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Word Count: 949
Henry David Thoreau 1817-1862 was a philosopher and writer best known for his attacks on American social institutions and his respect for nature and simple living Thoreaus Civil Disobedience espouses the need to prioritize ones conscience over the dictates of laws It criticizes American social institutions and policies most prominently slavery and the Mexican-American War Thoreau begins his essay by arguing that government rarely proves itself useful and that it derives its power from the majority because they are the strongest group not because they hold the most legitimate viewpoint He contends that peoples first obligation is to do what they believe is right and not to follow the law dictated by the majority When a government is unjust people should refuse to follow the law and distance themselves from the government in general A person is not obligated to devote his life to eliminating evils from the world but he is obligated not to participate in such evils This includes not being a member of an unjust institution like the government Thoreau further argues that the United States fits his criteria for an unjust government given its support of slavery and its practice of aggressive war Thoreau doubts the effectiveness of reform within the government and he argues that voting and petitioning for change achieves little He presents his own experiences as a model for how to relate to an unjust government He offers protest of slavery Thoreau refused to pay taxes and spent a night in jail But more generally he ideologically dissociated himself from the government washing his hands of it and refusing to participate in his institutions According to Thoreau this form of protest was preferable to advocating for reform from within government he asserts that one cannot see government for what it is when one is working within it Civil Disobedience covers several topics through which he intersperses poetry and social commentary Thoreau begins Civil Disobedience by saying that
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