in bringing attention to and ultimately changing unjust laws, this change was slow and not complete.

One of the laws that I do not agree with is pertaining to parental rights. I feel that in the courts of law in regards to custody and parenting responsibilities, the father always gets the short end of the stick. Never have I seen things being fair and just, unless in the uncommon circumstance where the mother is clearly not fit to be a parent. In many cases the mother has custodial rights, but the child or children are neglected physically, mentally and financially. The mother just used the child for a means to gain financial support.

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Civil disobedience Essay

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Civil disobedience Essay
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  • University/College:
    University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Words: 508

  • Pages: 2

Civil disobedience

In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self Reliance” and Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience,” both transcendentalist thinkers speak about being individual and what reforms and changes need to be made in a conformist society. Thoreau elaborates more on the relationship between individuality and society and to break free from conformity. Meaning to take a stance and influence man to make a social change.

Emerson leans more towards nature and the connection to spirituality. He exclaims that for individuality there has to be some sort of understanding of oneself to make an impact – which is the basic nature. He believes that man’s connection to nature is the most valuable source of life because nature is what links man to God, “the divine providence.” Both authors express the need for individuality in order to possess a strong moral and become whole through their transcendentalist ideals. In Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” social responsibility is important. The meaning behind this is that there is a time in man’s life when he will finally realize that he has a purpose, a destiny, and the responsibility to achieve goals as long as there is a tap into spiritual nature.

Emerson states, “The strongest man in the world is he who stands alone,” which references the belief of individualism. Emerson notes that famous men and women are often misunderstood simply because of their opinion, ideas, and thoughts; however, this misunderstanding is why they are so respected. One large point in “Self Reliance” is that humans should not conform to society but to be independent in mind. Emerson stresses that one should connect with nature to maintain peace of mind and individual mentality. In “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau meets a man while serving time in prison who has been locked away for burning down a barn.

Even so, Thoreau sees his cellmate as an honest man by simply trusting his own intuition. Furthermore, Thoreau writes, “The government is best which governs least,” in lines 2-3, which is based on the belief that people should not conform to society but stay independent and embrace their own beliefs, goals, values, and morals.

Both “Self Reliance” and “Civil Disobedience” are relevant in modern society because they discourage conformity, which is a big problem in the world today. Humans tend to lean with the majority, but should be taught to stand their ground. Both essays also mention the government and the problems involved in it. Since they were written, government has not improved; it may have even worsened. Government is best when it governs least- that perspective should still be applied to today’s government. Now, the government tries to constantly control every aspect in everyone’s life, but like Thoreau states, it should allow its people to decide major issues.

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Civil Disobedience Essay

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Civil Disobedience Essay
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  • University/College:
    University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Words: 455

  • Pages: 2

Civil Disobedience

Civil Disobedience is the act of disobeying authority but in a legal and civilized manner. It was introduced by writer Henry David Thoreau in his work named “Civil Disobedience. ”This legal and orderly method of rebelling is often used in hope that a change will be made such as an unjust law. Many people often wonder whether Civil Disobedience still holds true in the day and age. Everyday civil disobedience is used.

Whether it is aginst the governmentBack in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, many civil rights leaders and other men and women, young old have demonstrated notable acts of Civil Disobedience, which have changed many unjust laws and treatment. For example, during the 1950s and 60s, blacks were not allowed to sit in the front of the bus just because they were black. A woman named Rosa Parks saw this rule as unjust and unfair to African Americans. One day she decided to rebel against this law, so she remained in the front of the bus.

She was asked to remove herself and move in the back and she refused. By civilly rebelling, she was arrested and put in jail for courage to stand up against the discrimination. Now today, it doesn’t matter where blacks sit on a bus. Her act of civil disobedience has diminished bus laws against blacks and other discriminative laws towards African Americans. Many people may say that now in this day and age, if the media believes that a certain law is just, civil disobedience will not work.

This assertion sounds very convincing, but just because it is in the media, doesn’t make it just. In newspapers and throughout the most of the south, you saw nothing but African American discrimination. Martin Luther King and the rest of the civil right activists stood up to this in a civilized manner and now you don’t see that anymore. Even in recent news, look at what was going on Egypt. Citizens were fighting against their tyrannical leader and he was overthrown.

