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Harding on "Civil Disobedience"

     As a Thoreau scholar Walter Harding spent a substantial amount of his career developing and analyzing a deeper understanding of Thoreau’s work. One of the major projects that Harding worked on during his career was Thoreau’s world-renowned “Civil Disobedience” essay. The following documents are essays, study guides, and books that Harding has either written and/or edited in order to better understanding “Civil Disobedience” rise to prominence and the impact it has had in the world.

     In his work, Harding explains the series of events that led up to Thoreau writing his world-famous essay. As he explains in a number of his works, Harding points out that Thoreau was first inspired by Bronson Alcott, one of Thoreau’s neighbors, who three years prior to Thoreau, was jailed as a means to protest the nation's involvement in slavery. In 1846, when the village’s tax collector and jailer came across Thoreau, Thoreau followed in Alcott’s steps and also went to jail rather than pay a system which he believed was anti-democratic. Thoreau spent a grand total of one night in jail before his aunt, Maria Thoreau paid his tax to avoid bringing shame to the family. Walter explains that it was not until 1846 that Thoreau presented “The Relation of the Individual to the State” at the Concord Lyceum, out of frustration of being interrogated for his decision to go to jail. The essay was published one other time under the title “Resistance to Civil Government” by Elizabeth Peabody in the Aesthetic Papers, but this issue also did not gain that much traction. It was not until well after Thoreau’s death that his work inspired the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, anti-Nazi resisters in Denmark, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The appropriation of Thoreau's work by freedom fighters across the world was what propelled his essay into the respected place in the literary world that it is today. In many ways, Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” essay was profound and ahead of its time, and that is exactly what Harding’s work elucidates.