Thoreau Essay (From Walden Pond) Essay, Research Paper
Answer Thoreau’s question: “Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” Thoreau reminds us that the law has been created by the majority and to disobey would put him in the minority-a “wise minority.” Why should the wise minority have the right to disobey laws created by the majority? As we approach the end of the millennium, we must all ask ourselves, what lies in the future? Some people believe that the year 2000 will mark the beginning of world chaos. Others take the optimistic viewpoint, and believe that the world will know peace in the next century. In both of these beliefs, the government (or lack there of) plays an important role. The government plays a role in all of our lives. Most people would like to believe that it doesn’t, but still we pay our taxes and cast our votes. But what if people played a more active role in their government? What if we were all recognized as individual people, all worthy of equal representation? This issue has been addressed by many. However, there is one person who stands out. He addressed this issue so eloquently and thoroughly that it still intrigues people today. Henry David Thoreau uses his essay, “Civil Disobedience,” to express his opinions of the government, the governed and those who resist the government’s power. His essay seems directed to those who are already in favor of his viewpoints. Thoreau does not believe that the government is set up to impose laws and rules of society upon people, but rather, the government should help the individual to sustain his or her own beliefs. Thoreau argues that an individual’s conscience dictates what is right and wrong therefore, a government under majority rule cannot always succeed in being just. Thoreau uses slavery and the Mexican War as examples of how the majority will rule according to what will best benefit themselves. He goes on to explain his night in prison and all the things he learned and experienced that night. Thoreau uses that night as an example of why others should follow in his footsteps and resist the government. He does believe that people must use their moral conscience to guide them and do good for themselves and others. Thoreau ends his essay by explaining the purpose and importance of the individual. He believes that the government gets all its power from the individual therefore, the individual should be held in the highest regard. Thoreau involves his readers through his essay. He asks important questions that force the reader to stop and think for himself or herself. For example, Thoreau asks the question “Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” Thoreau also speaks of the wise minority and their right to disobey the majority’s laws. This concept is important in recognizing the importance of the individual. Both of the questions are important to Thoreau, and to his essay. “Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” That is a very important and very personal question. I cannot answer that question for everyone, but only for myself. It is my opinion that people should attempt to change the laws, and obey them until the change has occurred. The government is far reaching, and change will not come easily. Even Thoreau knew that change would take time. ” I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government” (128). Thoreau knows that the process of change is long, he acknowledges that. However, he does not acknowledge the government power over people, especially when the laws are unjust. Thoreau brings up a significant point. A point that makes me question my own beliefs. ” but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say break the law,” (134) are the words that echo in my mind. These words conjure up images of slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the fugitive slave acts. All of these were the harsh reality of Thoreau. I cannot honestly say that I would rather return a person to slavery, then break the law. I believe the Thoreau brought up the issue of slavery for just this reason, to show how poignantly wrong the government can be. How can any person be expected to obey a government that eludes human rights in such a way? Thoreau has made his point. Now I am not sure what I believe. I know I should obey the law, but what if the laws set up by the government are wrong? Where should I look to then? As Thoreau said ” we should be men first and subjects afterwards”(128). I shall first answer to my conscience, before I answer to anything or anyone else.
According to Thoreau, by thinking for myself and allowing my conscience to guide me, I have become a part of the wise minority. I am now going against the majority rule and doing what I think is right. Why should the wise minority have the right to disobey the majority? As Thoreau has pointed out, the majority does not follow a conscience. It was the majority that allowed slavery. It is this wise minority, the people that speak out, that initiate change and make the nation stronger. If the government were left ” uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank among the nations”(146). If the majority is left alone, contented with itself, then no change will ever come about. This gives the minority the right to disobey. To better themselves and the nation, the minority must break the laws that question their morals. No person should have to ” resign his conscience to legislature”(128). Every person should think for himself or herself; everyone is capable of deciphering right from wrong. Thoreau believed in the individual. There is power in the individual person and the government should recognize it as ” a higher and independent power “(146). The questions of whether you should break unjust laws, and if the minority has the right to break the law are both important to Thoreau’s beliefs. Thoreau involves his readers by asking these questions. The questions force the reader to evaluate their own beliefs and question the role of government in their lives. Perhaps as we proceed into the next millennium, Thoreau’s hope of a government that recognizes the individual will become our reality. “A State which bore this kind of fruit and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State “(146).