Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined.
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Only an individual can have and exercise a conscience. By definition, both the State and corporations are impersonal, amoral entities that are nonetheless composed of individuals. "It has been truly said, that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience." An individual has a right and an obligation to "do at any time" what he deems right, to exercise his own conscience by refusing involvement or complicity in a government that enforces unjust policies. Civil disobedience is a necessary expression of individual conscience and morality, an attempt to reconfigure the relationship between the individual and the State by making the latter more equitable and less burdensome in its treatment of the former. While supportive of democratic principles, Thoreau does not believe in settling questions of fundamental moral importance by majority opinion.