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Henry David Thoreau

Transcendentalism, Thoreau's Politics, and "Civil Disobedience"
by

Alee Cotton

on 18 September 2012

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Transcript of Henry David Thoreau

Emerson's most influential disciple Henry David Thoreau People possess knowledge within themselves that transcends what they can learn elsewhere.

There is a divine force in each individual (oversoul) which is linked to nature and has the power to transform society. Transcendentalism
What do we already know? Thoreau applied Emerson's ideas to daily life.
Walden was his most important experiment
His ideas had direct political implications (individualism, abolition, resistance to civil government) What does Thoreau have to do with Transcendentalism? Thoreau's political thinking arose from the life he experienced in Massachusetts, not just from his ideology.
He is best known for refusing to pay his poll tax for several years. He spent a night in jail for this, and his experience sparked "Civil Disobedience". Thoreau's Politics While Thoreau thought as an individual, he was not the only prominent reformer at the time. Others, such as Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, shared in his philosophy (18th c. ideas - natural law...)
In what ways is Thoreau's thinking similar to those who signed the DOI? How is it different? Thoreau's Contemporaries This essay is about the power of the individual. Thoreau believed that goodness would eventually win. He felt that it was right in a higher sense to stand up against injustice, even if it meant punishment. "Civil Disobedience" Famous nonviolent protestors, such as Gandhi and King, adopted Thoreau for their own political purposes. Thoreau's Influence Martin Luther King, Jr. noted that Thoreau's essay was his first contact with the idea of moral resistance to an evil system. Answer the following questions in groups of three. Be prepared to explain your answers to the class. Discussion Questions 1. What does Thoreau mean when he says "the standing army is only an arm of the standing government"?
2. What does Thoreau say in the third paragraph that sounds exactly like Emerson?
3. Find evidence that Thoreau was an abolitionist.
4. What did Thoreau go to jail for? What freedom did he retain?
5. What does Thoreau want us to do?
6. Is the final line inconsistent, or honest and realistic? Explain. "Civil Disobedience" is also a great example of a persuasive essay that goes beyond five paragraphs. After your "Self Reliance" essays, you will be expected to write more than five paragraphs as well. Pay attention to Thoreau's writing style. What makes this essay persuasive? How is it organized? Where does he appeal to logos, ethos, and pathos? Essay Structure Are we obligated to always obey the law? If yes, why? If no, what criteria can be used to determine when disobedience is morally justified?

What are some situations today where people are working for changes in the name of justice (liberty) or social justice (equality)? What advice might Thoreau give them?

If Thoreau were alive today, how would he judge America? Whole Class Discussion
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