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Civil Practices
by Renee Lara


      In "Resistance to Civil Government," Henry David Thoreau says, "’That government is best which governs not at all;’ and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have" (2015). It seems that at the rate situations are developing, the thought of a lenient government will not come true. Actually, government appears to be more controlling, going against the path of this ideal as time passes on. Thoreau refused to pay poll taxes and believed that federal or civil laws were subordinate to an individual’s moral laws. His thoughts appealed to many individuals around the world; however, the motto accepted by Thoreau is not realistic. Actions taken by the federal and state governments are necessary to protect the rights of individuals, and people usually support these governmental decisions, as long as they do not become extreme. If the situation does become extreme then citizens tend to go towards civil disobedience, as was the case with Thoreau. Nowadays citizens in the United States have several options to validate their rights, through the Constitution and even peaceful civil disobedience.

      When the Founding Fathers developed the backbone to the United States- -the Constitution- -they planned for it to be the fundamental rules of government. These rules give certain rights to citizens and states as well as powers to the federal government. Even though, the Founding Fathers wrote the constitution taking in consideration future changes and developments, the "original constitution did not precisely define the roles or the limits of power of governmental institutions" (Constitutional Law). Nonetheless they did think about the rights of citizens. The people should not be oppressed by the rule of one single power or branch of government. Even though, at times one of the branches of government can dominate the other two, the use of the checks and balances principle, which obliges the functions of the three to overlap among each other, allows for power shifts. These processes are a way by which the United States people can be protected instead of oppressed by a tyrannical government. Separation of powers and checks and balances are ways in which rights of citizens are protected by the Constitution.

      As much as anybody might want to be completely free from taxes, rules and regulations, it is necessary to have a strong government. Being an individualist, Thoreau emphasized the importance of the individual in government. The government was developed in order to serve its people and their needs. However, it is extremely difficult for it to satisfy the interests of every single person in the country. Different parties and minority or individualistic groups, all want to have laws that pertain to them. However, they do not take into account that the United States government is a Democracy, which means that decisions are made to benefit the majority of the people. This leaves out minorities, who might think they do not have any other option than to adequate to the majority based system. This does not mean that their rights are being oppressed, it simply means that they will have to look for means by which to persuade legislature to enact laws that will apply to their needs.

      Voting is one of the best measures that a person can use in order to let their opinions be heard. The government of the United States works and should be here to help the people. One of the best things in this government is the Constitution, complete with its amendments and Bill of Rights, which was made to protect the rights of the citizens. The flaws that the United States has are not in the government itself, but in the people that run government. Sometimes representatives, senators, judges and even presidents make mistakes in their decisions or might purposely misuse their power. Gerald S. Snyder, writer of Human Rights, says, "In democracies such as the United States, the power to choose leaders is held by the citizenry, who express their wishes thorough regularly held elections" (9); it is at these times that people should review what their representatives have done and then decide whether or not they deserve to be re-elected. The people choose who will represent them, and if those representatives are not doing what was expected, they can be impeached throughout their term or substituted in the following elections. It is the people who puts them in office and it is definitely the people who can take them out with just a vote.

      In his essay, Thoreau says, "All voting is a sort of gaming... I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right... I am willing to leave it to the majority... Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it... A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority" (2019). If the incumbents do something that will affect society in a negative way, citizens could just vote and hopefully have their community problems solved; however, if it does not happen that way, then they will have to take other options into consideration. A protest is a type of peaceful civil disobedience in which people gather together and speak their minds about issues that they dislike. Other forms of peaceful civil disobedience is writing letters to representatives, having meetings, and (thanks to technology) posting petitions and scattering data throughout the country with the use of the Internet. Peaceful civil disobedience is protected by the Bill of Rights and are part of the citizens’ freedom of speech.

      Thoreau used an exaggerated motto- -that of an excessively weak government- -in order to emphasize his belief that government procedures should not be extreme and oppressive. The United States government was formed to protect the necessities of its citizens, and the Constitution is a procedure embedded into government to prevent despotism in the country. If common people feel that their individual rights are being violated, they have several options by which to express their discomfort: voting, protesting, petitioning, etc. When citizens act in government, directly or indirectly, they cooperate to the protection of their individual rights.


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