July 23, 1846

Henry David Thoreau Spends Night in Jail

Region:
Greater Boston

On this day in 1846, Henry David Thoreau left his cabin at Walden Pond for a brief walk into town and ended up in the Concord jail for refusing to pay his poll tax. A fervent abolitionist, Thoreau explained, "I cannot for an instant recognize . . . as my government [that] which is the slave's government also." The next morning, he learned that someone had paid the tax. He never knew who. Although Thoreau objected, the constable insisted on releasing him. This experience led him to write a powerful lecture on the "relation of the individual to the State." The lecture was published in 1849 as "Resistance to Civil Government," and is now known as "Civil Disobedience." This masterful essay has influenced generations of activists, including Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Related Moments