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Consent of the Governed

Article 5 (1780)

All power residing originally in the people, and being derived from them, the several magistrates and officers of government, vested with authority, whether legislative, executive, or judicial, are their substitutes and agents, and are at all times accountable to them.

Precedents and Quotations

John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, 1690:

“And this much may suffice to shew, that, as far as we have any light from History, we have reason to conclude that all peaceful beginnings of Government have been laid in the Consent of the People.”

 

Thomas Allen , “The Constitutionalists Reaffirm Their Dissatisfaction, Pittsfield, May 1776,” Massachusetts Colony to Commonwealth: Documents on the Formation of Its Constitution 1775-1780, edited by Robert J. Taylor, New York: W.W. Norton, 1961, p. 27:

“We beg leave therefore to represent that we have always been persuaded that the people are the fountain of power. That since the Dissolution of the power of Great Britain over these Colonies they have fallen into a state of Nature. That the first step to be taken by a people in such a state for the Enjoyment or Restoration of Civil Government amongst them, is the formation of a fundamental Constitution as the Basis & ground work of Legislation.”

 

Section 2, Virginia Declaration of Rights, Adopted unanimously June 12, 1776,  Virginia Convention of Delegates, drafted by Mr. George Mason:

“That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.”

 

Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, ratified by the Second Continental Congress, July 4, 1776:

“. . . Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

 

In 1783, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that slavery was directly contrary to constitutional principles delineated in the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. Not until the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1865 did slavery become illegal in all of the United States. In 1854, in a speech delivered in Peoria, Abraham Lincoln spoke to the lack of consent of people who were considered to be property.

Abraham Lincoln, Peoria Speech, 1854:

“Our 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 inalienable 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.’ I have quoted so much at this time merely to show that according to our ancient faith, the just powers of governments are derived from the consent of the governed. Now the relation of masters and slaves is, pro tanto, a total violation of this principle. The master not only governs the slave without his consent; but he governs him by a set of rules altogether different from those which he prescribes for himself. Allow all the governed an equal voice in the government, and that, and that only is self government.”

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