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February 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-2


A Commentary on the American Founding


Part 5



The proposed government was to be empowered by and held entirely accountable to, as we would shortly become known, “We the People.”  Legitimate government, in its broadest sense, is a body of individuals organized and working in concert to affect an end, that end being to protect the property of the sovereign individual, which endeavor he may not have the capacity to exercise very well, or maybe not at all.  Our institution of government behaves as a corporation, if you will.  And it is, in fact, exactly that in the common understanding of a corporation, and the citizens are franchisees or shareholders of the sovereign state.  The state is our agent and an equal shareholder of the central government.  The right of authority or “just powers” for the administration of this government was to come from the governed. 


In the Laws of Nature, the rights of an individual are not unlimited or absolute, and we gather no more rights to ourselves by simply becoming many.  Further, the government can have no more authority than a sovereign individual because the individual cannot transfer rights he doesn’t possess himself to an agent to exercise on his behalf [i.e. if you don’t have the authority to allow a stranger into your neighbor’s house, you certainly do not have the authority to grant to a third party (government) the authority to allow a stranger into that house].  In other words, a government is limited to exactly the same rights we possess as individuals, and further, it has not the authority to cede the powers “we the people” have granted it to any other entity without our well-informed consent.  If it does so, it is acting outside its authority and contrary to the natural law.


This is not to say that government doesn’t have more power than an individual.  It does; indeed, power is a reason for its existence, i.e. to have an ability the individual acting alone does not possess.  But do not confuse power with rights or authority.  Government may appropriately exercise all the power the people may voluntarily choose to cede to it, but it may not exercise any rights over and above those enjoyed by the individual — for if it does, it is usurpation.  If the action is unilaterally undertaken by an elected official, it is usurpation on his part.  If the action is undertaken with the consent of a majority that has attempted to cede power that they themselves do not possess to the agent, it is an act of usurpation by that majority.  The authors of the Declaration of Independence continue:


Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.


This is undoubtedly as true today as it was the day John Hancock put ink to parchment.  But listen carefully to what they said next:


But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.  (Emphasis added).


The only comment to be made at this time is this: whether it be by design, or by ignorance of prescribed duty, or by inattention to that duty, or by abdication of that duty, the loss of liberty and the misery that attends it will be the same.


Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.  The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.  To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.


This document appears to be timeless.  It will come alive for us yet today if we but make a few mental substitutions.  The “Colonies” become the fifty states; “the present King of Great Britain” becomes our National Government; and “these States,” currently meaning the twelve colonies who were represented in drafting this document, also become the fifty sovereign states.  When you listen to their list of grievances (“Facts”), make the effort to apply this document to the circumstances that beset us currently.  It is uncanny how interesting and applicable this document becomes.  Though it was written well over two hundred years ago, it lives. 


“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.”  Though this may seem to be inapplicable today, it is not.  The Representative Houses that are of concern are in the State Legislatures, and although they have not been entirely physically dissolved, their effectiveness in maintaining the rights of the citizens of the states has been severely diminished.  An explanation of some detail can be found in Chapter V, at Article V, concerning the Seventeenth Amendment: 


He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise . . . (Emphasis added).


This list will be treated a little differently from all the rest.  The intention isn’t to compare it to some present-day circumstance, but to point out a concept expressed therein by its authors.  It was clearly their belief that basic legislative powers did not lie with the corporate state, but with the physical state and the people thereof; and those powers would remain there as long as people remained there.  The people are always to retain their legislative power.  In the republican form of government, they freely cede a portion of their legislative power to a more manageable group of officials elected from their own numbers.  The Declaration continues:  “He has obstructed the Administration of Justice . . . He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.”




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