‘All machines have their friction,’ Thoreau admitted, but when injustice is too great, you should ‘let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine.’
In March 1845, the United States acquired a new president – James K. Polk – a forceful, aggressive political outsider intent on strengthening his country and asserting its pre-eminence in front of other world powers, especially Mexico and Great Britain. Within a year of his inauguration, he had declared full-scale war on Mexico because of squabbles over the Texan border, and was soon rattling his saber at Britain over the ownership of Oregon. To complete the picture, Polk was a vigorous defender of slavery, who dismissed the arguments of abolitionists as naive and sentimental.
Polk was a popular president, admired by many for his gung-ho manner, but a sizeable minority of the citizenry disliked him intensely. One especially committed opponent was a writer from Massachusetts…
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