Henry David Thoreau


July 12, 1817 — May 6, 1862


Henry David Thoreau was an American author and thinker. His classic essay "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" is essential reading as it lays the foundation for passive resistance later utilized by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A lifelong abolitionist, Thoreau was also a pioneer of transcendentalism — the philosophy that finds people to be inherently good, independent and self-reliant.


Essential Thoughts


Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison.


Cast your whole vote, not a piece of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless when it conforms to a majority; but is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose.


It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.


I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe — "That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.


The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its  way.


— "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience"


Additional Reading


"A Plea for Captain John Brown"