Rosa Parks, 1955. Image by way of wikipedia.
Henry David Thoreau's essay on civil disobedience didn't make much of a splash when first written, but it was destined to have a major worldwide impact. The events that led to the essay took place during his stay at Walden Pond.
Here's how he laconically describes what happened in Walden:
One afternoon, near the end of the first summer, when I went to the village to get a shoe from the cobbler's, I was seized and put into jail, because, as I have elsewhere related, I did not pay a tax to, or recognize the authority of, the state which buys and sells men, women, and children like cattle at the door of its senate-house. I had gone into the woods for other purposes, But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society. It is true, I might have resisted forcibly with more or less effect, might have run "amok" against society; but I preferred that society should run "amok" against me, it being the desperate party. However, I was released the next day, obtained my mended shoe, and returned to the woods in season to get my dinner of huckle-berries on Fair-Haven Hill. I was never molested by any person but those who represented the state.
Of course, people have been resisting unjust laws and governments since ancient times--the Greek tragedy Antigone is a literary example of ancient civil disobedience. The histories of Josephus provide examples of Jewish non-violent resistance against the Romans under Caligula and Pilate. But Thoreau was one of the first to articulate it clearly and his essay about an almost accidental encounter would have a much greater influence than anyone at the time might have dreamed.
It's amazing what people can do sometimes even when they're not trying.
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