I heartily accept the motto,—;
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
that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best
but an ;
but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.
The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many
and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing
government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government
itself, which is only ,
is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through
the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their
tool; for in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.
 This American government—what is it but a
though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but
each instant losing some of its integrity? It has not the vitality and force of
a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will. It is
But it is not the less necessary for this; for the people must have some complicated
machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which
they have. Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed upon, even
impose on themselves, for their own advantage. Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity
with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It
does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in
the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have
done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.
and, as has been said, when it is most expedient, the governed are most let alone
by it. Trade and commerce, if they were not made of ,
would never manage to bounce over obstacles which legislators are continually
putting in their way; and if one were to judge these men wholly by the effects
of their actions and not partly by their intentions, they would deserve to be
classed and punished with those mischievious persons who put obstructions on the
and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for,
not at once no government, but at once
and that will be one step toward obtaining it.
 After all, the practical
reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are
permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule is not because they are most
likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but
because they are physically the strongest. But government in which the majority
rule in all cases can not be based on justice, even as far as men understand it.
Can there not be a government in which the majorities do not virtually decide
right and wrong, but conscience?—in which majorities decide only those questions
to which the rule of expediency is applicable?
Why has every man a conscience, then? 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
but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. 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. A common and natural result
of an undue respect for the law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel,
captain, corporal, privates, ,
and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their
wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep
marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart.
Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service
of some unscrupulous man in power? Visit the ,
and behold a marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as
it can make a man with its black arts—-a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity,
a man laid out alive and standing, and already, as one may say, buried under arms
with funeral accompaniment, though it may be,--
The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with
their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables,
etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgement or of the
moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones;
can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command
no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of
worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good
citizens. Others—-as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders—-serve
the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions,
they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God.
A wise man will only be useful as a man, and will not submit to be
but leave that office to his dust at least:—
To be a second at control,
Or useful serving-man and instrument
To any sovereign state throughout the world."
 How does it become a man to behave toward the American government
today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.
 All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse
allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency
are great and unendurable. But almost all say that such is not the case now. But
such was the case, they think, in the
If one were to tell me that this was a bad government because
brought to its ports, it is most probable that I should not make an ado about
it, for I can do without them. All machines have their friction; and possibly
this does enough good to counter-balance the evil. At any rate, it is a great
evil to make a stir about it. But when the friction comes to have its machine,
and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us not have such a machine
any longer. In other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation which has
undertaken to be the
are slaves, and
is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military
law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize.
What makes this duty the more urgent is that fact that the country so overrun
is not our own, but ours is the invading army.
a common authority with many on moral questions, in his chapter on the "Duty of
Submission to Civil Government," resolves all civil obligation into expediency;
and he proceeds to say that "so long as the interest of the whole society requires
it, that it, so long as the established government cannot be resisted or changed
without public inconveniencey, it is the will of God . . . that the established
government be obeyed—-and no longer. This principle being admitted, the justice
of every particular case of resistance is reduced to a computation of the quantity
of the danger and grievance on the one side, and of the probability and expense
of redressing it on the other." Of this, he says, every man shall judge for himself.
But Paley appears never to have contemplated those cases to which the rule of
expediency does not apply, in which a people, as well and an individual, must
do justice, cost what it may.
This, according to Paley, would be inconvenient. But he
in such a case, shall lose it.
 In their practice, nations agree with Paley; but
at the present crisis?
a cloth-o'-silver slut, Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in Massachusetts
are not a hundred thousand politicians at the South, but a hundred thousand merchants
and farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they
are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico,
We are accustomed to say, that the mass of men are unprepared; but improvement
is slow, because the few are not as materially wiser or better than the many.
It is not so important that many should be good as you, as that there be some
absolute goodness somewhere; for that will leaven the whole lump. There are thousands
who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect
do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington
and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know
not what to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of freedom to the
question of free trade, and quietly read the prices-current along with the latest
advices from Mexico, after dinner, and, it may be, fall asleep over them both.
What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot today? They hesitate, and
they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with
effect. They will wait, well disposed, for other to remedy the evil, that they
may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give up ,
and a feeble countenance and Godspeed, to the right, as it goes by them. There
are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man. But it
is easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian
To have her train borne up, and her soul trail in
with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions;
and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked.
