The Significance and History of Civil Disobedience

Topics: Slavery in the United States, Compromise of 1850, American Civil War Pages: 5 (1951 words) Published: June 6, 2007
Civil disobedience has always been a debated and polar opinionated topic since the first days that it was presented. Whenever it comes to going against a law that is set in stone as something to abide by in a society, some controversial actions are going to follow. The person who played the role as somewhat of a backbone in this movement was Henry Thoreau. In 1849, when Henry Thoreau re-iterated the idea of civil disobedience to the people of American following the Mexican war, it was viewed by some as extremely controversial, some viewed it as treason, and then there were the followers that were completely accepting of it and felt it necessary. This is why, when the idea came of mixing this idea of civil disobedience that was already controversial, with the slavery and whether it should be used against the fugitive slave act, was a real catalyst for uproar and praise. The uproar clearly came from some people with high positions in the United States. Two advocates for the compromise of 1850 and the fugitive slave laws were two candidates for president of the United States, Franklin Pierce from the democratic party and Winfield Scott. Although Franklin Pierce, the eventual winner of the election, wasn't as candid about his beliefs regarding slavery, he was definitely opposed to civil disobedience against the fugitive slave laws. These supporters generally included northern democrats and southern Whigs. The opposition to the compromise of 1850 and the fugitive slave act consisted mainly of abolitionists of slavery at the time. The most powerful and effective users of their rights to civilly disobey usually came from the north mainly because they had the opportunity. The fugitive slave act caused citizens living in the north were required to return escaped slaves if they found them. If they were not to return the slaves, they were lawful to pay a $1,000 fine. Some abolitionists that did not abide these rules and rather than returning slaves, they took them in and gave them extra opportunities to stay free. The Underground Railroad could also be looked to as a manner of civilly disobeying against the fugitive slave laws that were in affect at the time. (Bailey)

For my topic regarding the upcoming paper for this class, I chose the topic, idea and belief of civil disobedience. This topic has proven to be very interesting to me because it seems controversial yet still accepted in society. From my previous knowledge after briefly discussing this in class, the right of civil disobedience gives citizens the right to civilly disobey and revolt against something maybe of the government that they feel is unjust. This idea of civil disobedience was extremely prevalent throughout the civil war and more specifically when the law of the fugitive slave act was passed. I feel as if there is a lot more to it and much more for me to comprehend about the topic so it should be a very interesting experience researching and finding more information about this idea of civil disobedience. One of the first and probably most renowned practices of civil disobedience was happened in 1846 when Henry Thoreau refused to pay his taxes and spent a night in jail. Although he was unfortunately let out the next morning due to someone paying his debt, he set an example that would be used by many for years to come. Obviously this idea of going against something unjust caused by the government had been an idea stirring around the minds of citizens at the time but Henry Thoreau's experience was one of the more publicized and famous examples of this type of rebellion at the time however there were some very specific types of this to occur as well. In 1841 free blacks in free black territories led a tax refusal protest in Massachusetts. They felt that if they did not receive equal treatment as other normal citizens then they shouldn't have to pay their normal taxes. They were willing to go to jail rather than put...
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