“When in the course of human events . . .” so begins the Declaration of Independence, the document that initiated the formal birth of our nation and our separation from English rule. The heartfelt message contained therein has inspired Americans since the day it was written. Beautiful in its simplicity yet grand in its scope, its strength emerges from four basic truths. These truths form the pillars upon which our nation was built.
The first pillar states that “All [people] are created equal,” the second, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights. All else emanates from these essential principles. But while the truth inherent in these statements is inescapable, alone they did not justify American independence. No, it is upon the third and fourth pillars that this authority was based. The third holds that a government derives its just powers from the “consent of the governed.” And should any government be destructive of the Rights of the People, the fourth pillar asserts that it is then “the Right of the People to alter or to abolish” said government. It was this Right that empowered the signers to declare independence.
The grounds, under which the founding fathers exacted their claim, were numerous acts of tyranny on the part of the King of Great Britain. According to the litany of facts presented to “a candid world,” His Majesty had committed all manner of oppression upon the people of colonial America. The primary grievance of the colonists was summed up in the words first coined by James Otis, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” So significant was this notion that John Adams himself, signer and second president of the United States, said of Otis’ address, “then and there, the Child Independence was born.”
So I ask you, if taxation without representation is tyranny, and tyranny the grounds to alter or abolish government, then are there sufficient grounds today for Americans to withdraw our consent to be governed? We’re certainly being taxed, so the essential question is really, “Do you feel that your interests are being adequately represented?”
Setting aside, for a moment, the issues involving the aristocracy that is the U.S. Senate, We the People are supposed to be represented “according to [our] respective numbers,” by the House of Representatives. In the 1790s, this meant that each representative was to carry the voice of some 33,000 Americans. As the population increased, periodic reapportionment was to maintain appropriate levels of representation. This worked for a good while, but when Congress fixed the number of representatives at 435 in 1929, the dilution began. Today, each House member represents, on average, more than 700,000 Americans.
Is this adequate representation? Does this serve your needs? George Washington, who argued to reduce the originally proposed ratio of 40,000:1 down to the codified 30,000, wouldn’t have thought so. The sad truth is that our present system is legally structured to diminish the voice of the average American over time:
Add to the dilution factor, the growing issue of unequal representation, and it becomes increasingly obvious why Congress now serves itself above The People. Take for example the difference between Wyoming’s single district of 515,000 and Montana’s at 944,000. This discrepancy effectively eliminates the idea of one person, one vote. In this particular case, the citizens of Montana are essentially relegated to 2 persons, one vote. Legal or not, this is obviously not in accord with the spirit of our Constitution.
As outdated as the model has become in the House of Representatives, no conversation about equal representation is complete without also addressing the Senate. Our bicameral system was designed so that the Senate would provide a stabilizing force to counter the potential “fickleness and passion” that could pervade the House. It was intended to allow for equal representation of the states, regardless of population. In 1790, this meant that the Senators of the least populous state, Delaware, each represented almost 12 thousand people, while in the most populous, Virginia, the number was 9 times greater. Today, the difference between Wyoming and California is nearly 70 to 1. This distortion of equality has all but silenced the voices of Americans who live in the more populous states.
At the end of the day, there are two facts that cannot be denied: inequality in representation has increased over time, and the voice of the average American has concurrently been diluted in the extreme. The actual impact on your vote varies depending upon where you live, but regardless, the question is, “Do you feel that you have a real voice in your government?”
My answer is a resounding “NO.” The Declaration of Independence was a covenant between the government and The People, and that covenant has been broken.
Even if it was The People who controlled the actions of our representatives, and not the special interests and big money power brokers, with numbers this large, the voice of the average American doesn’t even amount to a whisper.
CNN recently posted a question on its amFIX blog that relates to this issue. They wanted to know what people thought about increasing the number of representatives to 10,000. This would bring the ratio back near the levels our founders thought appropriate . . . Fortunately, there were very few who thought this was a good idea.
The bottom line is that it’s no longer practical to adequately represent The People through a methodology designed over two hundred years ago. We are no longer 13 colonies. We are 50 states and over 300 million people. We need to leave a broken system behind. It served us well while we were growing up, but it’s now the 21st Century. Power must be restored to The People, and technology can help.
Through technology, all Americans can actively participate in government. Gone are the days when meetings had to occur face-to-face, and gone with them are most of the reasons that justified a representative democracy. Witness the fact that Facebook now has a population exceeding that of the United States, and you’ll glimpse the potential for how technology might facilitate direct democracy. Imagine the power of a national initiative to balance a self-serving Congress. Envision a system like that of the Swiss: one where control of our nation would be taken back from big money and returned to The People.
Whatever system we choose, the time for change is now. It’s time for all Americans to demand a real voice. It’s time we exercise our right to “alter or abolish” a government that doesn’t serve our needs. It’s time that We the People join together and insist on real reform or else withdraw our consent to be governed.