Henry David Thoreau "Civil Disobedience" (1849) 91 words

Originally published as "On the Duty of Disobedience" and based on an 1848 lecture, Thoreau's work is a civil libertarian classic. Questioning the authority of all governments, Thoreau especially challenged both the right of the state to tax him and the morality of a government which allows slavery.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/71/71-h/71-h.htm
  1. expedient
    a means to an end; not necessarily a principled or ethical one
    Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.
  2. mode
    a particular functioning condition or arrangement
    The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it.
  3. consent
    give an affirmative reply to; respond favorably to
    Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.
  4. endeavor
    attempt by employing effort
    This American government--what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity?
  5. posterity
    all future generations
    This American government--what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity?
  6. integrity
    moral soundness
    This American government--what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity?
  7. vitality
    the property of being able to survive and grow
    It has not the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will.
  8. din
    a loud harsh or strident noise
    But it is not the less necessary for this; for the people must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have.
  9. enterprise
    a purposeful or industrious undertaking (especially one that requires effort or boldness)
    Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way.
  10. alacrity
    liveliness and eagerness
    Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way.
  11. inherent
    existing as an essential constituent or characteristic
    The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.
  12. cultivate
    foster the growth of
    It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.
  13. obligation
    the social force that binds you to the courses of action demanded by that force
    The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.
  14. whit
    a tiny or scarcely detectable amount
    Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents on injustice.
  15. dispose
    make receptive or willing towards an action or attitude or belief
    Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents on injustice.
  16. unscrupulous
    without scruples or principles
    Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power?
  17. reminiscence
    a mental impression retained and recalled from the past
    Visit the Navy Yard, and behold a marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as it can make a man with its black arts--a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, and already, as one may say, buried under arms with funeral accompaniment . . .
  18. rampart
    an embankment built around a space for defensive purposes
    "Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, As his corse to the rampart we hurried; Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot O'er the grave where our hero was buried."
  19. esteemed
    having an illustrious reputation; respected
    Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens.
  20. martyr
    one who suffers for the sake of principle
    A very few--as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men--serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.
  21. sovereign
    (of political bodies) not controlled by outside forces
    A wise man will only be useful as a man, and will not submit to be "clay," and "stop a hole to keep the wind away," but leave that office to his dust at least: "I am too high born to be propertied, To be a second at control, Or useful serving-man and instrument To any sovereign state throughout the world."
  22. philanthropist
    someone who makes charitable donations intended to increase human well-being
    He who gives himself entirely to his fellow men appears to them useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to them is pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist.
  23. allegiance
    the loyalty that citizens owe to their country (or subjects to their sovereign)
    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.
  24. tyranny
    a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator (not restricted by a constitution or laws or opposition etc.)
    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.
  25. commodity
    articles of commerce
    If one were to tell me that this was a bad government because it taxed certain foreign commodities brought to its ports, it is most probable that I should not make an ado about it, for I can do without them.
  26. submission
    the act of submitting; usually surrendering power to another
    Paley, a common authority with many on moral questions, in his chapter on the "Duty of Submission to Civil Government," resolves all civil obligation into expediency; and he proceeds to say that "so long as the interest of the whole society requires it, that is, so long as the established government cannot be resisted or changed without public inconvenience, it is the will of God . . . that the established government be obeyed--and no longer.
  27. computation
    the procedure of calculating; determining something by mathematical or logical methods
    This principle being admitted, the justice of every particular case of resistance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side, and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other."
  28. grievance
    a resentment strong enough to justify retaliation
    This principle being admitted, the justice of every particular case of resistance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side, and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other."
  29. redress
    make reparations or amends for
    This principle being admitted, the justice of every particular case of resistance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side, and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other."
  30. contemplate
    reflect deeply on a subject
    But Paley appears never to have contemplated those cases to which the rule of expediency does not apply, in which a people, as well as an individual, must do justice, cost what it may.
  31. cease
    put an end to a state or an activity
    This people must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people.
  32. foe
    an armed adversary (especially a member of an opposing military force)
    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.
  33. esteem
    regard highly; think much of
    There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing. . .
  34. feeble
    lacking strength or vigor
    At most, they give up only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and Godspeed, to the right, as it goes by them.
  35. countenance
    formal and explicit approval
    At most, they give up only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and Godspeed, to the right, as it goes by them.
  36. guardian
    a person who cares for persons or property
    But it is easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian of it.
  37. abolition
    the act of abolishing a system or practice or institution (especially abolishing slavery)
    When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote.
  38. demagogue
    a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular passions and prejudices
    He forthwith adopts one of the candidates thus selected as the only available one, thus proving that he is himself available for any purposes of the demagogue.
  39. unprincipled
    having little or no integrity
    His vote is of no more worth than that of any unprincipled foreigner or hireling native, who may have been bought.
  40. hireling
    a person who works only for money
    His vote is of no more worth than that of any unprincipled foreigner or hireling native, who may have been bought.
