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Friday, March 1, 2013

Thinking Thoreau #2- That's What Friends Are For?

The first section of Excursions is a biographic sketch of Thoreau written be his good friend Ralph Waldo Emmerson. The sketch lists not only the standard menu of dates, but also a description of early influences and occupations. The most interesting piece of the section is the stories that are meant to illustrate Thoreau's brilliant, honest, and prickly character.

One such passages is:
In 1847, not approving some uses to which the public expenditure was applied, he refused to pay his town tax, and was put in jail. A friend paid the tax for him, and he was released. The like annoyance was threatened the next year. but, as his friends paid the tax, notwithstanding his protest, I believe he ceased to resist.

The "uses to which the public expenditure" was being applied was the U.S. Mexican War. Thoreau was a vanguard in the first American anti war effort motivated by a love of peace and justice as opposed to crude economics. The selection strikes me as describing if not a timid Thoreau, a Thoreau less than fully committed to the cause than legend would have it. He in fact spent only a single night in jail and seems to acquiesce, albeit reluctantly, to his friends' generosity.

I would like to return to this incident more fully during the reading of Civil Disobedience. What do you make of Thoreau not paying the tax because it was funding a horrible and dishonorable war in his view? It should be noted Congressman Abraham Lincoln of Illinois also was morally opposed to the Mexican-American War. Pin It

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