Thoreau: Justice by Any Means

Conclusion

Despite his defense of John Brown, Thoreau is no more an advocate of violence than any other American today.  He supported the use of force in the destruction of slavery.  There are exceedingly few in our nation, even among pacifists and nonviolence activists, who would label the Civil War unjust.  It was an evil, just as every other war, but most would suggest it was an injustice far lesser than the injustice of slavery.

Thoreau was certainly not a pacifist.  “Show me a free state,” he said, “and a court truly of justice, and I will fight for them.”39  Although his views concerning the use of violence changed, he never lost sight of what he believed should be the ultimate goal of all political action: the establishment of a better government.

Henry David Thoreau succeeded in transcending the extreme injustice of his era to express a message of morality and justice. Although he was more supportive of conditional violence than many peace activists will acknowledge, he was still America’s first, and perhaps finest and most influential, proponent of establishing a better government through the principle of nonviolence.

Notes

1. Henry S. Canby, Thoreau. (Gloucester, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965), 235.
2. Ibid, 231.
3. Bartleby.com. “Transcendentalism,” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition 2002. < http://www.bartleby.com/61/47/T0314700.html&gt; (9 May 2006).
4. Ira Chernus, American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea.(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 48.
5. Henry D. Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience,” In The Major Essays of Henry David Thoreau, ed. Richard Dillman (Albany, NY: Whitston Publishing Company, Inc., 2001), 53.
6. Canby, 231.
7. Nick A. Ford, “Henry David Thoreau, Abolitionist,” The New England Quarterly 19 (1946): 365.
8. Canby, 232.
9. Richard Bridgman, Dark Thoreau. (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1982), 205.
10. Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience,” 47.
11. Ibid, 48.
12. Ibid, 50.
13. Ibid, 52.
14. Ibid, 57.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid, 54.
18. Ibid, 55.
19. Ibid, 56.
20. Chernus, 54.
21. Robert D. Richardson Jr., Henry Thoreau: A Life of a Mind. (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press), 314.
22. Henry D. Thoreau, “Slavery in Massachusetts,” In The Major Essays of Henry David Thoreau, ed. Richard Dillman (Albany, NY: Whitston Publishing Company, Inc., 2001), 68-69.
23. Ford, 366.
24. Bridgman, 209-120.
25. Thoreau, “Slavery in Massachusetts,” 77.
26. Ibid, 70.
27. Ibid, 72.
28. Bridgman, 211.
29. Thoreau, “Slavery in Massachusetts,” 68.
30. Ford, 360.
31. Richardson, 370.
32. Africans in America. “Bleeding Kansas,” 1998. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/ part4/4p2952.html> (9 May 2006).
33. Richardson, 370.
34. Henry D. Thoreau, “A Plea for Captain John Brown,” In The Major Essays of Henry David Thoreau, ed. Richard Dillman (Albany, NY: Whitston Publishing Company, Inc., 2001), 85.
35. Ibid, 83.
36. Ibid, 84.
37. Ibid, 92.
38. Ibid, 101.
39. Chernus, 54.

References

Africans in America. “Bleeding Kansas.” 1998. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2952.html&gt; (9 May 2006).

Bartleby.com. “Transcendentalism.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition 2002. <http://www.bartleby.com/61/47/T0314700.html&gt; (9 May 2006).

Bridgman, Richard. Dark Thoreau. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

Canby, Henry S. Thoreau. Gloucester, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965.

Chernus, Ira. American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004.

Ford, Nick A. “Henry David Thoreau, Abolitionist.” The New England Quarterly 19 (1946): 359-371.

Richardson Jr., Robert D. Henry Thoreau: A Life of a Mind. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Thoreau, Henry D. “A Plea for Captain John Brown.” In The Major Essays of Henry David Thoreau, edited by Richard Dillman, 81-102. Albany, NY: Whitston Publishing Company, Inc., 2001.

Thoreau, Henry D. “Civil Disobedience.” In The Major Essays of Henry David Thoreau, edited by Richard Dillman, 47-67. Albany, NY: Whitston Publishing Company, Inc., 2001.

Thoreau, Henry D. “Slavery in Massachusetts.” In The Major Essays of Henry David Thoreau, edited by Richard Dillman, 68-81. Albany, NY: Whitston Publishing Company, Inc., 2001.

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