  41. inducement
    a positive motivational influence
    Does not America offer any inducement for men to settle here?
  42. dwindle
    become smaller or lose substance
    The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow--one who may be known by the development of his organ of gregariousness, and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful self-reliance. . .
  43. manifest
    clearly revealed to the mind or the senses or judgment
    The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow--one who may be known by the development of his organ of gregariousness, and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful self-reliance. . .
  44. virile
    characterized by energy and vigor
    The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow--one who may be known by the development of his organ of gregariousness, and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful self-reliance; whose first and chief concern, on coming into the world, is to see that the almshouses are in good repair; and, before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to collect a fund to the support of the widows and orphans that may be; who, in short, ventures to live only by the aid of the Mutual Insurance company. . .
  45. garb
    clothing of a distinctive style or for a particular occasion
    The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow--one who may be known by the development of his organ of gregariousness, and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful self-reliance; whose first and chief concern, on coming into the world, is to see that the almshouses are in good repair; and, before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to collect a fund to the support of the widows and orphans that may be; who, in short, ventures to live only by the aid of the Mutual Insurance company. . .
  46. venture
    proceed somewhere despite the risk of possible dangers
    The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow--one who may be known by the development of his organ of gregariousness, and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful self-reliance; whose first and chief concern, on coming into the world, is to see that the almshouses are in good repair; and, before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to collect a fund to the support of the widows and orphans that may be; who, in short, ventures to live only by the aid of the Mutual Insurance company. . .
  47. insurrection
    organized opposition to authority; a conflict in which one faction tries to wrest control from another
    I have heard some of my townsmen say, "I should like to have them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to march to Mexico--see if I would go"; and yet these very men have each, directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a substitute.
  48. penitent
    feeling or expressing remorse for misdeeds
    The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war; is applauded by those whose own act and authority he disregards and sets at naught; as if the state were penitent to that degree that it hired one to scourge it while it sinned, but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a moment.
  49. scourge
    punish severely; excoriate
    The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war; is applauded by those whose own act and authority he disregards and sets at naught; as if the state were penitent to that degree that it hired one to scourge it while it sinned, but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a moment.
  50. homage
    respectful deference
    Thus, under the name of Order and Civil Government, we are all made at last to pay homage to and support our own meanness.
  51. requisition
    make a formal request for official services
    Some are petitioning the State to dissolve the Union, to disregard the requisitions of the President.
  52. effectual
    producing or capable of producing an intended result or having a striking effect
    If you are cheated out of a single dollar by your neighbor, you do not rest satisfied with knowing you are cheated, or with saying that you are cheated, or even with petitioning him to pay you your due; but you take effectual steps at once to obtain the full amount, and see to it that you are never cheated again.
  53. diabolical
    showing the cunning or ingenuity or wickedness typical of a devil
    It not only divided States and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine.
  54. transgress
    act in disregard of laws, rules, contracts, or promises
    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?
  55. proportionate
    exhibiting equivalence or correspondence among constituents of an entity or between different entities
    One would think, that a deliberate and practical denial of its authority was the only offense never contemplated by its government; else, why has it not assigned its definite, its suitable and proportionate, penalty?
  56. convulse
    contract involuntarily, as in a spasm
    So is all change for the better, like birth and death, which convulse the body.
  57. maniac
    an insane person
    How shall he ever know well that he is and does as an officer of the government, or as a man, until he is obliged to consider whether he will treat me, his neighbor, for whom he has respect, as a neighbor and well-disposed man, or as a maniac and disturber of the peace, and see if he can get over this obstruction to his neighborliness without a ruder and more impetuous thought or speech corresponding with his action.
  58. foist
    to force onto another
    If my esteemed neighbor, the State's ambassador, who will devote his days to the settlement of the question of human rights in the Council Chamber, instead of being threatened with the prisons of Carolina, were to sit down the prisoner of Massachusetts, that State which is so anxious to foist the sin of slavery upon her sister--though at present she can discover only an act of inhospitality to be the ground of a quarrel with her--the Legislature would not wholly waive the subject...
  59. despondent
    without or almost without hope
    The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less despondent spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles.
  60. afflict
    cause great unhappiness for; distress
    If any think that their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person.
  61. invidious
    containing or implying a slight or showing prejudice
    But the rich man--not to make any invidious comparison--is always sold to the institution which makes him rich.
  62. superfluous
    serving no useful purpose; having no excuse for being
    It puts to rest many questions which he would otherwise be taxed to answer; while the only new question which it puts is the hard but superfluous one, how to spend it.
  63. tribute
    something given or done as an expression of esteem
    "Show me the tribute-money," said he--and one took a penny out of his pocket--if you use money which has the image of Caesar on it, and which he has made current and valuable, that is, if you are men of the State, and gladly enjoy the advantages of Caesar's government, then pay him back some of his own when he demands it.
  64. magnitude
    relative importance
    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.
  65. tranquility
    a state of peace and quiet
    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.
