"Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for
a just man is also a prison ... the only house in a slave State in
which a free man can abide with honor."
by:
Henry David Thoreau
(1817-1862) American author, poet, philosopher, polymath, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, and transcendentalist
Source:
Stray Birds, 1849
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Reader comments about this quote:
It is my great privilege to know such men.
 -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    Approximately true.
     -- David L. Rosenthal     
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    A noble sentiment to be sure, and Thoreau is the master of many. But a free man, operating as independently as is possible in a non-free world, can effect change in ways not open to him were he imprisoned. For all the oppression that we who read these quotes generally concur upon, we at least, even among ourselves, exercise a spirit of free expression that affects the consciousness of the few. It does not diminish my respect for prisoners of conscience who do find their freedom taken from them and are holding their vigil to truth in the prisons of this world.
     -- EGL, LA     
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    In a real sense, without hyperbole, for very many people in Cuba, to be in prison is as if to be in solitary confinement, while to be at home is as if to be in prison. There is no leagl access to the Internet, very few telephones, and it is illegal to watch TV programming from the United States, or to listen to radio from the United States, or to read newspapers or magazines from the United States. There is a list of regulations and conditions that make life in general prisonlike for millions.
     -- David L Rosenthal     
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    Thoreau actually lived what he spoke. He spent much time in prison in protest, not for his own condition, but that of others. A man of civil disobedience for the plight of others. He felt no honor living free so long as others were in slavery. He would rather be in prison in honorable protest.
     -- Jack, Green, OH     
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    Thoreau spent one night in jail.
     -- David L Rosenthal     
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    It is good for the just man to sit in prison next to the others who are unjustly accused. It is better to break them out of prison.
     -- Ken, Allyn, WA     
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    You are correct David. Actual time spent in jail by Thoreau was one night, although he only came out when the debt he refused to pay was paid without his knowledge or consent. He had intended to stay as his form of protest. He lived at Waldeb Pond in a sort of self-imposed imprisonment, and even spoke metaphorically of having gone in as a youth and come out as a gray-headed man.. I don't condone his policy of civil disobedience by shirking responsiblity. Depositing or donating his obligation is one thing, but refusing to pay what others do pay is wrong in my mind.. Nevertheless; nights spent in jail by Thoreau: one.
     -- Jack, Green, OH     
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    I read one half of Walden. I admit that I did not find it of much interest to me. The book is still on my night table. In it he expresses himself at some length about his experiences of living there in the woods, by the pond. The experience was for Thoreau nothing like imprisonment. Not at all.
     -- David L. Rosenthal     
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    Right again, David, Walden was not a prison, or anything like it, but Thoreau actually wanted to be in jail as a form of protest, mainly against slavery. That's what the quote was about: "...prison ... the only house in a slave state in which a free man can abide with honor", and he wanted to be there, but he never did anything serious enough to land him there.
     -- Jack, Green. OH     
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    Unfortunately true.
     -- Me Again     
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    Thanks for your notes and the quote. Martin Luther King, had a dream ... "free." I too, have a dream: I dream that somehow, somewhere, in some way, some day, all innocent people, will be declared innocent. I admire people who have the stamina, fortitude, and most importantly, courage to stand for the fight for others. Perhaps what King Arthur said to Lancelot, in "First Knight,"and what Jesus Christ said, in paraphrase, "Death for another or for others, there is no greater committment."
     -- Darrell Hall, Toronto, Ontario     
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    Jack, I gave the quote 5 stars. It was to your misconceptions that I responded afterward.
     -- David L. Rosenthal     
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    and I agreed with what you said, David. I was making the same point that Thoreau had the courage to suffer for others, at the cost of his own freedom if other people were being held in slavery, but he never engaged in violence to let him serve much time.
     -- Jack, Green, OH     
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    If he had pressed the issue, he could have gotten his wish, to be jailed for an extended period, without committing violence. He could have, if he really wanted it. He could simply have published his views more actively, forcefully, and a little more obnoxiously, which would have gotten him either jailed or shot. For example, he could have promoted widespread support for the Underground Railroad, and publicly announced that he volunteered to participate in a slave rebellion. I am not saying he should have, but that he could have. It is one thing to imagine that one wishes something, but often a different thing to be faced with the imminent possibility of obtaining it.
     -- David L Rosenthal     
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    I choose to take him at his word. I don't know what he could be charged with, other than to refuse ti pay a tax, short of violent disobedience, which was not his way. I wouldnt have refused to pay a tax and go to jail, for any length of time, as he was prepared to do. I don't know what the original sentence might have been, but, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, he was not a violent man. He was simply an abolishionist. I suppose he could have revealed his activity with the underground railroad. That might have done it
     -- Jack, Green, OH     
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     -- Joe, Rochester, MI      
    Prison sucks -- but that does not diminish the honor of those arrested under tyranny.
     -- E Archer, NYC     
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    seriously he spent one night in jail. his head was so damn big.
     -- danielle, buffalo     
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    A man to whom the world owes an unimaginable debt of gratitude.
     -- Harsh M, Jaipur     
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