If I were to tell you without qualification that the American people have a God-given right to alter or abolish the U.S. government or any state government and to replace them with something new, how would that strike you? Would you reject the idea because it is only me who is saying it? Does the idea seem too radical, or too extreme? Would it make a difference if you realized that without this type of radical extremist thinking, there wouldn’t be a United States of America at all? Let’s put it into context:
- We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…. That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men…. 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, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. … Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Declaration of Independence (1776).
Still think the idea of a right to alter or abolish any of our present governments is too radical or extreme? Well, some people certainly think so, and they’ve taken steps to make sure nothing like what happened in the American Revolution ever happens again. First, they have taken pains to discredit the Declaration and to restrict the way it is taught in government approved curricula and government sponsored schools (including universities). Second, they have enacted statutes to strongly discourage any “throwing off” of the government, to wit:
- Rebellion or insurrection. Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both…. 18 U.S.C. §2383.
- Seditious conspiracy. If two or more persons … in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, … they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both. 18 U.S.C. §2384.
- Advocating overthrow of Government. Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State … by force or violence, * * * Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both…. 18 U.S.C. §2385.
Just let the above words sink in for a moment. First we have a quotation from the founding document of our nation, beloved and cherished by Americans for well over 200 years, to the effect that people have not only the right, but the duty, to throw off an abusive, despotic or tyrannical government which tramples on their individual rights.
Then we have laws enacted by that same nation having the primary purpose of ensuring that no one ever overthrows the existing government, conspires to overthrow it, or advocates its overthrow – without regard to whether those actions might actually be justified because the government has become abusive, despotic or tyrannical. Which illustrates a truism – the people have an absolute right to alter or abolish any given form of government, but the persons in power absolutely never want people to exercise that right.
It should be painfully obvious this is one reason (among others) why the Declaration of Independence has not been seriously regarded as law by legal scholars for over 100 years (and why it has been denigrated in academia). If people actually took the words of the Declaration at face value it would create all kinds of problems for our modern world, and people in academia, law and government have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Belief in a government of limited powers, or (God help us!) a government that can be discarded from time to time, would put politicians and government workers of all stripes (as well as those in the symbiotic fields of law and education) at risk for losing their jobs – an intolerable risk. That is one reason why mainstream political culture left the worldview of the American founders in the ash heap of history long ago.
However, I believe the Declaration yet has things to teach us that not only have value, but authority, as we deal with the pressing issues of an overreaching, over-regulating, abusive, and dare I say, increasingly tyrannical American government (both state and federal). I’d like to show you that the ideas embodied in the Declaration are really not radical or extreme at all. In fact, it’s not even complicated.
For this purpose, I will assume the Declaration’s statements are not based on mere political expediency (i.e., that the founders just said whatever they needed to say to give their political goals plausibility). I assume the founders were not a bunch of political charlatans – they actually believed what they said and were not deceived in their beliefs either. So in that light, let’s consider the evidence from history and the laws of nature and nature’s God, and see whether we can discover any eternal principles which undergird the Declaration’s statements.
NOT BY FORCE OR VIOLENCE
I am not advocating the exercise of any right to alter or abolish our forms of government by force or violence. I say this not because Title 18 of the U.S. Code forbids it, but because I simply don’t need to. The right to alter or abolish is a natural right which is perfectly capable of being exercised lawfully without force or violence.
The laws of nature and nature’s God allow for a way, actually several ways, to bring about fundamental government change peacefully without armed conflict. The most likely scenario for doing such a thing in America would be through a convention of states – either pursuant to Article V of the U.S. Constitution or apart from it through a Congress of States. At the state level, the people can similarly call for a constitutional convention directly.
If we look at the American Revolution, we can see that this is how the founders tried very hard to act. When the Declaration of Independence was adopted, it was brought into existence by the states through their duly appointed representatives. The Declaration followed a long series of events and documents laying the foundation for its adoption, including the Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress (1765), the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress (1774), and the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms (1775). All of which were adopted through duly appointed representatives of the people.
