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Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 - May 6, 1862) holds a unique place in American history. He was America’s first great moral objector. He objected to the destruction of the environment, the tax system, slavery, and the general encroachment of human civilization upon the souls of human beings. He was among the earliest American transcendentalists.

Thoreau’s work challenged and frustrated the authorities of the day, but endeared him to the American Spirit. His essay. “Civil Disobedience” made the argument that people should peacefully disobey government that is unjust. It later served as the template upon which Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. would build their peaceful movements for change.

He famously moved out into the woods near Walden Pond in Massachusetts. He described his mission as follows in his famous work, Walden.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

He died at just 44 years old from complications of bronchitis brought on by Tuberculosis. Weeks before his passing his aunt asked if he had made peace with God to which Thoreau replied, “I did not know we had ever quarreled.”

Famous Thoreau quotes:

  • It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.

  • The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

  • Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.

  • An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.

  • You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.

  • If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

  • This world is but a canvas to our imagination.

  • Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.

  • Truths and roses have thorns about them.

  • Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.

  • Rather that love, than money, than fame; give me truth.

  • It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is what are we busy about?

  • Goodness is the only investment that never fails.

  • I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government—the direction of this improvement contrarily points toward anarchism: "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.

  • Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.