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The Consent of the Governed?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP, Pool

“Gentlemen may cry, ‘Peace, peace,' but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms. Our brethren are already in the field. Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, and peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and SLAVERY? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” (Patrick Henry, Second Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775, emphasis mine)


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable 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..." (American Declaration of Independence, 1776).

The “consent of the governed…” Here is a delicious question for you: what happens when a significant number of people no longer “consent” to the “government” they live under? What can they do? If they have tried free elections and repeatedly failed, what are their options?

There are several counties in eastern Oregon that are currently in this very position—weary of being governed by a liberal, unresponsive Portland/Western Oregon coalition (one can hardly blame them). Elections in these eastern counties have produced majorities who wish to secede from the state of Oregon and join more conservative Idaho. Let them go, right? Consent of the governed. Alas, it is not quite so easy.

There are at least 11 of these eastern Oregon counties that have expressed the above desire. Recently, two Idaho state legislators, Reps. Judy Boyle and Barbara Erhardt, have sponsored a resolution inviting the Oregon legislature to join the Idaho legislature in discussing the possibility of those counties becoming part of Idaho. Boyle said, “For quite a few years now, eastern Oregon has been quite unhappy with their state—Portland seems to run everything there—and they have been asking for quite some time if they could move the border and become part of Idaho.” There it is. Consent of the governed? Well, regardless, such a move in Oregon doesn’t appear to be imminent. Both states would have to agree to it, and Congress would have to approve. Don’t hold your breath.


“But this gets back to my earlier question: what happens if—how many?—people no longer “consent” to their government? The American colonists—George Washington, et al—no longer wanted to be governed by England. So, they seceded. In 1836, Texans (after Mexico had abolished slavery a few years earlier), rebelled, formed their own country, and seceded from their legal government. And then, the big one, of course. Eleven of 15 Southern (slave) states no longer wished to be governed by Washington, D.C. So, they seceded as well. Two good, one bad?

Each of those “secessions” led to war. The American colonists defeated the British and established the United States. The Texans vanquished Mexico, became an independent country, but in 1845, joined the American Union. But the southern states lost their war.

So, hmm. The “consent of the governed” only means you get to govern yourself if you win the subsequent war of secession? Please, I’m not defending the southern states here—or any secessionist movement—I’m just stating the historical facts. A significant number—apparently the majority of the people of the 11 southern states—no longer wished to be part of the United States. They no longer “consented” to that government. They wanted to form their own, one they agreed to.

But they lost the war.

"Yeah, but it was an immoral secession! They had slavery!” So did ALL of the American colonies (at first). And Texas. The South DID make an issue of leaving because of slavery, and that has been their death knell in the court of history. That, and the fact that the winners get to write the history and interpret it the way they wish.


The Patrick Henry quote that I introduced this article with indicates his opposition to “peace” being “purchased at the price of chains and slavery." The “slavery” he was talking about here was not one person owning another, but a government forcing its people into obedience to a system they did not freely consent to. To Henry, for the Americans to remain subject to British rule without their agreement was slavery. Well, isn’t that actually what slavery is? Forced obedience? No freedom to choose your own way? Isn’t this why we condemn the CCP and tyrannies? To America’s founders, this was “slavery” of a different, but equal, sort.

So, Oregon and Idaho. The eastern Oregonians apparently no longer wish to be governed from Portland, no longer consent to that government, and wish to secede and join Idaho. What does “consent of the governed” mean?

“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better.  This is a most valuable, a most sacred right, a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world.  Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it.  Any portion of such people that can may revolutionize and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.  More than that, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority…who may oppose their movement…”  A minority like the Loyalists in the American Revolution, the author went on to say.  


Interesting quote. Who said that?

Abraham Lincoln, January 12, 1848.

Don’t miss out on some good American reading from the good ol’ days.  My western novels, Whitewater and River Bend, are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and   A third western, Allie’s Dilemma, is available for Kindle only.   And read some different posts on my blog at

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