1	          November 1993
     4	                       CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
     6	                    ............. Henry David Thoreau
     8	                   ==========================
     9	     I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which
    10	governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more
    11	rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to
    12	this, which also I believe--"That government is best which
    13	governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will
    14	be the kind of government which the will have. Government is at
    15	best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all
    16	governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have
    17	been brought against a standing army, and they are many and
    18	weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought
    19	against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm
    20	of the standing government. The government itself, which is only
    21	the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is
    22	equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can
    23	act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of
    24	comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as
    25	their tool; for in the outset, the people would not have
    26	consented to this measure.
    27	     This American government--what is it but a tradition, though
    28	a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to
    29	posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity? It has
    30	not the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single
    31	man can bend it to his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the
    32	people themselves. But it is not the less necessary for this; for
    33	the people must have some complicated machinery or other, and
    34	hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have.
    35	Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed upon,
    36	even impose on themselves, for their own advantage. It is
    37	excellent, we must all allow. Yet this government never of itself
    38	furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got
    39	out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not
    40	settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in
    41	the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and
    42	it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not
    43	sometimes got in its way. For government is an expedient, by
    44	which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone; and,
    45	as has been said, when it is most expedient, the governed are
    46	most let alone by it. Trade and commerce, if they were not made
    47	of india-rubber, would never manage to bounce over obstacles
    48	which legislators are continually putting in their way; and if
    49	one were to judge these men wholly by the effects of their
    50	actions and not partly by their intentions, they would deserve to
    51	be classed and punished with those mischievious persons who put
    52	obstructions on the railroads.
    53	     But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who
    54	call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at one no
    55	government, but at once a better government. Let every man make
    56	known what kind of government would command his respect, and that
    57	will be one step toward obtaining it. After all, the practical
    58	reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a
    59	majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule
    60	is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor
    61	because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are
    62	physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority
    63	rule in all cases can not be based on justice, even as far as men
    64	understand it. Can there not be a government in which the
    65	majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but
    66	conscience?--in which majorities decide only those questions to
    67	which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever
    68	for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to
    69	the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that
    70	we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not
    71	desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the
    72	right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to
    73	do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a
    74	corporation has no conscience; but a corporation on conscientious
    75	men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit
    76	more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-
    77	disposed are daily made the agents on injustice. A common and
    78	natural result of an undue respect for the law is, that you may
    79	see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates,
    80	powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill
    81	and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their
    82	common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching
    83	indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no
    84	doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned;
    85	they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all?
    86	or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some
    87	unscrupulous man in power? Visit the Navy Yard, and behold a
    88	marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as
    89	it can make a man with its black arts--a mere shadow and
    90	reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, and
    91	already, as one may say, buried under arms with funeral
    92	accompaniment, though it may be,
    94	 "Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
    95	  As his corse to the rampart we hurried; Not a soldier
    96	  discharged his farewell shot
    97	  O'er the grave where out hero was buried."
    99	     The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but
   100	as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and
   101	the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most
   102	cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgement or of
   103	the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and
   104	earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that
   105	will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than
   106	men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth
   107	only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly
   108	esteemed good citizens. Others--as most legislators, politicians,
   109	lawyers, ministers, and office-holders--serve the state chiefly
   110	with their heads; and, as the rarely make any moral distinctions,
   111	they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as
   112	God. A very few--as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the
   113	great sense, and men--serve the state with their consciences
   114	also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they
   115	are commonly treated as enemies by it. A wise man will only be
   116	useful as a man, and will not submit to be "clay," and "stop a
   117	hole to keep the wind away," but leave that office to his dust at
   118	least:
   120	 "I am too high born to be propertied,
   121	 To be a second at control,
   122	 Or useful serving-man and instrument
   123	 To any sovereign state throughout the world."
   125	     He who gives himself entirely to his fellow men appears to
   126	them useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to
   127	them in pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist.
   128	     How does it become a man to behave toward the American
   129	government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be
   130	associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that
   131	political organization as my government which is the slave's
   132	government also.
   133	     All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the
   134	right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government,
   135	when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable.
   136	But almost all say that such is not the case now. But such was
   137	the case, they think, in the Revolution of '75. If one were to
   138	tell me that this was a bad government because it taxed certain
   139	foreign commodities brought to its ports, it is most probable
   140	that I should not make an ado about it, for I can do without
   141	them. All machines have their friction; and possibly this does
   142	enough good to counter-balance the evil. At any rate, it is a
   143	great evil to make a stir about it. But when the friction comes
   144	to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I
   145	say, let us not have such a machine any longer. In other words,
   146	when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken
   147	to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is
   148	unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected
   149	to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men
   150	to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent
   151	is that fact that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours
   152	is the invading army.
