I Hunt for Thoreau’s Private Thoughts on Political Philosophy in His Journals

I’ve been adding more to my collection of excerpts from the journals of Henry David Thoreau, chronologically. I’m up through most of now.

I’m choosing excerpts in which Thoreau most directly confronts the themes of law, government, man in society, war, economics, duty, and conscience. These are scattered about in his journals, sometimes as aphorisms salted amongst his reflections on the natural world, occasionally as extended rants, such as those prompted by the case of fugitive slave Thomas Sims.

Some time ago, I read Sandra Harbert Petrulionis’s study of how Thoreau had used his journal as a source for the essay Slavery in Massachusetts. Petrulionis wrote:

A comparison of the text of Slavery in Massachusetts with the Journal from which it derives reveals that Thoreau curtailed the Journal’s stridency, revising or cutting more than twenty passages that with few exceptions can be categorized as blasphemous, revolutionary, or, at best, politically incautious. In the Journal, among other infractions, Thoreau equates the suffering of slaves with Christ’s, and he unequivocally advocates violence in the fight to end slavery.

I’m eager to reach in the journals so I can read Thoreau’s original, “strident” drafts. I’m curious also whether A Plea for Captain John Brown — which compares Brown with Christ and which unequivocally advocates violence in the fight to end slavery — exists in a yet more vigorous draft in the journals.

It seems as though this project of compiling Thoreau’s writings on political philosophy must have been done before and that I must be reinventing the wheel, but if it has, I have not discovered it. In any case, I haven’t found anything like this on-line (where the journals themselves only seem to exist as scanned page-images).


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