"Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or
shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded,
or shall we transgress them at once?"
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:
Good question. Hits at the heart of legal positivism vs natural law.
 -- Ben, Orem, UT     
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    Ben, excellent point. I endeavor to harmonize my being with progress that is natural law. Codes, ordinances, regulations, rules, statutes, etc. that are elevated or transmogrified by tyrants, despots, and slaves at mind and heart to a level that is called law are unjust, immoral and endeavor to amend existence to a transgressed state.
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    It was such laws that caused a revolution here in 1776. Do we need a re-boot?
     -- cal, lewisville, tx     
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    An unconstitutional law is null and void on its face. I say transgress them at once.
     -- E Archer, NYC     
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    I do have to say, though, that in any given circumstance, a person may feel it necessary to follow certain unjust statutes as violating them may not be prudent. This is not always a moral obligation, but a matter of personal conscience and situation. The speed limit, for instance. Thus, the question is still an important one that each person should ask himself but that I am not certain I can give a definitive answer to.
     -- Ben, Orem, UT     
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    I submit that we endeavor to obey and amend unjust laws, for if each operates solely by his conscience, there cannot be an effective criminal justice system. However, when government is no longer subject to acceptance by the public, it has lost its right to operate. Under this eventuality, people must restore their right to self-defense. One approach is to legalize jury nullification. (An instance was when Bernhard Goetz shot muggers on a NYC subway; the police did not restrain muggers, but went on a rampage to catch and prosecute Goetz.)
     -- Allen Weingarten, Monroe Township, NJ     
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    Ben, a good cowards justification for a mansion outside the freeman's domain. Such personal decisions based on circumstance, conscience and situation are more often than not de facto legal positivisms. I do understand "Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison; BUT, to make a life style out of it is the mind and heart of a lessor mansion's slave.

    Allen Weingarten, some good points except, if you endeavor to obey unjust laws, you are a criminal with no standing in just amendments. The standard of lawful jurisprudence in the de jure States united was "natural law", not an individual's conscience. If each operates solely by natural law, there is an absolute and very effective criminal justice system.
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    " and obey them until we have succeeded,
    or shall we transgress them at once?" This isn't the dilemma it sounds like. Do both of course. The important point is to NOT "be content to obey them". How society removes unjust laws is a matter of prudence. Even how quickly the law is removed should be chosen to minimize suffering. Those of us who prefer spontaneous order and cultural origins of law must recognize that removing of legislature-invented laws can be part of spontaneous order as long as there is some way to undo laws as fast as those righteous bastards impose them.
     -- Walter Clark, Fullerton     
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    To allow the experiment of our Republic in continuance. There arises the issue of trust. For the individual, either trust of wealth or of one's God comes into consideration. There are many more of the less than of the wealthy. Firm reliance in God and his Devine Providence, was the example put forth by our founding fathers. Knowing our time of trial would come, they having great foresight, pondered the outcome. To resist compliance to unjust laws, is our right to revolt. Such has our enemy known this time would come. Moderation, logic and common sense, guides us in our resistance. Yes we are overburdened with hungry mouths and not enough work to go around. But that does not change the fact that if our God of nature has a conscience, he also has a heart, and tries the hearts of man, weather to trust in wealth or your God to see you through tuff times. When enough unity is reached in resistance, our resolve is brought forth. Leadership will change by force of the mass. How we minimize suffering is up to each community, local, and state. To cease from strife is an honor for man. But there is humility before honor. For some resistance is a necessity of livelihood. And others it is a requirement of faith. And as our founding fathers so also is our test of trust in God. I have no trust if my will to resist is compromised.
     -- Ron w13, Or     
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    This reminds me when the Italian cruise ship Consta Concordia was listing very badly there was 3,000 people poised ready to jump in and swim the 200 yards to shore . Everyone was afraid except a young American and his new bride . He lept first and his wife followed . Others seeing their courage saved their own lives as well as others .
    Millions are poised and ready to make that leap . Don't believe me? Check this months NICS firearm data , the numbers are staggering.
     -- TimeHasCome, Anytown USA     
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    "Stupid rules are meant to be broken." Col. Sherman T. Potter
     -- Mann, Kalamazoo     
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    We have to obey certain unjust laws or we wind up in jail. We need to get rid of them and use Jury Nullification when we serve on juries to nullify bad laws.
     -- jim k, austin tx     
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    Such as what Jim ? Which law ?
     -- Ron w13, Or     
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    Shall we obey unjust laws and be content until they can be amended or done away with all together? Who will change or otherwise amend those unjust laws? Will those obedient to unjust laws change them? Maybe? Probably not. Will the foreign agents that legislated those unjust laws amend them to comply to natural law? (an astute in the obvious, NO!) For those here that comprehend unjust laws, what are you doing to amend them? Does apathy reign supreme? Constitutionally, unjust laws are void ab initio and are only enforced by unlawful tyranny. Are the individual sovereigns servants, being paid to represent inalienable rights, that are enacting unjust laws outside color of their office being prosecuted? accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

