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Thoreau, Henry David

b. 1817 - d. 1862

Henry David Thoreau, a philosopher, naturalist, social reformer and author, is best known for Walden, or Life in the Woods, his account of two years in the wilderness in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. There, in a small, self-built house, he observed nature and experimented with simple living. Thoreau studied at Harvard, taught grammar school, and with his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson led the Transcendentalist movement. He was arrested in 1846 for refusing to pay the poll tax in protest against slavery and the Mexican-American War. His night in jail prompted him to write Civil Disobedience, an essay that contends individuals ought not to surrender their consciences to the majority or to the government. If a law “is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another,” he states, “then, I say, break the law.” Thoreau’s thinking on civil disobedience greatly influenced Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. King.

Associated Archive Content : 34 results

The Law and Civil Disobedience

Harris Wofford, a law professor and member of Senator John F. Kennedy's staff, discusses civil disobedience and its relationship to the law at the student association of Notre Dame Law School. He advocates in favor of civil disobedience using the theories of Thoreau, Socrates, Gandhi and others to support the need to break unjust laws. Dr. King pens handwritten questions on the top of this document pertaining to the changing of unjust laws in the courts.

The Man Who Was a Fool

The sermon "The Man Who Was a Fool," was published in the June 1961 issue of the journal The Pulpit. Dr. King delivered the sermon in both Chicago and Detroit in early 1961.

The Massachusetts Review: A Legacy of Creative Protest

Dr. King writes of the influence of Henry David Thoreau's essay on the duty of civil disobedience in forming his belief that non-cooperation with evil is a moral obligation. He cites lunch-counter sit-ins, freedom rides, and the bus boycott as evidence that Thoreau’s thinking is still alive. This article appeared in a special 1962 issue of The Massachusetts Review commemorating the centennial of Thoreau’s death.

The Time for Freedom Has Come

Dr. King discusses the evolution of Negro students partcipating in the movement. This article was published by in the New York Times Magazine on September 10, 1961.