When Was Civil Disobedience Published?

Updated: November 20, 2022
Henry David Thoreau first published "Civil Disobedience" in 1849. The essay argues that people should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences, and that people have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice.
Detailed answer:

Published in 1849, Civil Disobedience is an essay by American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau that argues that individuals should not allow governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences, but instead should peacefully protest against injustice. His ideas were inspired by the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, both of which called into question the morality of slavery. In his first chapter, Thoreau states that “the State is itself the criminal” for violating its own principles. Later chapters take up specific examples of perceived government injustice and explain how citizens can best resist them. Throughout, Thoreau argues that governments must be based on the consent of the governed if they are to remain legitimate; he believes civil disobedience to be an honorable course of action when this ideal falls short. The essay “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau has had a lasting impact on political activists. In it, Thoreau argues that it is not only acceptable but sometimes necessary to disobey laws that violate one’s conscience. Those who break such laws are known as conscientious objectors . A notable example of someone influenced by this idea was Mahatma Gandhi , who organized nonviolent resistance campaigns in India against British rule. Martin Luther King Jr. used similar tactics in the 1960s while campaigning for equal rights for African Americans.

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