Henry, who lives
in a simple yet handsome shack, resides a short distance away from me. If I paddle over the Fairhaven Bay and walk through the woods, I can always find him by his "small lake", as he likes to call it. Henry is a gentle lover of nature, a historian, a philosophical man, a school teacher, Harvard graduate, author, poet; The king of all his castles.
My grandfather's father introduced him to Henry and his books when he was a boy. Grandfather introduced my father, and my father introduced me. Henry is a very old man. 193 years old. He started writing in 1840.
Now that I'm all grown up (kinda), I find myself seeking his input on certain subjects on occasion. I've recently come to the realization that Henry was not only speaking to his contemporary Americans, but more-so for us, right now:
All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. How should a man behave toward this American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I quarrel not with far-off foes, but with those who, near at home, co-operate with, and do the bidding of those far away, and without whom the latter would be harmless.
If a thousand honest men were not to pay their tax this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the state to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the only definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. But even suppose blood should flow. Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man's real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this blood flowing now.
When I converse with the freest of my neighbors, I perceive that, whatever they may say about the magnitude and seriousness of the question, and their regard for the public tranquility, the long and the short of the matter is, that they cannot spare the protection of the existing government, and they dread the consequences to their property and families of disobedience to it. I, on the other hand, can afford to refuse allegiance to the government, and its right to my property and life. It costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience than it would to obey. When I meet a government which says to me, "Your money or your life", why should I be in haste to give it my money? The state is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. But we love better to talk about it: that we say is our mission. Thus men will lie on their backs, talking about the fall of man, and never make an effort to get up.
As for adopting the ways of the State has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man's life will be gone. Statesmen and legislators, standing so completely within the institution, never distinctly and nakedly behold it. They speak of moving society, but have no resting-place without it. Is this form, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? Are we meant to acquire a little worldly wealth, or fame, or liberty, and make a false show with it, as if we were all husk and shell, with no tender and living kernel to us? If a plant cannot live according to nature, it dies; and so a man.
The authority of government, even such as I am willing to submit to—must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen. I heartily accept the motto,—"That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe—"That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.
The man in my woods, if you hadn’t already guessed, is the "spirit" of Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) and at 193 years old, he is as relevant as ever.* Most of this text is from a slightly revised version of “civil disobedience” 1849. Although I have posted this elsewhere, figured I'd share it here. I hope you enjoyed it.