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On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, an Editorial by Henry David Thoreau - An Analysis

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During the late 1970s, in the time of the war against Mexico and the U.S., in this time there we many abolitionists, that were speaking out on matters of the government concerning the people that no one else wanted to speak about. In the editorial of Henry David Thoreau entitled “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”, he takes many points of the government in which he doesn’t agree and states where he stands on that subject. Thoreau criticizes the ethics and morals in which the government has set for the citizens within their power. Throughout his editorial Thoreau exhibits many character traits such as; strength, assertiveness, and also opinionated.

Thoreau was one of many out spoken citizens of the U.S, many had questions, concerns and criticism but none had the courage to speak out, this was not the case for Thoreau. In 1878 he wrote an editorial about his view-points of the government, how they can improve, what they are doing wrong. He was a very strong character with spirit that could not be broken for example in his writing he said “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 that we should be men first, and subjects afterward”

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(Thoreau 223). In this excerption Thoreau is saying that men should first listen to what their heart is saying and what they know is right, before just listening and doing anything someone says. “Give someone what they need not what they ask for”. You have a duty to follow what’s right before listening to law because, law isn’t always right.

Another characteristic shown from Thoreau is how assertive he is. For example he stated “If I have unjustly wrested a plank from a drowning man I must restore it to him though I drown myself” (Thoreau 225). In this quote Thoreau is stating even if it hurts him, if he has wronged anyone man/woman through his actions, he will apologize or state his wrong doing and be contrite about it even if it hurts his pride or lessens how people perceive him. The point of this is doing the right thing whether you like it or not because it is the right thing to do. This is also an example of Thoreau’s integrity, how he sacrificed his reputation for others, or for the common wealth of others over his own. He would take the worst of situation if others benefitted from it, and it was the right thing to do.

Lastly Thoreau was very opinionated and outspoken of his opinion. One example of this would be “I believe, – “that government is best which governs not at all” (Thoreau 222). To elaborate Thoreau is saying a government works best when they do not interfere is citizen affair, or when they work the least in any government because when the government gets too involved most things go amuck. Citizens should be most liable to govern and decide on their own laws, and system(s). He has said that citizens understand their life better than the government does, and that citizens should go by what they know is right and what they feel is fair to go about their lives. If the government lessened their grip everyone would be satisfied because they would all have a voice that mattered. I think such a government is democracy where everything is majority rules, because even if the majority isn’t right they will learn from their decision as a whole and then most likely be on the same page.

In conclusion Thoreau made a difference in his time, and made a voice for himself in his time. Like many others who made a voice he made sacrifices and suffered, for the common wealth of others. He was opinionated because he stated what he believed in and stood fast on it, he didn’t shake at the threats of the government. He was assertive because he always stated his opposing side because he understood where the other person was coming from but still didn’t agree. And also he was strong because he always tried to encourage others to do the same. This made him a very admirable character.

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