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Quotations about Civil Disobedience



Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. #goodtrouble ~John Lewis, @repjohnlewis, tweet, 2018


Each man according to his conscience, when laws quit making sense — that's my rule. ~Cid Ricketts Sumner, Tammy Out of Time, 1958


I wasn't built to look the other way because the law demanded it. The law might be wrong. ~Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, 2008


If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth, — certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn. ~Henry David Thoreau


Human history begins with man's act of disobedience which is at the very same time the beginning of his freedom and the development of his reason. ~Erich Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion


Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide on way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country — hold up your head. ~Mark Twain


There can be no question of holding forth on ethics. I have seen people behave badly with great morality and I note every day that integrity has no need of rules. ~Albert Camus, "The Absurd Man"


If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.  ~Louis D. Brandeis


Disobedience, the rarest and most courageous of the virtues, is seldom distinguished from neglect, the laziest and commonest of the vices. ~Bernard Shaw


Every actual State is corrupt. Good men must not obey the laws too well. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." ~Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail," 1963, Why We Can't Wait


It is necessary to distinguish between the virtue and the vice of obedience. ~Lemuel K. Washburn, Is The Bible Worth Reading And Other Essays, 1911


I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not so desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right... Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? ~Henry David Thoreau


As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever. ~Clarence Darrow, 1920


It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do, but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do. ~Edmund Burke


I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. ~Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, 1966


Ordinarily, a person leaving a courtroom with a conviction behind him would wear a somber face. But I left with a smile. I knew that I was a convicted criminal, but I was proud of my crime. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.





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