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"On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" 1849

Posted by Bruce Kahl on April 16, 2004

In Reply to: Re: The meaning of this quote posted by Waldo on April 15, 2004

: : what is the meaning of this quote of Thoreau : I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn".

: I think it means he does not condone doing wrong.
No way.

Required reading from 1965-1969.
In "Civil Disobedience" Thoreau tells how he refused to pay a Poll Tax because he did not wish to support the Mexican-American War. Thoreau says:
"Witness the present Mexican war...the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure." ( Hmmmm.......Sound Familiar? )

He is arrested and thrown in jail. He could easily afford to pay the tax, but he felt it takes at least one person to stand up for what they believed. The poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, comes to visit him while he is in jail and asks Thoreau what he is doing in jail.

"Why not just pay the tax?" Emerson asks.
Thoreau replies "Are you against the war?"
Emerson replies, "Yes".
Thoreau says "Then the question is what are you doing out there?"

Thoreau's views of justice can be seen in the following statements about injustice. If government "is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let you life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn".