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Martin Luther King and Henry David Thoreau

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By acting civil but disobedient you are able to protest things you don't think are fair, non-violently. Henry David Thoreau is one of the most important literary figures of the nineteenth century. Thoreau's essay "Civil Disobedience," which was written as a speech, has been used by many great thinkers such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi as a map to fight against injustice. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor that headed the Civil Rights movement. He was a gifted speaker and a powerful writer whose philosophy was non-violent but direct action. Dr. King's strategy was to have sit-ins, boycotts, and marches. Dr. King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" was based on the principles of Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience". Both Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry David Thoreau are exceptional persuasive writers. Even though both writers are writing on ways to be civil but disobedient, they have opposite ways of convicing you. Dr. King is religious, gentle and apologetic, focusing on whats good for the group; while Thoreau is very aggressive and assertive for his own personal hate against the government. Both Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry David Thoreau have the same ideas, but view them differently. Dr. King wants to ultimately raise awareness and open doors for the better of a group. Thoreau wants more individual rights for people. Dr. King is explaining his view of conscience: I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for the law (Martin Luther King, p. 521). This quote shows Dr. King's opinion on going to jail. King knows that he was unjustly put into jail. He accepts going to jail even though he was put in jail wrongly. The community then knows of the injustice and should pressure the government. The other thing that happens is King is respecting the law by obeying it. He is a peaceful man and wants justice, but believes in following the rules peacefully to get the job done. Thoreau feels that conscience plays a more personal role. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?... Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then. I think that we should be men first, and subject afterward (Henry David Thoreau, p.581). Thoreau is questioning why majorities make the rules. He is questioning democracy. He's telling us to question anything we do and why we should give into the government if we do not agree with a rule. Why should we be individuals with brains and have thoughts of our own if we are not allowed to think for ourselves and do what we want? If we believe we are free, why do we have so many rules? Thoreau believes we should be real to ourselves and live for ourselves, not the government. King wants to change the laws because they are morally wrong and Thoreau wants to change the law because he personally doesn't like it. Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King both agree injustice exists. Thoreau thinks of injustice as friction or tension that can wear the machine down. King thinks that injustice just exists and tension must be created with direct action to negotiate with the machine. Thoreau explians, 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 that machine will wear out..., 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. (Henry David Thoreau, p.587). Injustice is a cause of friction, which is brought on by the government. The government has created something that is working against itself; if the friction of the injustice is left alone it will continue to grind down the machine. Once again Thoreau questions if you can wait that long and what are you personally going to do about the injustice. Thoreau says use your life to stop the machine. Dr. King explains, " injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly" (King p.516). If we allow injustice to affect any one place the government knows they can get away with it. If people don't fight injustice the government will continue to allow it because they know they can get away with it. We are all tied together in a mutual destiny; we are all in the same boat, what ever affects you affects me. How can you sit and watch injustice happen, we are all connected; what injustice happens to me happens to you. Both Thoreau and King are trying to prove the point that we are our brother's keeper. We all need to fight injustice to save each other. Thoreau and King have said what role conscience plays for them and that injustice exists but you must use your conscience to decide what to do. Now they discuss just and unjust laws. Thoreau explains, 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. ( Henry David Thoreau, p.586)



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