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Austin Hopper
Ms. Albrecht
Advanced Composition

Civil Disobedience (Draft 2)

Many people fighting for civil rights were imprisoned throughout history. However, the
effectiveness of civil disobedience to resolve issues could be thoroughly evaluated by using
examples of the people that were imprisoned because of it. Civil disobedience is a non-violent
movement, and it is the refusal to obey certain laws or commands of a government. An example
of one of these people is Henry David Thoreau, who was imprisoned because of his refusal to
pay taxes. Thoreau did not want to pay the taxes because he did not agree with the MexicanAmerican War and slavery. This made an impact non-violently, because violence would not have
had an effect.
The author Henry David Thoreau was born July 12, 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts
(Wiener 19). In Henry David Thoreaus early life, his father, John Thoreau, tried his hand at
various enterprises (Derleth 1). John first tried farming, but was ill-suited (Derleth 2) to it.
After his failure at farming, John next tried keeping a store at Chelmsford, but he failed at this,
too (Derleth 2). Then he tried to keep a school in Boston, but he had little talent for teaching
(Derleth 2). He and his family frequently moved from house to house (Wiener 19), until they
returned to Concord in 1823 and established a moderately successful pencil-making business

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(Wiener 19). The Thoreau family had four kids: Helen (born 1812), John (born 1815), Henry,
and Sophia (born 1819) (Wiener 19). In Thoreaus life, Concord was a village with less than
two thousand inhabitants (Derleth 2). Thoreaus mother insisted he go on to a higher education;
she wanted Thoreau to go to Concord Academy. Instead, he went to Harvard College.
Thoreau was a transcendentalist, which means he believed in not conforming with
society. He also didnt believe in slavery being legal, or the Mexican-American War.
In March 1845, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution offering to annex the Lone
Star republic, prompting the Herrera regime to sever diplomatic relations with the United
States. While the government in Mexico City publicly declared that a union between
Texas and the United States would constitute an act of war, by the fall of 1845 the
Mexican government was seeking a face-saving alternative (Haynes 1).
In 1846, when Mexico waged war against the United States, Mexico had more than 30,000 men
under arms (Haynes 1). At this time in society, if a person did not pay his/or taxes they would
be thrown in jail. One day Thoreau heard that an abolitionist refused to pay his poll tax to protest
the legality of slavery (Wiener 24). Thoreau was already serving in the Underground Railroad,
but was that enough? Thoreau did not think it was. So, Thoreau also refused to pay his poll tax
(Wiener 25).
The local tax collector, constable, and jailer Samuel Staples delayed taking action until
one evening late in July of 1846, meeting Thoreau on the main street of Concord
(Thoreau had come in from Walden Pond to take a shoe to the cobbler), Staples inquired
when Thoreau would pay the tax and even offered to pay it for him if Thoreau was short
of funds. Thoreau replied that he was not paying it as a matter of principle (Wiener 25).

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When Staples said he would have to eventually arrest him, Thoreau said, You might as well do
it right now, and Staples led him off to jail (Wiener 25). This movement Thoreau was trying to
convey about slavery and the Mexican-American War made him get thrown in jail. Had
Thoreaus Aunt Maria not paid his tax for him, this movement would have been much more
effective. Thoreau did not want to leave the jail because he wanted to make a statement about
poll tax, slavery, and the Mexican-American War. To Stapless amazement, Thoreau objected
strenuously, and left the jail only when Staples threatened to throw him out bodily (Wiener 25).
It was Thoreaus intent to challenge the legality of slaves in the courts and his release from jail
effectively deprived him of that opportunity (Wiener 25). This movement had very little effect
on the government because he was only in jail for one day. He didnt want to leave the jail since
he was trying to prove a point that the government is wrong and should stop with these laws. The
effect Thoreau made after his civil disobedience impacted the American Constitution, because
the United States government made an Amendment to the Constitution to eliminate the use of
poll tax in every state.
The use of civil disobedience in a non-violent way has shown to be a lot more effective
than using it in a violent way. If Thoreau had used a more violent approach, his idea or intention
would have been shot down almost immediately. This movement is still important today because
it shows people that not everything can be solved with violence, and that more gets done when it
gets settled with an idea, or something nonviolent.

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Works Cited

Wiener, Gary. The Environment in Henry David Thoreaus Walden. Farmington

Hills:Greenhaven Press, 2010. Print.

Dr. Haynes, Sam. A Continent Divided: The U.S. - Mexico War. Library.uta.edu.
University of Texas Arlington, 2014. Web. 27 October 2014.

Derleth, August. The Life of Henry David Thoreau: Concord Rebel.

Philadelphia: Chilton Book Company, 1962.