On Consent

Consent of the governed(graphic credit)

By Jeff Rutherford

A Rasmussen Reports survey conducted in April 2014 found that “just 19% of likely U.S. voters believe the federal government today has the consent of the governed.”  “66% do not believe the federal government has the consent of the governed today, while 16% are unsure.”

I’d like to examine this “consent thing” more closely.

John LockeBritish philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) published his Second Treatise of Government in 1688.  The following excerpt should sound VERY familiar to you, even if you’ve never read it before – even if you’ve never heard of John Locke:

“MEN being…by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent. The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any, that are not of it. …When any number of men have so consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest.”

Thomas JeffersonEighty-eight years later Thomas Jefferson captured Locke’s concept of government legitimacy in the second paragraph of our Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”

The Declaration proceeded to list over two dozen acts of tyrrany the British King had imposed on the American colonists without due political process  Absence of consent was at the core of the colonists’ grievances against imperial Britain, and many of them died to fight this oppression.  Without consent, government power is unjust.

After an eight-year Revolutionary War and four independent but chaotic years under the flawed Articles of Confederation, delegates from 12 of the 13 original United States (all except Rhode Island) gathered in Philadelphia to forge the U.S. Constitution that established the structure, powers, and limits of a federal government.  It was finished in September 1787, but it meant nothing without demonstrable proof of the consent of the governed.

To gain American legitimacy, the new Constitution had to be ratified by the states.  Over a span of nearly 3 years, the states held their ratifying conventions.  This time period was the most DIRECT DEMONSTRATION of consent of the governed in American history.

After 1790, further consent was incrementally affirmed as 37 more states joined the Union.  There were 16 states by 1800, 31 states by 1850, 48 states by 1912, and 50 states by 1959.  Among those alive today, only citizens of Alaska and Hawaii that were of voting age (twenty-one) in 1959 have ever affirmed their consent by formally seeking statehood.

What about modern America?  For 55 years, Americans have had just one remaining way to affirm consent upon their government:  By voting in elections for candidates to represent them.

Here’s a very important question, then:  How do today’s voters know to what they are consenting?

My vote is my consent to the stated campaign platform of my chosen candidate – especially the intentions that are specifically expressed as a “pledge.”  Of course, there is no assurance that my candidate can accomplish her/his pledges once elected.  But I expect him/her to try, because the consent granted by my and others’ votes imposes a moral obligation upon my representative.

pinocchio(graphic credit)

Now, here’s a painful question:  What if they don’t try to keep their pledges?  Worse, what if they never even intended to fulfill their pledges?  When disingenuous politicians knowingly lie about their intentions in order to get the votes needed to win, their occupation of that office is ILLEGITIMATE.  This reprehensible practice is akin to urinating on the fundamental tenet of “consent of the governed.”

Exhibit A:  In Sept 2008, Barack Obama made a firm pledge against ANY form of tax increase for families making less than $250,000 a year.  Then, just 5½ months later, his very first budget submitted in Feb 2009 recommended reinstatement of limits on itemized deductions and personal exemptions for married taxpayers filing separately, making $150,000 a year.  He clearly had no intention of trying to keep that pledge even as he uttered it.  Illegitimately these limits on deductions and exemptions took effect for tax year 2013, without the consent of the governed.

Exhibit B:  In March 2010 when Obamacare became law, a CNN Poll found that 59% of Americans opposed it.  In fact, Obamacare became law without a single Republican legislator voting for it.  Who could honestly believe Obamacare was enacted by consent of the governed?

Why do these illegitimate government acts happen?  Because to these post-Constitutional politicians, the ends justify any means:

I recommend this related article by the Austrian Economics Addict:

Scandals, or Fundamental Transformations?