The war, when it came, was not instigated by the American founders. That is, the revolutionaries were careful not to be the military aggressors. Rather, the war was instigated by the British to prevent the American colonies from breaking free from Britain’s rule. For their part, the Americans fought a defensive war, i.e., to defend their right to declare independence against the British attempt to stop them.
So even though a war was fought, throwing off the British constitution in the legal sense was not accomplished by force or violence. But as often happens in life, you may have to militarily defend your freedom to act in the way you deem best. The American Revolution also illustrates the truth that no government official ever views an attempt to overthrow his position as lawful in his own mind, no matter how lawfully it may be regarded in the minds of the people who want him removed.
Looking at our current situation, no form of government can exist for over 200 years without building up a substantial amount of systemic inertia. By this I mean the tendency of all institutions to resist sudden or substantial changes to the direction they have been heading in up to that point.
By definition, any attempt to alter or abolish any form of civil government is a jolt to the system which will clash with that system’s entrenched interests. Further, any entrenched interest will resist alteration or abolition from an outside source. And when that entrenched interest is attached to the power of the sword (i.e., civil power), it will resist violently.
From the vantage point of those employed in government service (politicians, career bureaucrats, civil service workers, etc.), there is little difference between foreign attacks, domestic insurrection and lawful attempts to alter or abolish. Government employees are all part of the system, and foreign agents, domestic terrorists, and advocates of fundamental change are all outside the system. Thus, the response of government employees to all outside agents is the same – eliminate and crush all threats to their jobs. Keeping their jobs is more important than anything else.
Are you surprised that the current U.S. government labels Tea Party members, libertarians and militia groups as domestic terrorists? Don’t be. To public employees, those people are all equally outside the government system who want to significantly reduce the size of government or fundamentally alter the way the government does things. Which ultimately always translates into reducing the number of government agencies and employees, i.e., cutting large numbers of public jobs. To those inside the government, government reduction is a threat.
In a sense, it’s all about the jobs. Not just the money, but the power that goes with the position. Reduce government spending? Cut government programs? We’re not just talking about money in the abstract here – but money paid to government employees to wield power. Since that is their livelihood, and it is human nature to crave power, they will use all the force and violence they can to prevent interference with their jobs, i.e., positions of power.
You can talk about special interests all you want, but it is the entrenched interests you should worry about. Whenever I hear someone refer to government employees as career bureaucrats, a shiver runs up my spine. These are the true government insiders, who view the President as a mere temporary employee, because the bureaucrats will be there long after any President leaves office.
The upshot of which is that every government system – most especially the American system of government – will be extremely resistant to change. And that resistance will be fueled by a desire to prevent being forced to give up money and power. When people aren’t fighting over religion and power, they are usually fighting over money and power, and that is as strong a motivation as anyone needs to make things turn ugly fast.
As a proponent of change (that is, to alter or abolish the form of government), you should expect that even if you are not looking for trouble, trouble will come looking for you. People in power will ignore you as long as they can, then slander and discredit you when that is no longer possible. They will heap economic and legal problems on you in an attempt to bury you under burdens that prevent you from forcefully advocating change. If that fails, ultimately they will use police actions and military force to put down your insurrection.
The astute reader will note that there are no statutes prohibiting an overthrow of the existing government, conspiring to overthrow it, or advocating its overthrow by non-violent means. That is because such statutes are unnecessary. If you work to abolish the government peacefully, the response will be to initiate an attack against you. If you defend yourself against such an attack, you will be labeled the aggressor and be found in violation of the statutes against violent overthrow. It’s all very convenient.
So be warned. As a proponent of fundamental change you must not ever be a violent aggressor or the initiator of armed conflict. If it comes to violence, let it not begin with you. Just realize that violence may be an unavoidable consequence of actions lawfully taken. This should be a sobering thought to all who consider the matter carefully.
Ideas have consequences, and the ideas we are about to discuss in what follows are considered by some to be dangerous and/or extreme. So proceed at your own risk. But as for me, I will not be ruled by fear. Instead, I will follow the example of Jesus:
- “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matt. 10:28.