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Writer's Note: The following summary condenses the content of Civil Disobedience." It retains first-person point of view, using the pronoun I, to make the summary more readable and easier to understand.However, except for boldfaced quotations in red type, the writing is mine, not Thoreaus.
This campaign earned him the title of Father of India" and a lasting place in history as one of the 20th Centurys greatest leaders. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his successful nonviolent campaign in the 1960's to achieve civil rights for black Americans.
In his autobiography, King wrote, No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea [passive resistance to injustice] across than Henry David Thoreau.
If they have God on their side, they have reason enough to act at once without official approval.
If even only one honest man would stand on principle and be willing to go to jail for his action, we could abolish slavery in America.
Unfortunately, factions of powerful self-interest groups sometimes manipulate the government into carrying out actions that offend the conscience of upright citizens. It is an unjust war that seeks to annex Mexican land and then establish slavery on it.
In this matter and in many others, vast numbers of citizens regrettably have forfeited their consciences to the government, blindly doing the governments bidding even when their conscience tells them that what they are doing is wrong. I cannot accede to the policies of a government that legitimizes slavery and then invades another country in order to expand this evil institution.They should even be willing to go to jail rather than yield to immoral or unethical government laws and activities.Thoreau believed every human being has inborn knowledge that enables him to recognize and understand moral truth without benefit of knowledge obtained through the physical senses.The best government is one with severely limited powers.It should use its powers only to carry out moral and ethical activities on behalf of the citizens.Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" is an essay that attempts to persuade readers to oppose unjust government policies in general and the Mexican War and the institution of slavery in particular.Thoreau first presented the essay as a lecture on January 26, 1848, at the Concord (Massachusetts) Lyceum.Civil Disobedience" expresses Thoreaus reaction and measured response to government dictums that legitimized slavery and the Mexican War.Transcendentalism, as Thoreaus moral philosophy was called, did not originate with him or his fellow transcendentalists in New England but with the German philosopher Emanuel Kant.Here in Massachusetts, there are merchants and farmers who go along with government policy because they are more interested in making money than in doing justice to fellow human beings. Too many of them sit back and allow others to carry out this task for them.By failing to act to initiate reform I believe that those who support abolition of slavery should immediately withdraw their support of the Massachusetts government rather than wait and go through channels.