If you are browsing a second-hand bookstore and come across the book “We, The People: Great Documents of the American Nation” by Jerome B. Agel, I recommend picking the book up and adding it to your library. I have not found a better book discussing the founding documents of this great American Republic. It is historically accurate, provides insights, and is a treasure of wisdom and knowledge.
A phrase in the Declaration of Independence has always captured my imagination and held fast to my mental processes. “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” It has always been understood that men invented governments for the ruling of other men. Rome was a perfect example of this principle, and in writing down the laws, the first attempt at a moral government responsible to the people was attempted. However, it is the second part of that phrase that we are discussing, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Consider this principle for a moment. First, governments have just and unjust powers, and second, the powers originate with the consent of the populations agreeing to be governed by the government. Czarist Russia is an excellent example from history where the people had enough and began looking around for a new government. That the people were hoodwinked and communism was imposed upon them remains one of the great tragedies of the last century. In less than 100-years, Russia went through two incredible government upheavals is mentally incredible to consider.
Unjust powers of government are those powers governments assume where the people have not granted them consent of the governed. When governments take enough of these powers upon themselves, the population’s revolution, anger, and frustration are the only outcomes possible. Worse, the governments are breaking their laws and the trust of those who elected them, proving that the most dangerous person is an honest person betrayed.
All of which is mentioned as we discuss the origin of the philosophy of the consent of the governed in American jurisprudence. Virginia, 1776, The Virginia Declaration of Rights prefixed the Virginia Colony’s constitution and was written by a reluctant statesman and largest landowner, George Mason. In sixteen statements on government and the rights of man, we find the consent of the governed and the need for controls on government pertinent to our day and time!
- “All men are by nature equally free and independent, have certain inherent rights, … namely the enjoyment of life and liberty, possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
- “All power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.”
- “Government is or ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people. … A majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.”
- “No man, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community.”
- The state’s legislative and executive powers are separate from the judiciary, and the operatives return to being citizens after their respective terms in office, in accordance with the laws of the land. [Edited for brevity]
- Contains three principles of import:
- Elections should be free and open to all.
- Property cannot be taxed or deprived for public use without consent.
- Those elected are bound to the same laws as the citizens.
- “All power suspending laws or the execution of laws by any authority without consent of the representatives of the people is injurious to their rights and ought not to be exercised.”
- Deals with a criminal trial, due process, speedy trials, a jury trial, and a unanimous jury.
- Deals with fines, bail, and cruel or unusual punishments.
- Deals with search and seizure requiring evidence of a crime and the need for a warrant to be based upon evidence or not to be granted.
- Holds sacred the rights to a jury trial, including for disputes between two people over non-criminal issues.
- Holds sacred the power of the press as a bulwark of liberty, and restraining the press is an action of despotic governments.
- Details that standing armies in peacetime should be avoided and a well-regulated militia is proper and natural for the defense of the state. Important to note, “the military should at all times be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”
- Demands uniform government that applies to all people.
- Declares that “No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”
- Declares that “Religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience, and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”
In opening the discussion, one of the most egregious and despicable actions witnessed every year is the failure to follow the strictures of a peaceful society as required in the 16th statement, to practice the “mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.” Having been a student of religion, I have found no religious stricture, in any organized religious teaching, to living in harmony with others by practicing forbearance (tolerance, patience, and kindness), love (respect, kindness, gentleness, meekness, all unfeigned), and charity (service) to those in our society. Atheists, this includes you; it is time to live in harmony with others and stop the lawfare. If someone is not violently demanding you adhere to their religion and religious tenets, then leave them alone!
I Find the following extremely important to the news developed, especially over the last two weeks. “No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles” [emphasis mine]. Let’s break this down:
- Justice: Decency to all as a behavior of equality and commitment to moral rightness.
- Moderation: This is all about not going to extremes, being restrained, knowing the boundaries and staying within limits, and being reasonable and approachable.
- Temperance: While primarily used in drinking alcohol, this also applies to any behaviors where self-restraint, moderation, and expressions or observance of temperate behaviors are required.
- Frugality: Besides being a good steward of other people’s resources, being frugal requires being sparing, prudent, economical, thrifty, and reserved.
- Virtue: Requires moral excellence, modesty, personal dignity, goodness, and conformity to a standard of righteousness.
These are fundamental principles of liberty and the foundation upon which government is built and sustained. How often do you hear politicians discussing these terms, returning to these principles as terms to write laws worthy of printing for society or as standards for scrutinizing the government agencies? What did we observe in government this week that adhered to any of these fundamental principles to America or any other government succeeding in the past week? Does anyone argue that Gov. Cuomo’s actions in New York were virtuous? Were the CDC Director’s edicts frugal, temperate, moderate, or just? How about the reaction by Congress to the mandates by the CDC? Did they perform their jobs to scrutinize the legislative branch using these principles?
Now, some will decry that this is a document solely for the Commonwealth of Virginia and does not apply to the entire United States. Yet, I would counter that the principles and language of this document are interwoven into the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the US Bill of Rights, and every other founding document and US State Constitution. Thus, why could we not use The Virginia Declaration of Rights as a template to benchmark and measure the performance of politicians and bureaucrats?
Fundamental principles do not age, expire, or possess a shelf-life. Hence, knowledge of the fundamentals empowers action by the electorate to change, correct, and demand government adherence, for we are the owners of our representative government. We, the electorate, need to teach these fundamental lessons to the politicians, then demand they adhere and hold accountable the bureaucrats to the fundamental principles of liberty, or we all lose this precious government of the people, by the people, and for the people, where the consent of the governed is respected.
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
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