17% of Americans Say U.S. Government Has the Consent of the Governed

The polling company Rasmussen Reports conducted a survey of 1,000 “likely voters” in the United States earlier . One of the questions they asked was:

The Declaration of Independence says that governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed. Does the federal government today have the consent of the governed?

17% said yes.

It’s tempting to read too much in to this. For one thing, a phrase like “consent of the governed” is an 18th century political philosophy term of art and doesn’t necessarily work well for the snap judgments untutored moderns have to make in phone surveys. Also, that survey question was surrounded by a handful of others (about legislator recidivism reelection rates, whether legislators listen to their constituents, and even if “a group of people selected at random from a phone book [would] do a better job addressing the nation’s problems than the current Congress”) that seemed designed to summon up cynicism about government.

However, if the authors of the Constitution had decided to build in the ability for the people to take a “no confidence” vote to withdraw their consent from the government, the wording of that survey question is probably pretty close to the wording they would have chosen.

Steven Short has written a follow-up based on feedback he got after his KALW radio show about Northern California War Tax Resistance. Excerpt:

Another option, though, is to opt out of paying taxes. That’s the choice for members of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. They do file their taxes, but in place of payment they include a letter of explanation. Kathy Labriola has been “resisting” since . That year she says, “I sent my tax forms with a letter saying, ‘I owe you about $5,000 and here’s why I’m not going to pay.’ And every year since, I have done the same thing.”

Most of us respond to such a thought the way listener Caroline Shigad did after hearing our profile of the NWTRCC on . “I do not agree with my tax money going toward military spending,” she said, “but I’m not ready to risk going to jail by not paying taxes.” As reported in our story, prosecution seems to be a surprisingly small risk. According to the NWTRCC, only 30 group members have ever been taken to court in the nearly 70 years they’ve been in existence.

A video of Tony Serra’s keynote at the NWTRCC national gathering last Spring is now on-line:

Another data point for my quest to determine what happened to American Quaker war tax resistance after the American Civil War — when it seemed to begin to almost disappear (only to come back to life after World War Ⅱ).

This comes from The New York Times of , and shows that at least that late into the nineteenth century, Quakers (or the Rogerene Quakers around Mystic River anyway) were still notorious for war tax resistance:

Meeting of the Peacemakers.

The date when the peace-loving and military-tax-hating Quakers of Ledyard will hold the seventeenth annual meeting of the Connecticut Peace Society has been fixed for and . The services will be under a big tent at Mystic River, near the former home of James D. Fish. The speakers who will attend are Donasturo De Merceteau of Madrid, Spain; Alfred H. Love, President of the Universal Peace Union; E.H. Coates, H.S. Chibb, editor of the Peacemaker, and Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Washburn, all of Philadelphia; President Deys, of the Dutchess County Peace Society; George T. Angell, of Boston; ex-Senator Thomas F. Fowler, of Washington, D.C.; B.P. White, of Pawtucket, R.I.; Hamilton Wilcox, of New-York City; L.F. Gardner, of Eastman’s College, Poughkeepsie, and the Rev. C.H. Kimball, of Manchester, N.H. It is expected that peace advocates from all parts of the world will be present.