Henry David Thoreau was a great thinker and writer who lived in Concord, Massachusetts, more than 150 years ago. He loved to climb mountains: Katahdin in Maine, Monadnock in New Hampshire, and Greylock in Massachusetts. He loved being outdoors and being free to climb anytime he wanted. Nothing could stop Henry from roaming free. One time he spent a night locked in jail, but even then, he did not feel shut in. He wrote:
“It was like traveling into a far country, such as I had never expected to behold, to lie there for one night.”
Henry went to jail for not paying his taxes. He said he wouldn’t pay taxes to a government that let some people buy and sell and own other people. This was slavery, and Henry hated it. He even helped slaves run away from their owners to be free in Canada.
Henry went to jail to be an example. He hoped others would also stop paying their taxes. If enough people went to jail, he thought, the leaders of the country would change the laws and end slavery forever.
Henry told all this to the people of Concord in a speech called Civil Disobedience. The speech became his most important writing and was read all over the world. Mahatma Ghandi used Henry’s ideas to lead the people of India to freedom from British rule. In America, Martin Luther King Jr, who was also inspired by Henry’s writings, went to jail many times to get the government to treat all people equally.
Even though Henry Thoreau was in jail for only one night, his ideas about how people can change bad laws without fighting are still being used today. This is what he wrote in his book Walden:
“One afternoon, near the end of the first summer, when I went to the village to get a shoe from the cobbler’s, I was seized and put in jail, because I did not pay a tax to, or recognize the authority of, the state which buys and sells men, women, and children, like cattle at the door of its senate–house.”