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 concept of disobeying the federal government when it comes to ethical oppression. Thoreau writes about his thinking for defying the law and gets in touch with other people to combat for what they understand to be ethically right. Similarly, a century later on, King articulates when it is just to object the government and how progressive policy is brought about by people requiring their rights. In both of these essays, King and Thoreau explore the principle of methodical oppression and the idea of tough laws one does not discover morally ideal utilizing vastly different tones to communicate their messages.

Within “Civil Disobedience” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the authors resolve injustices that are devoted by the federal government. Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King have 2 totally various viewpoints: Thoreau is a white male living in the 1800s declining to pay taxes to a government that enables slavery, and King is a black male at the leading edge of the Civil Rights Movement. King is subject to the laws he opposes; Thoreau is not. Regardless of their differing viewpoints, both of them promote comparable ideologies. When Thoreau mentions federal government injustices, he is talking about slavery, while when King does so he is describing segregation; both Thoreau states in his essay,” If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual grievances of individuals, America would not long retain her rank amongst the nations” (18 ). In saying this, he means that if citizens never ever questioned the government’s actions the United States would not be the country that it is. A law is not instantly just or reasonable due to the fact that it was put in location 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 give the new administration time to act?’ The only answer that I can provide to this questions is that the new administration should be prodded about as much as the outbound one before it acts. We will be unfortunately 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 linger for the government to approve them their rights; the government counts on its people to make it much better. Thoreau and King both contend that the government and the fortunate members of society should be pushed by the oppressed to reform the laws and give up a few of their power to minority groups.

In addition to explaining the federal government’s enforcement of social oppressions in society, Thoreau argues that it is a person’s task to stand up against inequality. In doing so, Thoreau’s work touches upon the idea of the individual versus the collective or the minority versus the majority.

He specifies in his essay, “Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to follow them, or shall we endeavor to change them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at the same time? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they should wait till they have actually persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the treatment would be even 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 expect and provide for reform? Why does it not value its sensible minority?” (7 ).

In Thoreau’s opinion, a society in which the majority always gets to determine the laws in location is a society where unfair laws exist. He contemplates what ought to be done when the minority shows to be the more moral group. Thoreau asserts problems of morality ought to be chosen by the individual and not by the laws set by the federal government. Given that the federal government decides what is enabled, Thoreau convinces individuals to constantly defend what is moral and to never ever be complacent in the face of injustice. He argues, “Under a federal government which imprisons any unjustly, the true location for a simply man is also a prison” (9 ). A person who is ethical and ethical can not be apathetic to oppression taking place in society.

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Likewise, in “Letter From Birmingham Jail” Dr. King contends that the rights of a minority will only be approved if they are fought for and the system is challenged. After dealing with the beliefs of those who counter his approach King states, “We understand through agonizing experience that freedom is never voluntarily offered by the oppressor; it must be demanded 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 manner; in response to this counterargument, he asserts that direct action is essential to make huge change. King composes, “You may well ask, ‘Why direct action, why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better course?’ You are precisely right in your require negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to produce such a crisis and develop such creative stress that a community that has actually consistently refused to work out is required to face the problem. It looks for so to dramatize the concern that it can no longer be disregarded.” One can not relax and hope that ultimately oppressed and marginalized groups will acquire the rights they deserve. Through examining history, it is apparent that those in power do not let go of their opportunities on their own effort; they should be pressed into doing so. Dr. King says in his letter, “My pals, I need to say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil liberties without identified legal and nonviolent pressure. History is the long and tragic story of the truth that fortunate groups rarely give up their advantages willingly. Individuals might see the ethical light and voluntarily give up their unjustified posture; however, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more unethical than individuals” (2 ). Much like Thoreau, King acknowledges that people are oftentimes more ethical than the cumulative. One may notice injustice in society and become ready to alter their ways, but a system that has actually been constructed for centuries on the backs of the oppressed will not give power up on its own. None of the previous progress made by the Civil liberty Motion has been accomplished through complacency or passivity. Modification is made by people acknowledging an imbalance of power or an unjustified system and fighting with everything in their power to fix it.

Furthermore, both Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King reveal similar principles and ideas, yet do so using various persuasive aspects. An important aspect of an effective convincing argument is the tone of the writing. Thoreau has a more annoyed and exasperated tone, however King preserves a more calm and reserved tone. While both essays effectively get across their message, the tones of the authors are not what one would expect. It would make good sense that Martin Luther King would have an upset tone in his letter because he is a black man living during the Civil Rights Motion. He is a member of the oppressed group and is directly affected by partition. Nevertheless, due to the fact that of his location in society, King is rather needed to keep his composure so that he is not crossed out as an angry black man. He efficiently balances coming off as calm, but never ever as passive or indifferent. King does so by discussing detail how he has actually broken the law, why he broke the law, why he will continue to do so, and addresses counterpoints to his position. King composes, “You reveal a great deal of stress and anxiety over our desire to break laws. This is definitely a genuine issue. Since we so diligently urge individuals to comply with the Supreme Court’s choice of 1954 banning partition in the general public schools, it is rather weird and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws.” He acknowledges the position of white moderates in a considerate tone and believes that they have excellent objectives, but claims that their lack of action is not what is going to cause progress.

Additionally, King shares individual anecdotes including one about his child to more explain his emotional connection to the motion. In the text King states,”When you suddenly discover your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to describe to your six-year-old daughter why she can not go to the general public theme park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority start to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to misshape her little personality by unconsciously establishing a bitterness toward white individuals” (2 ). Yet with his incredibly personal connection to the Civil liberty Motion, he still stays calm in his letter. On the other hand, Thoreau is a white guy that is not directly impacted by slavery, however is still certainly outraged by the actions of the United States government. He has the benefit of being able to openly reveal his ridicule and anger through his writing. Without leaving his main focus, Thoreau leaps to several various concepts in his essay which even more shows his exasperated state. He makes it really clear that he does not want to belong to a society that allows oppressions, such as those implemented by the American federal government, to take place. “I can not for an immediate acknowledge that political company as my government which is the servant’s federal government likewise.”

In both Martin Luther King and Henry David Thoreau’s essays, they check out the concept of civil disobedience. Their messages are intertwined, yet their tones differ considerably. King actively preserves a more respectful tone, as a black guy living under a system that oppresses him. Thoreau is a white guy that is not straight impacted by the inequalities perpetuated by the federal government, however still specifically reveals his hostility to it. One hundred years apart, both guys have very different perspectives, but provide similar perspectives. Both encourage individuals to do what they feel is ethically best and to not give up their power in society to the bulk.

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