Henry David Thoreau and Slavery

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Frederick Douglass was trying to expose the horrible aspects of slavery and Henry David Thoreau was protesting slavery and against the government. However, Frederick Douglass idea of protest was better and more effective. Henry David Thoreau was an activist writer. His essays were philosophical and meant to empower people. His idea of protest against the government ND slavery was passive and rational. O do nothing. He thought if everyone refused to participate, the government would have to come to their senses and realize they are wrong. Thoreau said, “All men recognize the right Of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to and to resist the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable” (Civil Disobedience, 3). Thoreau is trying to explain to his audience, in the previous quote, that they have a right to protest against the government if they believe the government is being unjust.

In the essays, Civil Disobedience and Slavery in Massachusetts, he stresses that government is being unjust and with this quote he is encouraging his audience to do something about it by refusing to participate and support the government. “The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free. They are the lovers of law and order, who observe the law when the government breaks it” (Thoreau, Slavery in Massachusetts, 15). Here, Thoreau is explaining the same aspect only toward slavery, saying that it is wrong and should end.

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If everyone name together and all the slave owners freed their slaves realizing how horribly wrong it was then slavery would be no more. Thoreau idea of protest would only work if everyone participated in not participating. Frederick Douglass wrote his book, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” to express how horrible slavery was from a slave’s point of view. He wrote about his personal experience to reach out to the audience so they can, through his words, see and feel what he went through as a slave.

Douglass idea of protest was active and peaceful to a certain extent. Douglass made it a point to learn how to read shortly after his mistress was forbidden, by her husband, from continuing teaching Douglass how to read. Douglass. According to Douglass, his master said, “If you give a Niger an inch, he will take an ell” (39). And Douglass did. He would do anything he could to continue his “education”. He went to children and tricked them into teaching him how to read and write. Also, he would sneak a book during any free time he had so that he can practice until he mastered it.

With all of his reading he legalized that there was a life outside Of being a slave and he was determined that he was not going to be a slave for his entire life, he was one day going to be free. Douglass explains how one day his life changes, “l have already intimidated that my condition was much worse, during that first six months of my stay at Mr.. Conveys, than in the last six. The circumstances leading to the change in Mr.. Conveys course toward me form an epoch in my humble history. You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall now see how a slave was made a man…

The work was simple, requiring strength rather than intellect; yet, to one entirely unused to such work, it came very hard … When I could stand no longer, I fell, and felt as if held down by an immense weight. The fan of course stopped; every one had his own work to do; and no one could do the work of the other, and have is own go on at the same time… He came to the spot, and, after looking for me awhile, asked me what was the matter. I told him as well as could, for I scarce had strength to speak. He then gave me a savage kick in the side, and told me to get up.

I tried to do so, but fell back in the attempt… Mr.. Convey seemed to now think he had me, ND could do what he pleased; but in this moment – from whence came the spirit I don’t know – I resolved to fight and, suiting my action to the resolution, seized Convey hard by the throat; and as I did so, rose… My resistance was so entirely unexpected that Convey seemed taken all aback” (66-69). Frederick Douglass was trying to express in the previous quote was that for him to become a man he need to fight back. He was only property before that day and after, his determination to be free only became greater.

Douglass wrote this narrative to tell his audience that if he can escape slavery then others can o. In a way, he is telling his fellow slaves that knowledge is power. Learning to read opened Douglass mind to the world and he was able to imagine a place and a different way of life, and this made him determined to escape. In writing this narrative, Douglass was encouraging them to use it to free themselves. Eventually, Frederick Douglass became a free man all on his own. He did not explain how he accomplished this because he did not want slave owners to stop slaves from escaping the same way.

Both Douglass and Thoreau protested against slavery, however, their ways f going about doing so were very different, for the most part, as explained in the previous paragraphs. They had a similar tactic also. For example, each of them were trying to send a message, that slavery is wrong and it should end. Both men wished to do this peacefully, however, with Douglass idea of protest if violence was necessary to defend oneself then so be it. With Thoreau idea of protest, it was completely passive. In conclusion, Frederick Douglass idea of protest was better and more effective. He succeeded in getting his freedom all on his own.

On top of that, e became a published writer. He now has his own voice, where as a slave he didn’t have a voice at all. When he was a slave, he wasn’t even a man according to society. Frederick Douglass lived to write his narrative and tell the Story Of his experience being a slave as a sign Of protest, saying that if he can do it anyone can. However, one must want it enough to succeed.

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Henry David Thoreau and Slavery. (2018, Mar 19). Retrieved from


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