Essays By Thoreau

This is not to say that you have an obligation to devote your life to fighting for justice, but you do have an obligation not to commit injustice and not to give injustice your practical support.

Paying taxes is one way in which otherwise well-meaning people collaborate in injustice.

Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.

A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.

Thoreau contends that such a cost/benefit analysis is inappropriate when the government is actively facilitating an injustice as extreme as slavery.

Such a fundamental immorality justifies any difficulty or expense to bring it to an end.In a constitutional republic like the United States, people often think that the proper response to an unjust law is to try to use the political process to change the law, but to obey and respect the law until it is changed.But if the law is itself clearly unjust, and the lawmaking process is not designed to quickly obliterate such unjust laws, then Thoreau says the law deserves no respect and it should be broken.Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison....where the State places those who are not with her, but against her,—the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor...."This people must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people." Thoreau tells his audience that they cannot blame this problem solely on pro-slavery Southern politicians, but must put the blame on those in, for instance, Massachusetts, "who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, cost what it may...There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them." (See also: Thoreau's Slavery in Massachusetts which also advances this argument.) He exhorts people not to just wait passively for an opportunity to vote for justice, because voting for justice is as ineffective as wishing for justice; what you need to do is to actually be just.Resistance also served as part of Thoreau's metaphor comparing the government to a machine: when the machine was producing injustice, it was the duty of conscientious citizens to be "a counter friction" (i.e., a resistance) "to stop the machine".In 1866, four years after Thoreau's death, the essay was reprinted in a collection of Thoreau's work (A Yankee in Canada, with Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers) under the title Civil Disobedience.Because of this, it is "not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize".Political philosophers have counseled caution about revolution because the upheaval of revolution typically causes a lot of expense and suffering.

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