I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that
that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation,
therefore, never exceeds that of expediency.
A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail
There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall
at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be
by their vote.
Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom
by his vote.
 I hear of a convention to be held at Baltimore, or elsewhere,
for the selection of a candidate for the Presidency, made up chiefly of editors,
and men who are politicians by profession; but I think, what is it to any independent,
intelligent, and respectable man what decision they may come to? Shall we not
have the advantage of this wisdom and honesty, nevertheless? Can we not count
upon some independent votes? Are there not many individuals in the country who
do not attend conventions? But no: I find that the respectable man, so called,
has immediately drifted from his position, and despairs of his country, when his
country has more reasons to despair of him.
His vote is of no more worth than that of any unprincipled foreigner or hireling
native, who may have been bought. O for ,
and, and my neighbor says, has a bone is his back which you cannot pass your hand
through! Our statistics are at fault: the population has been returned too large.
How many men are there to a square thousand miles in the country? Hardly
one. Does not America offer any inducement for men to settle here? The American
has dwindled into an —one
who may be known by the development of his organ of gregariousness, and a manifest
lack of intellect and cheerful self-reliance; whose first and chief concern, on
coming into the world, is to see that the almshouses are in good repair; and,
before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to collect a fund to the support
of the widows and orphans that may be; who, in short, ventures to live only by
the aid of the Mutual Insurance company, which has promised to bury him decently.
 It is not a man's duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the
eradication of any, even to most enormous, wrong; he may still properly have other
concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it,
and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support.
I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too. See what
gross inconsistency is tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, "I should
like to have them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves,
or to march to Mexico—-see if I would go"; and yet these very men have each, directly
by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a
The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do
not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war; is applauded
by those whose own act and authority he disregards and sets at naught; as if the
state were penitent to that degree that it hired one to scourge it while it sinned,
but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a moment. Thus, under the
name of Order and Civil Government, we are all made at last to pay homage to and
support our own meanness. After the first blush of sin comes its indifference;
and from immoral it becomes, as it were, unmoral, and not quite unnecessary to
that life which we have made.
 The broadest and most prevalent error requires
virtue to sustain it. The slight reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is
commonly liable, the noble are most likely to incur. Those who, while they disapprove
of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and
support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the
most serious obstacles to reform. Some are ,
to disregard the requisitions of the President.
Do not they stand in same relation to the State that the State does to the Union?
And have not the same reasons prevented the State from resisting the Union which
have prevented them from resisting the State?
 How can a man be satisfied
to entertain and opinion merely, and enjoy it? Is there any enjoyment in
it, if his opinion is that he is aggrieved? If you are cheated out of a single
dollar by your neighbor, you do not rest satisfied with knowing you are cheated,
or with saying that you are cheated, or even with petitioning him to pay you your
due; but you take effectual steps at once to obtain the full amount, and see to
it that you are never cheated again. Action from principle, the perception and
the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary,
and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divided States
and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual,
generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until
they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should
resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government
itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is
it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish
its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not
encourage its citizens to put out its faults, and do better than it would
have them? Why does it always crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and
Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?
 One would think,
that a deliberate and practical denial of its authority was the only offense never
contemplated by its government; else, why has it not assigned its definite, its
suitable and proportionate, penalty? If a man who has no property refuses but
once to earn
for the State, he is put in prison for a period unlimited by any law that I know,
and determined only by the discretion of those who put him there; but if he should
steal ninety times nine shillings from the State, he is soon permitted to go at
 If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the
let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth—certainly the machine will
wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively
for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse
than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent
of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction
to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend
myself to the wrong which I condemn.
 As for adopting the ways of the State
has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways.