   153	     Paley, a common authority with many on moral questions, in
   154	his chapter on the "Duty of Submission to Civil Government,"
   155	resolves all civil obligation into expediency; and he proceeds to
   156	say that "so long as the interest of the whole society requires
   157	it, that it, so long as the established government cannot be
   158	resisted or changed without public inconveniencey, it is the will
   159	of God... that the established government be obeyed--and no
   160	longer. This principle being admitted, the justice of every
   161	particular case of resistance is reduced to a computation of the
   162	quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side, and of the
   163	probability and expense of redressing it on the other." Of this,
   164	he says, every man shall judge for himself. But Paley appears
   165	never to have contemplated those cases to which the rule of
   166	expediency does not apply, in which a people, as well and an
   167	individual, must do justice, cost what it may. If I have unjustly
   168	wrested a plank from a drowning man, I must restore it to him
   169	though I drown myself. This, according to Paley, would be
   170	inconvenient. But he that would save his life, in such a case,
   171	shall lose it. This people must cease to hold slaves, and to make
   172	war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people.
   173	In their practice, nations agree with Paley; but does anyone
   174	think that Massachusetts does exactly what is right at the
   175	present crisis?
   177	 "A drab of stat, a cloth-o'-silver slut,
   178	 To have her train borne up, and her soul trail in the dirt."
   180	     Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in
   181	Massachusetts are not a hundred thousand politicians at the
   182	South, but a hundred thousand merchants and farmers here, who are
   183	more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in
   184	humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to
   185	Mexico, cost what it may. I quarrel not with far-off foes, but
   186	with those who, neat at home, co-operate with, and do the bidding
   187	of, those far away, and without whom the latter would be
   188	harmless. We are accustomed to say, that the mass of men are
   189	unprepared; but improvement is slow, because the few are not as
   190	materially wiser or better than the many. It is not so important
   191	that many should be good as you, as that there be some absolute
   192	goodness somewhere; for that will leaven the whole lump. There
   193	are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the
   194	war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who,
   195	esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit
   196	down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know
   197	not what to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of
   198	freedom to the question of free trade, and quietly read the
   199	prices-current along with the latest advices from Mexico, after
   200	dinner, and, it may be, fall asleep over them both. What is the
   201	price-current of an honest man and patriot today? They hesitate,
   202	and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing
   203	in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for
   204	other to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to
   205	regret. At most, they give up only a cheap vote, and a feeble
   206	countenance and Godspeed, to the right, as it goes by them. There
   207	are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one
   208	virtuous man. But it is easier to deal with the real possessor of
   209	a thing than with the temporary guardian of it.
   210	     All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon,
   211	with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong,
   212	with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The
   213	character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance,
   214	as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right
   215	should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its
   216	obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even
   217	voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only
   218	expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A
   219	wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor
   220	wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is
   221	but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the
   222	majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it
   223	will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there
   224	is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They
   225	will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the
   226	abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote.
   227	     I hear of a convention to be held at Baltimore, or
   228	elsewhere, for the selection of a candidate for the Presidency,
   229	made up chiefly of editors, and men who are politicians by
   230	profession; but I think, what is it to any independent,
   231	intelligent, and respectable man what decision they may come to?
   232	Shall we not have the advantage of this wisdom and honesty,
   233	nevertheless? Can we not count upon some independent votes? Are
   234	there not many individuals in the country who do not attend
   235	conventions? But no: I find that the respectable man, so called,
   236	has immediately drifted from his position, and despairs of his
   237	country, when his country has more reasons to despair of him. He
   238	forthwith adopts one of the candidates thus selected as the only
   239	available one, thus proving that he is himself available for any
   240	purposes of the demagogue. His vote is of no more worth than that
   241	of any unprincipled foreigner or hireling native, who may have
   242	been bought. O for a man who is a man, and, and my neighbor says,
   243	has a bone is his back which you cannot pass your hand through!
   244	Our statistics are at fault: the population has been returned too
   245	large. How many men are there to a square thousand miles in the
   246	country? Hardly one. Does not America offer any inducement for
   247	men to settle here? The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow-
   248	-one who may be known by the development of his organ of
   249	gregariousness, and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful
   250	self-reliance; whose first and chief concern, on coming into the
   251	world, is to see that the almshouses are in good repair; and,
   252	before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to collect a
   253	fund to the support of the widows and orphans that may be; who,
   254	in short, ventures to live only by the aid of the Mutual
   255	Insurance company, which has promised to bury him decently.
   256	     It is not a man's duty, as a matter of course, to devote
   257	himself to the eradication of any, even to most enormous, wrong;
   258	he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it
   259	is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives
   260	it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support. If
   261	I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must
   262	first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon
   263	another man's shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may
   264	pursue his contemplations too. See what gross inconsistency is
   265	tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, "I should like
   266	to have them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the
   267	slaves, or to march to Mexico--see if I would go"; and yet these
   268	very men have each, directly by their allegiance, and so
   269	indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a substitute. The
   270	soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by
   271	those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which
   272	makes the war; is applauded by those whose own act and authority
   273	he disregards and sets at naught; as if the state were penitent
   274	to that degree that it hired one to scourge it while it sinned,
   275	but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a moment.
   276	Thus, under the name of Order and Civil Government, we are all
   277	made at last to pay homage to and support our own meanness. After
   278	the first blush of sin comes its indifference; and from immoral
   279	it becomes, as it were, unmoral, and not quite unnecessary to
   280	that life which we have made.
   281	     The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most
   282	disinterested virtue to sustain it. The slight reproach to which
   283	the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable, the noble are most
   284	likely to incur. Those who, while they disapprove of the
   285	character and measures of a government, yield to it their
   286	allegiance and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious
   287	supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to
   288	reform. Some are petitioning the State to dissolve the Union, to
   289	disregard the requisitions of the President. Why do they not
   290	dissolve it themselves--the union between themselves and the
   291	State--and refuse to pay their quota into its treasury? Do not
   292	they stand in same relation to the State that the State does to
   293	the Union? And have not the same reasons prevented the State from
   294	resisting the Union which have prevented them from resisting the
   295	State?
   296	     How can a man be satisfied to entertain and opinion merely,
   297	and enjoy it? Is there any enjoyment in it, if his opinion is
   298	that he is aggrieved? If you are cheated out of a single dollar
   299	by your neighbor, you do not rest satisfied with knowing you are
   300	cheated, or with saying that you are cheated, or even with
   301	petitioning him to pay you your due; but you take effectual steps
   302	at once to obtain the full amount, and see to it that you are
   303	never cheated again. Action from principle, the perception and
   304	the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is
   305	essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with
   306	anything which was. It not only divided States and churches, it
   307	divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the
   308	diabolical in him from the divine.
   309	     Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or
   310	shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have
   311	succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally,
   312	under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait
   313	until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think
   314	that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the
   315	evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the
   316	remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not
   317	more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not
   318	cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it
   319	is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to put out its
   320	faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always
   321	crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and
   322	pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels? One would think, that a
   323	deliberate and practical denial of its authority was the only
   324	offense never contemplated by its government; else, why has it
   325	not assigned its definite, its suitable and proportionate,
   326	penalty? If a man who has no property refuses but once to earn
   327	nine shillings for the State, he is put in prison for a period
   328	unlimited by any law that I know, and determined only by the
   329	discretion of those who put him there; but if he should steal
   330	ninety times nine shillings from the State, he is soon permitted
   331	to go at large again.
   332	     If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the
   333	machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will
   334	wear smooth--certainly the machine will wear out. If the
   335	injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank,
   336	exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the
   337	remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a
   338	nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to
   339	another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-
   340	friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any
   341	rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.
   342	     As for adopting the ways of the State has provided for
   343	remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much
   344	time, and a man's life will be gone. I have other affairs to
   345	attend to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a
   346	good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A
   347	man has not everything to do, but something; and because he
   348	cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he should be
   349	petitioning the Governor or the Legislature any more than it is
   350	theirs to petition me; and if they should not hear my petition,
   351	what should I do then? But in this case the State has provided no
   352	way: its very Constitution is the evil. This may seem to be harsh
   353	and stubborn and unconcilliatory; but it is to treat with the
   354	utmost kindness and consideration the only spirit that can
   355	appreciate or deserves it. So is all change for the better, like
   356	birth and death, which convulse the body.
   357	     I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves
   358	Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support,
   359	both in person and property, from the government of
   360	Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of
   361	one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I
   362	think that it is enough if they have God on their side, without
   363	waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than his
   364	neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.
   365	     I meet this American government, or its representative, the
   366	State government, directly, and face to face, once a year--no
   367	more--in the person of its tax-gatherer; this is the only mode in
   368	which a man situated as I am necessarily meets it; and it then
   369	says distinctly, Recognize me; and the simplest, the most
   370	effectual, and, in the present posture of affairs, the
   371	indispensablest mode of treating with it on this head, of
   372	expressing your little satisfaction with and love for it, is to
   373	deny it then. My civil neighbor, the tax-gatherer, is the very
   374	man I have to deal with--for it is, after all, with men and not
   375	with parchment that I quarrel--and he has voluntarily chosen to
   376	be an agent of the government. How shall he ever know well that
   377	he is and does as an officer of the government, or as a man,
   378	until he is obliged to consider whether he will treat me, his
   379	neighbor, for whom he has respect, as a neighbor and well-
   380	disposed man, or as a maniac and disturber of the peace, and see
   381	if he can get over this obstruction to his neighborlines without
   382	a ruder and more impetuous thought or speech corresponding with
   383	his action. I know this well, that if one thousand, if one
   384	hundred, if ten men whom I could name--if ten honest men only--
   385	ay, if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to
   386	hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this co-partnership,
   387	and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the
   388	abolition of slavery in America. For it matters not how small the
   389	beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever.
