Henry David Thoreau Vs. Martin Essay, Research Paper
Henry David Thoreau vs. Martin Luther King
There are times throughout the history of the United States when its citizens have felt the need to revolt against the government. The two essays, Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau, and Letter From a Birmingham Jail, by Martin Luther King, Jr., effectively illustrate the authors opinions of justice. Each author has his main point; Thoreau, in dealing with justice as it relates to government, asks for not at once no government, but at once a better government. King contends that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Both essays offer a complete argument for justice.
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 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 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 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?”. 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 Thoreau 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 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”. 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 mass of followers like King but he still made a long-term impact. Both men inspired reforms and the overturning of unjust laws and customs. By acting civil but disobedient you are able to protest things you don t think are fair, non-violently.
Both Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry David Thoreau are persuasive writers. Even though both writers are writing on ways to be civil but disobedient, they have opposite ways of convincing you. Dr. King is religious, gentle and apologetic, focusing on what s good for the group; while Thoreau is very aggressive and assertive for his own personal hate against the government.
Both Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry David Thoreau have the same ideas, but view them differently. Dr. King wants to ultimately raise awareness and open doors for the better of a group. Thoreau wants more individual rights for people. Dr. King is explaining his view of conscience: I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for the law . This quote shows Dr. King s opinion on going to jail. King knows that he was unjustly put into jail. He accepts going to jail even though he was put in jail wrongly. The community then knows of the injustice and should pressure the government.
The other thing that happens is King is respecting the law by obeying it. He is a peaceful man and wants justice, but believes in following the rules peacefully to get the job done. Thoreau feels that conscience plays a more personal role. Why has every man a conscience, then I think that we should be men first, and subject afterward . Thoreau is questioning why majorities make the rules. He is questioning democracy. He s telling us to question anything we do and why we should give into the government if we do not agree with a rule. Thoreau believes we should be real to ourselves and live for ourselves, not the government. King wants to change the laws because they are morally wrong and Thoreau wants to change the law because he personally doesn t like it.
Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King both agree injustice exists. Thoreau explains, If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth,- certainly that machine will wear out…, 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. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine . Injustice is a cause of friction, which is brought on by the government. The government has created something that is working against itself; if the friction of the injustice is left alone it will continue to grind down the machine.
Once again Thoreau questions if you can wait that long and what are you personally going to do about the injustice. Dr. King explains, Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly . If people don t fight injustice the government will continue to allow it because they know they can get away with it. We are all tied together in a mutual destiny; we are all in the same boat, what ever affects you affects me.
Both Thoreau and King are trying to prove the point that we are our brother s keeper. We all need to fight injustice to save each other. Thoreau and King have said what role conscience plays for them and that injustice exists but you must use your conscience to decide what to do. Now they discuss just and unjust laws. Thoreau explains, 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 is acknowledging that unjust laws exist. I think he figured like the sun rises every morning there will be unjust laws. How you deal with them if you do not approve of them is the question.
Thoreau is implying that you should not wine about something unless you are ready and able to take the consequences. Dr. King explains how he justifies breaking some laws and following others; the fact is there are simply two types of laws. Dr. King explains there are, just and unjust laws, One has not only a legal, but moral responsibility to obey just laws. On the other hand, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. A just law is a man-made code that deals with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. King is saying that just laws should be obeyed because they are the law and they are morally right. Morally right is being or acting in accordance with established standards of good behavior. So, if a law is legal and good you should follow it. People should not follow unjust laws because they are wrong; you owe it to yourself. A just law is one that God would be ok with. The constitution says that all men are created equal; so if the law is not the same to everyone, it is not a just law. Plain and simple, an unjust law makes you feel bad about who or what you are . A just law should make you feel equal and proud to be a human being. While Thoreau focuses on what you might do about a law, Dr. King focuses on what makes a law just or unjust.
Thoreau knows there are unjust laws; I believe he thinks as long as laws exist there will always be the possibility of being unjust laws. Thoreau says yes, unjust laws exist but what are you going to do, just sit there or fight. Dr. King is trying to get in to the heads of his fellow followers that unjust laws are morally wrong. But they both want to get the point across that you must do something to change unjust laws because they are wrong and can take your God given freedom away. Even though both writers are writing on ways to be civil but disobedient, they have opposite ways of convincing you.
Finally, I would like to state that although their concepts are similar, their approaches are totally opposite. Dr. King s religious and moderate tone are totally different from Thoreau s intense hatred for authority, mostly the government. They both want to point a finger at the government. Thoreau believes the best government is one which governs the least. Dr. King believes the principles of government are necessary to keep order, but need to live up to All men are created equal. The underlying meaning that I got from reading both essays was that you should follow your heart and your conscience against injustice and unjust laws, no matter what approach you choose to take.
The main similarity between the two thinkers is that they both knew how to appeal to the population. Dr. King was always great at showing that the racist mindset that had overcome in this country for decades was flawed in many ways. Thoreau was also great at this.
The main difference between the two is that Thoreau primariily used politics in his arguments while Dr. King was a known person of religion. While Dr. King preached about God and the Bible and what is right according to it, Thoreau used the Constitution and politics as his. Thoreau asks of the Governor, “What has he been about the last fortnight? Has he had as much as he could do to keep on the fence during this moral earthquake?” Again, Thoreau uses powerful rhetoric to convince the audience that the system is flawed.