So the media can’t stop people from feeling a certain way no matter who advertises it. Civil disobedience has been used all over the world for many different reasons and by many different people, ranging from Gandhi in India to Martin Luther King Jr in the United States. With that being said, we should all understand that Thoreau’s theory of civil disobedience still holds true today. Without the theory of civil disobedience, where would we all be? How would anything progress?

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Civil Disobedience Essay

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Civil Disobedience Essay
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  • University/College:
    University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Words: 2080

  • Pages: 8

Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience is defined as the refusal to obey certain laws or governmental demands for the purpose of influencing legislation or government policy. It is characterized by the employment of nonviolent techniques such as boycotting, picketing, and nonpayment of taxes. Civil disobedience is a nonviolent act of protest, which is caused by a moral belief that a law is wrong or otherwise known as unconstitutional. In the nineteenth century, the American author Henry David Thoreau wrote “Civil Disobedience,” an important essay justifying such action which started the boycotting and other nonviolent actions.

Civil disobedience was started by the American author Henry David Thoreau. Henry Thoreau established the modern theory behind the practice of civil disobedience in his essay, “Civil Disobedience,” originally titled “Resistance to Civil Government,” which was published in 1849. The idea behind this essay was that of self-reliance, and how one is in morally good standing as long as one can “get off another man’s back.” The essay also stated that someone should not have to physically fight the government, but one must not support it. Civil disobedience can also be distinguished from other active forms of protest, such as rioting because of its passivity and non-violence. This essay has had a wide influence on many later practitioners of civil disobedience.

Henry David Thoreau protested the Mexican-American War and paying taxes, but his essay led to other protests as well. Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. found Thoreau’s essay very inspiring. Thoreau believed morality is more important than legality as shown below: “Must a citizen . . . resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.”

Gandhi found guidance in Thoreau’s words and freed India from British rule. Martin Luther King Jr. also used Thoreau’s words to oppose racial segregation in the south of the United States of America. Both of these men used nonviolent strategies to secure the rights of people not being treated equally especially in a white-dominated societies. These two men dedicated their lives to the cause of freedom. Gandhi and King became towering figures in modern history because they took Thoreau’s words and learned from it. Gandhi and King were both assassinated because they challenged old prejudices and sought a better way of life for oppressed people.

Civil disobedience was exercised by Mahatma Gandhi while the struggle for independence in India continued in the twentieth century. Civil disobedience was also practiced by some members of the civil rights movement in the United States, notably Martin Luther King, Jr., to challenge segregation of public facilities; a common tactic of these civil rights supporters was the sit-in. King defended the use of civil disobedience in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Human rights activists have often challenged unfair social policies or business practices. Their methods are nonviolent and may include a variety of marches, rallies, and demonstrations. Instead of fighting back when force is used against them, activists meet that force with passive resistance. In every case, the goal is to dramatize injustice in as public a manner as possible. The activists began the crusade by breaking laws that separated people by race. Some examples are sit-ins at lunch counters, lining up at whites-only counters, and refused to sit in the rear “colored” section of the city buses. Hundreds went to jail for these actions, but the protests were never stopped.

India went through the same type of dedication and hard times for its independence that the activists that followed Martin Luther King Jr. had gone through for equal rights. As leader of the movement, Mohandas K. Gandhi was firmly committed to nonviolence. Gandhi believed it was not just a tactic for achieving social change; it was a way of life. That is why Gandhi is so well remembered. Gandhi called Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” essay “a masterly treatise” which “left a deep impression on me.” Later on Gandhi became unsatisfied with the term “passive resistance.” He noted, “In a meeting of Europeans I found that the term “passive resistance” was too narrowly construed, that it was supposed to be a weapon of the weak, that it could be characterized by hatred, and that it could finally [show] itself as violence”

Gandhi was so determined to make a change; he put out a call for suggestions for a new word to describe the Indian struggle. The eventual result was satyagraha, which combines “truth” and “firmness.” This implies that resistance to evil and injustice is active rather than just passive. Nonviolence and passivity were finally recognized as not being the same thing.

Gandhi’s special gift was his ability to use spiritual methods to achieve political goals, using his moral authority to oppose many forms of injustice. He not only took on the British Empire in the cause of political freedom, he also challenged the Hindu caste system in the cause of human equality. Also, he led a protest against the British salt tax in India. He marched to the ocean and making salt illegally, then encouraged the equally illegal sale of untaxed salt all over India. Activities like these gave him the title Mahatma, meaning “great soul.” In time that title replaced his name because of the powerful leader he was.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a seminary student when he became aware of Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. King was on a quest that he described as “a serious intellectual quest for a method to eliminate social evil.” He found this in a sermon by Dr. Mordecal Johnson, president of Howard University. King stated, “Dr. Johnson had just returned from a trip to India, and, to my great interest, he spoke of the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. His message was so profound and electrifying that I left the meeting and bought half dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works.”