   390	But we love better to talk about it: that we say is our mission.
   391	Reform keeps many scores of newspapers in its service, but not
   392	one man. If my esteemed neighbor, the State's ambassador, who
   393	will devote his days to the settlement of the question of human
   394	rights in the Council Chamber, instead of being threatened with
   395	the prisons of Carolina, were to sit down the prisoner of
   396	Massachusetts, that State which is so anxious to foist the sin of
   397	slavery upon her sister--though at present she can discover only
   398	an act of inhospitality to be the ground of a quarrel with her--
   399	the Legislature would not wholly waive the subject of the
   400	following winter.
   401	     Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place
   402	for a just man is also a prison. The proper place today, the only
   403	place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less
   404	despondent spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked
   405	out of the State by her own act, as they have already put
   406	themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive
   407	slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to
   408	plead the wrongs of his race should find them; on that separate
   409	but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those
   410	who are not with her, but against her--the only house in a slave
   411	State in which a free man can abide with honor. If any think that
   412	their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer
   413	afflict the ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy
   414	within its walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger
   415	than error, nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can
   416	combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person.
   417	Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole
   418	influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the
   419	majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible
   420	when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep
   421	all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State
   422	will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to
   423	pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and
   424	bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State
   425	to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the
   426	definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. If
   427	the tax-gatherer, or any other public officer, asks me, as one
   428	has done, "But what shall I do?" my answer is, "If you really
   429	wish to do anything, resign your office." When the subject has
   430	refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned from office,
   431	then the revolution is accomplished. But even suppose blood shed
   432	when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man's real
   433	manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting
   434	death. I see this blood flowing now. I have contemplated the
   435	imprisonment of the offender, rather than the seizure of his
   436	goods--though both will serve the same purpose--because they who
   437	assert the purest right, and consequently are most dangerous to a
   438	corrupt State, commonly have not spent much time in accumulating
   439	property. To such the State renders comparatively small service,
   440	and a slight tax is wont to appear exorbitant, particularly if
   441	they are obliged to earn it by special labor with their hands. If
   442	there were one who lived wholly without the use of money, the
   443	State itself would hesitate to demand it of him. But the rich
   444	man--not to make any invidious comparison--is always sold to the
   445	institution which makes him rich. Absolutely speaking, the more
   446	money, the less virtue; for money comes between a man and his
   447	objects, and obtains them for him; it was certainly no great
   448	virtue to obtain it. It puts to rest many questions which he
   449	would otherwise be taxed to answer; while the only new question
   450	which it puts is the hard but superfluous one, how to spend it.
   451	Thus his moral ground is taken from under his feet. The
   452	opportunities of living are diminished in proportion as that are
   453	called the "means" are increased. The best thing a man can do for
   454	his culture when he is rich is to endeavor to carry out those
   455	schemes which he entertained when he was poor. Christ answered
   456	the Herodians according to their condition. "Show me the tribute-
   457	money," said he--and one took a penny out of his pocket--if you
   458	use money which has the image of Caesar on it, and which he has
   459	made current and valuable, that is, if you are men of the State,
   460	and gladly enjoy the advantages of Caesar's government, then pay
   461	him back some of his own when he demands it. "Render therefore to
   462	Caesar that which is Caesar's and to God those things which are
   463	God's"--leaving them no wiser than before as to which was which;
   464	for they did not wish to know.
   465	     When I converse with the freest of my neighbors, I perceive
   466	that, whatever they may say about the magnitude and seriousness
   467	of the question, and their regard for the public tranquillity,
   468	the long and the short of the matter is, that they cannot spare
   469	the protection of the existing government, and they dread the
   470	consequences to their property and families of disobedience to
   471	it. For my own part, I should not like to think that I ever rely
   472	on the protection of the State. But, if I deny the authority of
   473	the State when it presents its tax bill, it will soon take and
   474	waste all my property, and so harass me and my children without
   475	end. This is hard. This makes it impossible for a man to live
   476	honestly, and at the same time comfortably, in outward respects.
