Henry David Thoreau was an essayist and philosopher who played a major role in the moral consciousness of the United States during the decades leading up to the Civil War. An influential and revolutionary thinker through both his writings on transcendentalism and his ideas of natural preservation, Thoreau exists as a testament to the goodness of the American spirit. His ideas on nonviolence are perhaps the best example of this, and his influence as an abolitionist can be seen as the greatest accomplishment of his life. Throughout the history of nonviolent action, Thoreau stands at the ends of both proponent (Civil Disobedience) and opponent (A Plea for John Brown). Examining each of these perspectives, along with some investigation of Thoreau in personality and belief, we can develop a greater understanding of why such a thinker constructs these ideas of nonviolent action.
[...] Some of the most descriptive historical biographies about Thoreau are actually written by Emerson. Emerson introduces Thoreau for Bronson Alcott and yada yada. This group of writers all begin to develop a school of philosophy and though known as Transcendentalism. These ideas are related to the British (and overall European) romanticism of the previous centuries, and its idealization of nature and humanism rests at the heart of much of enlightened American philosophy. Thoreau eventually leaves Concord to go live in one of Emerson's cabins near a pond called Walden. [...]
[...] Once again, Thoreau has managed to relate to people in the matters of both spirit and country, which are at the core of what every citizen can be attracted to. Thoreau labels Brown's critics as having existences. He reflects the sentiments of many philosophers before him by expressing the notion that the people of his age have “forgotten what it is to be alive.” Thoreau expresses his disagreements with William Lloyd Garrison, who had publicly stated his disapproval of John Brown's violent methods in his paper The Liberator. [...]
[...] Thoreau writings here set the stage for a social revolution by laying the foundations of a philosophy which values basic human existence, much like the ideas of individualism which were first evoked by the forefathers of our nation. He acknowledges: mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,' and this notion is still true today. This sort of anti-establishment ideas can be seen as influencing the early writers of communist and socialist doctrine, while also being one of the pillars of what eventually became the a sense of rebellion that was adopted by the American adolescent. [...]
[...] His ideas of the means being consistent with the ends reflect why a writer such as Garrison would have bee against the violence of a figure like John Brown, since Brown used violent means to achieve a nonviolent end. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King led a civil rights movement in which he and other children of oppression marched on Washington. King's imprisonment in a Birmingham Jail is eerily reminiscent of Thoreau's political imprisonment. King also invokes the idea of a higher moral authority. [...]
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