Civil Disobedience Essay Research Paper Throughout American

Civil Disobedience Essay, Research Paper

Throughout American history, it is clear that many individuals have fought for

justice in a society that has often denied it. We know this information from

documents written by these individuals expressing their feelings on a certain

subject. On the subject of human rights, two specific men have expanded

their thoughts to make a difference. The very popular Dr. Martin Luther King

Jr., whose main philosophy on civil disobedience revolved around

nonviolence, wrote a ?Letter From Birmingham Jail? to eight clergymen

informing them of the situation in Birmingham, Alabama, in April of 1963.

Henry David Thoreau, a 19th century individualist, wrote an essay called

?Civil Disobedience? in which he explained his reasons for not paying taxes

to a government that was involved in an unjust war with Mexico. Although

these works were written for different causes, the two are similar in some

ways. Both are similar in how they get the reader to see and feel what the

writter sees and feels.

Both men, King and Thoreau, used emotional appeal in their work.

This was used to gain support from the reader by creating a feeling of

sympathy to be felt by the reader. Dr. King?s most emotional section was his

feelings on segregation. His feelings were based on how it was to be black

living in a segregated environment. This was extremely important

considering that he was directing his thoughts to the eight white clergymen.

He started a paragraph referring to the impact of segregation as ?stinging

darts.? The following sentences gave examples of the segregation and what it

put black people through. In one specific sentence, King used the image of

?you? having to tell ?your? young, innocent child that she cannot go to the

amusement park simply because of the color of her skin. King wrote,

?…when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering

as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can?t go to the

public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see

tears welling up in ger little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to

colored children…and see her begin to distort her little personality by

unconsciously developing a bitterness to white people…? Most people are

more sensitive toward young children and hate to see their feelings hurt.

Children are also a symbol of the future. Henry Thoreau also used emotional

appeal in ?Civil Disobedience.? During the time he wrote this piece, slavery

was the biggest issue among Americans. He told about the injustice in having

slavery in a civilized society. He repeatedly referred to slavery whenever he

began to talk about the government?s unjust laws. Many who believed in the

abolition of slavery may have sided with Thoreau on some of his feelings

about the government. His thoughts were appealing to many in the North or

Abolitionists. In one section of his essay he wrote, ?When the majority shall

at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are

indifferent to slavery, or because there is little slavery left to be abolished by

their vote.?

One very common feature found in both the letter written by Dr. King

and the essay by Thoreau was that prison played a role in their struggles. It

is logical appeal to the reader to know that these men were real not phony.

They truly believed in what they argued for. Both of these men were

incarcerated for doing what they believed was right. Dr. King was locked up

for protesting (nonviolently) and Thoreau was put in jail for not paying taxes

to the government which he felt was unjust. Martin Luther King Jr. decided

to spend his time in jail writing his letter to the clergymen for support. The

fact that he was prison showed the men that a fellow clergyman did in fact

need help in Birmingham, Alabama. Henry Thoreau deeply anylized his one

night experience. He gave the feeling of total seclusion from the world when

describing his jail cell. He spoke of the walls and door being solid stone and

a few feet thick. He felt that he was treated ?as if I were mere flesh and

blood and bones, to be locked up.?

Dr. King and Henry David Thoreau both also referred to the Bible or

God in their writing. King compared the injustice of the situation in

Birmingham to a similar event in the Bible. He wrote, ?Just as the eighth

century prophets left their little villages and carried out their ?Thus saith the

Lord? far beyond the boundaries of their home town, and just as the Apostle

Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to

practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am

compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular home town.?

He also recalled that civil disobedience was also ?practiced superbly by the

early Christians who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating

pain of chopping blocks, before submitting to certain unjust laws of the

Roman Empire.? This appeals to the clergymen directly. The use of what

they primarily stand for only gives them more of a reason to help end

segregation in areas like Birmingham. Thoreau didn?t use the bible to support

his thoughts, but he did mention God a few times in ?Civil Disobedience?.

Rhetorically, Thoreau asked the question (referring to the government),

?Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and

Luther. . .? Thoreau also wrote on Christ?s beliefs and what he said to the

Herodians,- ?if you use money which has the image of Caesar on it, which he

has made current and valuable, that is, if you are men of the State, and gladly

enjoy the advantages of Caesar?s government, then pay him back some of his

own when he demands it.?

The two men had somewhat different views on majority and minority.

King used minority as an example of an unjust law, when it is denied the right

to vote. They have no chance of even being part of the majority because they

are black. In many southern areas, this was extremely unjust considering that

blacks were not a minority, in fact they were the majority of the people in


Even though there is about a 100 year difference between the times in

which these works were written, they are very similar. Both express feelings

of unjust government. Both men also spent time in jail for the cause that they

believed in. Most importantly, both were wrote to gain support from readers,

and to allow people to see their


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