Entry for July 23, 2006

The drawing of Thoreau is from the Pierre P. Proudhon memorial computer, flag.blackened.net  at Berkeley, dedicated to the memory of the French anarchist.

On this day in 1846 in protest over slavery and the country’s involvement in the Mexican War, Henry David Thoreau refused to pay his $1 poll tax and was jailed by by his friend the Concord, Massachusetts town constable–an experience that moves him to write “On Civil Disobedience,” written as a lecture for the Concord, Massachusetts, lyceum in January 1848.

I heartily accept the motto, “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe–“That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

These days, it seems that  those who currently accept the motto, only want the least governing when it comes to them; they are content to pass all sorts of laws to curtail civil liberties.  What they forget is that he also said,

How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it…. Under a government which imprsons any injustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.

Over the years the essay has inspired Tolstoy, Gandhi and the Industrial Workers of the World, as well as for contemporary activists in the civil rights, anti-war and radical environmentalist movements.

 

 

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