Henry David Thoreau Quotes

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) was an American poet, author, philosopher, naturalist, abolitionist, tax resister, surveyor, transcendentalist and historian. “Walden” is one of his best-known works.

Thoreau was interested in environmental history and ecology. Modern environmentalism has its sources in some of Thoreau’s works. His philosophy was based on the idea of abandoning illusion and waste, to discover our true essential needs.

Henry David Thoreau Quotes

Government never furthered any enterprise but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way.

— Henry David Thoreau

I heartily accept the motto, – “That government is best which governs least;” and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which I also believe, – “That government is best which governs not at all;” and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

— Henry David Thoreau

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.

— Henry David Thoreau

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

— Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)

As for Doing-good, that is one of the professions which are full. Moreover, I have tried it fairly, and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution.

— Henry David Thoreau

There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.

— Henry David Thoreau

Must a citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desireable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right.

— Henry David Thoreau

I quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will still make what use and get what advantage of her I can, as is usual in such cases.

— Henry David Thoreau

If I knew for certain that a man was coming to my house to do me good, I would run for my life.

— Henry David Thoreau

If I deny the authority of the State when it presents my tax bill, it will soon take and waste all my property, and so harass me and my children without end. This is hard, this makes it impossible for a man to live honestly, and at the same time comfortably, in outward respects.

— Henry David Thoreau

Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one.

— Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free. They are the lovers of law and order, who observe the law when the government breaks it.

— Henry David Thoreau, Slavery in Massachusetts

The authority of government … can have no pure right over my person and my property but what I concede to it.

— Henry David Thoreau

The State never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced.

— Henry David Thoreau

What does education often do? It makes a straight cut ditch of a free meandering brook.

— Henry David Thoreau