I need help writing an essay explaining the following excerpt from Thoreau:

 

Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?

 

One would think, that a deliberate and practical denial of its authority was the only offence never contemplated by government; else, why has it not assigned its definite, its suitable and proportionate, penalty? If a man who has no property refuses but once to earn nine shillings for the State, he is put in prison for a period unlimited by any law that I know, and determined only by the discretion of those who placed him there; but if he should steal ninety times nine shillings from the State, he is soon permitted to go at large again.

 

If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth- certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

 

As for adopting the ways which the State has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man's life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he should do something wrong. It is not my business to be petitioning the Governor or the Legislature any more than it is theirs to petition me; and if they should not bear my petition, what should I do then? But in this case the State has provided no way: its very Constitution is the evil. This may seem to be harsh and stubborn and unconciliatory; but it is to treat with the utmost kindness and consideration the only spirit that can appreciate or deserves it. So is an change for the better, like birth and death, which convulse the body.

 

I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is enough if they have God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already."

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"Civil Disobedience" by Henry David Thoreau was written to explain why Thoreau had refused to pay his taxes and gone to jail. Thoreau's decision to disobey the United States government was grounded in objections to slavery and to the Mexican War of 1846, which he saw as strengthening...

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"Civil Disobedience" by Henry David Thoreau was written to explain why Thoreau had refused to pay his taxes and gone to jail. Thoreau's decision to disobey the United States government was grounded in objections to slavery and to the Mexican War of 1846, which he saw as strengthening the practice of slavery. 

The main issue tackled in the essay is when civil disobedience is justified. He acknowledges that in a democracy a majority can change the laws, and thus that many people advocate patiently obeying laws as one strives to change them. He argues, though, that if the laws of the government require your complicity in acts you consider fundamentally immoral, you are justified in civil disobedience. 

He also argues that laws express the will of the majority, and a "wise minority" may disagree with them. He cites Christ, Copernicus, and Luther, and well as Washington and Franklin, as examples of that "wise minority" of people like himself persecuted by unjust societies. He also argues that legal methods of reform may simply take too long to be accomplished in his own lifetime.

The major weakness in his argument is that he really does not provide a way to distinguish "wise minority" from common lawbreakers nor think through what would happen to a society of everyone had the attitude that they only needed to obey laws they agreed with. Thoreau states at the end of the excerpt:

Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.

He doesn't really address the problem of the arrogance of simply assuming that he is "more right than his neighbors." Simply saying that Copernicus and Luther were eventually proven right does not take into account that there are many people who ended up on the wrong side of history. Just as the majority is not always right, it also is not always wrong. 

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