   477	It will not be worth the while to accumulate property; that would
   478	be sure to go again. You must hire or squat somewhere, and raise
   479	but a small crop, and eat that soon. You must live within
   480	yourself, and depend upon yourself always tucked up and ready for
   481	a start, and not have many affairs. A man may grow rich in Turkey
   482	even, if he will be in all respects a good subject of the Turkish
   483	government. Confucius said: "If a state is governed by the
   484	principles of reason, poverty and misery are subjects of shame;
   485	if a state is not governed by the principles of reason, riches
   486	and honors are subjects of shame." No: until I want the
   487	protection of Massachusetts to be extended to me in some distant
   488	Southern port, where my liberty is endangered, or until I am bent
   489	solely on building up an estate at home by peaceful enterprise, I
   490	can afford to refuse allegiance to Massachusetts, and her right
   491	to my property and life. It costs me less in every sense to incur
   492	the penalty of disobedience to the State than it would to obey. I
   493	should feel as if I were worth less in that case. Some years ago,
   494	the State met me in behalf of the Church, and commanded me to pay
   495	a certain sum toward the support of a clergyman whose preaching
   496	my father attended, but never I myself. "Pay," it said, "or be
   497	locked up in the jail." I declined to pay. But, unfortunately,
   498	another man saw fit to pay it. I did not see why the schoolmaster
   499	should be taxed to support the priest, and not the priest the
   500	schoolmaster; for I was not the State's schoolmaster, but I
   501	supported myself by voluntary subscription. I did not see why the
   502	lyceum should not present its tax bill, and have the State to
   503	back its demand, as well as the Church. However, as the request
   504	of the selectmen, I condescended to make some such statement as
   505	this in writing: "Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry
   506	Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member of any society
   507	which I have not joined." This I gave to the town clerk; and he
   508	has it. The State, having thus learned that I did not wish to be
   509	regarded as a member of that church, has never made a like demand
   510	on me since; though it said that it must adhere to its original
   511	presumption that time. If I had known how to name them, I should
   512	then have signed off in detail from all the societies which I
   513	never signed on to; but I did not know where to find such a
   514	complete list.
   515	     I have paid no poll tax for six years. I was put into a jail
   516	once on this account, for one night; and, as I stood considering
   517	the walls of solid stone, two or three feet thick, the door of
   518	wood and iron, a foot thick, and the iron grating which strained
   519	the light, I could not help being struck with the foolishness of
   520	that institution which treated my as if I were mere flesh and
   521	blood and bones, to be locked up. I wondered that it should have
   522	concluded at length that this was the best use it could put me
   523	to, and had never thought to avail itself of my services in some
   524	way. I saw that, if there was a wall of stone between me and my
   525	townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to climb or break
   526	through before they could get to be as free as I was. I did nor
   527	for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of
   528	stone and mortar. I felt as if I alone of all my townsmen had
   529	paid my tax. They plainly did not know how to treat me, but
   530	behaved like persons who are underbred. In every threat and in
   531	every compliment there was a blunder; for they thought that my
   532	chief desire was to stand the other side of that stone wall. I
   533	could not but smile to see how industriously they locked the door
   534	on my meditations, which followed them out again without let or
   535	hindrance, and they were really all that was dangerous. As they
   536	could not reach me, they had resolved to punish my body; just as
   537	boys, if they cannot come at some person against whom they have a
   538	spite, will abuse his dog. I saw that the State was half-witted,
   539	that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and
   540	that it did not know its friends from its foes, and I lost all my
   541	remaining respect for it, and pitied it.
   542	     Thus the state never intentionally confronts a man's sense,
   543	intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not
   544	armed with superior with or honesty, but with superior physical
   545	strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my
   546	own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a
   547	multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I.
   548	They force me to become like themselves. I do not hear of men
   549	being forced to live this way or that by masses of men. What sort
   550	of life were that to live? When I meet a government which says to
   551	me, "Your money our your life," why should I be in haste to give
   552	it my money? It may be in a great strait, and not know what to
   553	do: I cannot help that. It must help itself; do as I do. It is
   554	not worth the while to snivel about it. I am not responsible for
   555	the successful working of the machinery of society. I am not the
   556	son of the engineer. I perceive that, when an acorn and a
   557	chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make
   558	way for the other, but both obey their own laws, and spring and
   559	grow and flourish as best they can, till one, perchance,
   560	overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live
   561	according to nature, it dies; and so a man.
   562	     The night in prison was novel and interesting enough. The
   563	prisoners in their shirtsleeves were enjoying a chat and the
   564	evening air in the doorway, when I entered. But the jailer said,
   565	"Come, boys, it is time to lock up"; and so they dispersed, and I
   566	heard the sound of their steps returning into the hollow
   567	apartments. My room-mate was introduced to me by the jailer as "a
   568	first-rate fellow and clever man." When the door was locked, he
   569	showed me where to hang my hat, and how he managed matters there.
