Civil Disobedience Questions and Answers
by Henry David Thoreau

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Why is Henry David Thoreau calling for a revolution?

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Thoreau made his stand against the American government – through his nonpayment of the poll tax to Massachusetts – in order to protest two issues. The first was that the country still allowed slavery to persist in the southern states. The second was that the country had recently entered a war with Mexico. His reference to “revolution” appears in the 8th paragraph of “Civil Disobedience.” The second part of the paragraph reads:

All machines have their friction; and possibly this does enough good to counterbalance the evil. At any rate, it is a great evil to make a stir about it. But when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us not have such a machine any longer. In other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjust overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army.

Thoreau liked to use literary devices like metaphor and simile to make his points. Here as a metaphor, he equates the government with a machine that supports “oppression” (slavery) and “robbery” (taking land that belongs to Mexico). And he continues to outline both of these grievances in the rest of the passage. The “country so overrun” is Mexico. Although he and many other northerners were involved in antislavery activities, Thoreau didn’t think enough was being done to confront the government about the war with Mexico. This was why he encouraged revolution here. Through his overnight jail stay and this lecture/essay, he thought he was doing his part to protest.

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