This study investigated the
consistency of Henry David Thoreauís social philosophy in relation to Antebellum
reform. Some critics have argued that Thoreau was influenced by radical
Abolitionism to such an extent that it led him to defend John Brownís raid
on Harperís Ferry Virginia in 1859 on the eve of the American Civil War.
Many believe "A Plea for Captain John Brown" is an indication of just how
far Thoreau departed from his earlier views on reform, especially those
expressed in his essay on "Resistance to Civil Government."
A close examination of Thoreauís
writings reveals that he was not, however, a pacifist as is commonly assumed.
"A Plea," which uses the phrase, "resistance to tyranny," is remarkably
consistent with the epistemology and moral sentiment of Thoreauís earlier
views on reform including "Resistance to Civil Government." Thoreauís reform
essays are structured on the basis of Transcendentalist principles and
do not necessarily represent a radical break with tradition. Kantian idealism,
French Eclecticism, and Unitarian ethics are underlying aspects of Thoreauís
Transcendental ethos. An understanding of these and their subsequent influence
on New England Transcendentalism helps to elucidate some of the apparent
contradictions in Thoreauís political essays. Apart from various influences
and qualifiers, Thoreauís reform essays are remarkable consistent contextually
Special thanks to Thomas Blanding for referring
me to the works of C.G. Jung.
To Stacia Frederick
Michael J. Frederick is the Executive
Director of the Thoreau Society.
Thoreau Reader: Home - Civil