Quotes on civil disobedience — beware of “spurious quotes”

Martin Luther King argues in Letter from Birmingham Jail:

I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court because it is morally right, and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

See also Wikipedia. —– Occupy supporters: Use correct quotes on civil disobedience! I saw the following image containing a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson on Facebook. I wondered if Jefferson actually said this and checked. Here is what the Monticello site on “spurious quotes” says:

Quotation: “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.” Comments: This quotation has not been found in Thomas Jefferson’s papers. It has been suggested that it is a paraphrase of Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence, “…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…,” although such a paraphrase would seem to be taking some radical liberties with the original version. The quotation bears a much closer resemblance to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s comment in his famous letter from Birmingham Jail: “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”[1]

The image in question:


Who did Martin Luther King learn from? Gandhi who broke unjust law and articulated a theory of civil disobedience. See Dennis Dalton, Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action, Columbia University Press, 1993. James Lawson went to India to study Gandhi’s nonviolence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lawson_(American_activist)).




Filed under Umbrella Movement

2 responses to “Quotes on civil disobedience — beware of “spurious quotes”

  1. Pingback: HK protestors and American slaves | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

  2. Pingback: A Eurasian Movement — Why is the Tiananmen analogy wrong? | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

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