To Obey or Disobey

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Obedience is an age old expectation that rulers, priests, and government officials have required for years from their subjects. Most of the time individuals follow their leaders without question. This is the case because the population from which obedience is required believes that they continue to have a choice. When, for whatever reason this belief is lost, some individuals will begin to exhibit an increasing disobedience to the requirement. This often increases to the point of violence or, the case of a country, war. While there are all types of disobedience, this paper will discuss civil disobedience and the social pressure often associated with it. A good example of this type of cycle can be found in the historical background of the United States. When the United States was first populated by Europeans it was a colony of Great Britain. Over the course of several decades, the British king imposed a series of taxes on the colonists. Most colonists felt that they were being taxed without any representation. Over the course of approximately 15 years the protests against the taxes became increasing violent until the Continental Congress was formed in 1775 (History Central). With Thomas Jefferson serving as the writer, the Declaration of Independence was drafted by the Congress and sent to the King of England. In it, Jefferson wrote, Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security (Ushistory) The Revolutionary War was fought and freedom from British rule was won. Today the population of the United States is expected to pay taxes. The difference is that people believe the choice is theirs because of our representative form of government.

In the mid 1800s, Henry David Thoreau introduced a new concept that has greatly influenced individuals and groups desiring change since then. Thoreau spent several years living in a simple cabin near Walden Pond in Massachusetts. During this time the United States still allowed slavery. Thoreau was opposed to this. He refused to pay taxes as a form of protest. His explanation evolved into an essay entitled “Civil Disobedience”. Basically Thoreau felt that an individual should not support by any means a government that was engaging in acts of which the individual did not agree. He felt that the individual should be willing to suffer the consequences of his disobedient act, however he/she should never take a violent stand in defense of his/her belief (Williams). Today “Civil Disobedience” is considered to be the basis of several modern nonviolent resistance movements. “It is known to have been an inspiration to Mohandas Gandhi, who led the passive resistance movement for the liberation of India from British colonial rule. Thoreau’s ideas also influenced Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Civil Rights movement and the American struggle to end the Vietnam War” (Williams).

During the fight for equal rights for Black Americans that took place in the 1950s and 60s, Martin Luther King Jr. relied on the principle of civil disobedience written a century earlier by Thoreau. While incarcerated in the Birmingham, in a letter known as the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”, King wrote, “Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even...
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