Quotes for "Civil Disobedience and Other Essays "

Thoreau, Henry David

But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.


There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing; who


and Godspeed, to the right, as it goes by them. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man; but it is easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian of it.


A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.


This American government,—what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity?


Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage.


The mass of men serve the State thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies.


How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.


Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in Massachusetts are not a hundred thousand politicians at the South, but a hundred thousand merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, cost what it may.


Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail.


Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them?


As for adopting the ways which the State has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man’s life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad.


A man has not every thing to do, but something; and because he cannot do every thing, it is not necessary that he should do something wrong.


Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.


the rich man—not to make any invidious comparison—is always sold to the institution which makes him rich. Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue; for money comes between a man and his objects, and obtains them for him; and it was certainly no great virtue to obtain it.


The best thing a man can do for his culture when he is rich is to endeavour to carry out those schemes which he entertained when he was poor.


If I had known how to name them, I should then have signed off in detail from all the societies which I never signed on to;


If I had known how to name them, I should then have signed off in detail from all the societies which I never signed on to; but I did not know where to find a complete list. I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was put


If I had known how to name them, I should then have signed off in detail from all the societies which I never signed on to; but I did not know where to find a complete list.


I was put into a jail once on this account, for one night; and, as I stood considering the walls of solid stone, two or three feet thick, the door of wood and iron, a foot thick, and the iron grating which strained the light, I could not help being struck with the foolishness of that institution which treated me as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be locked up. I wondered that it should have concluded at length that this was the best use it could put me to, and had never thought to avail itself of my services in some way. I saw that, if there was a wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to climb or break through, before they could get to be as free as I was. I did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar. I felt as if I alone of all my townsmen had paid my tax. They plainly did not know how to treat me, but behaved like persons who are underbred. In every threat and in every compliment there was a blunder; for they thought that my chief desire was to stand the other side of that stone wall. I could not but smile to see how industriously they locked the door on my meditations, which followed them out again without let or hinderance, and they were really all that was dangerous. As they could not reach me, they had resolved to punish my body; just as boys, if they cannot come at some person against whom they have a spite, will abuse his dog. I saw that the State was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it, and pitied it.


Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength.


I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.


If they pay the tax from a mistaken interest in the individual taxed, to save his property or prevent his going to jail, it is because they have not considered wisely how far they let their


If they pay the tax from a mistaken interest in the individual taxed, to save his property or prevent his going to jail, it is because they have not considered wisely how far they let their private feelings interfere with the public good. This, then, is my position at present. But one


If they pay the tax from a mistaken interest in the individual taxed, to save his property or prevent his going to jail, it is because they have not considered wisely how far they let their private feelings interfere with the public good.


The lawyers truth is not Truth, but consistency, or a consistent expediency.


If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank among the nations.


I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do better than I, and in many things even those who neither know nor can do so well,—


Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man?


Does any one think that Justice or God awaits Mr. Loring’s decision?


The Governors exploit is to review the troops on muster days. I have seen him on horseback, with his hat off, listening to a chaplain’s prayer. It chances that is all I have ever seen of a Governor. I think that I could manage to get along without one.


A distinguished clergyman told me that he chose the profession of a clergyman, because it afforded the most leisure for literary pursuits. I would recommend to him the profession of a Governor.


I have not read far in the statutes of this Commonwealth. It is not profitable reading. They do not always say what is true; and they do not always mean what they say.


the soldier, of whom the best you can say in this connection is, that he is a fool made conspicuous by a painted coat.


The joke could be no broader, if the inmates of the prisons were to subscribe for all the powder to be used in such salutes, and hire the jailors to do the firing and ringing for them, while they enjoyed it through the grating.


The Commissioner on her case is God; not Edward G. God, but simple God.


I would remind my countrymen, that they are to be men first, and Americans only at a late and convenient hour.


They consider, not whether the Fugitive Slave Law is right, but whether it is what they call constitutional.


They were neither Democrats nor Republicans, but men of simple habits, straightforward, prayerful; not thinking much of rulers who did not fear God, not making many compromises, nor seeking after available candidates.


was it a failure, or did it show a want of good management, to deliver from bondage a dozen human beings, and walk off with them by broad daylight, for weeks if not months, at a leisurely pace, through one State after another, for half the length of the North, conspicuous to all parties, with a price set upon his head, going into a court room on his way and telling what he had done, thus convincing Missouri that it was not profitable to try to hold slaves in his neighborhood?—and this, not because the government menials were lenient, but because they were afraid of him.


When we heard at first that he was dead, one of my townsmen observed that “he died as the fool dieth;” which, pardon me, for an instant suggested a likeness in him dying to my neighbor living.


“What will he gain by it?” as if he expected to fill his pockets by this enterprise. Such a one has no idea of gain but in this worldly sense. If it does not lead to a “surprise” party, if he does not get a new pair of boots, or a vote of thanks, it must be a failure. “But he won’t gain any thing by it.” Well, no, I don’t suppose he could get four-and-sixpence a day for being hung, take the year round; but then he stands a chance to save a considerable part of his soul—and such a soul!—when you do not. No doubt you can get more in your market for a quart of milk than for a quart of blood, but that is not the market that heroes carry their blood to.


The evil is not merely a stagnation of blood, but a stagnation of spirit. Many, no doubt, are well disposed, but sluggish by constitution and by habit, and they cannot conceive of a man who is actuated by higher motives than they are. Accordingly they pronounce this man insane, for they know that they could never act as he does, as long as they were themselves.


The thoughtful man becomes a hermit in the thoroughfares of the market-place.


“It was always conceded to him,” says one who calls him crazy, “that he was a conscientious man, very modest in his demeanor, apparently inoffensive, until the subject of Slavery was introduced, when he would exhibit a feeling of indignation unparalleled.”


Brown was the representative of the North. He was a superior man. He did not value his bodily life in comparison with ideal things. He did not recognize unjust human laws, but resisted them as he was bid.


No man in America has ever stood up so persistently and effectively for the dignity of human nature, knowing himself for a man, and the equal of any and all governments.


Do yourselves the honor to recognize him. He needs none of your respect.


I do not believe in erecting statues to those who still live in our hearts, whose bones have not yet crumbled in the earth around us,


No, he was not our representative in any sense. He was too fair a specimen of a man to represent the like of us.


We talk about a representative government; but what a monster of a government is that where the noblest faculties of the mind, and the whole heart, are not represented.


When I think of him, and his six sons, and his son-in-law,—not to enumerate the others,—enlisted for this fight, proceeding coolly, reverently, humanely to work, for months, if not years, sleeping and waking upon it, summering and wintering the thought, without expecting any reward but a good conscience, while almost all America stood ranked on the other side,


This event advertises me that there is such a fact as death—the possibility of a man’s dying. It seems as if no man had ever died in America before, for in order to die you must first have lived.


They talk as if a man’s death were a failure, and his continued life, be it of whatever character, were a success.


A man such as the sun may not rise upon again in this benighted land.


Are laws to be enforced simply because they were made?


I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks,—


He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.


every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.


you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking.


When a traveller asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered, “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.”


My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see.


Roads are made for horses and men of business.


What is it that makes it so hard sometimes to determine whither we will walk? I believe that there is a subtile magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. It is not indifferent to us which way we walk. There is a right way; but we are very liable from heedlessness and stupidity to take the wrong one.


My needle is slow to settle,—varies a few degrees, and does not always point due southwest, it is true, and it has good authority for this variation, but it always settles between west and south-southwest. The future lies that way to me, and the earth seems more unexhausted and richer on that side.


I felt that this was the heroic age itself, though we know it not, for the hero is commonly the simplest and obscurest of men.


I believe in the forest and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows.


I rejoice that horses and steers have to be broken before they can be made the slaves of men, and that men themselves have some wild oats still left to sow before they become submissive members of society.


At present our only true names are nicknames.


It is pitiful when a man bears a name for convenience merely, who has earned neither name nor fame.


The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.


If I do this, most will commend me as an industrious and hard-working man; but if I choose to devote myself to certain labors which yield more real profit, though but little money, they may be inclined to look on me as an idler.


Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.


The community has no bribe that will tempt a wise man. You may raise money enough to tunnel a mountain, but you cannot raise money enough to hire a man who is minding his own business.


A grain of gold will gild a great surface, but not so much as a grain of wisdom.


A grain of gold will gild a great surface, but not so much as a grain of wisdom.


private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is, that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not.


In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence,


In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.