  66. squat
    occupy (a dwelling) illegally
    You must hire or squat somewhere, and raise but a small crop, and eat that soon.
  67. preach
    deliver a sermon
    Some years ago, the State met me in behalf of the Church, and commanded me to pay a certain sum toward the support of a clergyman whose preaching my father attended, but never I myself.
  68. condescend
    behave in a patronizing and condescending manner
    However, at the request of the selectmen, I condescended to make some such statement as this in writing:
  69. adhere
    stick to firmly
    The State, having thus learned that I did not wish to be regarded as a member of that church, has never made a like demand on me since; though it said that it must adhere to its original presumption that time.
  70. grate
    a barrier that has parallel or crossed bars blocking a passage but admitting air
    I was put into a jail once on this account, for one night; and, as I stood considering the walls of solid stone, two or three feet thick, the door of wood and iron, a foot thick, and the iron grating which strained the light, I could not help being struck with the foolishness of that institution which treated me as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be locked up.
  71. avail
    use to one's advantage
    I wondered that it should have concluded at length that this was the best use it could put me to, and had never thought to avail itself of my services in some way.
  72. mortar
    used as a bond in masonry or for covering a wall
    I did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar.
  73. blunder
    an embarrassing mistake
    In every threat and in every compliment there was a blunder; for they thought that my chief desire was to stand on the other side of that stone wall.
  74. strait
    a bad or difficult situation or state of affairs
    It may be in a great strait, and not know what to do: I cannot help that.
  75. snivel
    cry or whine with snuffling
    It is not worth the while to snivel about it.
  76. avenge
    take revenge for a perceived wrong
    I was shown quite a long list of young men who had been detected in an attempt to escape, who avenged themselves by singing them.
  77. involuntary
    not subject to the control of the will
    I was an involuntary spectator and auditor of whatever was done and said in the kitchen of the adjacent village inn--a wholly new and rare experience to me.
  78. spectator
    a close observer; someone who looks at something (such as an exhibition of some kind)
    I was an involuntary spectator and auditor of whatever was done and said in the kitchen of the adjacent village inn--a wholly new and rare experience to me.
  79. aloof
    remote in manner
    I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually.
  80. abet
    assist or encourage, usually in some wrongdoing
    If others pay the tax which is demanded of me, from a sympathy with the State, they do but what they have already done in their own case, or rather they abet injustice to a greater extent than the State requires.
  81. biased
    favoring one person or side over another
    But one cannot be too much on his guard in such a case, lest his actions be biased by obstinacy or an undue regard for the opinions of men.
  82. obstinacy
    resolute adherence to your own ideas or desires
    But one cannot be too much on his guard in such a case, lest his actions be biased by obstinacy or an undue regard for the opinions of men.
  83. retract
    formally reject or disavow a formerly held belief, usually under pressure
    Again, I sometimes say to myself, When many millions of men, without heat, without ill will, without personal feelings of any kind, demand of you a few shillings only, without the possibility, such is their constitution, of retracting or altering their present demand, and without the possibility, on your side, of appeal to any other millions, why expose yourself to this overwhelming brute force?
  84. inanimate
    not endowed with life
    But just in proportion as I regard this as not wholly a brute force, but partly a human force, and consider that I have relations to those millions as to so many millions of men, and not of mere brute or inanimate things, I see that appeal is possible, first and instantaneously, from them to the Maker of them, and, secondly, from them to themselves.
  85. bestow
    give as a gift
    However, the government does not concern me much, and I shall bestow the fewest possible thoughts on it.
  86. ingenious
    showing inventiveness and skill
    They may be men of a certain experience and discrimination, and have no doubt invented ingenious and even useful systems, for which we sincerely thank them; but all their wit and usefulness lie within certain not very wide limits.
  87. serene
    completely clear and fine
    I know of those whose serene and wise speculations on this theme would soon reveal the limits of his mind's range and hospitality.
  88. behoove
    be appropriate or necessary
    Notwithstanding his special acuteness and ability, he is unable to take a fact out of its merely political relations, and behold it as it lies absolutely to be disposed of by the intellect--what, for instance, it behooves a man to do here in American today with regard to slavery--but ventures, or is driven, to make some such desperate answer to the following, while professing to speak absolutely, and as a private man--from which what new and singular of social duties might be inferred?
  89. reverence
    regard with feelings of respect and reverence; consider hallowed or exalted or be in awe of
    They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have traced up its stream no higher, stand, and wisely stand, by the Bible and the Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and humanity; but they who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that pool, gird up their loins once more, and continue their pilgrimage toward its fountainhead.
  90. pilgrimage
    a journey to a sacred place
    They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have traced up its stream no higher, stand, and wisely stand, by the Bible and the Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and humanity; but they who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that pool, gird up their loins once more, and continue their pilgrimage toward its fountainhead.
  91. rectitude
    righteousness as a consequence of being honorable and honest
    Our legislators have not yet learned the comparative value of free trade and of freedom, of union, and of rectitude, to a nation.