Skip to content

Morality Versus Legality

October 6, 2010

In modern day American politics there are many acts of legislation that citizens are going to disagree with. In fact, regardless of what the government does there will always be some faction of people who disagree with what has been set forth in legislation. In reality, this is part of the beauty of the American political spectrum. We are a conglomeration of people from many different backgrounds who have many different beliefs systems and sets of morals. With that being said, what happens when a piece of legislation passes that you (as a citizen) find to be a gross violation of your personal beliefs? Do you abide by the law because you are told to do so, or do you stand up to the law because you feel that it is your moral obligation to do so?

In 1843, Henry David Thoreau revolutionized the answer to this question by refusing to pay his poll tax at a local voting both. He felt that having to pay a poll tax was a ridiculous expectation, so we was willing to risk his credibility and his career to fight for his principles as a citizen. As punishment, Thoreau was arrested and spent a night in jail for his actions. Thoreau challenged the law because he felt that it was unjust. By doing so, he ended up shaping how many people have gone about challenging things they feel are not morally correct.

His display of civil disobedience has prompted many similar acts throughout American history. The easiest examples to use are derived from the civil rights issues beginning with the problems of slavery during the Civil War, and then culminating with the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.

The Compromise of 1850 included a stipulation that made the fugitive slave law stricter on those slaves who attempted to escape and also the people who helped them on their journey.  In response to this law, many Northerners started running a covert operation known as the Underground Railroad. In this operation, people throughout the South gave runaway slaves a place to stay as they made their journey to freedom in the Northern states. By doing this, people who sympathized with slaves helped them break the law by assisting them in their escapes. They did this without regard to the laws set in place, because for them it was an issue of morality rather than legality.

Martin Luther King also utilized the theory of civil disobediance through his actions during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. He was a strong advocate who believed that all men were created equal. He was eventually arrested for his actions, but his arrest only worked to strengthen his cause. Around the same time period, Rosa Parks decided that she too would stand up against a law that didn’t seem fair to her. Throughout the mid twentieth century black Americans were seen as second-class citizens and were forced to do what they were told by fellow white Americans around the nation. So, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks decided that she was fed up with all of these injustices. Instead of moving to the back of the bus to make room for a white passenger, Parks stood her ground and chose to be arrested instead of giving up her seat. Her actions, like Thoreau’s before her, stand as a beacon for resisting unjust laws.

As American citizens it is our responsibility not to just blindly follow laws because we are told to do so. As many pioneers have shown us in the past, it is our moral obligation to do what we see as right. If that interferes with the legal version of how we are instructed to act, then only thing left to do is to protest the injustice.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: