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Was the "Civil Disobedience" reform movement beneficial to American society?

An analysis of Henry David Thoreau and his essay on civil disobedience, and their effect on American society.
by

Chris Rowles

on 18 November 2012

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Transcript of Was the "Civil Disobedience" reform movement beneficial to American society?

Did the Civil Disobedience reform movement benefit American society? Civil Disobedience Evidence to the benefit to American society The Proof The Ideas Contained Within The ideas presented by Thoreau in their essence are beneficial ideas to American society
Thoreau has become fed up with the injustices perpetrated by the American government (slavery, war, etc.) and reminds his fellow citizens of how they resisted a similar tyranny of officials less than a hundred years before
The stance of abolition helped raise awareness of the unjust promotion of slavery by the American government and can be credited with helping inspire other abolitionists to take action
The eventual abolishing of slavery can be directly linked to abolitionists and the freeing of "a sixth of the population" is extremely beneficial to American society as it helps America truly become a land of freedom and equality
Thoreau's essay is also one of the most influential documents in American history and has helped establish America's reputation as a home for radical thinkers and political activists The Transcendentalist Movement Thoreau was one of the most famous and earliest members of the Transcendentalist Movement
Transcendentalism is a rare example of a uniquely American philosophy and it "stood at the heart of The American Renaissance," (PBS)
The main idea of American Transcendentalism can be summed up as: "By meditation, by communing with nature, through work and art, man could transcend his senses and attain an understanding of beauty and goodness and truth." (PBS)
Just as the Italian Renaissance did in Italy, the Transcendentalist movement encouraged the greatest artistic minds in American history to completely rethink and revolutionize all aspects of American art
America's greatest thinkers were naturally attracted to the movement and the movement can be credited with giving America unprecedented ideas and philosophies that continue to inspire today, such as Civil Disobedience The Civil Rights Movement Although slavery had been abolished in the 19 century, racism and inequality ran rampant throughout the USA in the 1960s, but a group of brave African-American activists rose to prominence in their fight for equality
The most famous of the activists, Martin Luther King Jr., was greatly inspired by Civil Disobedience and it helped him in his crusade for equality
As some protesters wanted violent revolt, King made speeches and took non-violent action towards the situation, echoing the words of Thoreau in the following speech when he speaks about acting upon conscience and accepting the consequences for your protest, just as Thoreau did a hundred years before
"More than any other piece of American writing, "Civil Disobedience" inspired and authorized the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War protest movement, and the student unrest of the sixties." (Carton, 105)
The Civil Rights Movement is one of the greatest triumphs for equality in history and is one of the most important moments for American society ever and has benefited hundreds of millions of people in the USA alone Yes, Henry David Thoreau and his essay on civil disobedience were beneficial to American society
The ideas contained within the essay urged for ordinary citizens to stand up to the government and oppose its support of slavery
The Transcendentalist movement was uniquely American and helped Americans realize the importance of nature and individualism
The essay and its ideas were a major force during the Civil Rights Movement The Author Henry David Thoreau "Hailed by many as America's greatest Nature writer, and perhaps the most genuine American Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau is no doubt a literary and spiritual icon" (Ingman 143)
Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817 and died in Concord in 1862
Throughout his life Thoreau was a reformer in every sense of the word as he dedicated himself to various reform movements in the USA, perhaps most famously the Transcendentalist movement
Thoreau was an advocate for individual reform by encouraging people to look to their consciences and do what they believe to be right in their own mind
Thoreau was also a social and political reform advocate and most famously published his essay, "Civil Disobedience," in 1849
Thoreau was also a lifelong abolitionist and deeply opposed to the American government's allowance of the enslavement of African-Americans The Essay Civil Disobedience Originally titled "Resistance to Civil Government", the essay was first published in 1849
The essay was originally performed as a lecture, however, and was read at the Concord Lyceum in 1848
In the paper, Thoreau recounts how he refused to pay taxes to the government and spent a night in jail as protest to how his tax dollars were being used to promote slavery and war, two things which Thoreau was deeply opposed to
The essay, in its essence, is a protest to the Mexican-American War and Thoreau's belief that it was a cover to move slavery westward
The essay is not only about the war, but it's also a call to Americans everywhere to act upon their conscience and to have "... every man make known what kind of government would command respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it" (Thoreau, 287) Thoreau's ideas themselves serve to benefit America The ideas of American transcendentalists was a benefit to American society The essay was its most beneficial and revolutionary a century after its conception "I heartily accept the motto, 'That government is best which governs least'" (Thoreau 286) "... I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government." (Thoreau 287) "Must the citizen ever for a moment... resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first and subjects afterward." (Thoreau 287) "I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the the slave's government also." (Thoreau 287) "... when a sixth of the population of a nation... are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overran... I think it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize." (Thoreau 288) Many of the members of the American Transcendentalist Movement Ralph Waldo Emerson The Transcendentalist This essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson is considered the peak of the Transcendentalist Movement, and is the very definition of the traditional Transcendentalist
http://www.emersoncentral.com/transcendentalist.htm "American transcendentalism was an important movement in philosophy and literature that flourished during the early to middle years of the nineteenth century," (Washington State University) Martin Luther King Jr. "During my student days I read Henry David Thoreau's essay On Civil Disobedience for the first time. Here, in this courageous New Englander's refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery's territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times.

