8 Times Breaking the Law Created Positive Change

By: Jeff Caldwell, II

1. Boston Tea Party



The Boston Tea Party was the first significant act of defiance by American colonists. John Adams and the Sons of Liberty destroyed imported tea from the British East India Company on December 16, 1773 by throwing the tea into the harbor. The group of colonists damaged the property in retaliation of different tax schemes imposed by the British government. Due to the laws passed by Britain after the Tea Party, it is concluded that this was a pinnacle event in sparking the American Revolution.

The only damage reported from the Boston Tea Party was a single broken padlock on a ship and the tea that was overthrown. It is interesting to note that the East India Company Act of 1773 allowed British parliament to take over the East India Company in June, 1773. Since the ships harboring the tea were American, colonists replaced the broken padlock the day following the Boston Tea Party.

2. Susan B. Anthony


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Women were the last group of people granted the right to vote in the United States. Susan B. Anthony led a group of fifteen women that illegally voted on November 5, 1872 in Rochester, New York. Anthony and the other fourteen women were arrested two weeks after casting their ballot. While her arrest did not lead to an immediate change, Anthony stood up to stereotypes against women. She used the trial to reach a bigger audience than she ever was able to before this act of civil disobedience. Susan B. Anthony sped up the process of allowing women to vote, which occurred in 1920.

3. Rosa Parks


On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks sat in the front of a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Bus segregation laws stated blacks must sit at the back of public buses. After her refusal to give up her seat to a white man, Parks was arrested. Parks was convicted of disorderly conduct four days after her arrest.

While Rosa Parks was not the first black woman to be arrested for sitting in the white section of a bus, her action sparked the boycott of the public transportation system of Montgomery, Alabama.

4. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested thirty times between 1955 and 1965. His first arrest coincided with Rosa Parks sitting in the front of the bus. King took Parks’ arrest and became a leader in the boycott of Montgomery, Alabama public transit.

The boycott created ways of the free market handling transportation of black people in the community. Carpools were created and black taxi drivers charged ten cents per ride, the same rate as the bus. The city attempted to halt insurance companies from covering vehicles used for carpools. The boycott leaders reached out to a company that insured slave cargo ships, Lloyd’s of London, for insurance coverage of vehicles. People started walking, riding bicycles, riding mules, and horse and carriages instead of using the bus. Black churches across the nation raised money, gathered new and lightly used shoes, and helped support the boycott.

Martin Luther King, Jr. along with 89 other boycott leaders and carpool drivers were indicted for conspiracy to interfere with a business. They violated a 1921 statute that outlawed boycotts against businesses. In an act of disobedience, King and the others turned themselves in without being arrested. They were found guilty; however the boycott increased attention on a related court case that ended bus segregation laws. This event catapulted King into the national spotlight.

Although King was once arrested for tax fraud, the majority of his arrests were from nonviolent actions violating segregation laws.

5. Henry David Thoreau


Henry David Thoreau refused to pay the poll tax of his day because he and fellow abolitionists believed the poll tax went towards expanding slavery and funding the Mexican-American War. Thoreau went from 1842-1846 without paying his poll tax. He was arrested for refusing to pay after being confronted by a tax collector in Concord, Massachusetts.

Although it is reported the poll tax was a city and state tax that did not contribute to the expansion of slavery or the Mexican-American War, Thoreau’s arrest led to the creation of his essay titled, “Civil Disobedience.”

Civil Disobedience gives ground on why and how an individual is supposed to stand up against government tyranny through nonviolent demonstration. This essay by Thoreau has influenced Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. KennedyLeo Tolstoy, and others.

6. Doug Darrell


In 2009, Doug Darrell was arrested in New Hampshire for growing fifteen cannabis plants in his back yard. Darrell was found to have been growing cannabis for personal, medical, and religious use. It was explained to the jury that Darrell is Rastafarian, and cannabis is a sacrament in his religion.

Even though the court found Darrell had committed the crime of growing cannabis, the jury did not prosecute him because of jury nullification. Darrell’s defense lawyer, Mark Sisti, requested Judge James O’Neill to inform the jury of their rights of nullification. Judge O’Neill told the jury:

“Even if you find that the State has proven each and every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you may still find the defendant not guilty if you have a conscientious feeling that a not guilty verdict would be a fair result in this case.”

Doug Darrell was acquitted of cannabis charges because the jury decided what he did was not worthy of punishment.

7. Harriet Tubman

Born a slave and escaping slavery herself, Harriet Tubman broke the law by freeing slaves. After she made it from Maryland to Philadelphia in 1849, Tubman returned thirteen times to help free about seventy of her family and friends. Tubman made connections with those against slavery and helped free slaves through safe houses within the Underground Railroad. Tubman also made sure to help freed slaves find jobs and work.

8. Steve Jobs


This quote from Steve Jobs sums up how acid affected his outlook on life in respect to his work:

“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”

If Jobs would not have illegally indulged in LSD, Apple more than likely would not be what it is today.

When Jobs was running the show at Pixar in the late 1980’s he was interviewed by the Department of Defense. Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs states the DoD screened Jobs in order to allow for intelligence agencies to work with Pixar for rendering information from reconnaissance flights and satellites. Jobs told them he consumed cannabis and hashish. Jobs explained he would eat marijuana brownies and smoke with friends to help relax and be more creative.

Steve Jobs cofounded the technology company, Apple. It was once the largest company in the world in terms of net worth. Apple is a revolutionary technology company that has produced the iPhone, Macbook, and software to match.