Where does the power of the government come from, according to the Declaration of Independence?

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The Declaration of Independence says that the power of the government comes from the consent of the people.  This is one of the main ideas of John Locke’s thought, which strongly influenced Thomas Jefferson as he wrote the Declaration.

John Locke was a major political philosopher of the Enlightenment.  He believed that monarchy was an illegitimate form of government.  He believed that governments could only have legitimate power if the people agreed to be governed by those governments.  Power was not legitimate if rulers held it just because the people were afraid to disobey them.

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson echoes this idea.  He writes that, in order to protect people’s rights,

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

This tells us quite clearly that government’s power comes from the consent of the people that it governs.  This is one of the basic ideas of modern democracies.  In order for a government to be legitimate, it has to hold power because the people agree that it should, not simply because it can frighten them into submission.

 

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