"Resistance to Civil Government
" by Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau's essay was first published in 1849 in an anthology called Æsthetic Papers. In his essay, Thoreau argues that individuals should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences, and that they have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice. The essay is often referred to by the title Civil Disobedience, but Thoreau's original title served as part of Thoreau's metaphor, comparing the government to a machine. When the machine was producing injustice, it was the duty of conscientious citizens to be "a counter friction" (i.e., a resistance) "to stop the machine."
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 objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. 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.
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