What Are The Two Government Policies Thoreau Objects To

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While Henry David Thoreau went to jail rather than pay his poll tax, not because he objected to paying taxes, per se, but because he did not want to financially support his state of Massachusetts.  For, he objected to the position of the state government regarding its upholding of the federal government's policies on slavery and the war against Mexico, a dispute over territory and treaties in which the position of the United States as the wronged party was ambiguous, at best.

Thoreau's objection was based upon both his idealism and his common sense.  For, he foresaw that acquiescence to the government could lead to what John Stuart Mill termed "the tyranny of the majority" as the government could make people willing victims--"machines"--of its power.  And, if enough people would object to paying this poll tax, perhaps, an examination of the policies of the state would be re-examined in Massachusetts.  Expressing this ideal of individualism, Thoreau contended,

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.  The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right...

Thoreau firmly believed that a man's duty was to give no support to issues that go against his conscience.


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