I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest. The teachings of Thoreau came alive in our civil rights movement; indeed, they are more alive than ever before. Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, a peaceful protest in Albany, Georgia, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, these are outgrowths of Thoreau's insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man can patiently adjust to injustice. " (King, Chapter 2) Conclusion The Civil Disobedience and Transcendentalist reform movements pioneered in the 19th century by Henry David Thoreau have had an extremely beneficial impact in American society
The radical thoughts within the essay benefit America by bringing attention to the corruption of the government and the need for change within the American system
The Transcendentalist Movement was an American Renaissance and benefited America with some of the most profound and revolutionary work to come out of the USA and is a uniquely American ideal
The essay also benefited America by inspiring the fight for rights and equality in the USA in the 1950s and 60s Bibliography Ingman, Benjamin C. "Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue." Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue. 13.1-2 (2011): 143. Web. 16 Nov. 2012. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/retrieve.do?sgHitCountType=None&sort=DASORT&inPS=true&prodId=GPS&userGroupName=ko_k12hs_d66&tabID=T002&searchId=R2&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&contentSegment=&searchType=BasicSearchForm¤tPosition=2&contentSet=GALE|A284325101&&docId=GALE|A284325101&docType=GALE&role=AONE>. Carton, Evan. "American Scholar." American Scholar. 67.4 (1998): 105. Web. 16 Nov. 2012. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/retrieve.do?sgHitCountType=None&sort=DASORT&inPS=true&prodId=GPS&userGroupName=ko_k12hs_d66&tabID=T002&searchId=R1&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&contentSegment=&searchType=BasicSearchForm¤tPosition=5&contentSet=GALE|A53460167&&docId=GALE|A53460167&docType=GALE&role=ITOF>. Ruffalo, Mark, perf. Mark Ruffalo reads Henry David Thoreau. 2008. Web. 15 Nov 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9z0o_MAU0ao>. "American Transcendentalism." Washington State University. Washington State University, 21 2010. Web. 16 Nov 2012. <http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/amtrans.htm>. "I Hear America Singing: THE AMERICAN RENAISSANCE & TRANSCENDENTALISM ." PBS. PBS. Web. 6 Nov 2012. <http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ihas/icon/transcend.html>. King, Martin Luther. "Chapter 2: Morehouse College." Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. (2001): n.pag. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Web. 16 Nov 2012. <http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/kingpapers/article/chapter_2_morehouse_college/>. Thoreau, Henry David. Civil Disobedience. Concord: 1848. Print.
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