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Disobeying Unjust Laws in Resistance of Civil Government

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Thoreau argues that we have a moral imperative to disobey unjust laws and his philosophy on civil disobedience had a major influence on Martin Luther King. What was Thoreau protesting in ‘Resistance to Civil Government’ and what was his act of civil disobedience? What is his position on the role that protest plays in the evolution of our democracy? How is this still important today? Provide specific examples.

In “Resistance to Civil Government”, Thoreau was against slavery. He also refused to pay taxes for six years in protest of the Mexican war and was put in jail as a result. (“I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was put into jail once on this account, for one night..”) Thoreau was fighting for the right to believe and fight for one’s beliefs. This is still important today, as it is one of the beliefs that our nation is based on.

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Thoreau appeals to logos in “Resistance” by saying that because laws are made by man, they aren’t perfect or divine by any means. Thoreau also say that because the majority rule, it doesn’t always mean that the majority is right. Thoreau also believes that it is man’s obligation to protest and rebel against unjust laws. He says that “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

He mentions that “The white people had already entered our village, burnt our lodges, destroyed our fences, ploughed up our corn, and beat our people: that they had brought whiskey into our country, made our people drunk, and taken from their horses, guns, and traps; and that I had borne all this injury without suffering any of my braves to raise a hand against the whites.” He appealed in great vain to the chief at St. Louis for justice, but he was only told that the white people want their country, and they will be forced to leave it to them. The white men had cheated and lied against the Native Americans time and time again. They were cruel and heartless against the Native Americans.

The Cherokee council appeals to logos in their argument for sovereignty by saying that “She (the United States) claims the exercise of sovereignty over this nation; and has threatened and decreed the extension of her jurisdictional limits over our people.” Even though the Native Americans helped the United States gain its own sovereignty in the Revolutionary War, the United States won’t extend the Cherokee nation that same courtesy, instead choosing to subject the Cherokee people to cruelty and malice.

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