"To speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it. After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule, is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest.

But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? -- in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then?

I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice."
by:
Henry David Thoreau
(1817-1862) American author, poet, philosopher, polymath, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, and transcendentalist
Source:
Civil Disobedience (1849)
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Reader comments about this quote:
The lawful jurisprudence set fort in the U.S. was that each individual was sovereign as heirs to the King of the universe with all rights being inalienable. Each and every heir being equal before the law. Man could not give or take away rights or make law, as all law existed from eternity to eternity. It is up to man to discover such laws (fiscal, nobility of life, property, etc.) and then implement codes, ordinances, regulations, rules, statutes, etc. in harmony therewith. Democracies and all forms of collectivism are from conception through fruition unjust, immoral, and antagonistic to the individual. Ultimately, a respect for law doesn't necessarily equate to rules, statutes, etc. When the statute is in harmony with law, respect for the whole is all encompassing.
 -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    I like Thoreau, but I find him a bit rambling here, I find it interesting that those who find the late US society, laws, government, and congress to be so appalling have a soul brother in Thoreau, He found it appalling in 1830 a time, society and government, which some long for us to return to. What this phenomenon suggests is that it is not society, government, or congress that is the problem. There will always be individuals like Thoreau or Mike or Archer who regardless of the status of society, government or congress will be naysayers, bitchy, nasty negativists.
     -- Waffler, Smith     
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    Well said Mike!
     -- cal, lewisville, tx     
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    Wow, this quote has so many gems in it: "Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator?" "I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward." " It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right." Truly genius. Mike, very well said!
     -- E Archer, NYC     
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    "Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? -- in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable?" Thoreau is right on target. Government should not have a moral mission, but only the technical power to defend the rights of the individual. Absent the presumed right of the government to exercise moral judgment, none of the governmental interventions in our economy and society would occur.
     -- Allen Weingarten, Monroe Township, NJ     
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    When the statue is in harmony with natural law, conscience of the individual applauds commonsense !! Well said Mike !
     -- Ronw13, Yachats Or     
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    Second paragraph, second sentence: WHO'S conscience ? Mr. Thoreau would have been fun to chat with, no? Of course we'd have to find our way to his retreat at W.P. Breathes there a man ( or woman ) who at one point in life hasn't wished to step in the footsteps he left behind ? Earlier ( in my late teens or early 20's ) I said, "what a way to live !"
     -- Bobble, No. Ferrisburgh, VT     
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