Gandhi’s work led King’s first bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. On December 1, 1955, an African-American seamstress was seated in the back “colored section” of a crowded city bus. A man later came on the bus and could not find any other seats and asked the seamstress to move. This remarkable woman was Rosa Parks refusing to move and was promptly arrested. This finally was the last straw for the people in Montgomery; King determined that the time was finally right.

Martin Luther King Jr. and those who followed him knew that this ending was the beginning of a much larger struggle for true equality. It would be long and it would be difficult. Some people would grow impatient of the nonviolent actions and would want to end up fighting back, but this was the time to determine their real strength. King said,

“The false impression. . . . the resister quietly and passively accepts evil. But nothing is further from the truth. . . The method is passive physically, strongly active spiritually. It is not passive nonresistance to evil, is active nonviolent resistance to evil.”

The “active nonviolent resistance” that won the day in Montgomery would be severely tested when it faced the racism and bigotry that created those laws in the first place. That struggle would continue into the 1960s and beyond. As the world evolved the 1960s became an act of civil disobedience also known as the activist sixties which is remembered as a time of social disturbance and change in the United States. Minority groups demanded equal rights and poor people sought a way out of their poverty. The activism fell short of saving the world, but it did produce important gains for human rights. African Americans moved closer to true social equality. The most ambitious antipoverty program in American history was created. The Supreme Court created new legal safeguards for individual rights.

In the United States, the African American civil rights movement blazed a trail of activism that others would follow. By the end of the 1950s, African-American activists had learned that changing the law was not enough. Somebody had to take the risk of putting those changes into practice. African American students had to enroll in previously all-white schools. African-American customers had to sit down at “white” lunch counters and wait to be served. Also, African-American voters had to register and then go to the polls on Election Day.

In 1960 sympathetic whites and African-Americans that were tired of the segregation formed a committee named the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to promote equality. The crusade for racial equality captured the imagination of many young people.

On August 28, 1963, a quarter of a million people assembled at the Lincoln Memorial. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered the speech that was to become one of the most memorable orations in American history. A third of the people were white sympathizers of the African-American people. He delivered the speech “I have a dream” which moved people to fight for equality for everyone, it also became known as the “Movement” because it gathered momentum after the march on Washington.

Human rights play an important role for civil disobedience. There were so many nonviolent protests because before the 20th century not everyone’s rights were being protected and being given equally. Due to Gandhi, King, and Thoreau they taught people in later generations to stand up for what is right. Now, women have the right to vote and children are treated equal and have been given rights. The right to privacy is one of the most important rights us as the people have, which due to technology is making our privacy less personal and able to be seen through closed doors. People are waiting for actions to be taken to make programs on the internet and personal information more secure.

Civil disobedience is still around today; due to Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi being the first men to provoke boycotting, not paying taxes, and any other type of nonviolent resistance. These three men showed people that “taking a stand” and protesting the government could be done without violence. Many people were thrown in jail, but none of the people that followed Thoreau’s words or Gandhi’s and King’s actions were for violence. They learned to find patience in the work they did knowing that they did not have to physically fight the government, but they must not support it.

Citations

Axelsen, K. L. (1995, Spring). Problems of punitive damages for political
protest and civil disobedience. Environmental Law, 25(2), 495-511. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA17093286&v=2.1&u=nm_s_ratonhs&it=r&p=GPS&sw=w

Civil Disobedience. (2010). The Hotline. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA227491783&v=2.1&u=nm_s_ratonhs&it=r&p=GPS&sw=w

Lopach, J. J., & Luckowski, J. A. (2005). Uncivil disobedience: violating the rules for breaking the law. Education Next, 5(2), 38+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA130276023&v=2.1&u=nm_s_ratonhs&it=r&p=GPS&sw=w

Bronwlee, K. (2007, January 4). Civil disobedience. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/civil-disobedience/

Thoreau, H. (1993). Civil disobedience and other essays. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Altman, L. (2002). Human rights: Issues for a new millenium. Chicago: Dover Publications, Inc.

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