Thoreau And King, Jr. Essay, Research Paper
There are times throughout the history of the United States when its citizens have felt the need to revolt against the government. There were such cases during the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry David Thoreau, when there was unfair discrimination against the Afro-American community and Americans refusing to pay poll taxes to support the Mexican War. They used civil disobedience to eventually get legislation to stop the injustice brought against them and their nation. Civil disobedience is defined as refusal to obey civil laws or decrees, which usually takes the form of passive resistance. People practicing civil disobedience break a law because they consider the law unjust, and want to call attention to its injustice, hoping to bring about its withdrawal.Thoreau wrote “Civil Disobedience” in 1849 after spending a night in the Walden town jail for refusing to pay a poll tax that supported the Mexican War. He recommended passive resistance as a form of tension that could lead to reform of unjust laws practiced by the government. He voiced civil disobedience as “An expression of the individual’s liberty to create change” (Thoreau 530). Thoreau felt that the government had established order that resisted reform and change. “Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary” (Thoreau 531).Thoreau refused to pay the poll tax because the money was being used to finance the Mexican War. Not only was Thoreau against the war itself but the war was over Texas which was to be used as a slave state. His friend Staples offered to pay the tax for him, but to Thoreau it wasn’t the tax he was objected to, it was how the money would be used. He believed strongly against paying money to a war he did not support, and would rather end up in jail than go against his will. A certain passage shows how strong he felt when he said “Your money is your life, why should I haste to give it my money?” (Thoreau 538). It was important to Thoreau to get the public informed about the War, and make people think why it was wrong to support it. Thoreau didn’t rally hundreds and thousands of people together to get reactions. Instead he went to jail to protest and wrote his essay “Civil Disobedience”. His statements were to get people to think and take their own approach to the situation. Many years after Thereau’s “Civil Disobedience”, Dr. Martin Luther King took they same idea of passive resistance to protest the injustices brought upon the Afro-American race in the United States. King used peaceful sit-ins and rallies to unite the black community. Blacks were forced to sit on the back of busses, use separate bathrooms, water fountains, spaces in a restaurant, and schools. Segregation made the blacks feel inferior and unequal. King led many black protesters to use methods such as banning busses, sit ins, and marches. These non-violent acts of public speech eventually lead to King’s arrest for leading a non-violent march in Birmingham Alabama.While being held in Birmingham Jail, King wrote “The Letter from Birmingham Jail” to his fellow clergymen expressing how disappointed he was with the U.S. and segregation. King wrote “Any law that uplifts human personality is just…All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.” (King 491) Thoreau wrote his letter that shared the same views as King about government injustices. Thoreau wrote how disappointed he was with the government by forcing him to pay a poll tax that supported a war and slavery.Thoreau and King shared the same ideas of unjust laws performed by the government. Thoreau didn’t have legions of followers like King but he still made a long term impact. Thoreau’s ideas had a powerful influence on the passive resistance ideas adopted by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in leading the movement to end racial segregation in the United States. Both men inspired reforms and the overturning of unjust laws and customs.