   570	The rooms were whitewashed once a month; and this one, at least,
   571	was the whitest, most simply furnished, and probably neatest
   572	apartment in town. He naturally wanted to know where I came from,
   573	and what brought me there; and, when I had told him, I asked him
   574	in my turn how he came there, presuming him to be an honest an,
   575	of course; and as the world goes, I believe he was. "Why," said
   576	he, "they accuse me of burning a barn; but I never did it." As
   577	near as I could discover, he had probably gone to bed in a barn
   578	when drunk, and smoked his pipe there; and so a barn was burnt.
   579	He had the reputation of being a clever man, had been there some
   580	three months waiting for his trial to come on, and would have to
   581	wait as much longer; but he was quite domesticated and contented,
   582	since he got his board for nothing, and thought that he was well
   583	treated.
   584	     He occupied one window, and I the other; and I saw that if
   585	one stayed there long, his principal business would be to look
   586	out the window. I had soon read all the tracts that were left
   587	there, and examined where former prisoners had broken out, and
   588	where a grate had been sawed off, and heard the history of the
   589	various occupants of that room; for I found that even there there
   590	was a history and a gossip which never circulated beyond the
   591	walls of the jail. Probably this is the only house in the town
   592	where verses are composed, which are afterward printed in a
   593	circular form, but not published. I was shown quite a long list
   594	of young men who had been detected in an attempt to escape, who
   595	avenged themselves by singing them.
   596	     I pumped my fellow-prisoner as dry as I could, for fear I
   597	should never see him again; but at length he showed me which was
   598	my bed, and left me to blow out the lamp. It was like travelling
   599	into a far country, such as I had never expected to behold, to
   600	lie there for one night. It seemed to me that I never had heard
   601	the town clock strike before, not the evening sounds of the
   602	village; for we slept with the windows open, which were inside
   603	the grating. It was to see my native village in the light of the
   604	Middle Ages, and our Concord was turned into a Rhine stream, and
   605	visions of knights and castles passed before me. They were the
   606	voices of old burghers that I heard in the streets. I was an
   607	involuntary spectator and auditor of whatever was done and said
   608	in the kitchen of the adjacent village inn--a wholly new and rare
   609	experience to me. It was a closer view of my native town. I was
   610	fairly inside of it. I never had seen its institutions before.
   611	This is one of its peculiar institutions; for it is a shire town.
   612	I began to comprehend what its inhabitants were about.
   613	     In the morning, our breakfasts were put through the hole in
   614	the door, in small oblong-square tin pans, made to fit, and
   615	holding a pint of chocolate, with brown bread, and an iron spoon.
   616	When they called for the vessels again, I was green enough to
   617	return what bread I had left, but my comrade seized it, and said
   618	that I should lay that up for lunch or dinner. Soon after he was
   619	let out to work at haying in a neighboring field, whither he went
   620	every day, and would not be back till noon; so he bade me good
   621	day, saying that he doubted if he should see me again. When I
   622	came out of prison--for some one interfered, and paid that tax--I
   623	did not perceive that great changes had taken place on the
   624	common, such as he observed who went in a youth and emerged a
   625	gray-headed man; and yet a change had come to my eyes come over
   626	the scene--the town, and State, and country, greater than any
   627	that mere time could effect. I saw yet more distinctly the State
   628	in which I lived. I saw to what extent the people among whom I
   629	lived could be trusted as good neighbors and friends; that their
   630	friendship was for summer weather only; that they did not greatly
   631	propose to do right; that they were a distinct race from me by
   632	their prejudices and superstitions, as the Chinamen and Malays
   633	are that in their sacrifices to humanity they ran no risks, not
   634	even to their property; that after all they were not so noble but
   635	they treated the thief as he had treated them, and hoped, by a
   636	certain outward observance and a few prayers, and by walking in a
   637	particular straight through useless path from time to time, to
   638	save their souls. This may be to judge my neighbors harshly; for
   639	I believe that many of them are not aware that they have such an
   640	institution as the jail in their village.
   641	     It was formerly the custom in our village, when a poor
   642	debtor came out of jail, for his acquaintances to salute him,
   643	looking through their fingers, which were crossed to represent
   644	the jail window, "How do ye do?" My neighbors did not this salute
   645	me, but first looked at me, and then at one another, as if I had
   646	returned from a long journey. I was put into jail as I was going
   647	to the shoemaker's to get a shoe which was mender. When I was let
   648	out the next morning, I proceeded to finish my errand, and,
   649	having put on my mended show, joined a huckleberry party, who
   650	were impatient to put themselves under my conduct; and in half an
   651	hour--for the horse was soon tackled--was in the midst of a
   652	huckleberry field, on one of our highest hills, two miles off,
   653	and then the State was nowhere to be seen.
