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Nolan Jett
Cooper
AP Lang P. 3
26 October 2017
Dissent Essay

Ever since the founding of our nation, our society has been evolving. In the Bill of

Rights, drafted shortly after the Constitution, the people of the United States are given the right

to peaceful protest, to petition the government, the freedom of speech and the press, and many

other liberties that are considered inalienable. People exercising these rights and sometimes even

going a little further is what has shaped our country and what makes the United States so unique.

In 1891, an Irish author named Oscar Wilde, claimed that all progress has been made through

disobedience. Wilde’s claim is true in the sense that almost all of the changes that have been

made in history have risen out of civil disobedience. His claim however, is not relevant to

peaceful acts of protest that are protected under articles such as the Bill of Rights.

In the Bill of Rights, there are several amendments that protect certain rights of the

people of the United States. These rights such as freedom of speech, press, right to petition the

government, freedom to peaceful assembly, and others are put are protected so that if the people

are not happy with the government, they have the power to make a difference and inflict change

without having to worry about punishment. Therefore, actions that one takes that are protected

under the Bill of Rights would not be considered civil disobedience as Thoreau explains it in his

article “Civil Disobedience.” As Thoreau describes it, civil disobedience would be considered

any act that one uses to express his discontent with the government that is illegal.

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Oscar Wilde’s claim that all progress has been made through disobedience is true in the

sense that almost all of the changes that have been made in history have risen out of civil

disobedience. However, all the actions that are considered disobedient would also be considered

illegal. In “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau, Thoreau gives an example of when he

refused to pay a tax to the state of Massachusetts saying that, “[he] should not like to think that

[he] ever [relies] on the protection of the state,” because he can protect himself (9). He therefore

does not believe that he owes the state any money. Thoreau also knows that a portion of this tax

will go to the federal government which will use it to support the Mexican war and slavery; both

things that he is opposed to. Since not paying taxes is illegal, this would be considered an act of

civil disobedience. A more recent example would be the civil rights movements of the fifties and

sixties. In this movement, African Americans participated in various forms of protest in an

attempt to win equal rights for people of color in the US. In 1955 in Montgomery Alabama, an

African American woman named Rosa Parks sat at the front of a public bus. At the time, the

front of the bus was reserved for white people. Parks was arrested as it was illegal for her to sit

there. Therefore, this would be considered an act of civil disobedience as Thoreau qualifies it.

Wilde’s claim however is not relevant to peaceful acts of protest that are protected under

articles such as the Bill of Rights. There have been thousands of peaceful protests throughout our

history. The recent Black Lives Matter movement is one that has become a large part of many

Americans lives. This movement encourages and supports the equal respect and justice for

people of color. It is all over social media and there have been many marches such as the one in

Downtown Houston in May, 2017, after acts of what some people considered to be police

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brutality. Peaceful marches and protests such as this however, are legal acts protected by the Bill

of Rights. Therefore, they would not be considered acts of civil disobedience. Another example

is the recent movement of sitting or kneeling for the National Anthem to protest injustice and

inequality in the United States. This is something that many football teams in the NFL, such as

the San Francisco 49’s partake in. Although many people may disagree or have strong opposing

feelings about this, it is not against the law. This provides another instance where Thoreau’s

claims would not be considered valid since this is not illegal.

Without civil disobedience, our lives and society could be drastically different. Wilde’s

claim is true in that almost all changes throughout history have been made or influenced by civil

disobedience. However, his claim is not relevant to peaceful acts of protests that are reserved to

the people under articles such as the Bill of Rights. In the United States, dissenting from the

norm has always been emboldened. This is why we have rights such as our rights to peaceful

assembly, freedom of speech and the press, as well as many other rights that are considered

inalienable protected.

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Works Cited
Thoreau, Henry David. “Civil Disobedience.” 1849, P. 9