Authority: The Declaration of Independence

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

In light of what we have seen about the nature and direction of original authority in the State, it is worth taking a moment to consider the position taken on the doctrine of authority in the founding document of the United States, the Declaration of Independence.  I mentioned earlier that the political philosophy of John Locke was instrumental in bringing about the Revolutionary War.  Nowhere is Locke’s position on original authority being vested in individual citizens, effectively skipping over the magistrate, more evident than in the Declaration of Independence.  Here is what the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence says:

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, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…

Although these words are familiar to most people, and their political philosophy is taken for granted, they are nevertheless words that bring about a revolution in the way one thinks about the nature and flow of State authority.  The authors of the Declaration of Independence did not even deem it necessary to present a logical argument as to why the divine right of Kings had been abolished.  They simply assert that it is “self evident” that original authority is now vested in individual citizens of a country rather than in the God ordained magistrates.

Furthermore, they make a strong argument that God, the Creator, has granted men the “right” to “institute” governments and that these governments find their original authority (“power” in the document) from “the consent of the governed”.  This is a radical shift from the biblical position on State authority and there are no rational, logical arguments presented as to why this should be the way the State operates.  By this point in time the concept of the “social contract” form of government had come to dominate the minds of men that they did not even consider it possible that they might be wrong or, even worse, that their belief might be contrary to the biblical doctrine of authority.

It is also important to note that the transfer of authority upward from the holders of original authority (citizens) to the magistrates (elected officials) is brought about by the “consent of the governed”.  It was not long after this that the mechanism that was utilized to convey the “consent of the governed” upward was developed as the right to vote.  By the time of the drafting of the US Constitution it is completely assumed that voting is the act by means of which citizens transfer their original authority upward to the magistrates.  Should the magistrates not perform to their liking they are free to revoke their authority by either voting them out of office, impeaching them from office, or, as in the case of the Declaration of Independence, declare war against them.  Indeed, the Declaration goes so far as to intimate that, because of the original authority that he holds,  the citizen has the duty of engaging in revolution against any government that he deems to be contrary to his wishes and desires.  We will have an opportunity to come back to this topic later in this paper.

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