    In the real world, the religion of socialism and legal positivism (political man being god with ability to make law and government his priesthood, demonic principals with despotic legal understandings fully infused in to the religious slave) has become so intrenched in the minds and hearts of the people that living just law is now an overwhelming and terrifying concept. Such culture, with its demonic religion, manifests but few noble free - willing to transgress mans religion and stand as beacons of liberty. The religious slave, being fearful of its master (even understanding jury nullification) will do nothing, or next to nothing to promote the nobility of man, natural law, or freedom. It was Jeffersons intent and the legislated writ that was to free the slave gradually. As an almost after thought to the war between the States, slavery as then promoted, was heaped upon the justification of changes.

    And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; ⋯ {others may serve} the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. I stand with the founders of the de jure States uniteds jurisprudence of the laws of nature and of natures God and with Peter when he said: We ought to obey God rather than men. Weather the sovereign individual of the States united believes in the Eternal King or not, it matters not in the standing for an existence at natural law (for such is the birthright inheritance of the noble being man).
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    As in one accord with Peter, so also Paul in continuance of Freedom from oppression. Art thou called being a servant ? care not for it : but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lords freeman : likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servant of men.( For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; ) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the ( knowledge of God ). Natural law is provided by the God of Creation. In the beginning God created !! Most great stance Mike, bridging the gap between heaven and earth. Unity of knowledge !!
     -- Ron w13, Or     
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    It is a daunting task to convey with all sincerity , the trials to come upon the children of men. Much less the testimony to come forth from the mouth of a man, in a long time. Kiss the Son lest he be angry with you ! I was told as a bud of a teacher, mind you, not chosen, but against my will to communicate this message. It is not an idle thing I do. But with all gravity, love and sincerity. The cords of our hardship, brought about by slavery, tyranny through temptation and delusion. God would have all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth. Weather you believe in God or Not. He is all merciful ! It is a birthing process, of understanding. For those that will fall through lack of faith, it is their part. But for those that will stand strong now, knowing your hope, be it a mystery, it will be well with you. For those to come it will be something that can be lost ! The cyclical nature of knowledge through time, is by God dictates, not man. The issue of ( Day and Night ) in cycle, is known, but perhaps not spoken of openly. The time in court came long ago, Say 2000 years, But in God's time, a couple of days. A day in the Lord is as a thousand years. The issue of 2012 being some great date is but a part of the ( foundation, to the neck ) in time. As a bottle, their is also a neck. For the sake of saving ( spirits ) emphasis is placed upon, eternal things. but for the sake of earthly things the emphasis is placed upon, nature, and the saving of the creature. For the whole of creation, waiteth upon the manifestation of the Son's of God. Jacobs trouble comes quickly upon us as a people on this planet. Remember there are 14 days in the feast, so also is the neck of time. Science seeks after God, I have said this before, in past statements through the years. As causation and effect are the art of study, from a scientist point of view, the ability to measure has been at the heart of the issue. It is no coincidence that 13.8 billion years have been reach as a point of understanding. Gen 11:5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children buildeth. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language, and this they begin to do: and now nothing shall be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Make sure the blood is over your door . We are in the eleventh house, the number of change.
     -- Ron w13, Or     
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