Real Radicalism of the Declaration of Independence
Americans who read Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence
come away with no clear ideas but, "when our government gets really,
really bad, we get to overthrow it and start over." And even this
is often rejected without further consideration as too barbaric
for such an enlightened age as ours (why, donít our government-run
elections provide for revolution enough?). This rude understanding
confines men to an endless debate on whether or not government has
reached the point of no return on the path to despotism, a point
that moves steadily further away as we are overcome by propaganda
and grow accustomed to our chains.
bequeathed to us a better inheritance than this, as we will now
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."
are instituted among Men. This phrase, not comprehending any person
or group outside of Men, must mean that these very same men institute
them. That is, governments are not instituted in the midst
of men, but among them and by them. Now, what
do we call an institution created by men to pursue a common objective
such as securing individual liberties? That's right, an association.
now continue with more of the text. Such an association, that some
call by the name of government, derives power from its members.
That one party derives implies the other gives, the members giving
power to the officers of the association. Now what is the nature
of this giving? Is it merely an act of the will, as some would suggest?
Certainly not. For what kind of transfer of power, which is that
which compels or obligates another, can take place without a contract
last of Jefferson's quoted text reveals another defining characteristic
of these associations. This power given to governments is given
consensually, and by their own members (the governed). And how would
this consent be made legally knowable, unless by contract having
the signature of both parties, both the individual member and each
individual officer or agent. And who are the members? Those who
have so contracted, and no others.
is therefore my interpretation of the text that Jefferson is saying
that governments are voluntary associations, instituted for the
protection of its members against those that would injure their
persons, property, or rights. That the characteristics of these
associations are no different from those of any association men
whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends,
it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute
new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing
its powers in such form, as to them shall most likely effect their
Safety and Happiness."
here informs us that a Form of Government (or, an association) may
become destructive to the very rights it was instituted to protect.
And also that the People, or members (as opposed to the officers
of said association, which are in the habit of distinguishing themselves
from such) may destroy this same Form of Government, and make new
associations. But most importantly of all, the text nowhere implies
or demands that there is, in all of this, only ONE government by
ONE people, people being misunderstood as "nation." Let's now move
to one last piece of the Declaration.
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."
quotation, oft used by many well-meaning patriots, has caused grave
damage to the cause of liberty. Not that Jefferson is wrong, by
any means, but that it obscures a more subtle yet greater truth.
The truth is, governments can be disbanded by their members for
any reason, or no reason at all. If the members thereof have given
their officers any special power of attorney, they are at liberty
at any time to reclaim their power according to their own will.
However, if government agents should become injurious to any persons
rights, they can be and MUST be held accountable for their crimes.
Not only this, but if these injuries occur at the request or demand
of the members, or is a matter of policy (or "law") within the association,
then the association is a criminal one. If any person should give
support, by membership or otherwise, to such as association, then
they, too, according to principles of law and reason, are criminals
to be held liable to the same extent as their criminal agents.
believe, as many do, that we are bound to obey and support a government
until it becomes a criminal organization, obliterates the principle
of consent. For how can it be called "consent" when you cannot remove
it until that consent makes you an outlaw?
are simply voluntary associations of individuals for a specific
purpose. The managers of these associations have power only in so
far as they have contracted with the members for the transfer of
authority. Therefore, an association without a contractual basis,
such as the United States government and almost every government
on Earth, is utterly devoid of authority or power over its purported
members or their affairs. Because without a contract, it is impossible
to prove that any individual consents, and what cannot be proven
in law is presumed not to exist. Those that pretend to be officials
of these non-contractual organizations act on the behalf of no one
but themselves, are responsible to no one but themselves, and are
therefore entirely and individually responsible for their injuries
governments may coexist, as many as individuals see fit to institute.
If a member should choose to remove his membership from any association,
he is perfectly at liberty to do so without the need to explain
himself to any man. He is also at liberty to join another association,
several associations, or to support none at all.
is no such thing as "the Government." There is only "government"
which refers to a principle, and "a government" which refers to
an association for the purpose of maintaining justice. The absurd
notion that one association can have a monopoly on power and authority
(which they purport to take from people who are not its members,
never were its members, nor have any desire to be its members) is
the very notion that has held Americans and subjects of every other
rank democracy as servile captives of a band of malevolent reprobates
who parade about as gods among men. It is only after the people
have expelled this vile infection from their minds that we may again
live as free before God.
10 , 2000
welcomes all responses, negative or otherwise to this article and
will endeavor to answer all inquiries.
a more exhaustive and precise discussion of these arguments, and
many others related to government, please see Lysander Spooner's
Treason: The Constitution of No Authority.