In the United States Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson states, “to secure these rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In the first concept of this statement, Jefferson believed that the purpose of government is to secure its citizens to the right of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In the second concept of this statement, “just powers,” Jefferson believed that it is more important to preserve our country than obeying an unjust law. If a government’s laws or powers were unjust, they would not preserve our country. In “The consent of the governed,” the last concept of this statement, Jefferson believes that the government is in the hands of the people. The people are represented by majority rule and can only be governed by their own consent.
When Jefferson states in The Declaration of Independence “to secure these rights,” he means the right of “life, liberty, and property.” Writing to Isaac A. Tiffany, Jefferson states that people have the rights “to the exercise and fruits of their own industry” (” On ‘The Politics’ of Aristotle” 280) . This relates directly to the pursuit of happiness, which “can never be protected against the selfishness of rulers” (” On ‘The Politics’ of Aristotle” 280) .
In his letter to John B. Colvin, Jefferson explains “just powers” by stating, “to lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means” (“Is It Ever Right to Disobey the Law?” 277). The powers of the government are reflected in its laws, which Jefferson believed are either just or unjust. Jefferson conveys that even though it is the duty of good citizens to obey the law, it is more important for citizens to serve their country, even if it means not adhering to an unjust law.
Concerning “the consent of the governed,” Jefferson states in his letter to Baron Alexander Von Humboldt that the majority rule “is the fundamental law of every society of individuals of equal rights” (“The Principle of Majority Rule” 255). The government is merely a representation of its citizens, and therefore should not govern without their consent. Elaborating on this, Jefferson states in his letter to John Taylor that, “the mass of the citizens is the safest depository of their own rights and especially, that the evils flowing from the duperies of the people, are less injurious than those from the egoism of their agents” (“Concept of a Republic” 254). Here Jefferson conveys that although the people are prone to ignorant submission, they are the majority, thus they must give consent to the government in order for it to govern.
Jefferson’s definition of the best from of government derives from his understanding of the nature of man. Jefferson believed that change is a natural human event, thus the constitution should be modified with time to accommodate for current circumstances. Jefferson states in his Letter to Kercheval, “as that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times” (“The Place and Value of Social and Political Change” 275). Jefferson believed that the current generation should never be bound to the previous generation by either its debt or clinging on to its old ways. Therefore, the best form of government will serve only the living generation and adapt to current circumstances.
Jefferson, Thomas. “Concept of a Republic.” Letter to John Taylor. 28 May 1816. Social and Political Philosophy. New York: Anchor Books, 1963. 251-55. Print.
Jefferson, Thomas. “Is It Ever Right to Disobey the Law?” Letter to John B. Colvin. 20 Sept. 1810. Social and Political Philosophy. New York: Anchor Books, 1963. 277-80. Print.
Jefferson, Thomas. “On ‘The Politics’ of Aristotle.” Letter to Isaac A. Tiffany. Social and Political Philosophy. New York: Anchor Books, 1963. 280-81. Print.
Jefferson, Thomas. “The Place and Value of Social and Political Change.” Letter to Kercheval. 12 July 1816. Social and Political Philosophy. New York: Anchor Books, 1963. 274-77. Print.