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Define Consent

Monday, March 27, 2006

Contained in our Declaration of Independence is the following sentence: "...Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." I've been examining this one sentence for almost a week now. Within those 15 words are to be found volumes of information as well as theory and speculation as to what was meant when this sentence was originally constructed. I've read works from as far back as the Magna Carta to recent works on and other sites. I've been trying to get at the heart of what these words mean. However, this post is not going to go into great detail about that. I wanted to put this post up to see if anyone out there had any thoughts on this subject.
There are a number of questions that I'd like answered but the primary ones are:
  • Can we take back control of granted powers when we don't think we're being properly served by our government?
  • Can any one of us remove our consent to be governed?
  • Does Congress's power over the purse strings originate with each of us? If so, does each of us not have the right to take back control of our purses?
  • Is the right to demand redress of grievances essentially dead? If so, what other non-violent methods exists to hold government accountable for it's actions?
It is my opinion that government revolves around money. If you remove money from the equation, government loses much of it's force. Likewise, I believe that to control a runaway government, Congress must be allowed to tighten it's purse strings. Here's the question for you to consider: What method do you employ when Congress becomes destructive to the safety and happiness of the people it represents? Voting them out is not a viable answer, either. At one time this was an effective deterrent, but those days are long gone. So, I ask again: What method do we employ to get our servants in government to heed our demands for justice and accountability?
Below, I've included a few links to help flesh out this argument:
1. The two vital characteristics of the political system of the United States are, first, that the Government holds its powers by a charter granted to it by the people; second, that the powers of government are formed in two grand divisions -- one vested in a Government over the whole community, the other in a number of independent Governments over its component parts. Hitherto charters have been written grants of privileges by Governments to the people. Here they are written grants of power by the people to their Governments.
Supplement to the letter of November 27, 1830, to A. Stevenson (Madison, 1865, IV, pages 138-139)

2. The absolute bedrock of the people's continued freedom from tyranny and excesses of all types of authority is the power of the purse. James Madison summed up in a very few words the significance of this power in protecting the people's rights and liberties. In Federalist 58, he wrote: "This power over the purse, may in fact be regarded as the most compleat and effectual weapon with which any Constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure."

This essential tool -- control of the purse by the people's representatives in Congress -- lies at the very foundation of our nation's freedoms. It is the fulcrum of the people's leverage. As enshrined in the Constitution, it is one of the chief protectors of all our cherished freedoms. This control of the purse is one of the most effective bulwarks ever constructed to repel a despot, control a tyrant, or shackle the hands of an overreaching chief executive. Chip away at this fundamental barrier and one chips away at the very cornerstone of the people's liberties.

3. The roots of the tree of legislative control over the public purse run deep in the soil of the centuries. Englishmen for hundreds of years spilled their blood to wrest this power over the purse from tyrannical monarchs and vest it in the hands of the elected representatives of the people in Commons. This is the taproot of the tree of English liberty. I quote from a speech by William Ewart Gladstone, prime minister of England, at Hastings in 1891: “The finance of the country is ultimately associated with the liberties of the country. It is a powerful leverage by which English liberty has been gradually acquired.

4. The placing of the "power over the purse" in the hands of the legislature -- and not in the hands of the executive or judicial branches -- was not a decision lightly made by the framers of the Constitution. James Madison wrote in the 58th Federalist that the "power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure." (35) The framers explicitly rejected the notion that such untrammeled discretion over the power of the purse should be granted to either the executive (36) or to the judiciary. (37)

5. Let's look at a few founding documents to see what's your take on them. On June 26, 1788, Virginia's elected delegates met to ratify the Constitution. In their ratification document, they said, "The People of Virginia declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will."

When New York delegates met on July 26, 1788 their ratification document read, "That the Powers of Government may be resumed by the People, whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness; that every Power, Jurisdiction and right which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the departments of the government thereof, remains to the People of the several States, or to their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same."

On May 29, 1790, the Rhode Island delegates made a similar claim in their ratification document. "That the powers of government may be resumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness: That the rights of the States respectively to nominate and appoint all State Officers, and every other power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by the said constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States or to the departments of government thereof, remain to the people of the several states, or their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same."

6. In theory there are two basic types of government; government by consent of the governed, and government by force and fraud. Locke's basic principle is not abstruse. It is the practical basis of all American government, and all other principles of government are derivatives of it. Locke's principle is sometimes called "the consent of the governed," consent is the united agreement of several interested in one subject-matter; sometimes it is called "the will of the people." 6 This is the standard by which all actions of government are judged; and violation or circumvention of this principle constitutes the very definition of tyranny. It is the absolute right of the people of a nation to determine the form of their government, to determine the principles under which it operates, to set its limits, and to place them into a constitution for all to see. This is the full meaning of governments "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" for the purpose of securing the fundamental inalienable rights of the people. The Federal government was designed by men who understood the basic principle that a government has no legitimate or moral authority to take the property of the people, through the exercise of taxing powers, for any purpose other than those for which the people themselves have voluntarily consented it should be taken. However imperfectly this principle is applied, it is still the basic theory of American political morality. Further, they understood that government, as the collective will of many individuals, had no moral right to do anything that an individual, acting on his own, had no moral right to do. "Nemo plus juris ad alienum transferre potest quam ipse haberet." One cannot transfer to another a larger right than he himself has. Any form of government, representative democracy, republic, monarchy, oligarchy, military dictatorship, etc., acting outside the consent of the governed has been called, since the time of Locke, a tyranny. This consent is expressed in the form of a constitutional grant of powers to the government to do for the people, that which they are incapable of doing as individuals, but only that which each individual has a right to do in the natural state. "Quod per me non possum, nec per alium." What I cannot do in person, I cannot do through the agency of another. On the federal level it is expressed as a specific grant of powers to the Federal government to do that which the states are "incompetent" to do on an individual basis.


Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

Great post, Don!

Bear in mind that consent was given for the Constitution, which was supposed to strictly define governmental authority; all powers not expressly granted by the Constitution to the government were supposed to reside with the States and the People. We`ve seriously lost sight of that.

4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Congress cannot be retired or removed, is there public consent to government?

Even elections are simply a removal of one set for another; the issues remain the same.

Control of the public purse and how it is used is the issue, and whether Congress is limited or unlimited.

Presidential elections amount to the same problem.

What control do Americans have over their own public purse? Victims or oppressors?

6:14 AM  

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