Thoreau and Kings ideas



Thoreau and King, Jr.

There are times throughout the history of the United States when its citizens have felt the need to revolt against the government. There were such cases during the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry David Thoreau, when there was unfair discrimination against the African American community and Americans refusing to pay poll taxes to support the Mexican War. They used civil disobedience to eventually get legislation to stop the injustice brought against them and their nation. Civil disobedience is defined as the refusal to obey civil laws or decrees, which usually takes the form of passive resistance. People practicing civil disobedience break a law because they consider the law unjust, and want to call attention to its injustice, hoping to bring about its withdrawal.
Thoreau wrote “Civil Disobedience” in 1849 after spending a night in the Walden town jail for refusing to pay a poll tax that supported the Mexican War. He recommended passive resistance as a form of tension that could lead to reform of unjust laws practiced by the government. He stated civil disobedience as “An expression of the individual’s liberty to create change.” Thoreau believed that the government had established order that resisted reform and change. “Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary.”
Thoreau refused to pay the poll tax because the money was being used to finance the Mexican War. Not only was he against the war itself but the war was over Texas which was to be used as a slave state. His friend Staples offered to pay the tax for him, but to Thoreau it wasn’t the tax he was objected to, it was how the money would be used. He thought strongly against paying money to a war that he did not support, and would rather end up in jail that go against his will. A certain passage shows how strong he felt when he said, “Your money is your life, why should I haste to give it my money?” It was important to Thoreau to get the public informed about the War, and make people think why it was wrong to support it. Thoreau never rallied thousands of people together to get reactions. Instead he went to jail to protest and wrote his essay “Civil Disobedience.” His statements were to get people to think and take their own approach to the situation.
Many years after Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” Dr. Martin Luther King took the same idea of passive resistance to protest the injustices brought upon the African American race in the United States. Dr. King, like Thoreau, was willing to suffer for his views, especially when he found himself faced with disciplinary laws denying civil rights to all citizens. King used peaceful sit-ins and rallies to unite the black community. Blacks were forced to sit on the back of busses, use separate water fountains, bathrooms, and schools. These non-violent acts of public speech eventually led to King’s arrest; resembling Thoreau somewhat in his attitude towards laws that did not conform to moral justice.
While being held in Birmingham Jail, King wrote, “The Letter from Birmingham Jail” to his fellow clergymen expressing how disappointed he was with the U.S. and segregation. King said, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just…All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.” Thoreau wrote how disappointed he was with the government by forcing him to pay a poll tax that supported a war and slavery.
Thoreau and King shared the same ideas of unjust laws performed by the government. Both men also inspired reforms and the overturning of unjust laws and customs. Thoreau never had legions of followers like King, but he still made a long-term impact. He speaks directly to every issue, stating his own position and recommending the position he feels his audience, as reasonable and moral people, should accept. Thoreau’s ideas had a powerful influence on the passive resistance ideas embraced by Martin Luther King Jr. in leading the movement to end racial segregation in the United States. Kings method is that of careful reasoning, focusing on the substance of their criticism. Above all, King remains grounded in logic, convinced that his arguments will