As Declaration says, government is given the right to govern by its citizenry

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This painting by John Trumbull, “Declaration of Independence,” shows the drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress. The original, painted in 1819, hangs in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

By Bill Moore

As we celebrate our independence from England on July 4, I again marvel at the genius of our Founding Fathers. They wrote:

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.

How important those words are. Think about it: government is given the right to govern by its citizenry.

The importance of petitioning government was clearly pronounced in the Declaration of Independence. It followed submitting “to a candid world” the list of reasons for declaring independence. The Declaration of Independence contains 27 citations in which King George III was denounced for “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states.”

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Our Founders not only petitioned George III, but directly appealed to the British citizens for help.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish (sic) brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

This year marks 242 years of our nation’s independence. It has been 229 years since our government began operating under the Constitution. The most important words in our governing document are “We the People.” Let us never forget them, and our obligation to petition our government whenever the need arises.

This Fourth of July consider the courage of our Founders when together they pledged “to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” in the cause of freedom.

I encourage everyone to celebrate our independence by reading the Declaration of Independence and reflecting on its importance as our founding document.

Bill Moore is president and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

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One thought on “As Declaration says, government is given the right to govern by its citizenry

  1. The Constitution of the United States is not premised on the notion that the people are “the only legitimate source of government’s authority over its citizens” (emphasis added). When the people of the United States declared independence from Great Britain, they said they were entitled to do so because of “the laws of nature and of Nature’s God.” They upheld the truth that their unalienable right of liberty (self-government), and of all the other unalienable rights humanity entails, are endowed by the Creator, God.

    Furthermore, they upheld the truth that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Now, by the act proclaimed in the Declaration, the people making it abjured the governmental authority of the British monarch. But until their Declaration of Independence, the United States did not exist as such. Therefore, no government of the United States could yet exist to wield power over its people. (The Articles of Confederation were not adopted by the Continental Congress until November 1777 and were fully ratified much later than that.) Thus, at the time the people made their Declaration, the phrase “consent of the governed” made no sense except in terms of the government of God, to whose laws (and lawmaking authority) the people of the Untied States appealed for their right to exist as an independent nation.

    The people themselves thus acknowledged that they are not “the only legitimate source of the government’s authority” over them. They acted as citizens of the Kingdom of God, according to His endowment of rights intrinsic to their humanity, and pursuant to the obligations those rights entailed. By this concerted use of the power naturally vested in them by God, they consented to enact (that is, act according to) His laws, by which voluntary enactment of the Supreme Sovereign’s will they proved the legitimacy of their self-government.

    Thus, their self-government, later enacted in constitutional form, derived its just powers from the people’s consent to be governed by God’s will.

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