Civil Disobedience And Letter From Birmingham Jail Essay

Writer, thinker, transcendentalist, and neckbeard enthusiast, Henry David Thoreau published his essay, "Civil Disobedience" in 1849. It basically argued that governments do messed up stuff way too often, and that individuals should follow their own moral conscience instead of going along with unjust laws, wars, and customs.

Thoreau saw slavery for the nightmare and abomination it was, and also railed against the beginnings of what he considered American imperialism, which at the time was epitomized for Thoreau by the Mexican-American War.

There are many nuggets of wisdom, controversy, and 19th century New England wit in the essay. But there is at least one argument that made its way directly into Dr. King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail": we shouldn't have respect for law just because it's the law.

I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. […] Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. (Source)

Not included in "Civil Disobedience": Thoreau's passionate argument in favor of neckbeards.

Best Answer:  Civil Disobedience: Thoreau's Civil Disobedience espouses the need to prioritize one's conscience over the dictates of laws. 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. 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: In protest of slavery, Thoreau refused to pay taxes and spent a night in jail. According to Thoreau, this form of protest was preferable to advocating for reform from within government; he asserts that one can not see government for what it is when one is working within it. Civil Disobedience covers several topics, and Thoreau intersperses poetry and social commentary throughout. For purposes of clarity and readability, the essay has been divided into three sections here, though Thoreau himself made no such divisions.

Letter from Birmingham Jail: In response, Martin Luther King drafted a document that would mark the turning point of the Civil Rights movement and provide enduring inspiration to the struggle for racial equality. Martin Luther King's “Letter from Birmingham Jail” strives to justify the desperate need for nonviolent direct action, the absolute immorality of unjust laws together with what a just law is, as well as, the increasing probability of the “*****” resorting to extreme disorder and bloodshed, in addition to his utter disappointment with the Church who, in his opinion, had not lived up to their responsibilities as people of God. The actions of the African American people are overdue and very well planned as King had explained in the letter. As King explains, “past promises have been broken by the politicians and merchants of Birmingham and now is the time to fulfill the natural right of all people to be treated equal”. Secondly, King ’s answer to the clergymen's assertion that breaking the law is not the way to achieve the results the African American is looking for. He feels that the Church has skirted its responsibilities to the African American people, hiding behind “anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows”. King summarizes his letter by making the point that he hopes that the Church will see it's responsibilities “it's” means it is/you need its as people of God and understand the need for direct action, the justification of unjust laws and the impending danger of the African American rising up in violence if they are not heard. Martin Luther King does this all in a diplomatic, heartfelt and completely inoffensive voice.


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