Civil Disobedience Questions and Answers
by Henry David Thoreau

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What does Thoreau conclude about freedom while he is in jail?

In "Civil Disobedience," Thoreau concludes that imprisonment is a form of freedom while he is in jail. He also concludes that the freedom to disobey an immoral state is most possible when a person lives an economically simple life. When a person has so much that the state can seize it and throw his family into misery, it becomes almost impossible to oppose the state.

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Thoreau learns in jail that imprisonment is, paradoxically, a form of freedom. He writes of

how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person.

Imprisonment gives him power. He also reinforces for himself in prison the idea that he that has the least in terms of material goods is the freest. He speaks of those who are afraid to oppose the state by not paying their taxes because they risk having their property seized. He says:

they dread the consequences to their property and families of disobedience to it

He says those whose children and families will suffer from state seizure of their goods and other forms of harassment are in a "hard" position. Thoreau goes on to assert that it is impossible to live honestly and at the same time in a state of prosperity in an unjust state, such as the United States is as long as it supports slavery. He quotes Confucius, who said,

if a state is not governed by the principles of reason, riches and honors are the subjects of shame.

Thoreau learns in prison what he also argues in Walden: that living in economic simplicity is a form of freedom that allows a person to exist with integrity. The opportunities of truly living a full life according to one's own principles are lessened the more money one has.

Thoreau did get out of jail when someone else paid his taxes for him, so he was only there for a short time. Nevertheless, the experience helped clarify for him how freeing it is to be able to live by one's principles.

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