What Is a Summary of "Civil Disobedience"?


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"Civil Disobedience" is an essay written by Henry David Thoreau that argues government should not dictate how people live their lives, believing people have the right to follow their conscience. The essay was included in "A Yankee in Canada, with Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers," published in 1866.

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Having spent one night in jail in May 1846 for refusing to pay a poll tax in protest of slavery and the Mexican War, Thoreau began promoting his idea of conscious rebellion, or civil disobedience, in favor of the individual over the state. He sought out reform of government, claiming that a well-formed government was one that did not intrude in the lives of its civilians. Thoreau felt that the civilians who were against reform wanted to use their government as a tool to work for them. He also felt that government was only a means to an end. He believed that the way in which the government operated was more likely to misuse of its citizens, and the only purpose the government really had was to ensure individual freedom.

Though Thoreau deplored the lack of moral judgement the government had, he still denied wanting to abolish government entirely. He felt that the nation should be run by majority rule and that government should act accordingly, rather than as a machine controlling its people.

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