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What does Thoreau think about the conscience of individual citizens?

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cgep101 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 4, 2013 at 4:28 PM via web

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What does Thoreau think about the conscience of individual citizens?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 5, 2013 at 4:04 AM (Answer #1)

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I think that Thoreau believes that the conscience of individual citizens can be galvanized into action.  The hope for a "better government" is rooted in the notion that individual citizens' consciences can demand it.  Thoreau believes that the development of American government has been the result of the awakened conscience of individual citizens:  "...the character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished."  In this idea, Thoreau possesses a positive spirit regarding the conscience of individual citizens.  At the same time, Thoreau believes that individual action, driven by conscience, can be productive and is essential to American democracy:  "...action from principle . . . changes things and relations."  

Given these ideas, it makes sense that Thoreau thinks that the conscience of individual citizens holds promise and possibility.  Thoreau is not one to consider individual conscience as a zone of deadening action.  This goes against the fundamental believe that while the structure of government and society might strive to silence individuals, people can use their conscience to authentically speak out against that which they believe is wrong.

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