I have other affairs to attend to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make
this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A man has
not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything,
it is not necessary that he should be petitioning the Governor or the Legislature
any more than it is theirs to petition me; and if they should not hear my petition,
what should I do then? But in this case the State has provided no way:
This may seem to be harsh and stubborn and unconcilliatory; but it is to treat
with the utmost kindness and consideration the only spirit that can appreciate
or deserves it. So is all change for the better, like birth and death, which convulse
 I do not hesitate to say, that
should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property,
from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a ,
before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is enough
if they have God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover,
 I meet this American government, or its representative, the State government,
directly, and face to face, once a year—no more—in the person of its tax-gatherer;
this is the only mode in which a man situated as I am necessarily meets it; and
it then says distinctly, Recognize me; and the simplest, the most effectual, and,
in the present posture of affairs, the indispensablest mode of treating with it
on this head, of expressing your little satisfaction with and love for it, is
to deny it then. ,
is the very man I have to deal with—for it is, after all, with men and not with
parchment that I quarrel—-and he has voluntarily chosen to be an agent of the
government. How shall he ever know well that he is and does as an officer of the
government, or as a man, until he is obliged to consider whether he will treat
me, his neighbor, for whom he has respect, as a neighbor and well-disposed man,
or as a maniac and disturber of the peace, and see if he can get over this obstruction
to his neighborlines without a ruder and more impetuous thought or speech corresponding
with his action. I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten
men whom I could name—-if ten honest men only—ay, if one HONEST
man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually
to withdraw from this co-partnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefor,
it would be the abolition of slavery in America. F
But we love better to talk about it: that we say is our mission. Reform keeps
many scores of newspapers in its service, but not one man. If,
the State's ambassador, who will devote his days to the settlement of the question
of human rights in the Council Chamber, instead of being threatened with the prisons
of Carolina, were to sit down the prisoner of Massachusetts, that State which
is so anxious to foist the sin of slavery upon her sister—-though at present she
can discover only an act of inhospitality to be the ground of a quarrel with her—-the
Legislature would not wholly waive the subject of the following winter.
The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her
freer and less despondent spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked
out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their
principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole,
and come to plead the wrongs of his race should find them; on that separate but
more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with
her, but against her—the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide
If any think that their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer
afflict the ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls,
they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently
and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own
person. Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.
A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority
then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative
is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will
not hesitate which to choose.
that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and
enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact,
the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. If the
tax-gatherer, or any other public officer, asks me, as one has done, "But
what shall I do?" my answer is, "If you really wish to do anything,
resign your office." When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer
has resigned from office, then the revolution is accomplished. But even suppose
blood shed when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man's real manhood
and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this blood
 I have contemplated the imprisonment of the offender, rather
than the seizure of his goods—-though both will serve the same purpose—-because
they who assert the purest right, and consequently are most dangerous to a corrupt
To such the State renders comparatively small service, and a slight tax is wont
to appear exorbitant, particularly if they are obliged to earn it by special labor
with their hands. If there were one who lived wholly without the use of money,
the State itself would hesitate to demand it of him. But the rich man—not to make
any invidious comparison—is always sold to the institution which makes him rich.
Absolutely speaking, It puts to rest many questions which he would otherwise be taxed to answer;
while the only new question which it puts is the hard but superfluous one, how
to spend it. Thus his moral ground is taken from under his feet.
The best thing a man can do for his culture when he is rich is to endeavor to
carry out those schemes which he entertained when he was poor. Christ answered
the Herodians according to their condition. "Show me the tribute-money," said
he—and one took a penny out of his pocket—if you use money which has the image
of Caesar on it, and which he has made current and valuable, that is, if you
are men of the State, and gladly enjoy the advantages of Caesar's government,
then pay him back some of his own when he demands it. "Render therefore to Caesar
that which is Caesar's and to God those things which are God's"—leaving them no
wiser than before as to which was which; for they did not wish to know.
When I converse with the freest of my neighbors, I perceive that, whatever they
may say about the magnitude and seriousness of the question, and their regard
for the public tranquillity, the long and the short of the matter is, that
For my own part, I should not like to think that I ever rely on the protection
of the State. But, if I deny the authority of the State when it presents its tax
bill, it will soon take and waste all my property, and so harass me and my children
without end. This is hard. This makes it impossible for a man to live honestly,
and at the same time comfortably, in outward respects. It will not be worth the
while to accumulate property; that would be sure to go again.
