Henry David Thoreau was an American author, naturalist, transcendentalist, tax resister, development critic, philosopher, and abolitionist. He is best known for Walden, a thought upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay, Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state.
Thoreau's books, articles, essays, journals, and poetry total over 20 volumes. Among his lasting contributions were his writings on natural history and philosophy, where he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern-day environmentalism.
Thoreau's philosophy of nonviolent resistance influenced the political thoughts and actions of such thinkers as Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Henry David Thoreau was born in Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University in 1837, taught briefly, then turned to writing and lecturing. Becoming a Transcendentalist and good friend of Emerson, Thoreau lived the life of simplicity he advocated in his writings. His two-year experience in a hut in Walden, on land owned by Emerson, resulted in the classic Walden: Life in the Woods (1854).
During his sojourn there, Thoreau refused to pay a poll tax in protest of slavery and the Mexican war. His activist convictions were expressed in the groundbreaking On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849).
In a diary, he noted his disapproval of attempts to convert the Algonquins "from their superstitions to new ones." In a journal, he noted dryly that it is appropriate for a church to be the ugliest building in a village, "because it is the one in which human nature stoops to the lowest and is the most disgraced." (Cited by James A. Haught in 2000 Years of Disbelief.)
When Parker Pillsbury sought to talk about religion with Thoreau as he was dying from tuberculosis, Thoreau replied: "One world at a time."
Of overriding importance to Thoreau was his refusal to sanction the institution of slavery, and thus his violation of the Fugitive Slave Laws and his participation in the Underground Railway to freedom for escaped slaves.
In addition, Thoreau was a naturalist and an advocate of conservation. He became one of the first in the United States supporters of Darwin's theory of evolution.
Henry David Thoreau died in Concord of hereditary consumption in May 1862.