Henry David Thoreau: “Civil Disobedience” (1849) Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The Ameri
Henry David Thoreau: “Civil Disobedience” (1849)
Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The American Scholar” (1837)
Essay Writing Guidelines
• Read the guidelines in the Good Writing Practices module.
• Review Behrens and Rosen’s guidelines for writing a good synthesis (Chapter 4) and analysis (Chapter 6).
• Your essay should be three full pages in length; spill into the fourth page to ensure you have sufficient length
• Use quotes to “show,” rather than to merely tell all about your ideas.
• Synthesis/blend your analysis of the two readings.
• Avoid “comparing/contrasting.” This is an analysis.
• Format the paper in APA.
• Proofread your paper carefully before you submit it.
When Henry David Thoreau wrote “Resistance to Civil Government in 1849, his call to “disobedience” may apply today. His idea of “Civil Disobedience” was a call to disobey civilly, not a call to riot, not a call to anarchy. Thoreau wasessentially asking citizens to be actively engaged with their government.
Emerson (1849) also asked for citizens to be actively engaged, but he couched his call in intellectual terms. He said that “[o]urday of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close” (p. 53). Much like Thoreau who warned against “The mass of men serv[ing] the state” ((p. 205), Emerson reminded the Harvard graduates that each year they come together as individuals to “read one more chapter of this biography” (p. 53) to define and strengthen the American character. In this way both argued for the citizens of this new country to bear responsibility to shape the American mind in a unique way as “Man Thinking” (Emerson, p. 54).
Think about the way in which Emerson (1837) and Thoreau (1849) optimistically believed that American democracy is a contract made by the people. As many as the serious flaws as they found in their America of the 19th century (slavery, aggressive war against Mexico, etc.), we can find just as many flaws with our America of the 21st century. Yet, we are still one of the few countries in the world that allows us to write, speak, and grow intellectually in fulfilment of those freedoms without fear of reprisals. Both men reminded their readers to remain vigilant, to not be complacent by ignoring our responsibilities to civil government. Both advocated for the duty to be active citizens, civilly and intellectually.
Think about Thoreau’s (1849) last statement: “The State will never be enlightened until it realizes that it receives its power from the individual” (p.224) and how it is much like Emerson’s (1837) statement that “In the right state, he is, Man thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking” (p. 54). As you think about these similar calls to action in “The American Scholar” and “Civil Disobedience,” write an synthesis analysis essay about how these two Transcendentalist authors engaged in American thought, what they had in common, and how they wrote about what it means to be a intellectually thinking and actively engaged citizen. Dr. P
Emerson, R.W. The american scholar. In Joel Porte (Ed.), Ralph waldo emerson: essays and lectures. (pp. 53-71). Library of America. (Original work published 1837).
Thoreau, H.D. (2001). Civil disobedience. In E. H. Witherell(Ed). Thoreau: collected essays and poems. (pp. 203-04). Library of America. (Original work published 1849)