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ISBN: 9781554813018

Publication Date: Nov 2016

Format: Paperback

Robert Pepperman Taylor's new edition clarifies the specific political and philosophical contexts in which Thoreau composed Civil Disobedience.


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In 1848 and again in 1849, Henry David Thoreau delivered a lecture in Concord, Massachusetts on "the relationship of the individual to the state." The essay now known as Civil Disobedience is a significant and widely admired contribution to abolitionist literature, as well as an anti-war tract, but Thoreau's focus is less on political organization and solidarity than it is on personal choice and individual responsibility. Cultivating personal integrity in the face of political injustice is the project Thoreau defends in Civil Disobedience; this focus has made the work highly influential to 20th- and 21st-century political movements.

Robert Pepperman Taylor's new Introduction explains the work's specific political context, helping readers to understand the text as Thoreau wrote it. The edition also offers a number of historical documents on Thoreau's abolitionism; the United States' war with Mexico; and Thoreau's philosophical development in relation to other thinkers.


"In this season of political unrest, the arrival of Bob Pepperman Taylor's teaching edition of Henry David Thoreau's ‘Civil Disobedience' couldn't be better timed … it should be required reading for every person who opines on Thoreau's essay, whether student, scholar or activist" – Laura Dassow Walls, Early American Literature

"This volume greatly contributes to our ability to understand Thoreau's essay on civil disobedience as a product of a specific historical context. It is a valuable piece of scholarship on the history of political thought regarding Thoreau's essay. The introduction is pitched at a level that is appropriate to undergraduates and is written in a very interesting, engaging, and readable style. But given the historically situated analysis of Thoreau's writing of Civil Disobedience, this volume will also be a valuable resource for established scholars as well. The additional primary texts are thoughtfully selected and relevant, and they help give us a more complete portrait of Thoreau in his time: with these additional readings, we can better grasp the historical context of many of the enigmatic references Thoreau makes in Civil Disobedience." – Shannon Mariotti, Southwestern University

"A masterful historical contextualization. Bob Pepperman Taylor's introduction is a model of scholarship and his annotations are consistently illuminating. The supplementary voices, ranging from William Paley to Henry Highland Garnet to Daniel Webster to Ralph Waldo Emerson to Abraham Lincoln, help bring Thoreau to life by setting him in his place and time." – Jack Turner, University of Washington, editor of A Political Companion to Henry David Thoreau

Language English
Pages 160
Dimensions 216 x 140 x 6
Date Published 30 Nov 2016
Publisher Broadview Press
Series Broadview Editions
Subject/s Social & political philosophy   Civil rights & citizenship  


Civil Disobedience

Appendix A: Thoreau's Abolitionism Developed

  • From Henry David Thoreau, A Plea for Captain John Brown (1860)

Appendix B: Abolitionism

  • Henry Highland Garnet, Address to the Slaves of the United States (1865)
  • Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, Tea-Table Talk (1836)
  • William Lloyd Garrison, Declaration of Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Society (1852)
  • From William Lloyd Garrison, Declaration of Sentiments Adopted by the Peace Convention, The Liberator (28 Sept. 1838)
  • William Lloyd Garrison, The American Union (1845)

Appendix C: Sectionalism and the Constitution

  • Samuel Hoar, Report on His Mission to Charleston, South Carolina (1845)
  • From Daniel Webster, Speech in Senate, 12 August 1848
  • From Daniel Webster, Speech at Capon Springs, Virginia, 28 June 1851

Appendix D: War with Mexico

  • From Abraham Lincoln, Speech in U.S. House of Representatives on War with Mexico (1848)

Appendix E: Moral and Philosophical Context

  • From William Paley, The Duty of Submission to Civil Government Explained (1822)
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Politics (1844)

Robert Pepperman Taylor is Professor of Political Science at the University of Vermont.

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