What Did the Founding Fathers Mean By “Consent of the Governed”?

“Deriving their (the government’s) just powers from the consent of the governed.”

-The Declaration of Independence

You may recall reading The Declaration of Independence in grade school. Back then, at least for most of us, we simply read what we had to to pass the next quiz and didn’t pay it much mind.

Most people don’t know this, but The Declaration of Independence is as important as the US Constitution as a founding document.

If not even more so.

Now I don’t want to go into a deep history lesson here, but if you overlook this declaration, you are doing yourself a great disservice.

Despite only taking up a small portion of our history lessons, the Declaration of Independence has as much of a significance as the Constitution.

But what did the founding Fathers mean by “consent of the governed”? Lets take a look!

The Colonists Were in The Face of Absolute Tyranny

Let’s put the statement in context. The Declaration was ratified on July 4, 1776. But the events leading up to it’s creation were going on for decades.

Especially in 1775 as tensions between Britain and the American colonies rose.

We can see the oppressive tactics the British government was attempting to force upon the colonists by reviewing the parliament debates.

On October 26th, 1775, King George addressed the Parliament. He spoke of the need to break the colonists into submission by sending a mass of troops.


“When the unhappy and deluded Multitude, against whom this Force will be directed, shall become sensible of their Error, I shall be ready to receive the Mislead with Tenderness and Mercy.”

-King George III*

Spoken like a true authoritarian…

It’s simple, the King of England had long been oppressing the people of America with act after act to break them into servitude.

Acts which only worsened after the Boston Tea Party in December of 1773.

Even Parliament Thought the King Was Being Too Aggressive

In fact, at the same Parliamentary procedure as King George’s earlier statement. Even several members of Parliament spoke up against the kings aggressive tactics.

Stating that it would perhaps be better if they simply repealed the 13 or so acts passed against the Colonies since 1963.

This proposal was brought forth by the Duke of Grafton who finished saying:

“This I will venture to assert, will answer every end; and nothing less will effect any effectual purpose, without scenes of ruin and destruction, which I cannot think on without the utmost grief and horror”

-Duke of Grafton*

Lord Lyttelton concurred with the Duke’s call to repeal the acts passed since 1963, rather than sending troops.

Noting that:

“Boston was turned into a hospital where more died from famine and want of care, than by the sword.”

-Lord Lyttelton*

Yet, as history shows us. The troops were sent and blood was shed.

The Perspective of The Drafters of the Declaration

Clearly most colonists had lost respect for the kings sovereignty in the face of his aggressive acts.

Which brought them to a breaking point, although different breaking point than the king desired.

The bottom line, the Founding Fathers witnessed a station in life that was so abhorrent to society, that not only did they feel the need to force a change.

Acts so atrocious, even some members of the government they sought to depart from spoke out against the matter themselves.

Regardless it became apparent to the colonists that their former government had become nothing short of tyrannical. And it was necessary to dissolve their ties with them.

So when the colonists decided to depart from their former government and establish a new one. We must consider that they had been through hardships most of us have never had to face.

Therefore, we should take the statement “the governments derive their just powers from the ‘consent of the governed'” in absolute terms.

Consent of the governed means consent, plain and simple.

Individual, voluntary consent.

How Consent is Obtained is a Different Story

Consent can be obtained in many ways – great fear of lurking dangers, slick advertising, celebrity endorsements, promoted benefits of the solution to the fear, restrictions on life when consent is withheld, and greater and greater loss of freedom.  The person who consents experiences momentary relief but fails to see that he has actually voted for the tyranny through his consent.”

-Rabbi Smith, SaveOurFreedoms.org

Even in a time where government mandates are being based left and right, the government still needs to seek the consent of the governed.

Though this may not appear to be true, it’s an inherent part of our government today. However, the government has become proficient at manufacturing or engineering consent through various means.

Corporations have been manufacturing consent for centuries. And now they do so hand in hand with the government to create a narrative that cultivates consent.

While it may not seem apparent, consent to governance is an God-given inherent right. When it is not respected, governments can not function.

Sometimes consent expressed openly. Sometimes consent to governance comes from harming someone else or their property.

However, more often than not, it’s engineered… and largely goes unnoticed.

Other Sources:

  • Proceedings and Debates of the British Parliaments Respecting North America 1768-1775 (Vol. 3) Published in 1984
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