About Necessary and Proper

Jeff believes in the Individual's ability to excel when liberty and freedom of choice are protected. Also believes in the Community's ability to take care of the vast majority of its own issues and needs when the federal government leaves the Community's resources and sphere of control alone. State and local choice produce better results than centralized federal control. https://necessaryandpropergovt.wordpress.com/
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6 Responses to On Consent

  1. Jeff, you clarified some important points many, if not most people know instinctively but aren’t able to express coherently. In other words, we all knew something was wrong, but just weren’t able to put our finger on it. Thanks much!

    Although I’ve never read John Locke, I could see in his words where Jefferson got much of his material for the Declaration. Looks like I have some remedial reading to do…


    • TC, that Locke link I provided contains the whole book…for free.
      – Jeff


    • TC, your comment makes me think of something else. You undoubtedly know these kinds of things, but our nation’s Founders were incredibly well-educated students of political philosophy. Not just Jefferson, but Madison, Hamilton, Jay, Adams, Franklin, etc. Many of these men were incredibly young at the time of the Declaration to be tackling matters so critical to human history, at least from our modern point of view. In 1776, Jefferson was 33, Madison was 25 (unbelievable!), John Jay was 31, Hamilton was 19. Also, they had studied many others besides Locke…Adam Smith, Charles Montesquieu, Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill, and more. The founders didn’t just have their predecessors’ writings on their shelves, they had ingested the essence of the philosophy into their intellect.

      At first, one might think it was astronomically improbable to have all these students of the great political philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment coincidentally gathered in the North American colonies in the mid 1700s. But actually they’re the exact TYPE of man that would have chosen to get the hell out of Europe and its oppressive governments (especially religious oppression) and forge their way independently on a new continent, seeking liberty. It was no coincidence. They self-selected their way to a rendezvous with destiny.

      I find the more you study that period of history, the more amazing it becomes and the more respect you feel towards these men who put their lives at risk by writing AND SIGNING the Declaration. And it makes you feel even more frustrated at what Progressivism has done to obscure and discredit the accomplishments of those men.

      One more thing, about the link to Locke’s book: That website (www.gutenberg.org) has tens of thousands of complete texts of historic books. For example, both volumes of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” are available there.

      Thanks for the shout-out to FB and Twitter today…really boosted my hits today. 🙂

      – Jeff


      • Thanks Jeff. You know, it really is amazing to realize just how young those men were at the time, and although they were a few years older at the writing of the Constitution, they weren’t THAT much older – still what you’d call young men. All except for Franklin. Hell, he was 65 years old when the Boston Massacre took place in 1771. That would have put him at 70 when the Declaration was signed, and 81 when the Constitution was being hashed out and written. But as for the others, we’re conditioned to think of them as much older, and I think in part that’s because we think of them as the Founding “Fathers.” But regardless of their ages at the Declaration or the Constitution, they were certainly prudent and careful men, but they held strong convictions about what they wanted for this infant nation based on what they had been through with the British Crown. I have little doubt they were much wiser and more educated than most men or women you’ll find today at those ages.

        I checked out Gutenberg.org, and you’re right about the vast amount of writings that are available. I find it hard to read, though, because of the small print. My eyes aren’t what they once were, to the point where I’ve had to start using reading glasses. I did, however, find Locke’s book on Kindle, so that’s much easier for me.


  2. The Ed says:

    The ends are the means. This is why when communist or socialists finally reach their ends and their enemies are destroyed they turn in on themselves. It is what happened to the French revolution, the Soviet revolution and the Nazi party.


    • Exactly, Ed. You brought up a good point, and you can see it happening today in America and other places around the world, but particularly with the leftists in America.

      They’re full of anger and hatred. They call for tolerance and diversity, but what they really want is for everyone to conform to their own vapid notion of “equality”, which means you must agree with them. And I’m sure you’ve tried at some point to have a reasonable conversation with a liberal, or if you will, a “progressive.” Doesn’t work, does it, Ed? It doesn’t take long to find out, either – when they see they’re losing ground with their argument, they resort to the shout-down tactics.

      And what happens to people like that when they’ve finally won? You said it above, Ed. They feed on hatred and conflict, therefore there’s no other alternative than to turn on themselves.


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