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Compare Letter from Birmingham Jail to Civil Disobedience

  • Submitted by: bobnguyen96
  • on February 18, 2014
  • Category: English
  • Length: 1,311 words

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Name: Tung Nguyen​
  Class: English III


Compare Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail to David Henry Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience

Henry David Thoreau is one of the most important literary figures of the nineteenth century. He is a Transcendentalist, whose works focus on individualism, imagination and creating a new pedagogical model. Thoreau’s influential essay “Civil Disobedience”, which was written as a speech, has inspired many great thinkers such as Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Ghandi as a way to fight against injustice. Dr King’s “Letter of Birmingham jail” shares the same principles of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”. Although they have different ways to convince the audiences and to cover their points, they both focus on the role of the individual’s conscience in reaction to the unjust society. They both encourage people to assume their moral responsibility in order to go against the majority
To begin with, they both claims about the role of conscience in making legal decision. Thoreau questions that will people be happy to just obey the law as long as it takes to change the law by the government’s rule or they want immediate action? If people follow the government’s rules, it will take a very long time to overturn the unjust law in court and it may not be successful. Thoreau implies that people should not begin to act unless they are ready to face the consequences of their action. DR. King , with a different perspective, explains how one decides which laws to break or observe. He claims that there are two type of laws: just and unjust law. People have not only legal but also moral responsibility to obey just laws:
A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put in the term of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human...

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