A man may grow rich in Turkey even, if he will be in all respects a good subject
of the Turkish government. Confucius said: "If a state is governed by the principles
of reason, poverty and misery are subjects of shame; if a state is not governed
by the principles of reason, riches and honors are subjects of shame." No: until
I want the protection of Massachusetts to be extended to me in some distant Southern
port, where my liberty is endangered, or until I am bent solely on building up
an estate at home by peaceful enterprise, I can afford to refuse allegiance to
Massachusetts, and her right to my property and life.
I should feel as if I were worth less in that case.
toward the support of a clergyman whose preaching my father attended, but never
I myself. "Pay," it said, "or be locked up in the jail." I declined to pay. But,
unfortunately, another man saw fit to pay it. I did not see why the schoolmaster
should be taxed to support the priest, and not the priest the schoolmaster; for
I was not the State's schoolmaster, but I supported myself by voluntary subscription.
I did not see why the lyceum should not present its tax bill, and have the State
to back its demand, as well as the Church. However, as the request of the selectmen,
I condescended to make some such statement as this in writing: "Know all men by
these presents, that I, Henry Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member
of any society which I have not joined." This I gave to the town clerk; and he
has it. The State, having thus learned that I did not wish to be regarded as a
member of that church, has never made a like demand on me since; though it said
that it must adhere to its original presumption that time. If I had known how
to name them, I should then have signed off in detail from ;
but I did not know where to find such a complete list.
 I have paid no
I was put into a jail once on this account, for one night; and, as I stood considering
the walls of solid stone, two or three feet thick, the door of wood and iron,
a foot thick, and the iron grating which strained the light, I could not help
being struck with the foolishness of that institution which treated my as if I
were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be locked up. I wondered that it should
have concluded at length that this was the best use it could put me to, and had
never thought to avail itself of my services in some way. I saw that, if there
was a wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was a still more difficult
one to climb or break through before they could get to I
did nor for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a
I felt as if I alone of all my townsmen had paid my tax. They plainly did not
know how to treat me, but behaved like persons who are underbred. In every threat
and in every compliment there was a blunder; for they thought that my chief desire
was to stand the other side of that stone wall. I could not but smile to see how
industriously they locked the door on my meditations, which followed them out
again without let or hindrance, and they were really all that was dangerous.
As they could not reach me, they had resolved to punish my body; just as boys,
if they cannot come at some person against whom they have a spite, will abuse
his dog. I saw that the State was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman
with her silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and
I lost all my remaining respect for it, and pitied it.
 Thus the state
never intentionally confronts a man's sense, intellectual or moral, but only his
body, his senses. It is not armed with superior with or honesty, but with superior
Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force
me who obey a higher law than I. They force me to become like themselves. I do
not hear of men being forced to live this way or that by masses
of men. What sort of life were that to live? When I meet a government which says
to me, ""
why should I be in haste to give it my money? It may be in a great strait, and
not know what to do: I cannot help that. It must help itself; do as I do. It is
not worth the while to snivel about it.
I am not the son of the engineer. I perceive that, when an acorn and a chestnut
fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but
both obey their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till
one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according
to nature, it dies; and so a man.
 The night in prison was novel and interesting
enough. The prisoners in their shirtsleeves were enjoying a chat and the evening
air in the doorway, when I entered. But the jailer said, "Come, boys, it is time
to lock up"; and so they dispersed, and I heard the sound of their steps returning
into the hollow apartments. My room-mate was introduced to me by the jailer as
"a first-rate fellow and clever man." When the door was locked, he showed me where
to hang my hat, and how he managed matters there. The rooms were whitewashed once
a month; and this one, at least, was the whitest, most simply furnished, and probably
neatest apartment in town. He naturally wanted to know where I came from, and
what brought me there; and, when I had told him, I asked him in my turn how he
came there, presuming him to be an honest man, of course; and as the world goes,
I believe he was. "Why," said he, "they accuse me of ;
but I never did it." As near as I could discover, he had probably gone to bed
in a barn when drunk, and smoked his pipe there; and so a barn was burnt. He had
the reputation of being a clever man, had been there some three months waiting
for his trial to come on, and would have to wait as much longer; but he was quite
domesticated and contented, since he got his board for nothing, and thought that
he was well treated.
