Among other rhetorical devices, Henry David Thoreau makes extensive use of rhetorical questions to further his argument in "Civil Disobedience." For example, in the second paragraph of the essay, Throeau asks:
This American government- what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity?
This passage highlights a difference that Thoreau identifies between the aims of "American government" not to become "impaired" through history and its actual practice which "each instant" impairs "some of its integrity." By setting up this distinction, he sets the stage for his analysis in the paragraph that follows of America's failings.
Several paragraphs later, Thoreau addresses the issue of majority rule and asks a sequence of rhetorical questions:
Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?- in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation? Why has every man a conscience, then?
Again, the goal is to point out the difference between the professed aims of government and its actual practice. Pointing out that "conscience," which ought to guide the "majorities" does not articulate itself in "legislation." Thus, majority rule fails because of the mediation of the legislative apparatus.
Finally, when honing in on Northern hypocrisy regarding slavery in America, Thoreau inquires:
What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot today?
This question both alludes to the practice of slavery--trafficking in human ownership--through the figure of "the price-current of an honest man" and implies that there are scarcely any "honest [men]" and "patriot[s]" in his antebellum America. Just like the two other rhetorical questions, Thoreau uses this one to highlight the distance between ideals and reality.
Ayonon 1Therese AyononMrs. Rumbo-RamirezAP English Language and Composition2 October 2016“On the Duty of Civil Disobedience: Rhetorical Analysis”Henry David Thoreau, a philosopher of transcendentalism and an abolitionist, claims in his essay, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” that a person who wants change in their unjust government, must follow their own conscience and individual thought, cost what it may and outnumbered may they be. To bring light to his argument, he utilizes rhetorical devices such as using current events of his time, like the war on Mexico and slavery to establish the unfair system of the government. He also brings up anecdotes of his time in jail when he refused to pay taxes, because he wanted the people to see what the government does to those who assert their beliefs. Lastly, he uses rhetorical questions to push the people to think about what they have not been doing to end the oppressive government. He adopts a passionate and bold tone for his audience of highly educated people, voters, and taxpayers to convince them that an individual’s natural rights and morality are above everything, and are needed to challenge the despotic government.Henry David Thoreau’s use of current events is vital to his essay because it is the very thing that he is fighting against. In his first paragraph he immediately gives the war on Mexico as an example of the unfair government’s movements which is governing too much without concern to