Government and Thoreau

“Resistance to Civil Government” by Henry David Thoreau

1. Thoreau opens his essay with a radical paradox: “That government is best which governs not at all. ” What does Thoreau mean? What Thoreau means when he begins his essay with “That government is best which governs not at all” is Thoreau doesn’t want a government that doesn’t govern at all or a tyranny but a limited government, where the people have more say.

2. Thoreau uses logic in providing an example of the problems with government. What is the example? The example Thoreau uses is the Mexican War (“Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as a tool…”)

3. Thoreau uses an emotional appeal in citing what the government does not do. What does government not do? The government does not further any enterprise, “It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the west. It does not educate. ”

4. What conflict does Thoreau see between majority rule and individual conscience? The conflict Thoreau sees between majority rule and individual conscience is the majority has the risk of overthrowing and removing the need and role of individual conscience.

5. What ethical appeals does Thoreau make in this paragraph? The Ethical appeals that Thoreau makes in this paragraph are that people should not support crime or wrongdoing, and they should not contradict themselves by saying or doing one thing out in public and allow contrary things to occur without doing anything. 

6. What emotional appeal does Thoreau make in this paragraph? Do you think he is correct about one person being able to change the system? The emotional appeal that Thoreau makes in this paragraph is his personal experience with his civic neighbor- the tax collector and asks for respect, which is something people are able to relate to. I believe that he is correct about one person being able to change the system due to any individual being able to spark a change in the peoples hearts for support to change how the system works.

7. Why might Thoreau include this anecdote about the boys and the dog? What is the purpose of the comparison of the state to a woman with her silver spoons? Thoreau includes this anecdote about the boys and the dog in order to compare it to the malice of the government. The purpose of the comparison of the state to a woman with her silver spoons is the state is afraid of crimes that may never happen just as the woman is timid to thieves due to only having silver spoons.

8. To what does Thoreau compare his night in jail? How does he explain his unusual comparison? Thoreau compares his night in jail to that of traveling into a far country. He explains this unusual comparison by speaking of Concord and how it was medievil like that of the United States, so it was medievil of them to put him in jail.

9. Why does Thoreau criticize his neighbors so harshly? Thoreau criticizes his neighbors so harshly due to them not standing up or “they run no risk” to what they believe in.

10. Thoreau sums up his political ideas about ideal government. What does he envision as a truly just government? Thoreau envisions a truly just government as one that respects the individual as a “higher and independent power” and is fair to all people.