 He occupied one window, and I the other; and I saw
that if one stayed there long, his principal business would be to look out the
window. I had soon read all the tracts that were left there, and examined where
former prisoners had broken out, and where a grate had been sawed off, and heard
the history of the various occupants of that room; for I found that even there
which never circulated beyond the walls of the jail. Probably this is the only
house in the town where verses are composed, which are afterward printed in a
circular form, but not published. I was shown quite a long list of young men who
had been detected in an attempt to escape, who avenged themselves by singing them.
 I pumped
as dry as I could,
but at length he showed me which was my bed, and left me to blow out the lamp.
 It was like ,
such as I had never expected to behold, to lie there for one night. It seemed
to me that I never had heard the town clock strike before, not the evening sounds
of the village; for we slept with the windows open, which were inside the grating.
They were the voices of old burghers that I heard in the streets. I was an involuntary
spectator and auditor of whatever was done and said in the kitchen of the adjacent
village inn—a wholly new and rare experience to me. It was a closer view of my
native town. I was fairly inside of it. I never had seen its institutions before.
This is one of its peculiar institutions; for it is a shire town. I began to comprehend
what its inhabitants were about.
 In the morning, our breakfasts were put
through the hole in the door, in small oblong-square tin pans, made to fit, and
holding a pint of chocolate, with brown bread, and an iron spoon. When they called
for the vessels again, I was green enough to return what bread I had left, but
my comrade seized it, and said that I should lay that up for lunch or dinner.
Soon after he was let out to work at haying in a neighboring field, whither he
went every day, and would not be back till noon; so he bade me good day, saying
that he doubted if he should see me again.
 When I came out of prison—-for
and paid that tax—-I did not perceive that great changes had taken place on the
common, such as he observed who went in a youth and emerged a gray-headed man;
and yet a change had to my eyes come over the scene—-the town, and State, and
country, greater than any that mere time could effect. I saw yet more distinctly
the State in which I lived. I saw to what extent the people among whom I lived
could be trusted as good neighbors and friends; that their friendship was for
summer weather only; that they did not greatly propose to do right; that they
were a distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions, as the Chinamen
and Malays are that in their sacrifices to humanity they ran no risks, not even
to their property; that after all they were not so noble but they treated the
thief as he had treated them, and hoped, by a certain outward observance and a
few prayers, and by walking in a particular straight through useless path from
time to time, to save their souls. This may be to judge my neighbors harshly;
for I believe that many of them are not aware that they have such an institution
as the jail in their village.
 It was formerly the custom in our village,
when a poor debtor came out of jail, for his acquaintances to salute him, looking
through their fingers, which were crossed to represent the jail window, "How do
ye do?" My neighbors did not this salute me, but first looked at me, and then
at one another, as if I had returned from a long journey. I was put into jail
as I was going to the shoemaker's to get a shoe which was mender.
I proceeded to finish my errand, and, having put on my mended show, joined a huckleberry
party, who were impatient to put themselves under my conduct; and in half an hour—-or
the horse was soon tackled—-was in the midst of a huckleberry field, on one of
our highest hills, two miles off, and then the State was nowhere to be seen.
This is the whole "
 I have never declined paying the highway tax, because I am as desirous
of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject; and as for supporting
schools, I am doing my part to educate my fellow countrymen now. It is for no
particular item in the tax bill that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse
allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do
not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man, or
a musket to shoot one with—the dollar is innocent—but I am concerned to trace
the effects of my allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after
If they pay the tax from a mistaken interest in the individual taxed, to save
his property, or prevent his going to jail, it is because they have not considered
wisely how far they let their private feelingsinterfere with the public good.
 This, then is my position at present. But one cannot be too much on his
guard in such a case, lest his actions be biased by obstinacy or an undue regard
for the opinions of men. Let him see that he does only what belongs to himself
and to the hour.
