Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was an American author, poet and philosopher, central to the Transcendentalist movement, and best remembered for his book Walden, as well as his essay on “Civil Disobedience.” Thoreau remains one of the preeminent literary voices of the 19th century, the father of environmentalism and the immorality of unjust government.
Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts, the son of a pencil maker. He attended Harvard College from 1833 to 1837 where he studied philosophy, rhetoric, mathematics and science. In 1838 he and his brother opened a grammar school, Concord Academy, which ended when his brother John died from tetanus in 1842. During this time he met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who encouraged Thoreau to submit his writing to The Dial.
In 1845, Thoreau embarked on an experiment in “simple living,” moving into a cabin on Walden Pond for two years. Sometime in the summer of 1846, he declined to pay his poll tax in protest against the Mexican War and spent a night in jail. This incident was the genesis for his essay “Civil Disobedience.” In 1854, Walden, or Life in the Woods appeared, detailing his experiment through a philosophical lens.
Thoreau was also an active abolitionist and naturalist. In 1835, he had contracted tuberculosis, which in 1859 turned into bronchitis. His health steadily declined from that point, and he died in 1862 at the age of 44. He is buried at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts.