Friday, July 13, 2007

Henry David Thoreau

Computer issues prevented me from posting yesterday. Apparently, a contractor hit a fiberoptic cable and knocked out internet access to the greater portion of southern Illinois yesterday. It's a shame too because I had a nice timely post all ready to go. At any rate, let's celebrate Henry David Thoreau's birthday a day late!

Born on July 12, 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts, Thoreau is an American literary icon. Perhaps he is best known for his book Walden; or Life in the Woods, a non-fiction social critique of nineteenth century New England.

But Thoreau’s literary career was bigger than Walden Pond. He wrote books, articles, essays, and poems on diverse subjects, including history, philosophy, business and consumerism, ecology and environmental history, and even humor.

Thoreau was also a lifelong abolitionist. He delivered lectures against the Fugitive Slave Law and he also defended radicals like John Brown. His essay “Civil Disobedience” predates Walden by five years. It illustrates his opposition to both slavery and the Mexican War, but unlike Brown, Thoreau preached nonviolence.

Here is what Martin Luther King said about Thoreau’s essay:

During my student days I read Henry David Thoreau’s essay On Civil Disobedience for the first time. Here, in this courageous New Englander’s refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery’s territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times.

I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest. The teachings of Thoreau came alive in our civil rights movement; indeed, they are more alive than ever before. Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, a peaceful protest in Albany, Georgia, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, these are outgrowths of Thoreau’s insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man can patiently adjust to injustice.

Thoreau died on May 6, 1862, less than six months before Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. He was 44.

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