 I think sometimes, Why, this people mean well, they are
only ignorant; they would do better if they knew how: why give your neighbors
this pain to treat you as they are not inclined to? But I think again, This is
no reason why I should do as they do, or permit others to suffer much greater
pain of a different kind. Again, I sometimes say to myself, When many millions
of men, without heat, without ill will, without personal feelings of any kind,
demand of you a few shillings only, without the possibility, such is their constitution,
of retracting or altering their present demand, and without the possibility, on
your side, of appeal to any other millions, why expose yourself to this overwhelming
brute force? You do not resist cold and hunger, the winds and the waves, thus
obstinately; you quietly submit to a thousand similar necessities. You do not
put your head into the fire. But just in proportion as I regard this as not wholly
a brute force, but partly a human force, and consider that I have relations to
those millions as to so many millions of men, and not of mere brute or inanimate
things, I see that appeal is possible, first and instantaneously, from them to
the Maker of them, and, secondly, from them to themselves. But if I put my head
deliberately into the fire, there is no appeal to fire or to the Maker for fire,
and I have only myself to blame. If I could convince myself that I have any right
to be satisfied with men as they are, and to treat them accordingly, and not according,
in some respects, to my requisitions and expectations of what they and I ought
to be, then, like a good Mussulman and fatalist, I should endeavor to be satisfied
with things as they are, and say it is the will of God. And, above all, there
is this difference between resisting this and a purely brute or natural force,
that I can resist this with some effect; but I cannot expect, like,
to change the nature of the rocks and trees and beasts.
 I do not wish
to quarrel with any man or nation. I do not wish to split hairs, to make fine
distinctions, or set myself up as better than my neighbors. I seek rather, I may
say, even an excuse for conforming to the laws of the land. I am but too ready
to conform to them. Indeed, I have reason to suspect myself on this head; and
each year, as the tax-gatherer comes round, I find myself disposed to review the
acts and position of the general and State governments, and the spirit of the
people to discover a pretext for conformity.
"We must affect our country
as our parents, 
I believe that the State will soon be able to take all my work of this sort out
of my hands, and then I shall be no better patriot than my fellow-countrymen.
Seen from a lower point of view, the Constitution, with all its faults, is very
good; the law and the courts are very respectable; even this State and this American
government are, in many respects, very admirable, and rare things, to be thankful
for, such as a great many have described them;
And if at any time we alienate
Our love or industry
from doing it honor,
We must respect effects and teach the soul
of conscience and religion,
And not desire of rule or benefit."
 However, the government does not concern me much, and I shall bestow the
fewest possible thoughts on it. It is not many moments that I live under a government,
even in this world.
 I know that most men think differently from myself; but those whose lives
are by profession devoted to the study of these or kindred subjects content me
as little as any. Statesmen and legislators, standing so completely within the
institution, never distinctly and nakedly behold it. They speak of moving society,
but have no resting-place without it. They may be men of a certain experience
and discrimination, and have no doubt invented ingenious and even useful systems,
for which we sincerely thank them; but all their wit and usefulness lie within
certain not very wide limits. They are wont to forget that the world is not governed
by policy and expediency.
never goes behind government, and so cannot speak with authority about it. His
words are wisdom to those legislators who contemplate no essential reform in the
existing government; but for thinkers, and those who legislate for all time, he
never once glances at the subject. I know of those whose serene and wise speculations
on this theme would soon reveal the limits of his mind's range and hospitality.
Yet, compared with the cheap professions of most reformers, and the still cheaper
wisdom an eloquence of politicians in general, his are almost the only sensible
and valuable words, and we thank Heaven for him. Comparatively, he is always strong,
original, and, above all, practical. Still, his quality is not wisdom, but prudence.
The lawyer's truth is not Truth, but consistency or a consistent expediency.
He well deserves to be called, as he has been called, the Defender of the Constitution.
There are really no blows to be given him but defensive ones. He is not a leader,
but a follower. His leaders are the
"I have never made an effort," he says, "and never propose to make an effort;
I have never countenanced an effort, and never mean to countenance an effort,
to disturb the arrangement as originally made, by which various States came into
the Union." Still thinking of the sanction which the Constitution gives to slavery,
he says, "Because it was part of the original compact—let it stand." Notwithstanding
his special acuteness and ability, he is unable to take a fact out of its merely
political relations, and behold it as it lies absolutely to be disposed of by
the intellect—what, for instance, it behooves a man to do here in America today
with regard to slavery—but ventures, or is driven, to make some such desperate
answer to the following, while professing to speak absolutely, and as a private
man—from which what new and singular of social duties might be inferred? "The
manner," says he, "in which the governments of the States where slavery exists
are to regulate it is for their own consideration, under the responsibility to
their constituents, to the general laws of propriety, humanity, and justice, and
to God. Associations formed elsewhere, springing from a feeling of humanity, or
any other cause, have nothing whatever to do with it. They have never received
any encouragement from me and they never will. [Thoreau's Note: "These extracts
have been inserted since the lecture was read."]
