In the United States, the mid-nineteenth Century was a time of great change. There was little distinction between ideologies, beliefs, convictions, or ideas. They are crucial for understanding the success and diversity of political and ideological thinkings. The 1849 publication of Henry David Thoreau’s provocative essay “Resistance to Civil Disobedience” was a momentous occasion. His essay was published after Texas’s annexe in December 1845. Thoreau’s beliefs were motivated by the belief that people should resist the current government and abolish slavery. He also wanted to stop the massacres of Native Americans. Transcendentalists could be seen as the heirs to Federalist writers like Hamilton. They reshape and adapt that idea of democracy, exceptionalism, and liberty. Transcendentalists are more individualistic, and will care more about the consequences of democracy thinking. This ideology is incompatible with the Puritans in many ways.
In this essay, I will attempt to draw and analyze connections between John Winthrop’s ideology and that of Alexander Hamilton and John O’Sullivan in order to shed some light on American ideology’s development. First, I’ll show you how Thoreau, a strong Transcendentalist stood against Puritan ideology. This undermined the Manifest Destiny, which was conceived to claim a new order through its liberation from British power. In the next section, I will explore the ways Thoreau challenged established controversial ideas regarding freedom. To finally look at how Thoreau disassociated himself from his predecessors, and how he championed a new just government that placed nature at center of his philosophy, I will also examine how Thoreau did this. Transcendentalism by Henry David Thoreau can be seen as the embodiment of a new American identity and institution. He was able to transcend the traditional Puritan principles, including John Winthrop’s, and adopt a more individualistic approach.
Thoreau used a sharp tone in condemning Puritans’ ideas to criticize the current decision. The essayist strongly opposed the common idea of America’s expansion giving rise to the Mexican American war. The incipit or “Resistance towards Civil Government” is a way to illustrate it. Thoreau discredited the practice by his government of sending soldiers off to war. The traditional Puritan ideology and the concept Manifest Destiny were used by Democrats to justify war. This phrase was coined in part by John O’Sullivan. This spiritual concept claimed that Americans must expand towards the West, because they are exceptional. It is clear that this idea does not align with Transcendentalism, Thoreau’s thought. Transcendentalists believed that they could rely on their own feelings and beliefs to attain transcendence. This would allow them to recognize the true Truth. It was therefore a waste to explore the world or expand it. You could argue that Thoreau weakened that religious belief to promote his credence in democracy – a government that is not involved in private life and has little power over public affairs. Although both Thoreau, Winthrop and their desire to be democratic could be argued, they had different beliefs. Henry David Thoreau, for example, favored an individualistic, strong democracy that cared little about property and society. He also resisted old Puritan ideas. John Winthrop, however, could be invoked in opposition to Thoreau’s individualism. The sermon calls for “material improvments, political democratizations and moral reform.” European legacies were rejected by Settlers and that particularity would pervade Thoreau’s transcendentalism. It was high time for society to be reformated, once more.
Hamilton’s corrupted government took over too much freedom and wrote “Resistance to Civil Government”. O’Sullivan believed the Federalist Papers encouraged the notion of exceptionality. They also reinforced O’Sullivan’s Manifest Destiny.
According to transcendentalism’s canons, individuals shouldn’t give credit to an ideology that unites people. People were considered to be “self reliable”, as they were led by transcendental intuition, which was believed to lead to the Truth.
While John O’Sullivan and Winthrop believed that a community life was the best solution, Thoreau’s vision was fundamentally different. His address was not to people. He wanted them to abandon their presumptive white Euro-American heritage and adopt a new identity. John O’Sullivan’s idea of manifest destiny, the culmination of American domination, led to the Mexican war. This ideology inspired Thoreau’s idea of returning to nature. It is clear that American ideologies were fostered by a strong sense, identity, and exceptional history.
This will allow us to analyze democratic ideologies through the analysis of John O’Sullivan’s ideas, Alexander Hamilton’s and Thoreau’s. Then, we’ll use Gordon Wood’s reflections regarding identity and exceptionalism to highlight them. While they may have had similar appeals to “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness,” every thinker has its own way of approaching this political ground.
Thoreau did not clearly state his political views in “Resistance to a Civil Government”, and it is worth looking at that propagandistic rhetoric. It was rhetoric to rally, and not to state one’s convictions. This might be an argument. Thoreau couldn’t have stated his political convictions, as there wasn’t the need. Thoreau believed that society and opinion were irrelevant. He was merely interested in the questioning of government. It should be very limited in order to serve its interests. People should decide whether they wish to take part in the Mexican War. Gordon Wood, an historian, has proved that the Mexican War is popular, and thus pushed Thoreau’s effort into the background. Gordon Wood said that the United States’ unique and particular character, id estexceptionalism, is due to its strong political institutions, stability, and ingenious governance. Despite Thoreau’s attempts to undermine the government’s authority, his efforts were futile. The work of J.O’Sullivan and Alexander Hamilton demonstrates the idea of exceptionalalism that stems from an exceptional government. Both were convinced they were helping to create a democratic, fair, and liberal government. The Federalist Papers (1787-1788), for example, advocated a united United States Constitution. Their ideology, however, led to wars and annexations.
A second criticism that unbalances the government is the catalyst concept of tyranny by the majority. European philosophers highlighted the concept first, but Thoreau used this to his advantage with “Resistance to Civil Disobedience”. The democratic ideology was intended to promote representative government. But, ironically, the suffrage would only be given to white, wealthy, male citizens. Thoreau stated that the democratic ideology did not stop the government being corrupt and taking self-interested actions. Thoreau wrote about the paradox between the voting majorities and the link to all Americans in his essay. The government was not elected by a majority of voters, but it still did not represent the individual interests. This paradox was critical to preventing people from becoming slaves or going to war. Controlling suffrage was the key. Thoreau said that this oppressive government was to blame for protecting abolitionism. Thoreau can be described as an individual who challenged American identity and ideologies. He was critical of the American citizen’s inaction and thought limitations, contrary to his predecessors. In a sense, his position was progressive and liberal in nature. His unique insights combined with a willingness to confront oppression and abuse of the American political and social system were a part of his early thinking.
It is important to grasp “Resistance To Civil Disobedience”.
It was not intended to be an attack on a despotic state, but instead a criticism of one that could be aimed more democratically. Henry David Thoreau has a similar outlook to other thinkers. Revolution of a different kind, which would have not promoted a union where the American Revolution was its center but instead a revolution in nature. John Winthrop (Alexander Hamilton, John O’Sullivan) and Henry David Thoreau all had ideologies that motivated them to help society advance. Their writings may contradict or agree, but their ideologies were intertwined. The final point is to stress the important role of both religious and political culture as it relates to the American history of ideologies.