   654	     This is the whole history of "My Prisons."
   655	     I have never declined paying the highway tax, because I am
   656	as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad
   657	subject; and as for supporting schools, I am doing my part to
   658	educate my fellow countrymen now. It is for no particular item in
   659	the tax bill that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse
   660	allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it
   661	effectually. I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I
   662	could, till it buys a man a musket to shoot one with--the dollar
   663	is innocent--but I am concerned to trace the effects of my
   664	allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after
   665	my fashion, though I will still make use and get what advantages
   666	of her I can, as is usual in such cases.
   667	     If others pay the tax which is demanded of me, from a
   668	sympathy with the State, they do but what they have already done
   669	in their own case, or rather they abet injustice to a greater
   670	extent than the State requires. If they pay the tax from a
   671	mistaken interest in the individual taxed, to save his property,
   672	or prevent his going to jail, it is because they have not
   673	considered wisely how far they let their private feelings
   674	interfere with the public good.
   675	     This, then is my position at present. But one cannot be too
   676	much on his guard in such a case, lest his actions be biased by
   677	obstinacy or an undue regard for the opinions of men. Let him see
   678	that he does only what belongs to himself and to the hour.
   679	     I think sometimes, Why, this people mean well, they are only
   680	ignorant; they would do better if they knew how: why give your
   681	neighbors this pain to treat you as they are not inclined to? But
   682	I think again, This is no reason why I should do as they do, or
   683	permit others to suffer much greater pain of a different kind.
   684	Again, I sometimes say to myself, When many millions of men,
   685	without heat, without ill will, without personal feelings of any
   686	kind, demand of you a few shillings only, without the
   687	possibility, such is their constitution, of retracting or
   688	altering their present demand, and without the possibility, on
   689	your side, of appeal to any other millions, why expose yourself
   690	to this overwhelming brute force? You do not resist cold and
   691	hunger, the winds and the waves, thus obstinately; you quietly
   692	submit to a thousand similar necessities. You do not put your
   693	head into the fire. But just in proportion as I regard this as
   694	not wholly a brute force, but partly a human force, and consider
   695	that I have relations to those millions as to so many millions of
   696	men, and not of mere brute or inanimate things, I see that appeal
   697	is possible, first and instantaneously, from them to the Maker of
   698	them, and, secondly, from them to themselves. But if I put my
   699	head deliberately into the fire, there is no appeal to fire or to
   700	the Maker for fire, and I have only myself to blame. If I could
   701	convince myself that I have any right to be satisfied with men as
   702	they are, and to treat them accordingly, and not according, in
   703	some respects, to my requisitions and expectations of what they
   704	and I ought to be, then, like a good Mussulman and fatalist, I
   705	should endeavor to be satisfied with things as they are, and say
   706	it is the will of God. And, above all, there is this difference
   707	between resisting this and a purely brute or natural force, that
   708	I can resist this with some effect; but I cannot expect, like
   709	Orpheus, to change the nature of the rocks and trees and beasts.
   710	     I do not wish to quarrel with any man or nation. I do not
   711	wish to split hairs, to make fine distinctions, or set myself up
   712	as better than my neighbors. I seek rather, I may say, even an
   713	excuse for conforming to the laws of the land. I am but too ready
   714	to conform to them. Indeed, I have reason to suspect myself on
   715	this head; and each year, as the tax-gatherer comes round, I find
   716	myself disposed to review the acts and position of the general
   717	and State governments, and the spirit of the people to discover a
   718	pretext for conformity.
   720	 "We must affect our country as our parents,
   721	 And if at any time we alienate
   722	 Out love or industry from doing it honor,
   723	 We must respect effects and teach the soul
   724	 Matter of conscience and religion,
   725	 And not desire of rule or benefit."
   727	     I believe that the State will soon be able to take all my
   728	work of this sort out of my hands, and then I shall be no better
   729	patriot than my fellow-countrymen. Seen from a lower point of
   730	view, the Constitution, with all its faults, is very good; the
   731	law and the courts are very respectable; even this State and this
   732	American government are, in many respects, very admirable, and
   733	rare things, to be thankful for, such as a great many have
   734	described them; seen from a higher still, and the highest, who
   735	shall say what they are, or that they are worth looking at or
   736	thinking of at all? However, the government does not concern me
   737	much, and I shall bestow the fewest possible thoughts on it. It
   738	is not many moments that I live under a government, even in this
   739	world. If a man is thought-free, fancy-free, imagination-free,
   740	that which is not never for a long time appearing to be to him,
   741	unwise rulers or reformers cannot fatally interrupt him.