 They who know of no purer
sources of truth, who have traced up its stream no higher, stand, and wisely stand,
by the Bible and the Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and humanity;
but they who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that pool, gird
up their loins once more, and continue their pilgrimage toward its fountainhead.
 No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are
rare in the history of the world. There are orators, politicians, and eloquent
men, by the thousand; but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who
is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence
for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or any heroism it
may inspire. Our legislators have not yet learned the comparative value of free
trade and of freed, of union, and of rectitude, to a nation. They have no genius
or talent for comparatively humble questions of taxation and finance, commerce
and manufactures and agriculture. If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators
in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the
effectual complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank among
the nations. For eighteen hundred years, though perchance I have no right to say
it, the New Testament has been written; yet where is the legislator who has wisdom
and practical talent enough to avail himself of the light which it sheds on the
science of legislation.
 The authority of government, even such as I am
willing to submit to—for I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do better
than I, and in many things even those who neither know nor can do so well—is still
an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the
governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede
to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy
to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. Even the
Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the individual as the basis of the
empire. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government?
I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to
all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would
not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to lie aloof from
it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of
neighbors and fellow men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered
it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect
and glorious State, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.
- Drinnon, Richard. "Thoreau's Politics of the Upright Man."
The Massachusetts Review 4.1 (Autumn 1962): 126-138. Also in John Hicks, Thoreau
in Our Season (Amherst, 1966, 154-68).
- Duban, James. "Thoreau, Garrison,
and Dymond: Unbending Firmness of Mind." American Literature 57 (1985):
- Meyer, Michael. "'Civil Disobedience' and the Problem of Thoreau's
'Peaceable Revolution'." Approaches to Teaching Thoreau's Walden
and Other Works. New York: MLA, 1996.
- Kaplan, Morris. "Civil Disobedience,
Conscience, and Community: Thoreau's 'Double Self' and the Problematic of Political
Action." The Delegated Intellect: Emersonian Essays on Literature, Science,
and Art in Honor of Don Gifford. New York: Peter Lang, 1995.
- Rossi, William,
editor. Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and Resistance to Civil Government.
New York: Norton & Company, 1966.
- Stern, Philip Van Doren. The Annotated
Walden. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1970.
- Wood, Barry. "Thoreau's
Narrative Art in 'Civil Disobedience'." Philological Quarterly 60
Bedau, Hugo Adam. ed.
Civil Disobedience: Theory and Practice. NY, 1969.
- Duban, James. "Conscience
and Consciousness: The Liberal Christian Context of Thoreau's Political Ethic."
American Literature 60 (1987), 208-22.
- Erlich, Michael. "Thoreau's
'Civil Disobedience': Strategy for Reform." Connecticut Review 7.1 (1973),
- Franklin, H. Bruce. Prison Literature in America: The Victim as
Criminal and Artist. Westport: Hill, 1978.
- Glick, Wendell. "'Civil Disobedience':
Thoreau's Attack upon Relativism." Western Humanities Review 7 (1952),
- Harding, Walter. "Was It Legal? Thoreau in Jail." American Heritage,
Aug 1975, 36-37.
- Herr, William. "A More Perfect State: Thoreau's Concept of
Civil Government." Massachusetts Review 16 (1975), 470-87.
- Herr, William.
"Thoreau: A Civil Disobedient?" Ethics 85 (1974), 87-91. Madden, Edward.
Civil Disobedience and Moral Law in Nineteenth-Century American Philosophy.
- Wynn Yarborough, Changing
Trends in Criticism of "Resistance to Civil Government.". VCU, 1999.