Who Are Some Famous People Known for Civil Disobedience?

Some famous people known for civil disobedience are Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas Gandhi and Vaclav Havel. Civil disobedience is the refusal to comply with unjust laws as a form of political protest.

Thoreau's 1848 essay "Civil Disobedience" formulated the idea of civil disobedience in the modern era. In this essay, he explained the rationale behind his refusal to pay federal taxes while the United States was condoning slavery and prosecuting the Mexican-American War. Arguing that his taxes would support policies that he found immoral, Thoreau refused to pay them, earning himself a night in jail.

Gandhi created the concept of satyagraha, a theory of nonviolent civil disobedience, in his long movement to free India from British colonial domination. He led many mass acts of civil disobedience, including the Dandi Salt March of 1930, in which a crowd of tens of thousands defied the British tax on salt by making their own salt from the sea. These protests were crucial in securing India's independence.

Havel tweaked the theory of civil disobedience to make it relevant in a communist society. In his essay "The Power of the Powerless," Havel posits that the totalitarian system requires everyone in a society to submit, meaning that anyone who refuses to submit calls the whole system into question. Havel used his insight to lead a movement that ultimately led to democracy.