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Thoreau, Henry David (1817–1862)

Henry David Thoreau was an American naturalist, a lecturer, and an abolitionist. Thoreau was the author of perhaps the most radical and influential essay in the history of American political philosophy, “Civil Disobedience.” This series of reflections on a night Thoreau spent in the Concord, Massachusetts, jail for tax resistance proclaimed “that government is best which governs not at all” and urged its readers to “withdraw their support, both in person and property” from governments that make and enforce unjust laws. The essay had a profound impact on two of the 20th century's greatest political activists—Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thoreau's tax resistance, which led to his being jailed in Concord in 1846, was occasioned by his opposition to slavery. Thoreau was an ...

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