Monday, October 21, 2013

Thoreau’s Ideas on Government

“I heartily accept the motto, “That government is best which governs least” (Thoreau, n.d.). The opening line from Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience is bold. Throughout the essay Thoreau attacks many aspects of our government. Originally published in 1949, his work focused on different issues than we face today as a country. However, his brilliant ideas about small government still hold true.

            Henry David Thoreau obviously lived in a different era of U.S. government. When he published his essay, the key issues he focused on were slavery and the war in Mexico (Article Myriad, n. d.).  He was adamantly against the war and did not support slavery. However his paper does not focus on why slavery was wrong. Instead he calls out to the American people to help change the country (The Transcendentalists, n. d.). He states that having the opinion that slavery is wrong is not enough. Thoreau calls for the U.S. citizens to stop supporting their government through taxes, even at the risk of incarceration. In his essay, he describes his own arrest for refusing to pay a poll tax. However he only spent one night imprisoned before “someone interfered” and paid his tax for him. He asserts that “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.” (Thoreau, n.d.).   Personally I would rather put up with the unjust laws than be imprisoned, and I think most people feel the same. Thoreau’s concept of refusing to support the state is an interesting one, but I do not think enough people would follow through with it for it to be successful. Even though his essay focused on the present day issues of 1849, it still has significant relevance in today’s United States.

            Small government is a concept that has been around a long time. When the U.S. constitution was written, the federal government had much less power than it does today. Since 1776, our government has slowly gained more power and put more restrictions on our freedom. Thoreau recognized this threat early on (Bookstove, n. d.). His quote on government is spot on about our nation’s issues today. In my opinion, most of the problems our country face today were created by our large government mentality.  One issue our country faces that his quote relates to is the drug war.  Our country has unjust drug laws which imprison people who need to be in treatment centers. Legalizing certain drugs would not only stimulate our poor economy with taxes, but we would save billions by not imprisoning people for minor drug charges. These people should not have their freedoms stripped anyways; it is unjust and in my opinion should not be tolerated. Another way large government is hurting our country is through spending massive amounts on hundreds of useless government agencies. Thoreau’s concept of less government could help our country in so many ways.

            Before going into politics, one should be required to study Civil Disobedience. Our government today is made up of career politicians, which is something our forefathers warned of, and Thoreau mentions this in his essay (Study Guides & Essay Editing, n. d.). If politicians are paid large amounts of money to represent their people, is it not possible that at least some of them are more interested in the money than in the issues? Our country is in massive debt, and we attempt to eliminate this with more spending. We will never be able to overcome our issues with the ridiculous amount of government we have. Thoreau was right in 1849, and he remains right today. If our government reduced taxes, removed regulations, dramatically reduced spending and government programs, and did away with unjust laws, the private sector and economy would greatly improve. The solution to our problems is no secret. It is simply a forgotten truth. Civil Disobedience is a brilliant work, and will always remain relevant to any government the world will ever see.
            When Thoreau originally wrote his essay, he was focused on things that are not significant to our world. However his small government quote and many ideas found throughout the essay will always be important. Thoreau was almost like a foreshadowing of the Libertarian party, an idealist before the movement even began. Hopefully his small government ideas eventually catch on, and our country becomes a better, freer place.

"Analysis and Summary of  Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau." Article Myriad. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <>.
"Analysis of Civil Disobedience; By Henry David Thoreau." Bookstove RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <>.
"Civil Disobedience Summary." Study Guides & Essay Editing. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <>.
Thoreau, Henry D. "Thoreau's Civil Disobedience - with Annotated Text." Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <>

"The Transcendentalists." The Transcendentalists. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <>.