Conscience and Social Responsibility Quotations


It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.

“Civil Disobedience”

One sensible act will be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon.

Journal, 26 June 1852

You are expected to do your duty, not in spite of everything but one, but in spite of everything.

Journal, 24 September 1859

The chief want, in every state that I have been into, was a high and earnest purpose in its inhabitants.

“Life Without Principle”

Talk about slavery! It is not the peculiar institution of the South. It exists wherever men are bought and sold, wherever a man allows himself to be made a mere thing or a tool, and surrenders his inalienable rights of reason and conscience. Indeed, this slavery is more complete than that which enslaves the body alone.

Journal, 4 December 1860

I would remind my countrymen, that they are to be men first, and Americans only at a late and convenient hour. No matter how valuable law may be to protect your property, even to keep soul and body together, if it do not keep you and humanity together.

“Slavery in Massachusetts”

The world rests on principles.

Thoreau to H. G. O. Blake, 19 December 1854

What is wanted is men of principle, who recognize a higher law than the decision of the majority. The marines and the militia whose bodies were used lately were not men of sense nor of principle; in a high moral sense they were not men at all.

Journal, 9 June 1854

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

“Civil Disobedience”

When we are shocked at vice we express a lingering sympathy with it. Dry rot, rust, and mildew shock no man, for none is subject to them.

Journal, 22 June 1840

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