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Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

Civil Disobedience refers to non-violent protest; in other words, disobeying

government policies in which one does not believe, but doing so without
1. How would you restate Thoreaus attitude toward government?
(lines 1-9)
The main idea is that government should be merely a tool for carrying out
the will of the people, but it can become a tool of abusive power.
2. What does Thoreau favor and what does he oppose? (lines 2025)
He opposes abolishing government immediately; he favors improving
government immediately.
3. What position does Thoreau take on the conflict between
majority rule and individual conscience? (lines 29-37)
He is for individual conscience
4. What can be the consequences of having too much respect for
the law? (lines 43-45)
People can become agents of injustice by upholding morally wrong laws
5. Which way of serving the state does Thoreau approve of?
Which ways does he condemn? (lines 63-82)
Thoreau approves of those who serve with their conscience (heroes,
patriots, martyrs, and reformers); he condemns those who serve with their
bodies and heads, without conscience (e.g. militia and politicians).
6. For which people in his society does Thoreau have little
respect? (lines 75-76) soldiers, jailers, constables, legislators,
politicians, lawyers, ministers, office holders
7. What types of people does Thoreau respect? (lines 75-80)
heroes, reformers, martyrs
8. What reasons does he give for his feelings? (lines 80-83)
He respects people who follow their consciences, even if it leads them to
take unpopular positions in society. He believes that people who blindly
follow the law, or who lead without making moral distinctions, are not true

9. In this metaphor Thoreau compares injustice within government

to what? (lines 100-106)
A machine; Thoreau is questioning whether injustice is a necessary part of
the machine of government. It if is, he says, it is a moral person's job to
stop the machine.
Describe Thoreaus attitude toward the tax collector.
Explain the reasons behind his attitude. (lines 120-135)
He dislikes the tax collector because the man chooses to ber the agent of
an unfair government.
Thoreau advocates refusing to go along with the
copartnership of the individual and government if the government
acts against an individuals conscience. Although abolitionists in
Thoreaus time did not act on his suggestion, what group of
Americans over 100 years later acted on those principles to oppose
unjust segregation laws and practices? (lines 132-139)
Civil Rights leaders, 1960s
Words to Know
endeavor meditation conclude flourish
Vocabulary Exercise A: Context Clues
1. Thoreaus Civil Disobedience is a
__meditation______________ on the relationship between citizen
and government.
2. Thoreau believes that government leaders sometimes find it
inexpedient_______________ to do what is morally right.
3. Thoreau wants a society in which individual liberty would
4. Thoreau says that Americans should
_____endeavor____________ to change unjust laws.
5. Some might _conclude_________________ that Thoreau
wants a revolution.