Civil Disobedience: Standing Up for Freedom, Equality, and Justice

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In the articles: “Resistance to Civil Government” by Henry David Thoreau, “On Nonviolent Resistance” by Gandhi, and “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” by Martin Luther King, each makes a strong case for civil disobedience. The term “civil disobedience” refers to any nonviolent resistance to a governing authority on moral grounds. Thoreau, Gandhi, and King each argues in his own way that when the rights of a minority or an individual are ignored by any government, it is incumbent upon all who recognize this injustice to defy any laws instituted by that government which contribute to the resulting inequality. Thoreau’s argument is more philosophical; he posits more generally that governmental laws lull individuals into a kind of moral apathy, and that any rule of government is a poor substitute for individual conscience. The stance of Gandhi and King rises out of their more specific experiences as minority recipients of violent injustices perpetrated on behalf of an oppressive government using the rule of law. They therefore argue that since the governmental laws in place in their respective countries are immoral by design their only recourse is, according to Gandhi, to withdraw from participating in the requirements of government altogether, and thus, according to King, to break the law. All three men use several persuasive methods in making their case, appealing to logic, ethics and emotionality.

The appeal to logic can be seen by Thoreau when he states the following as he argues against allowing the government to act in a moral fashion on behalf of everyone: The government itself… 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 (236). Gandhi’s argument also hits on the same ideas while appealing to logic when he states, “No clapping...
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