“… the consent of the governed.”

July 3, 2010

Once in a while we hear of an Independence Day ceremony in which someone reads the text of the Declaration of Independence. I have never attended such an event, but I can imagine that the presentation could be effective. The language in the document has always enthralled me. I have read it so often and pored over various passages while I was simultaneously reading about the history of that period, that I know the declaration as well as I do the prayers we say at Mass.

THOMAS JEFFERSON

I frequently use portions of the text  — most of which was written by Thomas Jefferson — as examples for my English students. There are excellent illustrations, for example, of the use of  parallel structure: He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

Unfortunately, many of my students don’t seem to know what part the Declaration of Independence played in American history, as though the title didn’t make it clear enough. I don’t mean to ridicule the students, but I have learned in their essays that many can’t distinguish between the Declaration and the Constitution. They don’t understand that the nation as we know it was not formed until a couple of decades after the Continental Congress published the Declaration.

I don’t know how well the public at large knows that history, but I do wonder at least once a year about how deeply citizens appreciate the philosophy of the Declaration, and especially its  observation that in order to secure people’s natural rights “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Jefferson was arguing, of course, that the British Parliament was not operating under that principle, that Parliament was making decisions without the consent of the governed. The underlying principle didn’t apply only to that situation, however.

The idea codified in the Declaration was, indeed, that government should act in accordance with the will of the majority of citizens, but that also presumed that more than a few citizens would participate in the process, at least by exercising the right to vote. As it is, some parts of the population had to struggle long and hard to gain full citizenship, including the franchise. The turnout at most elections in this country suggests that the ballot is not as valuable to many of us as it is to those who have been denied it.

So you’ll have a hot dog, and you’ll think about it. The text of the Declaration of Independence is available HERE.

John Trumbull's 19th century painting of the presentation of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress

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4 Responses to ““… the consent of the governed.””

  1. bronxboy55 Says:

    You probably saw this, but just in case:

    http://maristpoll.marist.edu/72-don’t-know-much-about-history/

    Thanks for another informative and provocative post. Happy 4th!

  2. shoreacres Says:

    I didn’t have a hot dog, but I did think about it.

    “Consent of the governed” is in the process of being redefined in the political realm, just as “informed consent” has been nearly redefined out of existence in the medical.

    In a society where the phrase “Oh, whatever” is nearly ubiquitous, the thought of someone standing up and saying, “Sorry, but I don’t consent!” is a bit startling.

    And refreshing.

  3. charlespaolino Says:

    I agree and, as I have mentioned in other posts, I’m happier about people who don’t agree with me and who vote and write letters and demonstrate than I am with people who do agree with me but don’t participate in the process.

  4. Paul Felix Schott Says:

    Lower all taxes while we still have a United States of America.

    When this Old World starts getting you down. From Pollution the cost of OIL, Heating Fuel,The Fuel you put in your Vehicles, You Electric Bills from
    cooling air conditioners and lights not to speak of the Evil. The TAX that all Governments Federal, State, County and City put on everything they can thing of.

    They are supposed to serve us. Not put a burden on its people. That they are elected to serve all the people you, not their own Pocket Books.

    The Wicked keep putting higher taxes on everything. Making it a Heavy Burden on many that are already struggling just to put food on the table.

    Too many Americans have lost their home to the tax collector or to foreclosures from the unjust bankers greed. More are out of work and lost their homes then in the GREAT DEPRESSION, in the last ten years. All Americans and many Nations need good jobs and more of them. Not more TAXES.

    All Taxes need to be lowered now while there is still time to save America.

    There is a Industry that will employ workers and is growing by more then 50% every year. There is a clear way for all up on the roof the Sun Light is free fuel from GOD. Some wicked in Government have been backing Coal, Oil, Gas and the Nuclear industries for too many years.

    These kickbacks to them were called Subsidizing Industry Technology. Most all Wise Men and smart Economist and Environmentalists call this padding their pockets and subsidizing back to the
    Stone Age.

    The best deal would be to lower Taxes for all this is not the Roman Empire.

    The Chinese Know Renewable Energy is a good thing. Most of the rest of the World is still a slave to Oil, Coal and Nuclear Power. All the Governments of the World now know it is wise to use Renewable Energy it is the Local Governments that are a little slow to learn what is best for all not just there pocket book.

    They fear people going off the grid all that tax money they will no longer be able to take from you. Wind and Solar Farms are growing all over the Earth. This could have happened years ago if the greedy wicked were stopped by the Real Good.

    The Freedom to get your own Power from the Wind and Sun, Solar Energy has been there for years. Are Libraries and Schools should have been the first to have gone Solar and Renewable Energy. And why are they not? Churches are all over the Planet. They are going to Solar Energy.

    Thank GOD for the Pioneers like John Schaeffer that Started Real Goods The first and Best catalog for Renewable Energy and Scientist Bill Young at the FSEC Florida Solar Energy Center and Monica D. Key Lindbergh for many years wrote to our legislators promoting Solar and Renewable Energy and many others.

    These Pioneers helped put Wind, Solar And Renewable Energy in the Spotlight for all the World to see.
    The Great Scientist Albert Einstein Stared it with a Dream that the day would come that all the World would use Solar Energy. His many years of work with the law of the Photoelectric Effect, and showing this to the World won him the Nobel Prize in Physics. We still do not teach this to our young.

    GOD Bless all that help tell this to the World

    All Taxes need to be lowered cut in half or there will be a lot more Poor and needy and not in just other countries. This coming year the World will see hunger like never before. More then 100 million will be sick from malnutrition going with out food. Taxing the poor and taking there Land away from them is Wicked. Very soon the Rich will become the Poor.

    If your Legislature will not lower Taxes vote them out of office and VOTE in someone that will Lower your Taxes. If your Son or Daughter was raised in a christian Home we need them in our Government as Leaders.

    United We Will Always Stand
    In GOD We Trust
    True Patriots
    GOD Bless
    and May HE Guide you all.

    The Lord’s Little Helper
    Paul Felix Schott

    P.S.
    Many a Nation have fallen from taxing their people to Death. You want Prosperity and for thing to Flourish and grow lower all taxes. You want thriving, success, or good fortune for only a few, keep over taxing all.
    Solar, Wind and Renewable Energy Freedom from OIL. The Humanitarian thing to do. Solar Energy.

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