Throughout the history of the United States, there have been many times when citizens have felt the need to revolt against their government. Such cases of revolt took place during the times Henry David Thoreau. The reason for his revolution included discrimination against the community and Americans refusing to pay poll taxes to support the Mexican War. Thoreau used civil disobedience to change people’s ideas and beliefs 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 direct action (Grolier’s Encyclopedia Online).
People practicing civil disobedience break a law because they consider the law unjust. They want to call attention to its injustice, hoping to bring about its withdrawal. Thoreau wrote “Civil Disobedience” in 1849, right after spending a night in the Walden town jail for refusing to pay a poll tax for the Mexican War. He recommended using direct action to create social tension, thus leading to the reform of unjust laws practiced by the government. He voiced civil disobedience as, “An expression of the individual’s liberty to create change” (Thoreau). Thoreau felt that the government had established order that resisted reform and change.
“Action from principle, the perception and performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary” (Thoreau). 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 paying the tax that he was objecting to, it was how the money would be used. Thoreau felt strongly about paying money toward a war he did not support. He would rather end up in jail than go against his will.
“Your money is your life, why should I haste to give it my money” (Thoreau).This illustrates how strongly he felt. It was very important to Thoreau to inform the public about the war. He wanted people to realize why it was wrong to support it. Thoreau never rallied hundreds and thousands of people together, violently or nonviolently, to get reactions. Instead, he went to jail to protest and wrote his essay, “Civil Disobedience.” Thoreau’s philosophy was to get people to think and take their own approach to a situation.
Thoreau definitely had many of the ideas of how to deal with unjust laws performed by government. Thoreau inspired reform and also overturned many unjust laws and customs in our country. We, as a society, should look at this man as heroic figures and learn from his teachings. This will help us better our knowledge of how to use non-violent direct action for future national and international problems we may encounter.