Thoreau contends that men have lost the free will to make individual decisions regarding war, slavery, and domestic issues because government imposes on its citizens only in its own self interests. (Thoreau 1706). He states government loses its integrity when willing to consider profit over the interests of its citizens, and basic human rights such as slavery and war. (Thoreau 1707). He considers slavery as a hateful and stupid enterprise? (Eulau 119). Thoreau feels such deep disgrace being associated with a government who condones slavery, that he refuses to vote, pay taxes, and makes his only contact with this government the tax collector.
Thoreau personally does not want to be bothered with the issues of government or slavery, but because of his writings he is sought out by Abolitionists to give speeches for them. He feels idealism, individualism and democracy are not achievable in a society willing to maintain slaves. (Eulau 123). He is obsessed with right, truth and justice for all citizens and encourages nonviolent resistance as the means to effectively abolish slavery. (Eulau 124). This position is different than most Abolitionists of the time. During this time most of his attention is directed at the southern slaves states.
The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 is the event that leads him to become detached from the State. The treatment of a runaway slave weighs heavily on his emotions. His anger leads him to encouragepeople to withdraw farther from the State and its policies. (Eulau 124). He alleges citizens are inadvertently giving aid and support to the government by not refusing their existence by withdrawing in acts of passive revolution. (Eulau 121). These actions by the State lead him to actively criticize slavery. Thoreau holds individualism, self-knowledge and self-realization are the basic elements of transcendentalism.
He uses individualism in his essay by describing that a state must lose its coercive sovereignty in such a way that the law of society will function freely. (Parrington 375). The individual must voluntarily concede himself to the economic and political arms of society but moral law is the basic law and is superior to statutes and constitutions. He believes citizens of this society commit themselves to allegiance. (Parrington 375). He implies that no government can have any right over a person or property unless one will concede to it. (Thoreau 1711).
His idea of self-knowledge or realization is based on his belief in keeping in touch with the one subject and source of his being. He is a self-conscious romantic and realizes he cannot achieve perfect sharing with nature. His spiritual concerns and imagination will divert him from nature to higher and different worlds. (McIntosh 407). He tries to exist in a place between his mind and nature. His imagination does not separate him from nature but helps him to relate to it. He tries to place the spirit, body, intellectual conscious and unconsciousness into harmonious relations.
McIntosh 407). His examples of undue respect for law are soldiers going to war regardless of their personal feelings. He emphasizes their loss of conscience and what they know to be right. (Vivas 317). Self-knowledge and realization for Thoreau is that there is no abstract state, society, or nation, only individuals; and to both, the fundamental law is the law of morality. (Vivas 317). In conclusion, the precepts of individualism, self-knowledge and self-realization are some of the elements of transcendentalism found in Civil Disobedience?
Thoreau writes this essay partially in support of the Northern Abolitionist. The more he is involved the more frustrated he becomes with the issue of slavery. (Eulau 123). He feels an individual has a duty to follow his own conscious which would lead to mutual tolerance and human cooperation. Thoreau is closed minded to the democratic process of compromise and adjustment. (Eulau 127). Although his writings suggest nonviolent resistance to an undesirable event, he can foresee circumstances where violent methods of resistance are unavoidable.
Thoreau’s writings have been an inspiration to many non-violent revolutionaries such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Each of them used Thoreau’s methods as their means to pass their message to mankind. The concept which suggests that the external is united with the internal is the focus of his writing. That man as a subject, nature the object, which shares the same divine constitution as himself, offers external images to the ideas of the man’s soul. (Ruben 2).