20 Rebellious Thoreau Quotes On His 200th Birthday

The great New England poet, philosopher, wanderer, and abolitionist — Henry David Thoreau — was born on this day 200 years ago. A beautiful soul, a true life liver who remains one of the great inspirational minds we often look to for unrivaled wisdom.

Here are 20 of his most thought provoking, rebellious quotes from his vast array of writings:

  1. “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
  2. “Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men.”
  3. “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 they will have.”
  4. “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
  5. “Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.”
  6. “All good things are wild and free.”
  7. “Thus 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. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.”
  8. “Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
  9. “Any fool can make a rule
    And any fool will mind it.”
  10. “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”
  11. “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”
  12. Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”
  13. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
  14. “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth — certainly the machine will wear out… but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”
  15. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
  16. “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
  17. “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resigns his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.”
  18. “They who have been bred in the school of politics fail now and always to face the facts.”
  19. “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.”
  20. “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”