Kings Rebellion


King`s Rebellion Essay, Research Paper

"…A little rebellion now and then is a good thing…It is a medicine

necessary for the sound health of government." Thomas Jefferson Thoreau, a

transcendentalist from the mid 19th century and Martin Luther King Jr., the

Civil Rights movement leader of a century later both believed the necessity of

medicine for government. Although they showed disagreement of opinion on issues

regarding voting, both writers agreed on the necessity to reform the government

and the means of accomplishing it. In King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and

Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, both agreed on injustice of majority to rule over

minority, both resisted the government passively, and both wanted a better

government immediately. The majority is not necessarily right, but they have

always been the ones in power because they are the strongest and the most

influential. Therefore, all the laws are written by the majority, almost all are

in favor of the majority, and all are enforced by the majority. According to

King, a law drafted by the majority is only just when the minority are willing

to follow it. He wrote "An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power

majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on

itself" (2:475). In other words, if a law denies the right of the minority

or is inflicted upon the minority by force, then it is not a just law. Similar

opinions are shared by Thoreau, when he writes "But a government in which

the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice…"(1:1425). Both

agreed that if a law is unjust, it is the duty of the opposition to break the

law, and do what they believe to be right. Once a law is broken, the person must

be willing to accept the consequences, which may be the penalty of imprisonment.

Although laws may be unjust, but it must be respected regardless. King fears

that anarchy will result if laws are not respected; Thoreau describes that

rebellion will be the consequence if laws are not given respect. Consequently,

both chooses to passively resist the laws they believed that are against their

morals, and are prepared to accept imprisonment . The exercise of passive

resistance is the basis of the title of Thoreau’s work, and King presents

several examples of "civil disobedience" in his letter, including the

Boston Tea Party. King not only exercises passive resistance, he also provides

the procedure to be followed for any nonviolent campaign. They are: collection

of the facts to determine whether injustice exist; negotiation;

self-purification; and direct action (2:471). He points out that he has gone

through all the steps, and direct action is what brought him to the Birmingham

Jail. Recognition of injustice and passive resistance described by both authors

is to point out the need of government reformation. Thoreau calls for a better

government, immediately, and points out that the fastest way to improve

government is to "let every man make know what kind of government would

command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it"

(1:1425). King does not directly states the need to reform government, but

instead, he states the need to reform the existing social structure, which goes

hand in hand with governmental progress. He advocates social equality and racial

justice, believing "Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be

considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds" (2:471), and passively

fighting against unjust laws forced upon the minority. Even though Thoreau

agreed with King on the issues, he also made contradictory statements directly

against what he supported. He wrote "If the injustice is part of the

necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go…"

stating that if injustice was inevitable and helped to improve government, then

it was justified. Opposed to his passive resistance, he also justified bloodshed

as he stated "But even suppose blood should flow. Is there not a sort of

blood shed when the conscience is wounded?" (1:1432). As for improvements

to government, he believed "That government is best which governs not at

all" (1:1425). Thoreau’s writing is vague, and mostly an appeal to the

intellect, which sharply contrasted with the writing of King, an appeal to the

emotion of the readers. Although both writing made similar points, they are also

a sharp contrast of the other and undoubtedly very unique.

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