And just like this poor feline, most people who attempt civil disobedience in America learn that the leash is pretty strong, and so is the arm that holds it. Is that Thoreau's point in his essay "Civil Disobedience?"
Thoreau was quite unhappy about slavery and about the Mexican War. (This would be the war that "freed" Texas from Mexico. The problem wasn't exactly the war, but what kind of state Texas would be if and when it was admitted to the Union. Would it be slave or free? And what were we doing slugging it out with Mexico over Mexico's own territory? Can you just invade a sovereign nation and grab the land because you want to? Lots of people were unhappy about the Iraq --oops -- Mexican war.)
Thoreau was so unhappy, he declined to pay his taxes, for which offense he spent a night in jail. While there, he discovered that his body could be locked up, but his mind was free to ramble, and it rambled right on over to considering who has the right to tell him what to do. The government, he decided, does not have the right to govern him in ways contrary to his own conscience. It must respect him as an individual; he does not owe it respect as a government, unless it keeps its end of the bargain.
In case you purged everything that came earlier in the semester, remember that this is straight out of Rousseau, who believed that the only legitimate government is the one that supports the rights of the individual. Further, Rousseau asserted that individuals who are NOT so supported can choose to opt out of being governed. Rousseau, remember, believed that people were basically good. It was only governments that were bad. Thoreau saw the obvious problem with this and decided to say that government attracts to itself people who are not as good, as intelligent, or as "able" as most people. It's a kind of idiot farm, really. And as such, nobody has to pay any attention to it if they don't want.
Does this seem simplistic? It's a little naive, for sure, because Thoreau was operating on the basic principal that people would, left to their own devices, treat each other well and do the right things. Obviously he had never heard of Enron. And too, he was living in Concord, not in a slum in New York or Philadelphia, where he might have been less charitable about his landlord.
At any rate, he wants to refuse to support the government the only way he can, which is to withhold his taxes. Not content with that, however, he reminds his neighbors that they, too, are acting immorally when they pay taxes to a corrupt government. Further, he reminds us that merely "voting right" is slactivism of the worst kind; it does nothing to better the condition of one's fellow man. Even further, he says that in a society that imprisons men unjustly (and he implies that he was himself unjustly jailed), the only place for a truly just person is in jail right alongside them.
To "opt out" of government may seem like a great idea, but there are problems. For one, even in Thoreau's time, the taxes did more than pay for wars; they built roads, schools, and provided courts and law enforcement. In our own time, we might complain about taxes, but we do not have the money ourselves to pave our own highways, build our own schools, or hire bodyguards to replace public police.
Another problem is that governments do, in fact, offer us a kind of protection and legitimacy that we take for granted because they are invisible. We are free to travel about the world as American citizens, and if we get into trouble abroad, the embassies are there to back us up (sometimes). Not having citizenship can be a real problem -- just ask the Palestinians.
A third problem is what to do with those who decide not to be governed. Do they have to live in a special no-service area? Do they have to pay to use roads and schools? To whom do they resign, anyway: "Dear Congress, I hereby declare that you don't govern me"?
Thoreau resigned from paying the mandatory tithe in Massachusetts by saying that he does not wish to be enrolled in any organization that he never joined in the first place. It seems simple enough. It's only when we apply that idea to citizenship itself that it becomes quite a thorny issue.