Essay, Research Paper: King`s Rebellion


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"...A little rebellion now and then is a good thing...It is a medicine
necessary for the sound health of government." Thomas Jefferson Thoreau, a
transcendentalist from the mid 19th century and Martin Luther King Jr., the
Civil Rights movement leader of a century later both believed the necessity of
medicine for government. Although they showed disagreement of opinion on issues
regarding voting, both writers agreed on the necessity to reform the government
and the means of accomplishing it. In King's Letter from Birmingham Jail and
Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, both agreed on injustice of majority to rule over
minority, both resisted the government passively, and both wanted a better
government immediately. The majority is not necessarily right, but they have
always been the ones in power because they are the strongest and the most
influential. Therefore, all the laws are written by the majority, almost all are
in favor of the majority, and all are enforced by the majority. According to
King, a law drafted by the majority is only just when the minority are willing
to follow it. He wrote "An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power
majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on
itself" (2:475). In other words, if a law denies the right of the minority
or is inflicted upon the minority by force, then it is not a just law. Similar
opinions are shared by Thoreau, when he writes "But a government in which
the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice..."(1:1425). Both
agreed that if a law is unjust, it is the duty of the opposition to break the
law, and do what they believe to be right. Once a law is broken, the person must
be willing to accept the consequences, which may be the penalty of imprisonment.
Although laws may be unjust, but it must be respected regardless. King fears
that anarchy will result if laws are not respected; Thoreau describes that
rebellion will be the consequence if laws are not given respect. Consequently,
both chooses to passively resist the laws they believed that are against their
morals, and are prepared to accept imprisonment . The exercise of passive
resistance is the basis of the title of Thoreau's work, and King presents
several examples of "civil disobedience" in his letter, including the
Boston Tea Party. King not only exercises passive resistance, he also provides
the procedure to be followed for any nonviolent campaign. They are: collection
of the facts to determine whether injustice exist; negotiation;
self-purification; and direct action (2:471). He points out that he has gone
through all the steps, and direct action is what brought him to the Birmingham
Jail. Recognition of injustice and passive resistance described by both authors
is to point out the need of government reformation. Thoreau calls for a better
government, immediately, and points out that the fastest way to improve
government is to "let every man make know what kind of government would
command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it"
(1:1425). King does not directly states the need to reform government, but
instead, he states the need to reform the existing social structure, which goes
hand in hand with governmental progress. He advocates social equality and racial
justice, believing "Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be
considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds" (2:471), and passively
fighting against unjust laws forced upon the minority. Even though Thoreau
agreed with King on the issues, he also made contradictory statements directly
against what he supported. He wrote "If the injustice is part of the
necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go..."
stating that if injustice was inevitable and helped to improve government, then
it was justified. Opposed to his passive resistance, he also justified bloodshed
as he stated "But even suppose blood should flow. Is there not a sort of
blood shed when the conscience is wounded?" (1:1432). As for improvements
to government, he believed "That government is best which governs not at
all" (1:1425). Thoreau's writing is vague, and mostly an appeal to the
intellect, which sharply contrasted with the writing of King, an appeal to the
emotion of the readers. Although both writing made similar points, they are also
a sharp contrast of the other and undoubtedly very unique.
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