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One hundred and sixty one years ago today (July 23), Henry David Thoreau spent a night in the Concord town jail. I am a great admirer of the Walden loner and must admit his writings influenced me during my…shall we say, “more rebellious years in the sixties”. I have heard many people simplify Thoreau…”he was the first hippie” or degrade him “ when he lived at Walden Pond he would go to his buddy Emerson’s house for a hot meal”…but this is all unfair. Thoreau was a man of powerful action and words. He showed his disapproval of slavery by refusing to pay his poll tax. In 1846 during a leisurely walk in town, Thoreau met Concord Constable Samuel Staples. Staples knew Thoreau had not paid his poll tax for three years. The Constable informed the writer that he would face imprisonment if his taxes were not paid. Thoreau told the official he had no intention of paying the tax. Staples promptly arrested him and put him in jail. Thoreau was freed the next morning when an identified person paid the tax for him. The creative result of Thoreau’s incarceration was the powerful essay “Civil Disobedience”. “Civil Disobedience” influenced many of the world’s great thinkers and doers including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Not bad for a guy that lived in the woods for two years.
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