Summary on Civil Disobedience

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Civil Disobedience is an essay by American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau that was first published in 1849. He opens his piece with the saying “That government is best which governs least,” and he speaks in favor of government that does not interfere with men's lives. Thoreau asserts that because governments are typically more harmful than helpful, they therefore cannot be justified. He argues that people should not allow the government to weaken or override their consciences. He was mainly driven by his hatred with slavery and the Mexican-American War. The Mexican-American War, 1846-1848, which extended slavery into new US territories was arranged by a small selected group of individuals who manipulated government to their advantage against popular will. Thoreau emphasizes that government as an establishment impedes the success of the work for which it was created. It exists for the sole purpose of guaranteeing individual freedom. A man has an obligation to act according to the commands of his conscience, even if it goes against majority opinion, the reigning leadership, or the laws of society. In cases where the government supports unjust laws Thoreau's idea of service to one's country ironically takes the form of resistance against it. Resistance is the highest form of patriotism because it demonstrates a desire not to overthrow government but to build a better one in the long term. Thoreau just wants to eliminate the ideas that make it a bad government not the entire government itself. Thoreau then talks about the issue of change through democratic ways. He believes that the real problem is trying to reform with those who don’t approve of the government choices but silently offer their loyalty. Thoreau sees an opposite relationship between money and freedom. The poor man has the greatest freedom to fight because he depends the least on the government
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