According to the Declaration of Independence, who gives the goverment power to govern/rule?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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According to the Declaration of Independence, the power and authority to rule is given to the government by the people that it governs.  This is the only source of legitimate power for a government.  The Declaration tells us that people have certain rights that have been given to them by God and that cannot be legitimately taken away from them.  It tells us that, in order to protect those rights,

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

This is where we see the source of the government’s right to rule.  The government gets its right to rule from the consent of the people.

This was an idea that was central to the thinking of Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke.  Locke, in particular, was a major source for Thomas Jefferson’s thinking as he drafted the Declaration of Independence.  Locke argued that there was no way for a government to be legitimate unless the people that it governed agreed to be governed by it.  He felt that governments that claimed legitimacy from God, for example, were giving justifications that had no basis in logic.

Thus, following Locke, Thomas Jefferson wrote that the right to rule comes from the consent of the governed.

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mkoren's profile pic

mkoren | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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One of the reasons why the Declaration of Independence was written was that the colonists thought the King was abusing his power. The colonists believed the British government was violating their rights as citizens of Great Britain. For example, the colonists said that the British government was taxing them without their consent.

The Declaration of Independence made it very clear that the government gets its power from the people. Another way to say this is that the government gets its power from the consent of the governed.

The Declaration of Independence went on to say that when a government doesn’t protect the people’s rights and abuses its powers, the people have no choice but to remove that government from power and replace it with a government that will protect their rights. The colonists tried to share their concerns with the King, but they felt that the King and the British government weren’t willing to hear their concerns and resolve them. Therefore, they needed to declare their independence and replace the old government with one that would protect their rights.

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