Civil Disobedience Questions and Answers
by Henry David Thoreau

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Why was Thoreau put in jail, and what were his feelings about the government while he was in jail in "Civil Disobedience"?

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In his essay "Civil Disobedience," essayist and activist Henry David Thoreau describes the experience of being put in jail for one night when he refused to pay a poll tax. He describes his feelings about the event and the government. Thoreau starts his essay stating his belief that “that government is best which governs least.”

The government, in his mind, overreaches its authority and is also susceptible to the manipulation and corruption of the people at the top of the leadership ranks. He points to the Mexican War as an example of how the few manipulated the many through the government.

He says in the essay that “the mass of men” do not actively think about their actions when they “serve the State” but act “as machines,” going through the motions like “wooden men.” Thoreau was not willing to serve the state like a machine by paying a tax that could be used to fund something he did not support, including slavery.

In protest, Thoreau exercised his right to civil...

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