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Discovering The “Correct” Role Of Government

974 words - 4 pages

Discovering The “Correct” Role of Government

Unlike that of any other leading nation in the world, American government has always guaranteed the preservation of justice for all men. However, in their works Civil Disobedience and “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Henry Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr., excoriate the government’s use of the term “all men,” which fails to uphold the all-inclusiveness it implies, as it excludes many subclasses of people. They assert that it is not within the governments’ rights to require an individual to compromise his or her morality. Instead, the correct role of government is to remain constant and relative as a protector of every citizen’s innate ...view middle of the document...

Thoreau establishes credibility by explaining his refusal to support slavery and war through the payment of poll taxes, and accepting arrest as a punishment. He notes that, “under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison” (774). He clearly asserts that if a government incriminates those who pursue justice, than the only just people are criminals.
Over one hundred years later, Martin Luther King, Jr. applies the same theory to a different model: discrimination against blacks in the South, namely Birmingham, Alabama. After being criticized by seven clergy members for organizing peaceful protest, King writes “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail” elucidating his right to protest the unjust laws and traditional beliefs of Birmingham society. Influenced by Thoreau, King organizes a peaceful demonstration to finally surface a tender tension between whites and blacks in order to accomplish a necessary negotiation. King, like Thoreau, is willing to “accept blows without retailing” and “endure the ordeal of jail” (King, 2) to attain rights for Negroes. Both King and Thoreau recognize that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (1), and despite the centurial difference in time, Thoreau and King prove that justice is a right which is relevant whenever the government does not preserve justice.
Thoreau and King criticize American democracy, as well, for limiting suffrage in order to manipulate its laws. The majority of eligible members of a state limited voting qualifications in order to exclude the majority of the state, and thus institute unjust laws that encroached upon the rights of others without having to adhere to them themselves. King specifically questions the ability of “any law enacted under such circumstances [to] be considered democratically...

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