People challenged its government long before the term “civil disobedience” was coined by Henry David Thoreau in 1849. In his On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, originally called Resistance to Civil Government, the author discussed the issue, providing a clear viewpoint and examples from his life. He expressed that civil disobedience is a way to resist the government’s immoral principles by refusing to comply with the laws or rules. In his opinion, self-reliance and peacefully disobeying the unjust authorities can lead to positive changes.
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Two significant problems in the US compelled Thoreau to explore civil disobedience: slavery and the Mexican-American war that he strongly opposed. As an act of rebellion, he refused to pay poll-taxes and was put in jail for one night, which also inspired him to write the essay. In the text, Thoreau tried to explain how the government represents the majority through voting, not the individuals who express the correct opinion. Talking about “the majority of one,” he stated, “any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already” (par. 24). Thus, having the right ideas is enough to make a person a majority, regardless of what the system claims. Since then, the concept influenced various activists around the globe, including Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who organized the campaign against British colonial rule in India. According to Delmas, even Edward Snowden practiced civil disobedience when he leaked the data of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program (688). In other words, Thoreau’s ideas cause action and controversy up to these days.
To sum up, in Thoreau’s interpretation, civil disobedience is a complicated concept that encourages individuals to question the morality of laws and authorities. It affects the actions of different activists but leaves each person to decide whether they are ready to disobey for the right cause. Nowadays, such reasons are as clear as ever because, under the Trump administration, the Black Lives Matter movement is the only way to deliver the message and express our frustration.
Delmas, Candice. “Civil Disobedience.” Philosophy Compass, vol. 11, no. 11, 2016, pp. 681-691. Wiley Online Library,
Thoreau, Henry David. On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. Project Gutenberg, 1849. Project Gutenberg, Web.