Thoreau actually believed that civil disobedience need not always be peaceful; sometimes, he thought, violence could be necessary. For example, he was a passionate defender of John Brown and Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Brown was a fervent abolitionist, and he attempted to take control of this U.S. military arsenal...
Thoreau actually believed that civil disobedience need not always be peaceful; sometimes, he thought, violence could be necessary. For example, he was a passionate defender of John Brown and Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Brown was a fervent abolitionist, and he attempted to take control of this U.S. military arsenal in the hopes of arming a group of free slaves and striking terror into the hearts of those who supported slavery. Men, of course, did die during this attack. However, when Brown was captured alive, convicted of treason and sentenced to hang, Thoreau spoke out, quite publicly, supporting Brown's methods. Thoreau called him a true patriot because he was willing to stand up to his government and protest, risking life and limb, against this unjust institution.
That being said, I have a difficult time deciding whether or not I agree with Thoreau because I have to wonder, at what point is one qualified to decide whether or not another person's life should be forfeit in the fight for justice? It is one thing, I think, to refuse to obey an unjust law, like Thoreau did when he refused to pay his poll tax because he knew the money would be used to support the war against Mexico, a war that he opposed on moral grounds. He did not pay his tax, he went to jail; only he bore the consequences of his civil disobedience. However, when one kills another person in the pursuit of justice, as Brown did, it becomes another matter. What gives one person the right to kill another? If it is not right that a man owns a slave, does it follow that it is right that he be killed? Martin Luther King, Jr., obviously believed in peaceful civil disobedience; however, we still do not have racial equality in this country and racism is institutionalized in our systems of government, law, and so on. Perhaps violence would have been more effective? On the other hand, do two wrongs make a right? Or, is it even a "wrong" to kill an oppressor? The issue seems very gray to me. There are, certainly, other methods of fighting injustice, and they can be peaceful. There have been any number of peaceful resistance methods used over the centuries, and they have, at times, been effective.
So, the short answer to your question is "sort of." I agree that we have the right, even the moral obligation (as Thoreau calls it), to resist unjust laws. However, I cannot agree that we have the right to take another's life as a part of our resistance.