Henry Davis Thoruea/Compare Essay, Research Paper
Henry David Thoreau was an American writer who is remembered for his attacks on the social institutions he considered immoral and for his faith in the religious significance of nature. The essay Civil Disobedience is his most famous social protest. Thoreau believed that each person must be free to act according to his own idea of right and wrong, without government interference. Sharing some of the same political beliefs as Thoreau, Martin Luther King Jr. was also an American civil rights leader who worked to bring about social, political, and economic equality for Africans by peaceful means. In 1963, he led a march in Birmingham, Alabama, to protest citywide racial discrimination. In the authors essays, Thoreau s Civil Disobedience and King s Letter from Birmingham City Jail both share similar feelings but also differ in some. Both believe society needs to abandon the machine of government . Thoreau, as well as King, have similar thoughts based on the idea that the only obligation an individual has is to his conscience. Another similarity they share would be minority and the majority and the unjust ways the minority faces. A difference between the two authors would be the way they view anarchy. Thoreau believes society, when ready, should prevail upon themselves without a government while King believes there should be some sort of governmental guidance. Throughout the two pieces the similarities they share on ideas and beliefs can easily be noted as well as the differences.
Both believed that individuals should do what they believe is right in accordance to their conscience. In Thoreau s words he believes …the only obligation which I [Thoreau] have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right. Thoreau uses the word obligation to assert his right to the integrity of his own mind. He believes that an individual should refuse to obey any government rule he believes is unjust. Thoreau himself practiced this doctrine of passive resistance when, in 1846, he refused to pay toll taxes. This is similar to King s ideas, 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 law. King believes that if you go against your consciences then you are being unjust to yourself. He feels that if you go against your beliefs, then there is something pulling you to go against laws that are unjust and follow your conscience which it is then good as long as you truly believe the law is unjust. People shouldn t follow society and what laws they inflict upon them, but yet should do what they believe is right. They both agree that if someone breaks a governed law for the sake of their own beliefs and accept the consequences then they are respectable. This similarity both King and Thoreau share had an impact on the purpose of their writing to express the importance of following one s conscience to do what is right.
Another comparison of the two would be minority vs. majority. Both Thoreau and King feel that the minority makes up the majority of the population, however, they have no say in any governmental decisions. The government has all the power and tries to keep the minority out of any powerful issues. Thoreau believes that …when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority but because they are physically strongest. The largest group, which consists of weak thoughts, are the strongest because they have the most power to blockade any strong ideas of the minority. King states that An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or
creating because they did not have the unhampered right… Minority, although they make up the majority, have no input and therefore have no voice. Unjust laws forbid the minorities from growing. Therefore, both authors use minority vs/ majority as an example in expressing their feelings to show how unjust laws are forbidding growth of power among minorities.
Thoreau and King, although, did oppose one another s ideas on the subject of anarchy. Thoreau believes that the best government would be no government at all. …government is best which governs not at all. He believes that if mankind was ready for it, society shouldn t be governed. People should be able to grow and expand as an individual before taking part in any government, …we should be men first, and subjects afterward. King, in contrast, believes that there should be some type of government and restrictions as long as they are just. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law… King respects the law to a morally right stance. As long as there in justice to a restriction, King respects and condemns laws.
Thoreau summed up his idea of the role of government in Civil Disobedience. He wrote, there will never really be a free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. The essay greatly influenced such reformers as Leo Tolstoy of Russia, Mahatma Gandhi of India, and the leaders of the present-day American civil rights movements. Both Thoreau and King had an influence over society in the past and continue to do so. They both believed that an individual is better than a society and the only way one can expand is if they break the machine of government. The risk these leaders brought upon themselves is one they risked for mankind. It is important that these individuals did what they believed should be done, otherwise society would be a mass of weak thoughts that would hold down the growth of man as an individual.