   742	     I know that most men think differently from myself; but
   743	those whose lives are by profession devoted to the study of these
   744	or kindred subjects content me as little as any. Statesmen and
   745	legislators, standing so completely within the institution, never
   746	distinctly and nakedly behold it. They speak of moving society,
   747	but have no resting-place without it. They may be men of a
   748	certain experience and discrimination, and have no doubt invented
   749	ingenious and even useful systems, for which we sincerely thank
   750	them; but all their wit and usefulness lie within certain not
   751	very wide limits. They are wont to forget that the world is not
   752	governed by policy and expediency. Webster never goes behind
   753	government, and so cannot speak with authority about it. His
   754	words are wisdom to those legislators who contemplate no
   755	essential reform in the existing government; but for thinkers,
   756	and those who legislate for all tim, he never once glances at the
   757	subject. I know of those whose serene and wise speculations on
   758	this theme would soon reveal the limits of his mind's range and
   759	hospitality. Yet, compared with the cheap professions of most
   760	reformers, and the still cheaper wisdom an eloquence of
   761	politicians in general, his are almost the only sensible and
   762	valuable words, and we thank Heaven for him. Comparatively, he is
   763	always strong, original, and, above all, practical. Still, his
   764	quality is not wisdom, but prudence. The lawyer's truth is not
   765	Truth, but consistency or a consistent expediency. Truth is
   766	always in harmony with herself, and is not concerned chiefly to
   767	reveal the justice that may consist with wrong-doing. He well
   768	deserves to be called, as he has been called, the Defender of the
   769	Constitution. There are really no blows to be given him but
   770	defensive ones. He is not a leader, but a follower. His leaders
   771	are the men of '87. "I have never made an effort," he says, "and
   772	never propose to make an effort; I have never countenanced an
   773	effort, and never mean to countenance an effort, to disturb the
   774	arrangement as originally made, by which various States came into
   775	the Union." Still thinking of the sanction which the Constitution
   776	gives to slavery, he says, "Because it was part of the original
   777	compact--let it stand." Notwithstanding his special acuteness and
   778	ability, he is unable to take a fact out of its merely political
   779	relations, and behold it as it lies absolutely to be disposed of
   780	by the intellect--what, for instance, it behooves a man to do
   781	here in American today with regard to slavery--but ventures, or
   782	is driven, to make some such desperate answer to the following,
   783	while professing to speak absolutely, and as a private man--from
   784	which what new and singular of social duties might be inferred?
   785	"The manner," says he, "in which the governments of the States
   786	where slavery exists are to regulate it is for their own
   787	consideration, under the responsibility to their constituents, to
   788	the general laws of propriety, humanity, and justice, and to God.
   789	Associations formed elsewhere, springing from a feeling of
   790	humanity, or any other cause, have nothing whatever to do with
   791	it. They have never received any encouragement from me and they
   792	never will. [These extracts have been inserted since the lecture
   793	was read -HDT]
   794	     They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have traced
   795	up its stream no higher, stand, and wisely stand, by the Bible
   796	and the Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and
   797	humanity; but they who behold where it comes trickling into this
   798	lake or that pool, gird up their loins once more, and continue
   799	their pilgrimage toward its fountainhead.
   800	     No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in
   801	America. They are rare in the history of the world. There are
   802	orators, politicians, and eloquent men, by the thousand; but the
   803	speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of
   804	settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence
   805	for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or
   806	any heroism it may inspire. Our legislators have not yet learned
   807	the comparative value of free trade and of freed, of union, and
   808	of rectitude, to a nation. They have no genius or talent for
   809	comparatively humble questions of taxation and finance, commerce
   810	and manufactures and agriculture. If we were left solely to the
   811	wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance,
   812	uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual
   813	complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank
   814	among the nations. For eighteen hundred years, though perchance I
   815	have no right to say it, the New Testament has been written; yet
   816	where is the legislator who has wisdom and practical talent
   817	enough to avail himself of the light which it sheds on the
   818	science of legislation.
   819	     The authority of government, even such as I am willing to
   820	submit to--for I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do
   821	better than I, and in many things even those who neither know nor
   822	can do so well--is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it
   823	must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have
   824	no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to
   825	it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a
   826	limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true
   827	respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher was wise
   828	enough to regard the individual as the basis of the empire. Is a
   829	democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in
   830	government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards
   831	recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be
   832	a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to
   833	recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from
   834	which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him
   835	accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which
   836	can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual
   837	with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it
   838	inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from
   839	it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all
   840	the duties of neighbors and fellow men. A State which bore this
   841	kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened,
   842	would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious
   843	State, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.
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