Henry David ThoreauHenry David Thoreau, (1817-1862) American author, poet, philosopher, polymath, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, and transcendentalist

Henry David Thoreau Quote

“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 also I 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 the will have.”

Henry David ThoreauHenry David Thoreau
~ Henry David Thoreau

A Duty of Civil Disobedience [1849], available at http:

Ratings and Comments

Waffler, Smith

And the corollary is also very true: if there seems to be to much government it is because of the people being incapable of self government. Miles of trash from little eyesores grow, people rob, steal and murder. Solve these and similar problems my friends and government will fanish into thin air.

J Carlton, Calgary

"To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality." Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) French mutualist political philosopher Source: The General Idea of the Revolution in the 19th Century, 1851

jim k, austin

Thanks J Carlton. I was looking for this quote the other day but couldn't find it. Thanks again for posting this accurate definition of government.

cal, lewisville, tx

Too true J. Carlton-too true. The people have ceased to be their own rulers.

Skip, San Antonio, TX

The problem to day is not that the people are incapable of governing themselves, but rather that they seem to be too lazy to. Hence, every problem seems to require a government solution. Add to this a total disrespect for property rights and the value of an honest dollar earned. The today's work ethic is why work when you can get the Government to give you someone else's money?

warren, olathe

Since you totally agree with the quote why only 2 stars Waffler? Unfortunately the government will do nothing to reduce the need for it. That is why government programs are engineered to increase the dependency on government and not to foster self reliance. That is why government run education is no longer teaching self reliance. That is why programs to "help" the less fortunate punish people in the program for getting married or doing any other thing that may increase the chance of raising self reliant children.

Elisabeth, Astoria, NY

There is one little thing - with all due respect - Mr. Thoreau forgot in his reasoning: "Practice makes it perfect". A people can only learn to live in a free country by living in a free country. Sometimes it takes long for individual people to understand that the freedom they have is not to be abused, and many times individual people die before they understand, but, to me, all that is that kind of imperfection that makes a country perfect.

Waffler, Smith

I agree but feel that it is shallow and incomplete and not fully thought out. You see thinks in black and white Warren that way you do not have to bother thinking or adding to the conversation.


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