Civil Disobedience Questions and Answers
by Henry David Thoreau

Civil Disobedience book cover
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In paragraph 1, why does Thoreau begin his essay with the distinction between the government and the people?

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A recurrent theme throughout Henry David Thoreau’s work is independent thought and action. In Civil Disobedience, Thoreau explores the many ways in which the laws of the government must be broken in order to maintain a functioning and moral society. Thoreau writes,

The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it.

The people, collective individuals, have formed this government so that their ideas may be heard—yet it is so easy to manipulate the government, because it no longer consists of those individuals. The government is made up of people who, once elected, have the ability and authority to make selfish decisions, enact laws which do not serve the people as a whole, and make mistakes. Instead of following everything the government decrees, each individual must maintain their own thinking and, when necessary, act upon their beliefs instead of the will of...

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