In Civil Disobedience, to what does Thoreau compare government?I have the lady and her silver spoons and the chestnut and accorn, but anything else?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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First titled "Resistance to Civil Government," Henri David Thoreau' "Civil Disobedience" states that the American government is "but a tradition...endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity...." Then Thoreau compares government to a wooden gun that cannot be used as a real one without breaking.

That is, Thoreau contends that the government is not the people of a country.  It is not what keeps a country free or educates the populace.  Rather, it is the "character inherent in the American people" that accomplishes improvements in the way of life of the country, not the government. The real power of a country is in the people themselves; it is they who must act according to their consciences and do what it right--not any government.  By protesting what is wrong, the people will effect change, for no law can dictate what is right. Using the laws that allow slavery as an example of his point, Thoreau strengthens his argument that government is but a wooden gun.


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