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A Comparison of the Similarities Between Civil Disobedience and Letter from Birmingham Jail


In Henry David Thoreau’s” Civil Disobedience” and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Prison,” the authors analyze the notion of disobeying the government in the case of moral injustice. Thoreau discusses his thinking for defying the law and contacts other people to combat for what they know to be morally right. Similarly, a century later on, King articulates when it is just to protest the government and how progressive policy is produced by citizens requiring their rights. In both of these essays, King and Thoreau check out the idea of systematic oppression and the idea of tough laws one does not find ethically right utilizing greatly various tones to communicate their messages.

Within “Civil Disobedience” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the authors attend to oppressions that are devoted by the government. Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King have two totally different viewpoints: Thoreau is a white man living in the 1800s refusing to pay taxes to a federal government that allows slavery, and King is a black guy at the forefront of the Civil liberty Motion. King undergoes the laws he opposes; Thoreau is not. Despite their differing viewpoints, both of them promote comparable ideologies. When Thoreau mentions government injustices, he is speaking about slavery, while when King does so he is describing partition; both Thoreau states in his essay,” If we were left exclusively to the verbose wit of legislators in Congress for guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effective problems of the people, America would not long maintain her rank amongst the countries” (18 ). In saying this, he suggests that if residents never ever questioned the government’s actions the United States would not be the country that it is. A law is not instantly simply or reasonable since it was put in place by the federal government, and it is the task of the people to keep the government in check. Dr. King remarks in his letter, “Some have asked, ‘Why didn’t you offer the new administration time to act?’ The only answer that I can give to this questions is that the brand-new administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one before it acts. We will be regretfully mistaken if we feel that the election of Mr. Boutwell will bring the millennium to Birmingham” (2 ). Martin Luther King understands that oppressed groups can not wait around for the government to give them their rights; the government counts on its citizens to make it much better. Thoreau and King both compete that the federal government and the fortunate members of society need to be pressured by the oppressed to reform the laws and surrender a few of their power to minority groups.

In addition to mentioning the government’s enforcement of social oppressions in society, Thoreau argues that it is a citizen’s duty to withstand inequality. In doing so, Thoreau’s work discuss the idea of the individual versus the cumulative or the minority versus the majority.

He mentions in his essay, “Unfair laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we strive to amend them, and obey them until we have been successful, or shall we transgress them at once? Men usually, under such a government as this, believe that they should wait up until they have convinced the bulk to change them. They believe that, if they ought to resist, the solution would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the federal government itself that the treatment is even worse than the evil. It makes it even worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and offer reform? Why does it not treasure its smart minority?” (7 ).

In Thoreau’s viewpoint, a society in which the bulk always gets to determine the laws in place is a society where unfair laws exist. He considers what ought to be done when the minority shows to be the more moral group. Thoreau asserts problems of morality need to be decided by the private and not by the laws set by the government. Since the government decides what is enabled, Thoreau persuades people to constantly fight for what is moral and to never ever be complacent in the face of oppression. He argues, “Under a government which sends to prison any unjustly, the true location for a just man is also a prison” (9 ). An individual who is ethical and moral can not be apathetic to oppression occurring in society.

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Similarly, in “Letter From Birmingham Prison” Dr. King competes that the rights of a minority will just be approved if they are fought for and the system is challenged. After addressing the beliefs of those who counter his method King states, “We know through painful experience that flexibility is never ever willingly provided by the oppressor; it should be required by the oppressed” (3 ). King’s challengers question why break the law when one can merely try to move towards settlement in a more passive way; in response to this counterargument, he asserts that direct action is necessary to make huge change. King composes, “You may well ask, ‘Why direct action, why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a much better course?’ You are exactly ideal in your require negotiation. Undoubtedly, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and develop such creative stress that a neighborhood that has regularly declined to work out is forced to challenge the problem. It seeks so to dramatize the concern that it can no longer be neglected.” One can not sit back and hope that eventually oppressed and marginalized groups will get the rights they should have. Through examining history, it is apparent that those in power do not let go of their privileges on their own effort; they should be pushed into doing so. Dr. King states in his letter, “My buddies, I should say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. History is the long and tragic story of the truth that fortunate groups rarely give up their advantages willingly. People might see the moral light and willingly quit their unjustified posture; however, as Reinhold Niebuhr has actually reminded us, groups are more immoral than people” (2 ). Much like Thoreau, King recognizes that individuals are often times more ethical than the collective. One might see oppression in society and end up being ready to alter their methods, but a system that has actually been built for centuries on the backs of the oppressed will not give power up on its own. None of the previous development made by the Civil Rights Motion has actually been achieved through complacency or passivity. Modification is made by people recognizing an imbalance of power or an unjust system and combating with everything in their power to repair it.

Moreover, both Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King express similar concepts and ideas, yet do so utilizing different convincing components. An important element of an efficient persuasive argument is the tone of the writing. Thoreau has a more annoyed and exasperated tone, but King maintains a more calm and reserved tone. While both essays efficiently get across their message, the tones of the authors are not what one would anticipate. It would make sense that Martin Luther King would have an angry tone in his letter since he is a black male living during the Civil liberty Motion. He belongs to the oppressed group and is directly impacted by partition. However, because of his location in society, King is somewhat required to keep his composure so that he is not written off as a mad black guy. He successfully balances coming off as calm, however never ever as passive or indifferent. King does so by explaining information how he has actually broken the law, why he broke the law, why he will continue to do so, and addresses counterpoints to his stance. King composes, “You express a lot of stress and anxiety over our desire to break laws. This is certainly a genuine concern. Considering that we so vigilantly urge individuals to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 disallowing segregation in the public schools, it is rather unusual and paradoxical to find us knowingly breaking laws.” He acknowledges the position of white moderates in a respectful tone and thinks that they have excellent intents, but declares that their lack of action is not what is going to cause advance.

In addition, King shares individual anecdotes including one about his daughter to more explain his emotional connection to the motion. In the text King states,”When you all of a sudden discover your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you look for to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can not go to the general public theme park that has actually just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored kids, and see the depressing clouds of inability start to form in her little psychological sky, and see her begin to distort her little character by unconsciously establishing a bitterness towards white people” (2 ). Yet with his incredibly personal connection to the Civil liberty Movement, he still stays calm in his letter. On the other hand, Thoreau is a white male that is not straight affected by slavery, however is still undoubtedly outraged by the actions of the United States federal government. He has the privilege of having the ability to freely express his disdain and anger through his writing. Without leaving his main focus, Thoreau leaps to a number of different ideas in his essay which even more shows his exasperated state. He makes it really clear that he does not wish to belong to a society that allows oppressions, such as those enforced by the American government, to happen. “I can not for an instantaneous recognize that political organization as my federal government which is the servant’s federal government likewise.”

In both Martin Luther King and Henry David Thoreau’s essays, they explore the concept of civil disobedience. Their messages are linked, yet their tones vary considerably. King purposefully preserves a more respectful tone, as a black guy living under a system that oppresses him. Thoreau is a white guy that is not directly impacted by the inequalities perpetuated by the federal government, however still specifically expresses his hostility to it. One a century apart, both guys have really various viewpoints, but use comparable perspectives. Both encourage people to do what they feel is ethically right and to not give up their power in society to the majority.

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