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Leader Resource 1: Prophets of Nonviolence - Quotations from Thoreau, Gandhi, and King

Henry David Thoreau

I think that we should be... [people] first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. — Civil Disobedience [1849]

A wise... [person] will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. — Civil Disobedience [1849]

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just... [person] is also a prison—-the only house in a slave State in which a free... [person] can abide with honor. — Civil Disobedience [1849]

The fate of the country... does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot box once a year, but on what kind of... [person] you drop from your chamber into the street every morning. — Slavery in Massachusetts [1854]

I hear many condemn these men because they were so few. When were the good and the brave ever a majority? — A Plea for Captain John Brown [1859]

Mahatma Gandhi

Nonviolence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed. — Defense against charge of sedition [March 23, 1922]

The term Satyagraha was coined by me... Its root meaning is "holding on to truth," hence "force of righteousness." I have also called it love force or soul force. In the application of Satyagraha, I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not permit violence being inflicted on one's opponent, but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For what appears truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by the infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on one's self. — Defense against charge of sedition [March 23, 1922]

Nonviolence and truth (Satya) are inseparable and presuppose one another. There is no god higher than truth. — True Patriotism: Some Sayings of Mahatma Gandhi [1939]

I am here to... submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen.

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.

In matters of conscience, the law of majority has no place.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. — "I Have a Dream" speech, given August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for... [us] to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. — Speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize [December 11, 1964]

[Humankind]... must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. — Speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize [December 11, 1964]

The Negro was willing to risk martyrdom in order to move and stir the social conscience of his community and the nation... he would force his oppressor to commit his brutality openly, with the rest of the world looking on... Nonviolent resistance paralyzed and confused the power structure against which it was directed. — Why We Can't Wait [1964]

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