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Government Of, By, and For The People?

Dec 17, 2009

Current events have me thinking about early American history.

“No taxation without representation” was the cri du coeur of our Revolution. My oh my how we’ve changed.

For proof, just consider our ancestors’ absolutely uncompromising response to the “Stamp Act."

Without seeking input or approval by the colonial legislature, British Parliament decreed, in March 1765, that American colonists would pay a tax on virtually every “stamped” piece of paper used in law or commerce, including newspapers and playing cards. The ostensible purpose of the Act was to collect the funds needed to maintain the British army and protect the American frontier.

But the colonists would have none of it. None of it! It was the principle of the thing!
No government was going take their money, not without their informed consent.

After the Act was passed, revenues to Britain actually fell as colonists staged a boycott, refusing to import British products. Very soon refusal to pay the stamp tax became so widespread throughout colonial society that the colonial courts chose not to enforce the use of stamps on legal documents. The Act was repealed just a year later, in March 1766, but not before the seeds of a rebellion were well-planted on North American soil.

How quaint the concept of “informed consent” seems now, with two wars and a bank bailout on the taxpayer’s tab. Not to mention the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act loaded with cash grants and tax incentives for the wind power industry.

“Informed consent?” I don’t recall being asked if I wanted to shoulder that particular debt. Nor do I recall any elected leader stating that if I agreed to foot the bill, then all sorts of basic needs—in terms of health care, education, infrastructure, and employment—would go increasingly unmet across this land. I don’t recall any elected leader providing the clear-cut risk/benefit analysis that would enable me to make an informed decision about how my tax dollars should be used.

The words “informed” and “consent” sound both rusty and, well, revolutionary, in a cultural climate where information has been utterly devalued and consent before the government is no longer demanded by the People, nor expected by the People’s representatives—each a self-perpetuating corporation of his or her own.

Thomas Jefferson’s 1812 statement reads like an all-too-prescient commentary on our current estate: “Unless the mass retains sufficient control over those entrusted with the powers of their government, these will be perverted to their own oppression, and to the perpetuation of wealth and power in the individuals and their families selected for the trust.”

The Founders believed that representative government was the lesser evil.

They rejected rule over the People as essentially corrupt and direct democracy as essentially impractical. But they also recognized that the relative strength or weakness of representative government lay in whether or not the People were sufficiently devoted to holding their representatives’ feet to the fire.

It would remain up to the People to demand informed consent, and, in so doing, maintain both liberty and justice…for all.

The Founders recognized that if the People ceased to keep up their end of the bargain, things were likely to go badly wrong.

As Jefferson stated in another 1812 letter: "Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories."

The People. That would be Us.

It remains our duty to demand that our representatives require our informed consent before they consider themselves at liberty to act on our behalf.

Whether the subject is war, Wall Street, or wind turbines, We, The People, suffer the consequences. We pay the tab.

Our blood, our treasure, and our common inheritance are at stake.

Decisions made in our name without benefit of our informed consent are not, by definition, decisions made in good faith.

But make no mistake, our elected and appointed leaders (and those paid to serve them) will gladly continue to make such decisions.

Oh yes. They will continue to sell our common inheritance cheap (and Jefferson and Adams will continue to spin in their graves) until We take a note from our rebellious ancestors and stand up, stand firm, and demand the informed consent that is the basis of our particular form of democracy.

Whether the subject is war, Wall Street, or wind turbines, We, The People, must refuse to be led from ignorance.

Starting today.