“Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them?” – Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
Enter our We the Students Essay Contest, which asks students to answer the following prompt for a chance to win a $5,000 scholarship: Does peaceful resistance to laws positively or negatively impact a free society?
For more resources on Civil Disobedience, please see the following:
Bill of Rights Institute Resources
Documents of Freedom – Civil Discourse and Petitioning
Documents of Freedom – The Civil Rights Movement
Voices of History – Various resources related to Civil Disobedience
Integrity (with a Thoreau primer)
Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau (full version)
Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. (full text and audio)
Civil Disobedience – The King Center
Ghandi and Civil Disobedience – Constitutional Rights Foundation
Civil Disobedience and Non-Violent Action – The University of Texas Politics Project
“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth–certainly the machine will wear out… but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.” – Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
“An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so. Now the law of nonviolence says that violence should be resisted not by counter-violence but by nonviolence. This I do by breaking the law and by peacefully submitting to arrest and imprisonment.” – Mahatma Ghandi
“One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.