Monday, February 15, 2010

Essay: "Resistance to Civil Government." Thoreau. 1849.

One-minute review: Government is subservient to and dependent on the individual. “I heartily accept the motto—‘that government is best which governs least’; and I should like to see it acted up to rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which I also believe – ‘that government is best which governs not at all’; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.”

Probably the most frequently quoted scene in this essay is Thoreau’s night in jail for not paying the poll tax. RayS.


“Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in Massachusetts are not a hundred thousand politicians at the South, but a hundred thousand merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico….”

“Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?”

“I do not wish to quarrel with any man or nation. I do not wish to split hairs, to make fine distinctions, or set myself up as better than my neighbors. I seek rather, I may say, even an excuse for conforming to the laws of the land.”

“No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America.”

“…to be strictly just, it [government] must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government?”

“There will never be a really free and enlightened state until the state comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.”

“…prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious state, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.”

American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

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